COLLECTOR’S CORNER: Bill Whited’s Corvettes

After almost two years of blogging about my automotive adventures past and present, it’s time to turn the blog in a different direction.

It’s been my good fortune to have participated in the collector car hobby by attending car shows, working on restorations, and driving in rallies. Throughout these adventures, I’ve met many similar-minded men and women. As I’ve gotten to know my fellow enthusiasts, their stories have come out. I’ve realized that this hobby is really about its participants. Old cars, by definition, have a history to them, and every owner knows at least some of the story behind their car, and is usually happy to share it.

A while back, while chatting with some friends at a show, it hit me: I was enjoying the conversations and camaraderie more than I was enjoying the sight of their 1960-something Sport-mobile. I asked myself “why isn’t someone capturing these tales, and putting them out for others?” In fact, there have been some attempts to do that; however, from my observation, these efforts have been scattered, and still put too much focus on the machinery and not the personality.

This is the first installment of a new blog series called “Collector’s Corner”. The plan is to make this a semi-regular feature on the blog. If you know of anyone who might be interested in participating, or if you yourself would like to be featured, please let me know.

About this week’s featured collector: I’ve known Bill Whited professionally and personally for over twenty years. He is a warm, engaging man, and passionate about the automotive business and hobby. One evening several weeks ago, he graciously invited me to his north Jersey home, and we sat and spoke about his lifelong involvement with cars. Below are excerpts from our conversation. We welcome your comments and questions.

 

  • What is your earliest memory related to cars?

My mom told me that my first word as a baby was “car”. I grew up without a dad, so I had no influences from anyone else except TV. I remember the TV show Bonanza with those Chevrolet commercials. I aspired to those cars, especially the Corvette, thinking that I could never afford one.

  • What do you remember about the family cars from your childhood?

I remember when I was about six years old, my mom and my uncle took me to the local Chevy dealer. My mom was going to buy a new Chevrolet. I gravitated to a beautiful black Bel Air. But my mom got the 210 model. That was the in-between model, not a 150, but it wasn’t a Bel Air either. It was pink, like a salmon color, with a white top. It was a 6 cylinder, with Powerglide, no power steering, and no power brakes. When I turned 17, I got my mom’s car, and that became my first car. By that time it was battleship grey, after I had convinced my mom to go to Earl Scheib for a paint job!

  • Which cars followed your first car, that ’57 Chevy 210?

My first job was in a local department store, and my grandmother had passed, so I had a little money from her. At 17, my mom and I went back to the local Chevy dealer. I picked out a used 1963 Impala SS, royal dark blue, with a 283 V8. I kept that for about a year. When I was a senior, I flipped that one for a ’65 Impala. The ‘65 was not an SS; it was yellow, with a bench seat! My mom would finance the cars for me.

After high school I went to Bergen Community College in Paramus, NJ, and was working after school at UPS. I traded in the ’65 for my first Corvette, a 1966 convertible. Again, my mom was along with me, co-signing for it. So at 19, I’m already on my 4th car. The Corvette was maroon with a saddle interior, with a 327/350 and a 4-speed. Of course, I blew the motor racing someone on 9W. At the time, GM had a parts warehouse in Englewood NJ. A friend ordered a replacement block, 327/375 solid lifter motor for $350!

During my second year of college, I was called up to the National Guard. Just before leaving for Louisiana, I was driving in the snow and had an accident. In those days, you put snows on and drove year-round; the Corvette was my everyday car. I limped the car home, and left it with my friend’s gas station to be fixed. I was away for 5 ½ months, and when I got back, it still wasn’t finished.

I got back from the Guard, finished college, and was introduced to the car business. I started with 25 others on the sales floor of this Ford dealership. At the same time, I had part-time job at a Buick dealer running parts, and from their used car lot I bought a 1966 Opel Kadett, with the fenders falling off. I had the Corvette AND the Kadett – two cars at this young age. I had no money, but I had cars!

  • Tell us about your start in the automotive industry.

In late 1972, at the age of 22, I had been at the Ford dealer for about 9-10 months. I was already the third-best salesperson by volume, so I got to pick out my first demo. The 1973 models were just coming out, and I picked a brand new Gran Torino Brougham. I was living at home, saving my money, and driving a dealer demonstrator.

