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Blasts From the Past

His Vintage Vette and Harleys Return John Ambrogio to a Better Time

Rob Wallace III Oct 28, 2003

Ah, the good ol' days. Like a fine vintage cabernet, many memories improve with age. Nostalgia--it happens to all of us. While time relentlessly ticks on, our hearts often hold tight to the passions of our youth. Well, it's been said that it's a shame to waste youth on kids.

John Ambrogio, a retired firefighter living in rural Riverside County, California, is now busy living and reliving the dreams held over from younger days. All it takes is a time machine--or a garage full of them!

Since the time John was an impressionable teenager, the 57-year-old has loved Corvettes and motorcycles. "In 1962, a good friend of mine received a new Corvette for his 16th birthday," remembers John. That was a very lucky kid! Well, not surprisingly, "I fell in love with that car at first sight and promised myself that one day I would own a '62 Vette." As youthful dreams have a habit of doing, though, it took a long time for John to make that personal vow come true.

In the meantime, as a young man in the '60s, John thoroughly enjoyed riding his first Harley-Davidson motorcycle, a small and nimble 165cc, 5hp Hummer. It wasn't a lot of motorcycle, but it was more than enough to get John hooked on Harleys for a lifetime. He was forced to sell the Hummer before the Army sent him off to Vietnam, but John jumped right back into scoots after his tour of duty was complete. Over the next few years, John went through "a chopper phas," owning and customizing several Harleys. After getting married to Kristine, John slipped out of motorcycling for a number of years, but the spirit of the open road never left him.

After raising four children, John found himself in a position to enjoy his previous interests. He got back into the Harleys he remembered so fondly, this time restoring the old bikes. "I wanted to repair the damage that people like me did building them into choppers." Today, his vintage bike collection includes three old flathead Harleys. First, there's a maroon and cream '42 "WLA" custom with a 45-inch flathead motor, tank-shifter, three-speed, and a suicide clutch. Then there's the '58 Servi-Car that he's currently restoring, which includes a tow-bar, 45-inch V-twin, and a four-speed (including reverse) with a tank shifter. And finally, there's a '37 "U" model with an "LE" sidecar. All but the Sidehack began as basketcases.

The '37 Sidehack is by far John's favorite. "I love the classic lines. It's just a kick to ride, and it's a real attention-getter. I'll keep that one as long as I live." It's powered by a 74-cid flathead motor. The transmission has three forward gears plus reverse and is equipped with a tank shifter. The sidecar, though, is as practical as it is fun. Not only do "the grandkids love going for rides in it," but John often makes grocery runs and other errands on the prewar bike.

In April 1987, John also found himself in the position of finally buying the '62 Corvette he had always dreamed of. "It took 23 years of waiting, and two more years of searching, but I finally purchased the car I'd wanted for years," he asserts. "I've now owned that '62 Vette for over 16 years, and it really has been a dream." Although he ultimately paid several times the original sticker price, the solid axle has cost John very little to own and keep in fantastic condition after all those years together.

The sateen silver roadster is equipped with a code-RE 327/340hp small-block with 11.25:1 compression, four-barrel Carter carb, and a close-ratio T10 four-speed tranny. Monroe air shocks suspend the 3.70:1-geared Positraction, while 14x7 and 15x8-inch Cragar S/S wheels wrapped in BFGoodrich P205/70-R14 and P225/70-R15 Radial T/As glue the '62 to the road. The stock black interior is enhanced by a Pioneer KE-2828 stereo but is factory fresh otherwise. In the spirit of combining his two favorite hobbies, the old Vette is equipped with a trailer hitch so that he can tow the Harleys behind it.

Though John is a member of NCRS, he prefers to simply cruise around and hit local car shows with the '62. And, it has brought home several trophies from such events. But the most important thing to John is the opportunity to share his passions with others. For instance, "Kris and I drove the Vette up to the Big Bear Bash last year, and while we were there, a lady came up to us and said her 84-year-old mom just loves Corvettes--but she had never in her life ridden in one. My wife took her mom and cruised around Big Bear for some time and she just had a wonderful time." John holds the same attitude towards his motorcycles, and he doesn't think twice about offering rides in the Sidehack.

This past year, John also indulged in a 100th Anniversary 2003 "Firefighters Special Edition" Road King with a sequential port injected twin cam 88 for comfortable and reliable cruising. He and Kris rode the Road King cross-country to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for Harley's official 100th Anniversary celebrations.

For John, his Harleys and vintage Vette bring him back to the days gone by of his boyhood. "Sometimes I wish I was back there," John reminisces. But we think he's having a whole lot more fun today. After all, John can rewind the clock each time he steps into the garage!



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