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Brack's Birthright

The Legacy of a Father's Solid-Axle Lives on Through His Son

Rob Wallace III Nov 20, 2003

Classic Corvettes represent a lot of things to many people. In Brack Gillespie's case, however, his Vette means much more than usual--it means having a connection to the father he never got to know. The 16-year-old from Shawano, Wisconsin, grew up without his father. He died when Brack was only 16 months old. However, Brack does have something significant to remember his dad by--he inherited his dad's '60 Corvette!

His dad, John Brack "J.B." Gillespie was 41 years old when Brack was born in December 1986 and an avid sports car enthusiast all of his life. He had collected several Corvettes, as well as other sports cars over the years, and he thoroughly enjoyed sharing his passion for cars with his infant son. Unfortunately, though, J.B. didn't get to share his fatherly love with young Brack for long, as he died very unexpectedly on May 13, 1988. Brack was not even a year-and-a-half old when his father was taken from him, but they had been riding together in J.B.'s MG Midget only five days earlier.

Shortly after the funeral, Brack's grandfather suggested selling all of J.B.'s collectibles, including the '60 Vette. That would have been the rational thing for a young single mother to do to survive, but his mom Mary Jo Ambrosius was adamantly opposed to selling off the solid-axle. She understood how much that Vette had meant to her late husband, and she was determined to save the car for their son. "I felt that the car would someday give Brack great pleasure and be the only thing for him to remember his dad by," she tells us. So, she quickly got the Vette titled in young Brack's name to prevent it from being sold.

J.B .had bought the solid-axle in 1963 at age 18, just before he was shipped off to fight in Vietnam. He enjoyed the Vette very much, especially driving through rain puddles, taking his teenage sisters for rides, and generally disregarding speed limits. According to Mary Jo, "His brother was astonished one time when J.B. threw him the keys and told him he could borrow it for a night. Only after being stopped by three police officers from different jurisdictions did he understand why--J.B. had been speeding excessively while traveling from Green Bay to Antigo, Wisconsin!"

After J.B. returned home from the Vietnam War, he bought two more Corvettes. The '60 was still being enjoyed on a regular basis, but a careless driver ran a stop sign in 1969 and hit the driver-side front fender on the roadster. J.B., who always had a camera around his neck, documented the entire incident with pictures and ordered the necessary pieces to repair his Vette. He also bought a semi-trailer to keep the '60 and several other cars in as he began stripping the solid-axle down for its restoration. However, the temporary storage became indefinite in 1972. In 1985, J.B. moved from Green Bay to Fayette, Michigan, where he ran a small country store with Mary Jo and they started a family. The remains of the '60 became Brack's in 1988, but it would have to wait out another decade in pieces before its resurrection could begin.

When Brack was 10 years old, they began planning to restore the '60. Mary Jo contacted several of J.B.'s friends and, "They all suggested that if we wanted it restored properly, it should be a total body-off restoration." That's sound advice considering the car was a basketcase with pieces packed in boxes in the basement and the body in storage for over 30 years.

Mary Jo found Larry and Loretta Bartley at in Elizabeth, Indiana, to do the refurbishment. "In October 1999, I got a call from Larry [telling us] that they had an opening in their schedule and car-bay; they could travel to Michigan to get the car if we were still interested in having it restored. The weekend was close at hand, and I didn't have the finances all set yet, but felt we needed to move on the offer." So Larry and Loretta headed up to the northern peninsula of Michigan, loaded up the Vette and all of its bits and pieces on the trailer, and took it to their shop to set to work.

The original 283/230hp small-block was sent down to Haas Machine Shop in Louisville, Kentucky, to be rebuilt to factory specs. While the motor was out to be refurbished, freshened up the rest of the driveline, including the original three-speed transmission and the Posi-traction rear axle with 4.11:1 ring-and-pinion.

Although Brack's Vette is a pretty standard '60, it has a very unique color combination--Ermine White with Tasco Turquoise coves. There were 383 Tasco Turquoise Corvettes assembled in 1960 with Ermine White covers, however it appears that the Corvette that Brack inherited might be the only one to be originally painted the other way around! It seems that Brack's 'glass car is one of 15 that were documented in 1960 to be completed with nonstandard colors and combinations or in primer. After repairing the cosmetic damage to the front fender that had parked the Vette decades ago and prepping the body to perfection, Loretta and Larry laid the original colors back on the Vette using two-stage PPG paint. They also sprayed the auxiliary hardtop in fresh Ermine White to match, as well as replacing the white convertible top and the blue interior.

"I wanted Brack to get involved with the car restoration and steer him away from any bad habits that sometimes tempts teens," Mary Jo says. Brack followed the restoration carefully, and watched his Vette metamorphose through hundreds of pictures that Larry and Loretta posted on their Web site. Although he wanted to keep things quiet about his Corvette, and only told a few of his closest friends about it at all, his excitement was clearly rising as the Vette progressed. Brack even promised a couple of friends a ride to school in it when it was completed.

While the Vette was away for its restoration, Brack had a very important task of his own to perform--he needed to learn to drive! In August of 2000, he began practicing with his mom in a stick shift (it helps when your mom is a certified driving instructor!) so that he'd be ready to get behind the wheel of his Corvette as soon as it was complete. Everyone agreed that it was very important for Brack to be the very first person to drive the reborn Vette after his father parked it so many years before.

The restoration took much longer than anticipated due to a few financial restraints and Mary Jo's unexpected job relocation. But in April 2002, after 2 1/2 years and $62,151.75 to build, Brack's Corvette was complete and far better than new. Brack and his mom immediately drove down to Indiana to take the Vette home. "Brack was awestruck and didn't want anyone to even touch the car," his mother explains. "He wanted to keep it new, but given the keys, he slid right behind the wheel." Brack summed up the experience in one word, "SWEET!" The '60 turned many heads, and Brack had to fend off one six-figure offer for it before they even made it home!

As a 15-year old in eighth grade, Brack officially unveiled the Vette at the annual spring VICA Car Show and Brat Fry at Shawano High School, where he shocked many of his disbelieving friends. The following fall, Brack chauffeured the homecoming king and queen in the homecoming--thankfully the police knew him and ignored the fact that he was driving without a license! Brack and his mom towed the Vette to Bloomington Gold in 2003 and got a first taste of what a major Corvette event is like. They plan on driving it back to Bloomington Gold in 2004 to be certified and rated.

Brack pampers his Vette immensely and is very protective of it. As soon as he turns 21 and "has a job to support his car habit," he will be given full control of the roadster, though his mom does trust him completely. For a teenager like Brack, owning one of the coolest of the cool cars ever built--a classic Corvette--is spectacular, but it can never replace the opportunity to grow up with his father. However, we bet his dad would be proud of both his son and his Vette, and he'll always be riding along with Brack one way or another!


Brack's father, John Brack "J.B." Gillespie took great pride in his '60 Corvette. This vintage photo shows J.B. in the process of stripping the Vette at his old home in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Photo courtesy of Mary Jo Ambrosius.

This is the damage from the accident in 1969 that caused J.B. to tear the Vette apart in the first place--leading into its very long hibernation. Photo courtesy of Mary Jo Ambrosius.


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