A Rare Find
Despite being younger than most of his peers, collector Bob Radke has managed to uncover several highly unusual cars. One of these is Bob Wingate's '67 Factory Shop Order (FSO) Corvette, one of four such cars built between 1967 and 1970. "That's nice," you say, "but who is Bob Wingate, and what is an FSO car?" To answer those questions we have to travel back a few years.
While looking for a mid-'60s Vette he could work on himself, Radke was alerted to a big-block car in the Long Beach, California, area. Intrigued, Bob and his friend, Joe Rajacic, went to take a look. When the owner opened the garage door, Bob was confronted by a horrendous contraption with wild flares and hideous red paint. Despite the first impression, Bob and Joe nosed around. When Bob looked into the gas-tank area, he could see that the tank sticker indicated a 435hp car. The car's interior was good, and the asking price was reasonable. Bob pondered it for a while, then called another friend, Alex Bailey, to get a feel for what a car of this era and basic option mix might be worth. Alex felt that if the Vette was an original 435hp car, Bob probably couldn't go wrong. He said to go for it.
The Wingate Connection
More research indicated that a certain Bob Wingate might have had something to do with the car. While that didn't mean much to Radke at the time, he soon found out that Wingate had been pretty influential in the West Coast car scene of the '60s and '70s.
Wingate first came to prominence as Clippinger Chevrolet's top Corvette man. In fact, he and another salesman at Clippinger controlled that dealership's musclecar sales. Over time, they had come to an arrangement whereby Wingate specialized in Corvettes, and the other man specialized in Camaros. Bob Wingate was a parts pipeline for a lot of racers in this area, including James Garner's AIR cars.
Because of his sales numbers, Wingate received special treatment from GM. Part of the this treatment included four special-order Corvettes-the FSO cars-Chevy built specifically for him between the years 1967 and 1970.
The FSO Corvettes
When he began to research his new acquisition, Bob Radke soon discovered it was no run-of-the-mill car. The options sticker bore some unusual numbers, and carried the inscription "Build per FSO" near the bottom. Bob contacted experts Dave Burroughs, Noland Adams, and John Amgwert for more information.
Burroughs said he was not aware of any other documented FSO cars from this era, although there were such well-known one-offs as the side-pipe-equipped Harley Earl styling exercise (circa 1963). Certainly, there were no other mid-'60s street cars complete with window and tank stickers.
More talks with Bob Wingate revealed that the four FSO cars represented the peak of his career achievements. While working for Clippinger around 1964, he was recruited by GM's Joe Pike to travel about the western half of the United States to help set up Corvette clubs. In early 1966, Bob was invited back to Dearborn by Lee Iaccoca, then at Ford, to see if he could do the same thing for the Mustang and Cobra. Fortunately, the guys higher up in GM got wind of the Ford invitation and asked Pike to do something exceptional for Wingate as an incentive to stick around. Since GM was already providing Wingate with a Corvette to drive, Pike decided to give him a very special Corvette.
This first "special" car was built around August 1966. It was a '67 coupe with flared wheelwells, candy-apple-green paint, a light-blue Stinger stripe (a favorite styling cue of Wingate's), a tube grille, smoothed-in front turn signals, and a few other special features that weren't on the options list. Later, after the car had been delivered, some GM personnel saw it during a trip to California. One of them suggested it might not be a great idea to have Wingate running around in what was essentially a show car. They decided to build him a replacement that was a little closer to factory specs.
The resulting "replacement" car is the one Bob Radke now owns. It was a 427/435 with an M20 wide-ratio transmission and a 3.55 differential. The specs were selected by the engineers in St. Louis to optimize quarter-mile times.
This car was also modified to have the six taillights, no front bumpers (they were stored in a box in the back of the car, and the front-bumper mounting holes had been filled), and the rear inner-fender lips had been radiused to clear bigger tires and wheels. The paint was Goodwood Green with a subtle green pinstripe running around the beltline and a white Stinger stripe running the length of the car. The car also had a Nardi wood steering wheel, 7-inch American Torq-Thrust racing wheels, 9.50x15 Goodyear Blue Streak tires, and longer rear-spring-support bolts to lower the stance.
Later photographs show the car with more details. For example, Wingate highlighted the lettering on the brake calipers and other small details with white paint. The Clippinger Chevrolet lettering was added to the sides of the car, and some of the inserts were blocked in Pearl White.
The next year, Wingate received a '68 L89 coupe. Interestingly, this car appears to have been delivered with what is likely one of the first sets of 17-inch American Racing wheels ever cast. This was probably a very special addition to the car, but the tire technology of the day might have generated a harsher ride than intended. According to Wingate, this car-which was insanely hot inside and plagued by small problems-was the least well-executed of the four FSO Vettes. He was actually glad to see it go.
The last of the Wingate FSO cars was a '70 Bridgehampton Blue convertible with an LT-1 350. It was perhaps his favorite, combining the torque of a big-block with fairly civilized driving manners.