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Sunfire Yellow Fever!
By: Wayne Brown
By the time I graduated from college, I was suffering with the most horrible fever and it burned at my insides on a daily basis making me almost delusional with its effects. I am not sure there was a scientific or medical term for it but I knew well what it was. It was “Corvette Fever”, a quite expensive ailment for which there was seemingly only one cure. I needed to own one and own it right now. After all, I was a college graduate. I had done my time. I deserved a reward for my efforts. My dad agreed and told me that I had his permission to buy it with my own money at any time I desired to do so.
I got the fever from my college roommate, Jake. Jake had a 1966 model Stingray. It was totally black with keystone wheels. All the surface markings were shaved so one could only guess what was under the hood of that beautiful beast. Believe me, it was well-equipped with a 427 cubic inch block which had been bored out, a new crank and cam was added to up the muscle. The engine had been balanced and blueprinted. The transmission was a 4-speed feeding into a posi-traction differential. This beast was turning out over 500 HP. When Jake would get into it with me riding shotgun, I usually ended up getting thrown into the passenger floorboard and held hostage there by the acceleration G-forces. Seat belts were not very popular at the time. Jake would let off the gas to allow me to get up and then he would laugh. All the time my fever was rising.
Jake had way with the girls. I think it was due in part to the Corvette. But he was fearless too when it came to women. One of our pastimes between classes was to sit on the ledges outside the student center and watch the skirts. They were great skirts back in that day…mini-skirts. It never seemed to fail that Jake would pick just the right moment when the wrong girl was emerging from the post office box section of the student center with her mail in hand. Jake would yell to her, “Hey girl, what you doin’ this weekend?” She would smile and answer back, “Nothin’”. Jake would then point to me and say to her, “My roommate is doin’ nothin’ too, why don’t ya’ll hook up?” At that point, I usually took off running to my next class. Jake really enjoyed the sport. Me and the homely girls hated it. Eventually, Jake would hook me up using this technique but that is a story for another day and has little to do with the car fever that I was developing.
For two years, my junior and senior years, I shared living quarters with Jake and rode shotgun in the Corvette. Occasionally, I ended up behind the wheel and my fever shot to record heights. Riding in this beauty was a great experience but sitting behind the wheel in control of all the muscle this baby had was beyond the scope of dreaming. Jake knew what was happening to me because he too had suffered with the same malady years before and finally found just the car that would scratch his itch. It was a one of a kind, something that was easy to see.
I finally gained my sheepskin and set out to create a legacy in life with diploma in hand. Logically, I needed a car to drive myself to work. I told my dad what I had in mind and surprisingly he went along with the idea. At the time, I still had no obtained employment but I was working at a summer job and living at home would allow me to be able to pay for the Corvette if I was frugal. I could look for a real job once I had the car I thought.
Dad and I went into the city to search around the car lots for my dream. Just as luck with have it, these babies were not sitting on every corner waiting to be purchased. A new one was a bit out of my price range and the body styling was not what I had in mind. I was in love with the mid-60’s styling so popular even today. We were about to give up when I decided to get a newspaper and check the classifieds. I found two or three and we set out to check them out. Fate was taking me by the hand and leading me to just the right spot.
On our second stop to look at a car, I spotted it. There it sat on the driveway sporting a “For Sale” sign on the dashboard. It was a 1967 Corvette Roadster Convertible in Sunfire Yellow color with black accent racing stripes highlighting the large hood scoop so prominent on the ’67 year model. The engine was a 427 cubic inch sporting 435 horsepower. The transmission was a four-speed and the chrome shifter looked really good shining against the backdrop of the black interior. The steering wheel was simulated wood grain. The convertible top was black to match the accent stripes. Two large shielded side-exhaust pipes further accented the beauty and the sound of this marvelous machine. The guy who had it had a baby on the way and the wife wanted the car gone. He was sad; I was glad and fate worked its magic right there on the driveway. I was burning up with fever and totally in love with this machine. I had to have it, and so the deal was struck all for the handy price tag of $3650. A serious sum of money at the time.
