Terral Wittgow represents all that’s good about the Corvette hobby.
He was 10 years old in 1953 when he saw his first Corvette, indeed possibly one of the first few hundred Corvettes ever made.
“I can remember as though it was yesterday,” he recalls. “I went into the showroom and there was sitting probably a 1954 Corvette. It was the only car I could look over the fender into the engine compartment. I was in awe, and I promised myself, promised the car Gods right there I would own a Corvette one day.”
Terral didn’t come from a rich family, but he did come from a hard-working one. He worked his way through college, taking seven years to get his mechanical engineering degree, and the idea of owning a Corvette had to wait longer than he wanted.
But the dream was always there.
In 1964, still a college student but with a pretty good full-time job, Terral saw a small ad for a 1956 Corvette that had been owned by a dentist and was up for sale for $1,200 – quite a deal now but a lot of money in those days, he says. He sold his existing car piece by piece and finally was able to buy his dream car – though it wasn’t perfect.
The original motor had been replaced with a 327, and the soft top was “so bad I had to stuff blankets in it in the winter time because Nebraska winters are so cold,” Terral said.
“After you freeze your butt off a few winters and the thrill of riding with the top down goes away,” he said, “a hard top becomes more appealing. I was going to college and had the only sports car on campus and was working 40 hours a week. I changed it from a 3-speed to a 4-speed. I thought I was the king of the hill.”
Terral wanted to use his car to compete in the quarter-mile and eventually won a lot of trophies in his class over the years. He credits machinist friends in the experimental shop where they tested aircraft at his work for helping him improve the car.
“I’d read about how to do stuff in the Hot Rod magazine, and those guys were always ready to help me out. I went about 2-3 years steadily improving my time, but in the back of my mind I refused to cut up my little Corvette because it would be worth more without any holes,” Terral said. “The last year, I had a friend whose brother had a 1963 and the motor had been rebuilt. It was so unstreetable. We swapped engines and that’s the engine that’s in it now.”
Eventually, though, Terral met the woman of his dreams, and the couple moved to Australia. The Corvette had to be parked at his father’s farm but he didn’t erase it from his dreams.
“I always thought I would turn 65, retire, and become 16 years old again and get it out,” Terral said. “But that didn’t happen.”
So what to do with the Corvette that offered so many good memories?
“I couldn’t bring myself to let some kid just destroy my childhood and college days’ memories,” he said. “So just by chance last fall I emailed the National Corvette Museum and they voiced interest in adding it to their collection. I just assumed you owned two or three of each year.”
Ironically, it is the first 1956 model owned by the Museum!
“I was more than happy to donate it to the Museum because I didn’t have to try to get it running again, or spend any time on it,” he said. “I’m 73, so just a little too old to be crawling around pulling engines. I thought I’ll just have a little bit of immortality and donate it to the Museum, and someone who knows us some day may go through and see that we donated it to the Museum. That means a lot more to me than money. My wife, Swana, who passed away, she too felt the same way. We’re just average people. It’s a way to keep your name going on.”
Now his Corvette, which was picked up by the Museum in July, will be lovingly taken care of by Daniel Decker of the Maintenance and Preservation Department. It’ll be rotated in and out of display within the Museum’s Performance area.
If you’d also like to donate your Corvette to the Museum, call Connie Russell at 270-467-8815.
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