Cars

A 'Vette of many faces

Jim Tabor's 1958 Corvette was supposed to be a bright-red 409, 4-speed 1962 Chevy Biscayne.

"I sold my '55 Chevy for $550... and put the money down on the 409. I kept checking back and checking back at the dealer, but my car never came in. After several months, I checked with the manager and found out the salesman didn't order my car and spent my money. He was fired right in front of me," Tabor said.

"They credited me and said if there was anything out there on the lot that you like... Well, I started out and I saw this 'Vette that they had just traded for and I turned around and the manager said, 'Take it.' " That was 48 years ago and Tabor has never regretted the strangest car deal of his life.

That's not to say he babied the 230-horsepower, 4-speed 'Vette.

"This car would run 13.60s in the mid- to late '60s. You ask anybody around town (who is) about my age, and they know this car. There were six guys that had these old Corvettes in the days when we all ran around on Douglas," he said.

"In 1963 I crashed it and knocked the whole front end off. This happened two weeks before I left for basic training. I was stationed at Fort Riley, so I came home on weekends to work on it," Tabor remembered.

Besides painstakingly piecing the shattered fiberglass back together with the help of a buddy, Darrell Slane, Tabor decided it was time for a color change.

"The original color was Signet Red with a white cove. In 1964, the Mustang came out with Poppy Red and that was my color and has been to this day," he said.

The Corvette has had many different looks over the years, using everything from Mickey Thompson mag wheels to steel rims and baby moon hubcaps. For years, it was outfitted with a red-and-white pleated interior, including the headliner for the removable hardtop.

By 1988, Tabor decided it was time for a full body-off-frame restoration. A new engine was built, and his cousin, Mike Tabor, sewed him a set of black leather door panels, matched by seats upholstered by Dean Teague.

The old 283 had gone by the boards, along with the blown-up original transmission, so Tabor built a new engine for the car. Later, he ordered a 350-cubic-inch, 350 horsepower Chevy Ram Jet V-8 crate motor to bolt up to a Muncie 4-speed transmission.

But health problems put that engine swap on hold for a couple of years. Finally back up to speed, Tabor built special motor mounts to allow the fuel-injected engine to clear the stock hood and created his own cold-air intake system out of scrap stainless steel tubing. The nose of the car rides scant inches off the pavement, thanks to 2-inch dropped spindles in front.

"They nicknamed the '58 the 'Ugly Duckling 'Vette' because it had a lot more trim than the earlier cars," Tabor said. That didn't stop him from adding eight more shark's teeth to the grille, bringing the total count to 17 vertical bars, giving the car a custom look.

Tabor also fabricated his own exhaust system from the Sanderson ceramic coated headers back, and built a set of rear traction bars to keep the 3:55 rear end from biting into the fiberglass body on hard acceleration. "When I drive it, I have no mercy," Tabor said.

"I've only driven it twice," said his wife, Sherry — once when he had shoulder surgery and once as part of a surprise birthday party setup. "He about had a heart attack," she said.

They hit as many car shows around the region as they can each spring and summer and the Poppy Red Corvette has collected its share of trophies and plaques.

"This old Corvette has been around for a long time. If it could talk, it could tell some great stories," Jim Tabor said.

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