Roy Braatz of Nevada City, California, has been an early Corvette aficionado since he bought his first 'glass car in 1967. "Living in Southern California at that time, you could buy one for as low as $100," says Roy. Roy has been deeply involved in the Corvette community ever since, and he is one of the most knowledgeable people around when it comes to early C1 Vettes. In 1969, he and his wife Mary founded Vintage Corvettes of Southern California, and Roy later was a key figure in starting Straight Axle Corvette Enthusiasts while editing their quarterly newsletter for six years. Besides helping to draft the first '53-57 Corvette judging manuals for the NCRS and being an instructor at Bloomington Gold, Roy has also written a number of books--both by himself and with such notable experts as Noland Adams.
His impressive credentials aside, "Having owned many different [model] year Corvettes, my real love has always been the '55," Roy tells us. Nineteen Fifty-Five was arguably one of the most unique and most baffling Corvette model years ever. It could easily have been the last Corvette had it not been for the introduction of the 265-cid V-8 powerplant. For the entire '55-model run, only 700 Corvettes rolled out of St. Louis, and GM record-keeping on those cars was appallingly dismal at best. "I believe the rarest and least understood Corvette is the '55. I believe that more known '53s are out there than '55s," which he attributes to hot rodders taking advantage of those first V-8s. While there is plenty of room for debate over actual production facts and figures, the truth is that rare is still rare.
For years, Roy hated to hear all those mythical tales of "barn cars" that lucky individuals just happened into--until he stumbled into one himself. One day, Roy spotted a '55 Corvette listed in their small town's throwaway paper. The classified simply said, "need money, getting married." Though he was convinced it would be a pile of scrap, Roy called about it anyway and learned that the owner had the '55 for over 30 years and, despite the car being dismantled and in boxes, 95 percent of the original car was still there. "I had never seen a copper Corvette, which only a dozen may have been made. So when finding that this one was copper and the body had never been hit nor showed any signs of body stress, I was just floored." And it was even sitting in a crumbling tin shed!
Finding the '55 to be such a solid and intact specimen was great, but to be wearing one of the most uncommon Corvette colors ever really made it stand out. Although there are no GM records that indicate actual figures for the '55 production, it's estimated by several sources that no more than 15 '55 Vettes wore Corvette Copper. As Roy performed the solid-axle's frame-off restoration, however, he accumulated such an array of non-factory dealer options for it that the '55 went from extremely unique to one-of-a-kind.
A stickler for authenticity, Roy returned the copper '55 to its original condition using many new old stock bits and pieces. He estimates that N.O.S. parts account for 75 percent of the restoration. In addition to original factory pieces, though, Roy has spent many years collecting unusual period-correct accessories that dealers used to offer for the Corvettes and other Chevrolets they sold. His home shows like a museum, with display cases filled with items like 6-volt and 12-volt electric razors for the '50s traveler. "GM offered many accessories for the Corvette and other cars," Roy explains. "I just love having and showing them off to people who are amazed to see them." Today, many of these accessories, when they can be found, cost more than the Corvette did new!
Roy had spent 10 years searching for some rare GM wire wheels until his good friend of 30 years, Dave Ferguson, found a set for him. Dave has a set of these wire-spoke rims on his supercharged '53 and managed to locate another set for Roy. They are adorned with radial tires and look very elegant on Roy's '55.
In addition to all of the '55 factory options, like the 195hp V-8 motor, Powerglide automatic transmission, turn signals, courtesy lamps, parking brake alarm, signal-seeking AM radio, and windshield washers, Roy has accessorized his '55 to the limit. The beige interior is accented with dealer items like a flameless ashtray, a handheld spotlight with a GM logo, a chrome tissue box, gas pedal and dimmer switch covers, a compass, and a Remington 12-volt electric shaver. Many other dealer accessories include a Carter engine heater, Perry radiator filter, winter wipers, right-side mirror, tool kit, tire trackers, locking gas cap, 1955-dated road flares, a dealer keychain, owners manual, and all sorts of '55 Corvette sales literature. As long as parts were available in the '50s for solid-axle Corvettes, Roy relishes putting them on his '55. Aftermarket items that were offered for safety and comfort in the '50s are just as legitimate as factory options in his book. And such goodies that are on his '55 include an AC-powered self-lighting cigarette lighter, a night cover for the rear view mirror, floor mats, rubber mud flaps, and an oil eye connected to the transmission oil, plus radial tires, rear air shocks, and a receiver hitch for towing a '47 Teardrop trailer on vacations.
The accessory that sets Roy's straight-axle off the most, however, is its green-tinted, transparent Plexiglas bubbletop. The see-through aftermarket hardtop is a rare item indeed. It had belonged to a good friend named Bob, who owns a '54 that Roy restored. William Chaffee of Model Builders, Inc. in Chicago was the original architect of these bubbletops in the '50s, and only about 15 to 20 were produced. Of that handful of original tops, only five were green-tinted while the rest were clear. Chaffee got involved with building these tops at the request of Eugene Kettering (then Chief Engineer of GM's Electro-Motive Division). Kettering wanted one for his early Corvette. It seems that Chevrolet had even installed a Model Builders bubbletop for testing and gave Chaffee some positive feedback, but obviously it never became a factory option. The limited numbers of people who know of these bubbletop roofs have lamented that so few were made--so Roy has recently begun to reproduce them.
Roy's taste for non-factory accessories keeps the Copper '55 out of NCRS because the Restorers Society only recognizes factory options, but he doesn't mind. Roy knows that he restored it well and correctly--so he doesn't require official approval. "Having owned many '55s, this one just came together like it was meant to be," he says. Besides, Roy and Mary enjoy simply showing it to people they meet on the road. "We're not saving it for someone else by not driving it. I restored it to use and drive," and they average 10,000 miles each year, cruising around 75-80 mph. "The funny part about driving it is that few other Corvette owners on the road recognize it as a Corvette, so we don't get the Corvette Wave very often" Nonetheless, they keep a bubbly disposition!