With General Motors’ Chevrolet division in a bit of a slump in the 1950s, its brand manager, Tomas Keating, thought a sports car would be a good idea.
Some of the English sports cars have already made themselves felt in this country. A two-seater GRP body was manufactured under the code name “Project Opel” and to keep costs down, the well-established six-cylinder engine with the very slow two-speed Powerglide gearbox was used. A PR executive suggested using the Corvette name after the maneuverable boat used by the Canadian Navy during World War II.
The Chevrolet Corvette was presented as a concept car at the GM Motorama show in New York in 1953. It was the first of the first generation Corvette to last 10 years. This first Corvette was warmly received, but it wasn’t a very good car. It had a lot of quality issues and wasn’t very exciting to drive.
Only 300 Corvettes were built the first year, all white with red interiors. However, things later improved significantly, and now Corvettes are in their eighth generation, with more than 1.5 million produced in the model’s 69-year history.
The car featured in this issue is a 1960 Chevrolet Corvette, which was part of the first generation of Corvettes. It belongs to Gerald Shmavonian, a retired archaeologist living in Orinda. The history of this car is very unusual.
“To my knowledge, it’s the only unrestored 1960 Corvette in the country,” he said. “This one only has 25,000 original miles on it.”
Shmavonian said he has owned the car for about 30 years. It’s had basically the same mileage since he’s owned it, as Shmavonian drives the car just enough to keep it running properly. He believes he paid about $23,000 (about $47,900 in 2022 dollars) for the Corvette in 1992.
The owner says that for the car’s first 30 years, one of the previous owners was actor Ken Curtis, who played the role of Festus Haggen on the TV show Gunsmoke (the longest-running live-action TV series to date). prime time until the end of the year). recently) and that the car also appeared in the 1970s films Animal House and American Graffiti.
Shmavonian is not really a car collector as this Corvette is his first and only classic car. His interest in 1960 Corvettes dates back to his freshman days in high school in the Central Valley city of Madera, California.
“I saw this car, which I’ve never seen in my life, and I just stared at it. I asked someone passing by, ‘What is that?’ He looked at me like I was a hillbilly, which I was, and said, ‘That’s a ’60 Corvette.’ I have never forgotten that.
“So I knew this one car. It’s the car of choice for the covers of all those old American classic car books. It has that certain aesthetic appeal, even to someone who doesn’t know anything about cars. Even a 14-year-old farm boy like me understood it. That was something very special. It wasn’t just another classic car.”
The 1960 model year was the first for which more than 10,000 Corvettes were built. The base price was $3,875, or about $38,265 in today’s dollars. The car was featured in the premiere of the TV show “Route 66” which certainly added glamor and status to the car.
Shmavonian’s car is fairly standard with a 283 cubic inch V8 engine, the upgraded Powerglide transmission and a removable hard top. About 20 years ago, the owner noticed a small crack in the windshield.
“I wanted the car to be immaculate. I looked here and there for a windshield.”
He called PPG, the company that made glass for GM’s cars, and was told they don’t make windshields more than a year or two after the model year. However, the clerk checked and surprisingly reported that there was a windshield in Altoona, Pennsylvania that had been sitting there for 40 years. She checked her price list and he bought it for $20 with no shipping.
Most vintage cars appear to be stored in a residential garage or rented storeroom, but Shmavonian’s car is parked in a carport in Orinda’s Maynard Buehler House, built in 1948 and designed by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Shmavonian has owned this property for about nine years. The design of the house is interesting as it is built of concrete blocks and redwood which makes it look much more modest than it is.
The story goes that Wright would only accept the construction contract if the Buehlers bought all the land around it. In 1947 this was not a problem as the land was available and Buehler bought four acres. The most unusual thing for me is that two of the rooms in this amazing house have 24k gold ceilings. It’s been voted one of the country’s top 10 wedding venues, and Shmavonian opens the house for tours a couple of times a year.
Do you have an interesting vehicle? Contact David Krumboltz at [email protected] To see more photos of vehicles in this and other issues, or to read more of Dave’s columns, visit mercurynews.com/author/david-krumboltz.
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