If you own a Corvette, then you have a story about how it came into your life. All Corvette owners have a variation of this story, but some are better than others. My Corvette story goes back to a time before I was born, when my dad purchased a 1966 Corvette Convertible on June 29, 1966.
At the time, my father Phillip Cornett was working in sales for a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary called Ethicon. The story goes that Johnson & Johnson hosted a sales contest that year and the winners were awarded a new 1966 Ford Mustang. My dad won that Mustang, but being a Chevy guy, he said “What would I do with an old Ford?”
So the day he picked up the Mustang, he drove it down to Rohrer Chevrolet in Camden, NJ and traded it right there on the spot for a 1966 Corvette Sting Ray Convertible.
My dad’s 1966 Corvette was the base model featuring a 327 cubic inch V8 with 300 horsepower and a four-speed manual transmission. Painted in Tuxedo Black with Silver vinyl interior, the only options were positraction, an AM/FM radio and whitewall tires.
The total cost for the new Corvette was $4,639.15. He received $2,439.15 for trading in the Mustang and the sales invoice show he agreed to make 36 payments of $70.28 per month to GMAC finance. With tags, title and interest, his total out-of-pocket for the 1966 Corvette was $2,530.08.
At the time, Phillip was dating Carole, a stewardess who flew for Eastern Airlines on the D.C to NYC shuttle. She says the Corvette put the marriage off for a year and nicknamed it “Phillip’s last fling”. True to the story, Phillip and Carole were married on July 29, 1967 – a year and one month following the purchase of the car.
And then I came along just a year after that!
Unfortunately, there are not a lot of photos from those early days of Corvette ownership. Our basement flooded sometime in the early 1970’s and supposedly ruined all the photos we had. But there are few that made it like this photo of Phillip overhauling the Corvette’s 327 V8 in our garage in Indiana circa 1975 or so:
My dad was a car guy who would occasionally buy a car on a whim. Like that time we went on a family vacation to Florida and he bought a 1966 Mercedes 230 SL. Eventually he ended up with around 7-8 different cars ranging from a 1929 Ford Model A to a 1966 Mercedes 230 SL. The Corvette, along with a Chevy pickup truck and a Cadillac Eldorado for my mother, rounded out his personal fleet.
Phillip passed away suddenly in 1982 at the young age of 44 years old. His fleet of cars was eventually sold off but not the Corvette. Living in a small Indiana town at the time, my mom was known as “the widow with a Corvette in the barn”. Many folks tried to buy that car from her but she never sold it. I think she thought about it selling it a couple times times but she could never go through with it.
During this time, I had finished high school and then went and graduated from college. After marrying my “last fling” and moving to Florida, a chance conversation with my mom sometime in late 1993 or early 1994 ended with her saying “You can come get that car if you want it”.
I don’t remember what triggered that conversation, but I do know that my wife and I flew to Chicago from Tampa within just a couple of weeks after that conversation, picking it up before she could change her mind. We made the trip back to Tampa by towing the Corvette on a u-haul car hauler with a pickup truck borrowed from a friend.
So now I was a Corvette owner and though I didn’t have a clue, but I knew that the car was more than special. After years in a Indiana barn, I began the restoration process and got it to the point where the car could be driven reliably. At the same time, I also went through a restoration process of my own, shrugging off a great job at a local television station to stake my claim on the world wide web in 1995 with my first website dedicated to my 1966 Corvette.
I’m 48 years old now today. And for the last fifty years, there has always been a Corvette Sting Ray in our garage. So when people talk about how their cars become part of their family, I totally understand. It was in our garage when I was born. It will be in our garage when I leave this world. Hopefully, my son Phillip will one day come to appreciate the gift of driving his grandfather’s Corvette as much as I have.