But I didn’t like the Ford dealer, because they wanted you to lie to customers. I thought perhaps I’d try to sell foreign cars. So I interviewed at Bergen Volvo. During the interview, I asked about a demo, and was told “no company cars”. I told him, if there’s no demo, then I guess I’ll stick with Ford, but you’re missing out on the best salesman you could hire. By the time I got home, my mom said that the dealer had called back, and they said we’ll give you a demo, but you need to prove you can sell. And I did. That first demo was a Volvo 164E, powder blue, with a stick shift.

  • In the meantime, did you still have the ’66 Corvette?

Yes, I kept the Corvette for seven years, but as soon as I sold it, I regretted it. There was someone around the corner from me who had a 1962 Corvette, fawn exterior and interior, 327/340, 4-speed, 2 tops, all original. I bought that car for around $2,500. Because I had dealer demos, these Corvettes were just fun cars, weekend cars.

  • What’s in the garage right now?

Right now, I have three Corvettes in the garage; I love my Corvettes! It’s a small collection. I learned my lesson, because in the early ‘90s, I had up to 11 cars, which was too many! Some may love to have that many; after all, everyone is different. For me, less is more when it comes to multiple car ownership at one time, because I enjoy driving them, and it takes quite a bit of upkeep to keep the cars right.

First: I have a 1967 Corvette coupe, in blue, with a 427/400 tri-power.

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I‘ve owned this car since 1993. It’s a matching numbers original car. I found this one in Hemmings; the car was in Massachusetts. The car was advertised for $36,500. The restoration was eight years old. The market had taken a downturn at that time. Two years earlier, an appraiser had appraised it for $65,000. I drove up, looked at every number on the car, and it was all legit, so I bought it.

In 2015, a friend suggested that I show this car at the AACA meet in Hershey. I’ve never been a ‘show car’ kind of guy. The outside looked pretty good, but I had never detailed the engine compartment, so I cleaned that up. I drove it out to Hershey, and lots of people were looking at the car. The class of cars was a tough one: all ’63-’67 (C2) cars. To my surprise, the car got a 3rd Junior its first time out.

The best part of the show was when someone questioned the color of the crossed-flag emblems. The question was “shouldn’t they be white, not black?” At that moment, a fellow came up to the car who happened to be the guy who restored the car. He verified that the emblems were never replaced, and that the originals were black, the way they were supposed to be!

The second car in my current collection is my 1961 Corvette.

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It’s my 5th solid-axle (C1) car. When I had sold my business, I had a ’61 which I had owned for about 10 years. I sold it in 2012, but I missed having a C1, so I started looking for another. I like the ’60 to ’62 cars, those are the sweet spot for me.

I drove to Maryland to look at a car, but a lot of things weren’t right on it. I drove to Forked River NJ to see another, but it had the wrong motor, it was more like a drag strip car. Then I found one on eBay, slightly underpriced, a ’62 with a 327. This car was in Boston and I decided to take a look. I was halfway there when the seller called me to say that someone had given him his “Buy It Now” price.

By now, I was frustrated. Meanwhile, my wife was looking for a certain kind of sponge for a decorating project. I took her around to some stores, but she couldn’t find the sponge she needed. I decided to try an auto parts store near me in Wykoff. At the store, I noticed a sign in the store window: “1961 Corvette for sale, call Tony”, with no price.

I asked inside the store, and they knew Tony. He and the car were right around the corner. We went to look at the car, and within 20 minutes, I bought it. After all that time, I found my car right around the corner from me. I’ve had it for about a year and a half, two years.

My third Corvette is a 2006 Z06, which I bought in 2014. It’s my fourth Z06.

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I missed my other ones, so I went on the hunt and found this one online on AutoTrader. It was in Westchester County NY. It was a two-owner car. The Carfax showed that a police report had been filed after someone backed into the car, which cracked the headlight and scraped the front bumper cover. The previous owner replaced both, and there was no obvious damage. I made him an offer, we negotiated a bit, and I got the car.

The car has its original paint in Machine Silver Metallic. I have a copy of the build sheet and the window sticker, showing a list price of $72,000. This was the first year of the C6 Z06; 2004 was the last year of the C5 version. That one had 405 horsepower, and this one is 505 horsepower. It’s only available with the six speed manual transmission. It’s a light car, with a full aluminum frame, carbon fiber front fenders, and floorboards of balsa wood sandwiched with carbon fiber.

