I met Jonathan Settrella in 1975, at an art show in Moorestown, New Jersey. We struck up a conversation, and it turned out that Settrella had a Corvette-a customized '63 split-window coupe. We hung out occasionally and saw one another at various art shows. But as the '70s and '80s wore on, life got in the way and I lost touch with my friend.
Fast forward to September 2009, at the Weaton Village Vettes At Glasstown Show in Millville, New Jersey. I looked up and saw a car I hadn't seen in nearly 30 years. Sure enough, it was my old pal, Jonathan Settrella. After catching up, I said, "Jonathan, I can't believe you still have the '63."
He replied, "This is actually a replica of the car you saw way back when."
Sensing a story, I asked what had happened. It turned out to be a classic tale of seller's remorse. In Settrella's case, it was major remorse. But first, let's back up about 40 years.
Settrella grew up in rural Glassboro, New Jersey, a sleepy town famous for two things: a state college and the location of the famous Lyndon B. Johnson/Aleksei Kosygin summit talks in 1967. His passions growing up were cars, racing, art, and Corvettes. After completing art school, Settrella settled into a career as a commercial artist, got married, and started a family. But not before sowing some wild oats in the raucous world of dirt-track racing.
Settrella's dream Vette was a '63 split-window. And in the mid '60s, when these cars were still very reasonably priced, he managed to buy an Ermine White '63 coupe with a four-speed. It wasn't long before the artist in Settrella wanted to personalize his ride. So in 1968, he started his gradual customization of the car. What started out as a simple de-chroming project gradually became a transformation into a full-custom road car.
Even though Corvettes aren't family cars, Settrella and his family were thoroughly in love with this one. His daughter, Donna, used to love to lie in the cargo area and watch the clouds roll by through the rear glass. His son, Jonathan Jr., dreamed of one day owning the car.
Now back to that seller's remorse part. It was 1980, at the same Wheaton Village car show, and Settrella was showing his custom Vette. A young fellow kept hanging around the car; obviously he liked it a lot. Eventually, he asked, "How much do you want for it?"
"It's not for sale." Settrella replied. But the guy kept asking. In hopes of putting him off, Settrella blurted out, "$15,000!" (A new Vette in 1980 had a base price of $13,140.) And to his shock, the young man said, "Sold! Can I pick it up tomorrow?"
Settrella didn't believe the guy, because he was very young and it looked like he was just trying to impress the gal on his arm. But much to his dismay, the next day, the young fellow showed up with $15,000 in cash. "It felt like a dope deal from the movie Scarface," Settrella says.
"Do you have tags and insurance?" he asked the buyer.
"No, I'll be okay," replied the young man, and off he went.
"And that's the last time I ever saw the car or heard from the guy," Settrella says.
The remorse was immediate. When his daughter learned that her dad had sold the Corvette, she cried. It took a long time for the kids to get over it, and there was a part of Settrella that never did.
In 2005, after a prestigious career in commercial art, Settrella retired. Over the years, he had bought and sold dozens of Corvettes and Mustangs as a hobby. With plenty of time on his hands and a nice retirement nest egg, Settrella set out to take care of the nagging regret he felt over the '63.
By that time, Jonathan Jr. was an accomplished painter and car customizer, so it didn't take too much coaxing to recruit his son to help with his latest project. With lots of photographs of the original car, the project was started in early 2007 and completed by September of that year.