For months, I prowled the streets around home in my new wheels. My machine was the talk and the envy of the guys in my small hometown. I was one happy dude cruising about with the top down listening to the warbling of those throaty side exhausts playing music in my ear. Could life get any better? Not really, at least from my perspective, but fate had other ideas. Military service was rapidly becoming my only avenue for employment as Vietnam was still up and running. No one wanted to hire a young Corvette driver sporting a sheepskin and a low draft lottery number. I didn’t mind the idea of the military as long as it included my wheels in the picture.
I took steps to join the Air Force and become a flyer. My Corvette sat under wraps for over three months as I was confined in OfficerTraining School in San Antonio, Texas. Once I earned my officer bars, I was to head out to Sacramento, California and spend a years in flight school. Now that I was out of the basic training phase of things, I had free access to my wheels and was more than ready to head for California.
I had found a friend in Officer Training. We were both headed to California. We laid out our route and headed west along the old Route 66 highway. I had the top down on the ‘Vette and the winds blowing round my head. Between the wind in my ear and the throaty exhaust of the 427, there was not much listening to the music on the radio. I didn’t care. My itch was getting scratched. I was on cloud nine.
Arriving in California, I found that my precious machine was almost considered a violation of law just by the fact that it showed up within the borders of the state. Even then, California had an environmentalist mentality all over the place. My ‘Vette was looked upon as a violator of that precious environment. I was told not to waste my time trying to register it for I could never pass the emission tests. California State Highway Patrol units would sit beside me at traffic signals and I could feel their stare. They were just hoping that I would step out of line just a little so they could nail me. Never happened, but I did come close a few times.
After a few months, the big block 427 in the ‘Vette began to act like a spoiled child. It seemed that it needed constant attention. It began to foul spark plugs on one of the eight cylinders. It was frustrating on the one hand having such a neat vehicle and on the other having to deal with running down the road only firing on seven of the eight cylinders. My insurance rates had gone up after my agent back home figured out that he could not classify the car as a “family sedan” on the policy. Gas was cheap but the big four-barrel Holley Dual-Line Carburetor really loved to suck it down, especially when I kept my foot in it. I kept my foot in it a lot, it wanted to run like a wild mustang galloping across the plains tossing its mane in the winds.
Finally, I awoke one morning in February 1972 and my fever had subsided. I had lost my patience with the cantankerous 427. I wanted serenity. I was tired of changing spark plugs and paying high insurance premiums. I headed down to the local Volkswagen dealership and made a deal of a far different kind in an attempt to calm my frustrations.
The Volkswagen was a “Super Beetle”. The 1972 model was the last year of the flat windshield. It was a deep forest green. I had added chrome reverse deep-dish wheels, extra chrome accents and interior wood grain highlighted accessories. The deal was made and I drove away in the Super Beetle never looking back once at the ‘Vette in my rear view mirror. I was afraid to do that, honestly.
A lot of time has passed since then. I drove the Volkswagen throughout the remainder of my military service totaling just over six years. Some 38 years later, I still own that little car. For all the use that I got out of it, it still only has 76,000 miles on it. It also has another special distinction in that it is a constant visual reminder of that Corvette and the fever that I suffered with it. On that basis alone, the little VW has earned a special place in my heart.
In today’s world of money and collectors, that Corvette I once had is priced just a little different than when I bought it. In some auctions today, that same vehicle is drawing bids in the six figure range. Who woulda thunk it? My step-son looks at the pictures and listens to the story about how I once had that Corvette and how I acquired the VW. His only question to me is, “How could you be so stupid?” I can only laugh and just shake my head.
Yes, I had the fever one time long ago and it burned. My old roommate, Jake, and I are still in contact. Neither one of us own a Corvette anymore. We occasionally visit by phone and trade stories of our adventures in those wonderfully exciting machines that we both owned way back when. We smile, laugh, and agree that we are glad those days are past. No fever. No regrets.
A salute to my friend, Tim Bryce, for giving me the inspiration to write this piece. Thanks, Tim!
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