GM had a recall on the 2006 roof panels; the glue that bonded the roof was bad, and roofs were actually flying off the cars. The previous owner had the recall done, and since the dealership had to remove the roof, he had it painted in dark grey metallic (along with the band behind it) to duplicate the ZR1 that came out in 2009. The full rear spoiler is also not stock; it’s in flat black, again, like the ZR1 model.

  • Bill, any final words for us?

I have been blessed by God to have been able to purchase all these cars over the years as He guided me in my automotive career. For 40+ years as an auto dealer I’ve had the luxury of being able to afford my dream cars. Thank you Lord for all your blessings, and thank you, Richard!

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All photographs copyright © 2016 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

Sunday Morning Breakfast Drive, May 15, 2016

8 a.m.: sunny before departure
8:30 a.m.: sunny before departure

After a relatively mild winter, the spring of 2016 has been taking its sweet time arriving in the Northeast. Any fears of summer heat waves in early May have been unfounded, with daily temperatures often running 10 degrees below normal. Our little driving club tried to get an early start on the season by planning a mid-April event, which had to be cancelled due to the threat of snow! Our scheduled drive on Sunday May 15 did successfully occur, in spite of cool weather and surprise showers.

Hey guys, do you want to eat, or would you rather stand around and shoot the breeze?
Hey guys, do you want to eat, or would you rather stand around and shoot the breeze?

Checking back on last year’s blog entries, we never had more 15 participants on any one run (excepting Spousal Accompaniment Day). Today, we broke that record with 17 gentlemen occupying 12 cars. Obviously, we had 5 passengers, several of whom were joining us for the first time. Our destination was a crowd favorite, the Silver Spoon Café in Cold Spring NY.

We pull over to give those in back a chance to catch up

We pull over to give those in back a chance to catch up

The cars: we usually count up the Chevys, and then all the rest. Today, the Europeans won the day with a total of 7 cars: 3 Germans, 2 Brits, and 2 Italians. We had 4 U.S. brand cars, and one Japanese. There were old(ish) and new(ish) vehicles in all the subcategories with multiple vehicles.

The Mother Country was beautifully represented Rich S’s black MGB and Rich L’s white Jaguar F-Type.

The MGB of Rich S
The MGB of Rich S

 

The F-Type Jag of Rich L
The F-Type Jag of Rich L

The 2 Italians cars were both Alfas: EC was the proud papa bringing his ’91 spider out with us for the first time, while your humble scribe brought his trusty, un-rusty ’67 GT Junior.

Enzo's 1991 Alfa Spider
Enzo’s 1991 Alfa Spider

 

The author's '67 Alfa GT Junior
The author’s ’67 Alfa GT Junior

German marques ruled the roads today with 3 cars: Peter’s stunning red 911, Sal’s BMW 325is, and John M’s new Audi A3 cabrio.

Peter's Porsche 911
Peter’s Porsche 911

 

John's Audi A3
John’s Audi A3

 

Sal's BMW 325is
Sal’s BMW 325is

Among domestic product, it was all Chevrolet, including 3 Corvettes: Bill’s C1, Ron’s C4, and George’s C6. Larry ran his reliable Camaro.

Bill's C1
Bill’s C1

 

Ron's C4
Ron’s C4

 

George's C6
George’s C6

 

Larry's '94 Camaro
Larry’s ’94 Camaro

The sole Asian car was Jim N’s Datsun 280Z.

Jim's Datsun 280Z
Jim’s Datsun 280Z

We departed the Sheraton Crossroads parking lot (almost) right on time and headed north. As soon as we did, the skies darkened, and the clouds threatened. In spite of the weather, several drivers motored with convertible tops down. After a beautiful ride along Seven Lakes Drive and over the Bear Mountain Bridge, we were at our destination with 10 minutes to spare. The staff at the Silver Spoon had a table for 17 waiting. Coffee was almost immediately served, with hot breakfast plates soon following. As always, the camaraderie around the table made it difficult to leave.

The obligatory wave before breakfast
The obligatory wave before breakfast

When we finally wrenched ourselves away from the food and endless caffeine, we stepped outside to some slight sprinkles. Those who had left their tops down scurried back to their cars. Several of us continued to linger and chat, not wanting the festivities to end. But end they eventually did. We’ve assured the group that we’ll do our best to get out at least once a month this driving season.

A crowd favorite is the Silver Spoon Cafe, on Main St. in Cold Spring NY
The Silver Spoon Cafe, on Main St. in Cold Spring NY, survived our visit

All photographs copyright © 2016 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.