Car Restoration Projects

California Dreamin’

 

Tim and Margo K own this US 1969 Chev Corvette Stingray muscle car, created by the pen of legendary GM automotive Chief Stylist, Bill Mitchell.

 

As a young man growing up, Tim lived on Sydney’s Northern Beaches and, as one would, he spent much time surfing the waves on his board. 

 

Tim K

 

His father was a carpenter and Tim lent a helping hand on many occasions. He recalled:

“The old man said to me one day, ’It’s about time you got an apprenticeship, instead of playing in the surf every day, so I’ve organised a start for you at your uncle’s Shell garage in Neutral Bay, to become an apprentice motor mechanic’.” 

That later led to Tim’s obsessive longing to own a Corvette Stingray one day. 

“The garage foreman Peter took me under his wing,” Tim continued

“He was a first-class instructor, but apart from that he had a mate who worked on a cruise ship.

“Consequently, he was away a lot of the time and would leave his Stingray with Peter, just to stretch its legs. 

“As luck would have it, he’d take me with him on some of these jaunts. 

“I was smitten and that was the start of my Corvette Stingray love affair –  just to look along that long sloping bonnet with its two mudguard humps rising on each side, emulating the sea creature from which it took its name. 

“I just knew there would be one in my life someday,” said Tim K.

 

The Stingray that started it all   

 

Then, as a tradesman, his life moved on and his career took him to a large company, building high-rise units and office blocks. His job was maintaining its array of mobile and stationary mechanical equipment. 

During this time, he met his future wife in the Crows Nest pub, one afternoon at a function and the rest is history. They were married and raised a family. As the years rolled by, the family left them ‘empty nesters’. 

 

 

Tim owned a blue Chev Impala, but it was no substitute for its Corvette stablemate – the car of his dreams. 

By the time he’d spent 30 years with the building company he had accumulated enough superannuation to retire.  So, he and Margo talked it over and decided that Tim would retire with his nest egg and they’d escape the Sydney rat race by heading down to the NSW South Coast. 

   

Margo K

 

Tim said, with a smile: “I’d been regularly buying the Unique Cars magazine in search of that elusive Corvette.

“Margo was keen for me to buy one, so we could enjoy the open road in it together. 

“I’d been to see a few that were advertised and I even travelled interstate to look at one, but, as usual, none lived up to the advertiser’s description. 

“However, one day, there it was: advertised by an Adelaide importer of US muscle cars and hued in Can-Am white, complemented by a bright blue interior  – Tim’s dream combination.  

 

  

 

“Unfortunately, I wasn’t very well at the time,” Tim said. “And, as the doctor’s diagnoses weren’t good news, I was put on a course of radiation treatment. 

“I therefore thought it unwise to make any further enquires. 

“Also, at this time, we were in the process of moving to the South Coast, where we had rented a house in the Ulladulla area.”

After some time had passed and they were settled in their rented seaside digs, the best news came: the radiation treatment had been successful, so he had dodged a bullet. After that news they bought a house a little further north of Ulladulla and very close to the coast. 

On top of that, that perfect Can-Am Corvette could now be followed up, but, alas, it was no longer advertised. 

 

 

Good News

 

 

Tim said that some time later he’d just bought the latest copy of Unique Cars and couldn’t believe his eyes: 

“There it was:  that very same ‘perfect’ Corvette, advertised again by the same company!

“I hastily let my finger do the walking and the dealer answered: ‘Yes, it’s the very same car you saw in those past issues’.”

The dealer said the purchaser’s wife wouldn’t ride in the car because it was left hand drive:

“She was very scared sitting in the passenger’s seat, with the oncoming traffic heading towards her, sitting so close to the centre of the road,” said the dealer. 

“So, the purchaser brought it back, asking us to buy it, or to sell it on his behalf.”

 

 

Tim K said that having looked at the seller’s website many times he was impressed with his thorough description, along with the volume of very detailed photographs. 

“I then rang him back to negotiate a price, including delivery of the car from Adelaide directly to my house,” said Tim. 

“The deal was done at what I thought a reasonable cost and he also gave me the previous US owner’s contact details, to confirm more about the car’s history.”

 

 

Tim wrote to the US owner and the email below was returned by the owner’s widow:

Hello Tim,

It was great to receive your letter and we are thrilled to know that you will be enjoying your new

Corvette, which is exactly what we were hoping for. It was part of our family from early 1971 until we sold it and discovered that it would start new adventures in Australia. We feel lucky that it found its new life with you.

