I came across an attention-grabbing old-school Vette while attending the Dead Man's Curve/Radir Wheel Extravaganza in Northern New Jersey this past year. While strolling through what seemed to be endless aisles of high-end dream cars and backyard bombers alike, I spied the vintage rod sitting next to a brace of '60s Buick gassers, just begging to be noticed.
And by the looks of it, this graphics-laden, straight-axle Chevy had an interesting story to tell, as it was no mint piece of pampered pop culture. No, this car had seen some heavy use. I took a few shots and then continued on my way, leaving a message with the car's neighbors that I was interested in talking to the owner.
Well things didn't pan out, and I never got to meet the owner that night. However, while scanning through my pictures the next day, I came across some shots of the car. The Corvette was labeled "Spastic Plastic" in big colorful letters and had the callouts for a custom shop from Brooklyn painted on its rear flanks. I did some homework on the Net and somehow got an email address, which led me to the owner of the car, a Mike Walsh of Shohola Falls, Pennsylvania. Case solved.
Walsh isn't just a Corvette lover; this guy's whole lifestyle just revolves around all things pertaining to fiberglass Chevys. Based up in the hills of eastern Pennsy, Walsh owns and operates the The Early Vette Shop, a primetime restoration facility and a second home for many wayward hot-rod fanatics.
Walsh invited me up to his compound for his annual Dyno Party, and I obliged. I was amazed at the prime American iron present at the show, an array of rods and rides spanning the 20th century. But what really caught my eye was his steroid-driven incarnation of a '59 Vette, which sat stoically on the pavement in front of the garage. That car deserved a closer look.
This image depicts the Vette...
This image depicts the Vette in 1970, before its transformation into a dedicated quarter-miler.
Mike Walsh's Story
Walsh always had his nose in the want ads, and pretty much knew about every Corvette that made the northwestern New Jersey tri-state region its home. He grew up in a Vette household, with his dad owning several models over the years (he still rips it up in a custom '65 he bought 40 years ago). That love of fiberglass trickled down to Mike, and pushed him into scoring his first Corvette in his late teens--a '62 that had been left out in the woods to rot. That car would be the first of many he would restore over the years, and he still owns it today.
In 1984 Walsh spied a '59 Corvette in the local car-trader magazine. Funny thing was, he never saw this car out and about, and it was located just a stone's throw from his house. So curiosity got the best of him, and he went over to take a look. What he came upon was an ex-race car, with no motor under the hood, and with a Chrysler Hemi/four-speed Doug Nash crashbox sitting between the seats. The car was highly modified to run a quarter-mile at a time, with several body chops made along the way. The 427 that was used during its race days had been sold off earlier, and the car's lettering had been hastily removed.
The owner was trying to make a fast buck with the shell and offered it up for $7,000, a pretty steep asking price more than 25 years ago. Walsh offered the owner $3,000 and was turned down flat.
A few weeks later, the owner contacted Walsh and told him he would take his offer. Walsh was a little short on cash at this point, but luckily his boss at the concrete company where he worked offered to buy him the car as a gift for all his hard work over the years. Some boss!
Equipped with a tunnel-rammed...
Equipped with a tunnel-rammed 427, the ’59 terrorized dragstrips around the Northeast throughout the ’70s.
After getting the car home, Walsh got a better look at his new project and noticed a few interesting things. First, the front suspension had been replaced with a front end from another Chevy model. The rear was also gone, replaced with a Chevy 12-bolt unit. Nothing strange about that.
Interestingly enough, though, there was a fuel-injection-only 6,500-rpm tachometer in the dash, and the car also had the "fast" steering adapter attached to the column. On closer inspection, Walsh also discovered air-cleaner holes in the inner fender, a hole for the tach cable, and holes in the fenders where fuel-injection emblems would have been. These were all telltale signs that the car once sported the rare RPO 579D and possibly the 684 option codes, which GM used for its big-brake and fuel-injected cars, respectively.
Since there was no buildsheet, or any other way of determining the origin of the car, Walsh decided to locate one of the previous owners to find out more of the history behind his new ride. His first clue was in the faint remnants of the racing callouts on the car's sides. "Spindle City Corvettes" was barely legible, but it turned out to be a big help in tracking down the car's owner during its quarter-miling days. More detective work followed, with Walsh finally getting an email from a woman who knew something about the car's past. This led to Jim Davy.