<VV> FW: Lost and found: The Corvair miracle

Keith Hammett khammett at stainlessfab.com
Wed Oct 12 15:46:53 EDT 2005

Don't know if this will make it, but here is the article and the link to the
article is (in case it doesn't make it through)

Keith Hammett


Lost and found: The Corvair miracle

33 years after learning to drive in a red convertible, he gets the car back
in his driveway.

The Orange County Register In July 2004, I was looking to buy a classic car.
Specifically, a '64 Corvair convertible. I was in the midst of a Google
search when up popped a car from an estate auction. Red with a white top,
sitting in a Nebraska pasture. 

The paint was oxidized. It had holes in the top, missing hubcaps and
antenna, cracked windshield and a broken wiper. 

It had the wrong kind of mirrors for a Corvair. And it had a big dent in the
passenger side door panel.

Sitting alone in the quiet of my home, illuminated by the glow of the
screen, I began to tingle. The first time I'd ever seen a car like that was
the summer of '66 when my dad pulled into our driveway in Lexington, Neb. It
was as good as new, except the original owner had removed the stock
rear-view mirrors on the doors and replaced them with rectangular ones so he
could better tow his boat.

A red convertible seemed pretty cool to a 12-year-old like me, who was just
starting to recognize how cars could impress a girl. And I needed all the
help I could get. 

>From the start, it was Dad's car, taking him (and sometimes the rest of the
family) to the golf course. Dad's clubs and golf shoes fit nicely in the
forward luggage compartment. 

We took it that first summer to Colorado. Five of us drove all the way with
the top down. Two high school freshmen and a very large sixth-grader in the
back seat of a Corvair for 300 miles with "Red Rubber Ball" on the radio and
Madras surfer hats covering freshly sunburned foreheads.

My emotional attachment to the Corvair accelerated when I started driving. I
learned how to drive on this little three-speed, out on country roads with
my dad, who seemed calm through the jerks and grindings until I got the hang
of the stick shift.

Mom was not so easygoing with her easily distracted son behind the wheel of
a ton of Corvair. At 15, learner's permit in hand, I could drive with an
adult in the car. When Mom drew the short straw, she held onto the inside
armrest and pumped an imaginary brake pedal until the carpet was nearly bald
on her side. 

Once I had my license and was free to solo, I did so with a confidence this
geeky-looking kid had never felt before. Occasionally a girl would wave at
me from the sidewalk, until she realized I wasn't my brother Scott. But that
was still more than I was used to.

Once I actually had a girlfriend, I enjoyed driving around town with her.
And I remember one specific, perfect night in the summer of 1970, parked
with the top down in front of her house, staring up at a star-filled sky,
while our song, "Make It With You" by Bread played. It was the first time I
ever told a girl I loved her. The first time a girl ever told me she loved

I know what you're thinking and the answer is no. It was too small a car and
I was too big and too shy.

As a freshman, I joined the Lexington High golf team and Dad's old clubs and
shoes became my new clubs and shoes going to and from the course in style in
my little Corvair. It was always a dependable little car, and even when the
folks' more expensive car would refuse to start on cold winter mornings, the
Corvair never failed to fire right up. I loved my little convertible, even
with the top up.

One sunny winter day, my friends and I realized we didn't need to wait until
spring to put the top down and enjoy a ride around town. Especially if we
took along a cooler full of snowballs to throw at other cars or people as we
went. A rolling snow fort! That same day saw my first stop from the police. 

When summer came again, my girlfriend and I began to put pennies in the
slots over the dash's radio speaker. When full, I'd take her to get an ice
cream cone at the drive- in. You're right. I was cheap.

I called it "Corvair." Not "the Corvair," but just "Corvair," like Steve or
Jane. Sometimes I patted the curve of the dash like a horse's neck. I loved

So you can imagine how much I hated it when I drove it into an intersection
and was hit in the passenger side door by an oncoming Mercury. I was sick.
Dad never spoke about fixing it and I couldn't afford to, so it stayed
dented, a reminder of my negligence.

As summer's end approached, the folks gave me a newer, safer car in which to
go to college. So Corvair sat in front of the house, forgotten as I drove
off to school.

