Every classic has a tale to tell, be it a rare oil painting, a dust-covered bottle of wine, or a C1 Corvette. The oil painting shows up at a yard sale, turns out to be from a grand master, and is subsequently worth a small fortune. The antique wine bottle has President Jefferson's initials scrawled on it, and even though the contents have long since turned to vinegar, it goes for six figures at auction.
Then there's Noel Park's '58 racing Vette, equal parts fine art and sour wine, a mixture of what was both great and faulty about the competition C1s. The story of its origins takes a number of twists and turns, with some colorful and significant players involved. But getting it to run at speed on the road course again was a source of exasperation for Park, requiring ingenuity, persistence, and the hands of some very talented Corvette restorers. So what follows is something akin to pulling the sheet off the frame of an old portrait--and also popping the cork to sniff a funky bouquet.
Park's story begins back in the mid 1980s, when he and his wife, Diana, attended their first Monterey Historic Automobile Races. "We were greeted with the spectacle of Juan Manuel Fangio, Phil Hill, many other famous drivers too numerous to mention, and the most stunning display of old race cars I could have hoped to see," he recalls. "It was like being teleported back to Riverside in the glory days of the '50s and '60s."
Then Noel spotted something that would inspire what he later jokingly refers to as his wife's "Great Mistake." They were standing at the famous Corkscrew, watching Ron Cressy's '59 Corvette battle it out with Chuck Reid's short-wheelbase Ferrari Berlinetta for the lead.
"I turned to Diana and said, `Boy, that looks like fun.'And she responded, `Well if it's that important to you, you should do it.'" While Diana acknowledged that her suggestion might end up leading to a costly endeavor, Noel felt the gesture was a moving expression of his wife's loyalty and support.
Immediately upon returning home from Laguna Seca, Noel started searching for a solid-axle Corvette with some racing history, which he could prepare for the vintage races. After months of scouring the country, famed Corvette hunter Mike Pillsbury found VIN 3892 peacefully resting in a backyard in Pahrump, Nevada, with no engine or transmission. It was in its old competition configuration, but most of the paint and upholstery had weathered away from years of sitting in the desert sun.
One of the big selling points was the brakes. While No. 3892 was not an original "heavy brake" car, with the factory brake cooling ducts through the body, it did have a complete set of the heavy-duty finned drums and backing plates, which the original owner had purchased over the Chevrolet parts counter and installed.
With the professional help of "Corvette Detective" David Reisner, further details about the history of No. 3892 emerged: The first owner was John Kilgore of Santa Monica.He purchased the car new from Rhoades & Erskine Chevrolet in Beverly Hills. After driving the Corvette on the street for about a year, Kilgore decided to go racing. He built it into essentially its present configuration and entered it in driving schools at Willow Springs and Riverside. But after obtaining his competition license, Kilgore's finances interceded, and he never raced the car again.
In 1961, Normand Jessel of Malibu purchased the car. He raced at Riverside and Willow Springs for about two years. During this time he installed a fiberglass replica '55 T-Bird hoodscoop in place of the factory louvers. The switch was needed to clear a Holley carburetor on a high-rise intake manifold. The scoop was still in place when Park bought the car in 1986.