Within minutes of talking to Nicky Johnson, one gets the feeling this lady really loves American cars. This wouldn't be terribly unusual, if not for the fact that Ms. Johnson lives in Streatham, England, where Yankee sports machines are about as common as refrigerated beer. Maybe it's congenital. Nicky tells us how, when she was a kid in the '70s, she used to pester her mother to drive back home over Chelsea Bridge so she could see the American cars doing the Chelsea Cruise. "Yeah, that's right," she says, shaking her head. "I used to drive my mother mad, as I made her drive really slowly so I could see all the cars. I'd even shout out the model names."
"I've always been into cars and even played with them as a kid," she tells us. "Me mum used to buy me a Matchbox toy car every week as a treat. Don't laugh, but I used to keep them all in their little boxes. To me, they were their garages." Didn't she have a Barbie, like all little girls? [Please address all angry letters directly to the author-Ed.] "I did have a Barbie," she says indignantly, "but only because she had a pink Corvette convertible!"
Nicky has always appreciated the lines of sports cars, particular those of American extraction. So, for her, the Corvette Stingray was and is the epitome of all her desires. "I love my sports cars, and the Stingray has all the qualities that I like. It's truly beautiful, and I always knew I would get one of them one day," she says. "So, when I saw this one advertised on eBay, I couldn't believe it. Finally it dawned on me that I was going to get the car of my dreams!"
We asked Nicky how she came across her Stingray. "Well, my father is ill, and he wanted to do something for me," she explains. "So he gave me a sum of money to buy a car. Everybody had expected me to buy something 'normal'," she says, making a face. "Then one day I was on my boyfriend's computer looking at some of his favorite sites-he's an American-car fan, too-when I came across some sites selling Corvettes. There were red ones, black ones, and blue ones for sale, and they all looked good. Then, this buckskin-colored one popped up, and I just knew from the moment I saw it I wanted it."
Nicky then set about getting to know "her" car. Having made contact with the owner of the car, she was confident in what the ad had said. "The guy wrote down everything," she says. "He didn't hide anything. He even put down small paint blemishes and that there was a small tear in the lower door panel that no one would have even seen!"
Nicky made a deal with the owner, and soon the Corvette was heading for Streatham. "He even arranged the shipping for me and saved me a few hundred quid," she says happily. When the Stingray arrived at the docks, Nicky was there waiting for it. She fell in love with the car the moment it hit the tarmac. "It was even better than the guy had described," she says.
Like many Corvettes of its vintage, Nicky's Stingray came loaded with comfort-and-convenience options. "It's got power steering, electric windows, air conditioning, and the like. The only thing it doesn't have is central locking," she tells us. "One thing I really love about the car is the pinstriping. I couldn't see it on the [computer] screen, so when I saw it for the first time I went, 'Wow'!"
The engine is the base, 180hp L48 and is all original, save for the valve covers. "They're actually MT covers, which I've been told recently are quite sought after," she says. "I like the fact that my Stingray is standard and hasn't been heavily modified," she adds, with the conviction of someone who knows what she wants.
So how did Nicky's family and friends react to her new American traveling companion? "My dad was totally shocked, but my mum took it in her stride," she laughs. "Mum knew that I was obsessed with American cars-and especially the Stingray-when I was a kid. Looking back on it, I must have been a nightmare. Every time I saw an American car I'd shout, 'There's another one!'"
Somewhat surprisingly, reaction to Nicky and her Vette among the British motoring public is reminiscent of what an independent woman might have faced in America, circa 1950. "When I have [my boyfriend] Jay in the car, most people automatically think it's his," Nicky tells us. "Yesterday, I was driving the car on my own, and I had other drivers pulling alongside me, checking out the car, then doing a double-take when they saw me driving it. And it was like, 'Hang on, there's a woman driving that,' and some made comments that I can't repeat. I even had a few guys follow me just to show me what they were driving and to impress me." Fortunately, Nicky has devised a foolproof method for confounding the hecklers and hangers-on: "I just accelerate and watch them disappear in my mirrors.
"Despite when this happens, I really like driving my Stingray," she says. "I can have a really bad day, but when I get into the car and start it up, I begin to smile, and everything that's pissed me off throughout the day is gone."
Given the current European predilection for tiny, diesel-powered tuna cans, we wondered: Has mastering the Vette's V-8 performance proved daunting? "I'm still a bit nervous," Nicky admits. "I'm very aware of how powerful the car is, and I know that [Corvettes] can be a bit endy, but I'm not stupid or silly when I drive," she tells us. "Besides, I don't want to smash it."
So, what does the future hold for Nicky and her Stingray? "Ultimately, I want to start taking it to shows," she says, "because I'm proud of what I have, and I want to show other women that if I can get an American car and do it on my own, so can they. Other than that, I just want to keep it looking good and, above all, enjoy driving it."
Asked whether the '76 has satisfied or simply stoked her yen for American cars, Nicky is quick to reply. "I would definitely like to get some more Yanks. The other car I want is a '69 Stingray convertible. All I'd have to do then," she giggles, "is find a house with a big enough garage.
"Some problems, it seems, are universal.