On one of my first trips back home, her usual spot at the curb was empty, so
I asked Dad where she was.

"I sold it," he said.

"What??!! You sold Corvair??!!" It was as if they'd sold the family golden
retriever in my absence. I'd loved my little Corvair! 

Then Dad laid the biggest bomb. 

"I put an ad in the paper for three weeks and no one even called on it, so I
sold it to the junkman for $125." My pet had just been sold to the rendering
plant for pocket change! And all that was wrong with her was that dent in
the door panel!

My love of Corvairs endured. For decades after, on warm, sunny days, I would
often think, "What a great day this would be to put the top down and go for
a drive." And seeing another one on the road would tug at my heart. A red
and white one would put me in a temporary funk.

So finally, last July, I decided to look for another '64 Corvair
convertible. And that led me to my Google search. 

When I saw it, my first thought was, "What a coincidence, that's right where
I got hit in the door." I checked where the auction took place. Bladen, Neb.
About 100 miles from my hometown. Now I was intrigued. Then I saw something
that made my hair stand up. Those rectangular mirrors instead of the round

I ran to the attic and dug out a couple of pictures we'd taken in 1966 on
that Colorado vacation. Same mirrors, same place. Same color interior. Same
bumper configuration.

I was confident I was looking again at Corvair after 32 years!

Though the years had not been kind, it was listed as restorable. And that
was encouragement enough to pursue it. But I had to find where it was now,
as this auction had occurred two years earlier. It was probably long gone.
Or worse, cut up for parts.

I called the auctioneer, who was able to give me the name and number of the
lady who had purchased it. She confirmed that the dealer tag did indeed say
Larson Motors.

And the best news, she'd sell it for what she had paid: $550. 

So, on Aug. 30, after consulting extensively with an auto-restoration
expert, over lots of photos the new owner had sent me, I bought Corvair.

As I arrived at the shop near my home where she was shipped for restoration
Sept. 29, she was already being unloaded from the transport truck. Seeing
her again after 32 years, my heart raced and memories flooded back.

That's the same steering wheel I turned as I learned to drive, I thought.
The carpet worn thin by Mom's nervous foot. That's where I sat when I first
heard that a girl loved me. The radio grill where we'd stashed pennies.

The trunk latch had been knocked out in the past couple years so I needed a
screwdriver to open it up. When I did, the first thing I noticed was how
surprisingly clean it was. The second thing I noticed stopped me dead in my

There, sitting on a shelf in plain sight, were the fringed flaps that had
originally been part of those golf shoes that Dad handed down to me in 1969.
I must have stared at them for a full minute, remembering how frustrating it
was to tie those shoes every day at practice with these flaps getting in the
way. So one day I'd taken them off and thrown them in the trunk. And there
they stayed for 35 years! 

After five weeks, I thought for sure there were no more items to find. But
as one of the workers was taking out the instrument panel, he found an old
key chain that had been tucked up behind and forgotten. It was a 1923 silver
dollar attached to a single key, Dad's spare house key in case he got locked

I worked on cleaning or polishing whatever I could pull off and take home,
amazed at how quickly and beautifully the parts came back. 

Corvair gradually began to show signs of life. Cables and gaskets were
replaced. New tires mounted. Bodywork was done beautifully. An expert on old
engines fixed and tuned the motor to a strong, smooth purr. 

As the original color, Ember Red, was applied to factory specifications,
Corvair seemed to be reborn. The chrome trim was reattached and she
sparkled. Instrument panel reconnected and carpet put in. Everything was the
same except the interior, which I updated by making it two-tone. And it was
done to perfection, using exact reproduction parts. Corvair was complete.

I mounted the new license plates that read "LST&FND." And found myself
hesitating to get in it and drive it away as if this moment required fanfare
or an official dedication. 

I wished Dad could be here sitting beside me for this. I took those old golf
shoe flaps (looped together with a shoestring) and hung them over the center
rear-view mirror. I put the new key on his old silver dollar key ring, put
it in the ignition and turned it over. And drove home. Home to the garage
where my wife had put a giant sign on the door, "Congratulations! Corvair is




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