Bill only owned two of his own (not shared) cars in his life: first a 1957 white Corvette with red insert and hard and convertible tops. The day we sold it, Bill flew down to Los Angeles and brought the

1969 one home, to the central valley of California, south of Sacramento. That is the car that you own now. 

Bill would have been thrilled to get your letter. He loved that Corvette. Bill got Covid-19 last January, before anyone here really knew what it was. Many people in our immediate area had similar illnesses. 

He died after five weeks, from severe lung damage.   

Take care and stay well,

 Lynne

 

   

As can be seen from Lynne’s letter, the Corvette had spent most of its time in California. So, Tim’s story really is a ‘California Dream’.

 

 

Special Delivery

 

Early one morning in October 2019, Tim’s phone rang and a voice said: “I have a car from Adelaide on my truck for you and I should be at your house in about an hour.”

Tim and Margo were out in the front garden waiting impatiently – Tim with camera in hand, to capture the moment he’d waited to materialise for 40-odd years – when it arrived.

 

 

The car was everything and more: it was fully optioned with 350 cubic inches of engine, rated at 350hp with 380lb ft of torque, thanks to an 11:1 compression ratio.

 

 

It had a four-speed manual transmission and a Positraction differential, all clothed in Can-Am white, over a bright blue interior combo. It had been repainted in the original colour and the seats were also reupholstered in the genuine blue.

 

 

The only two factory options not on its menu were power steering and power brakes. Tim thought: “Who cares – after all, it is muscle car.”  

The odometer had clocked over just 118,000 miles, so the Uniroyal Redline original tyres were showing their age and were as hard as hell. Tim says he wouldn’t drive on them, so he replaced them with B F Goodrich T/As, keeping the originals (as you would) in his barn roof ’s rafters. 

 

 

There were a couple of other things to attend to, besides a blue slip for NSW registration purposes. Steve Hedger, master mechanic at nearby Sussex Inlet, soon had the air conditioning working and the electric windows functioning. Nothing is a problem for this guy, who’s a gem.

With the Stingray’s rego plates screwed on, Tim took Margo out on their maiden voyage. Tim reckons you don’t just sit in a Stingray: you wear it. Margo was so happy for him saying, “He couldn’t get the grin off his face and I was ecstatic for him to finally live his dream.”

 

  

Tragedy strikes

 

 

After that initial road test Tim knew there were a few more things to follow up on, but then came the bushfires on the NSW South Coast, in December 2019/January 2020. 

Where Tim and Margo live there’s only one way in and one way out to the Princes Highway. Tim painted the picture:

“There we were, after being evacuated with our dog, standing in the road in front of our ‘new’ house with the fibreglass-bodied Corvette locked in the barn and the bushfire raging close by.

“I’d soaked all our doonas and spread them over the car.” 

Tim and Margo had been told by the fire authorities that the community was on its own, as all local fire tenders were fighting fires elsewhere, but the RFS had called for outside assistance. 

 

   

 

“We were lucky, as three fire trucks got through to our area,” said Tim K. 

“They were from Frenchs Forest, Belrose and Warringah (suburbs north of Sydney) and our ex-prime minister, Tony Abbott, was on one of them. 

“The fire came as close as 10 houses away, when, miraculously, the wind changed.”

So, when the fire emergency ended, the bush all around was burnt to the ground but, Tim said, they were lucky to escape without any damage.

 

Back to work

 

After close inspection, Tim listed some of the work to be done. The steering was wandering, so he ordered a new manual steering box from the USA, plus the car needed a new door handle and the side mirror’s chrome work was pock-marked, and the mirror edges clouding over. 

Tim said Positraction differentials were notorious for giving trouble after 100,000 miles, so he took the diff to Sydney for overhaul. On its return he replaced the suspension bushes, checked the half shafts and also replaced the tail shaft universals. 

 

 

The four-barrel carby was sent to Sydney for throttle shaft re-bushing and a new overhaul kit. Tim later found, after some miles, that it was flooding and had Steve at Sussex Inlet look at it. He found the bakelite float was saturated and of course was sinking, hence the flooding

“I also replaced all the hoses and belts and, naturally, the plugs and points – no 21st century electronic distributor for me,” said Tim K.

“I want it all original and, as I grew up adjusting points and timing, it’s not a problem.” 

He estimates the Corvette has travelled about 2000 miles since it’s been on the road. It’s no good for overnight trips, as there’s virtually no room in the so-called boot that has no external access. The boot is only accessed from the passenger’s area, as it’s the storage area for the removable T-top roof panels.

With barely enough space to stow a toothbrush in the Corvette, Tim and Margo K are happy to spend time travelling in it with the local car club, cruising around on various day runs.

  

       

               

    

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