In 1968, my father, Jerry Winston Christian, bought his dream car-a '65 Corvette equipped with a 396 and a close-ratio four-speed. Dad often told stories of the "awesome power" the car had and how it was the fastest thing on the road from 0 to 115 mph. Dad was a Michigan-certified master mechanic, and he performed all of his own engine and trans work.
After eight years of ownership, he was forced to sell the '65. My mother was very jealous of the car, and they often quarreled about it. Dad never really got over her not accepting the Vette, and my parents ultimately divorced.
My Dad suffered one financial setback after another through the '80s, all while raising four kids. The '90s were no better, bringing a second divorce and further hardship. Then, after 30 years working in both a steel mill and at his auto-repair business, he retired. He never made a profit on his business, often working for little or no pay, just to make sure people had safe cars to drive.
Living on his small pension, all he had left were stories of his old '65 Corvette. He was always preaching about the engineering feats embodied in that car, how there was a purpose for every piece of equipment.
Although he had given up hope of ever owning another Corvette, he raised my sister, Malissa, and my three brothers-Randy, Gerald, and Mike-to be Corvette lovers and enthusiasts.
Dad and I didn't have a great relationship when I was a teenager. He worked alot, my parents had divorced, and I was very rebellious. Maybe it's not surprising that when we reconnected, it was through our mutual love of Corvettes.
When I bought my first Corvette, a rough '73 with a 350 and a four-speed, I couldn't wait to tell him. We immediately set about fixing the car, installing a new clutch, rear spring, door parts, window regulators, interior trim, distributor, cap, wires, plugs, carburetor, and hood-release cables. We were working in a garage that was too small, on a car that had been severely neglected, but we were having a great time.
Not long after that, in July 2002, my paternal grandmother passed away. Dad was heartbroken, but when the grieving process had worked itself out, he decided to use part of his inheritance to find a nice used Corvette to drive and enjoy.
He found what he was looking for in a black-on-black '96 LT1 with 138,000 miles. He studied the car inside and out, working his way through the factory service manuals to familiarize himself with every detail. He was constantly amazed by the technical advancements incorporated into the later C4s.
By this time, my brother Randy had a raucous '75 Vette ("Lucy"), and I had a raunchy '73 ("Brandy"). One day, while the three of us were driving the back roads of lower central Michigan, Dad came zipping past just to show us the true power of the LT1. That sure was embarrassing!
In the summer of 2006, I purchased a new six-speed LS2 Vette. That September, Dad and I drove our cars to the annual Mid America Motorworks Corvette Funfest in Effingham, Illinois. He had my youngest brother, Gerald, with him and I had my wife, Robin, with me. We absorbed all we could in two days, taking lots of pictures and buying plenty of souvenirs.
Dad had plans to redo much of the '96 LT1. He had purchased a new front bumper, left front fender, weatherstripping, distributor, carpeting, taillight lenses, running-light lenses, and many other small, often-overlooked parts. He also purchased a set of C5 Z06 wheels with new rubber to replace the originals.
For much of his adult life, Dad suffered with high blood pressure, a condition that caused numerous heart-related problems. On July 27, 2007, he died in his sleep as a result of heart failure. I drove his Corvette as the lead car in the funeral procession, with Randy following in his own '73.
I'm honored to be the new guardian of his Corvette. Over the winter, my friend Brent and I installed the new body parts and gave the car a fresh coat of paint. This spring, Randy and I started working on freshening up the engine, replacing the intake-manifold gaskets, the check valve, and various vacuum lines that were dry rotted or oil saturated. Randy and another friend, Benny, changed the distributor, the spark plugs, the oil pan and oil-filter adapter, and the front brake pads.
The Corvette now has 166,320 miles on the clock and looks and drives great. Although I do take great pleasure in driving it most of the time, I'm sometimes saddened that Dad never did get to drive his Corvette in the great condition it's in today.
When I bought my '06, my plate read "TPRC C6," for "Thomas Prichard Ray Christian Sixth Generation Corvette." Dad loved it. As I pondered a new personalized plate for the '96, I decided it needed be special-a tribute to my father. In a moment I visualized it: DADS C4. Perfect.
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