Cars

Second time around: Corvette comes home

Stan and Carolyn Schmidt dated in this 1957 Corvette in the early '60s, but sold the car after they were married. Amazingly, it found its way back to them 20 years later and they treated it to a frame-off restoration. It looks great three decades later and won't be leaving their possession again.
Stan and Carolyn Schmidt dated in this 1957 Corvette in the early '60s, but sold the car after they were married. Amazingly, it found its way back to them 20 years later and they treated it to a frame-off restoration. It looks great three decades later and won't be leaving their possession again. The Wichita Eagle

NEWTON – It was 1962 and it was a special time in Stan and Carolyn Schmidt’s lives. He was driving a beautiful Venetian Red 1957 Corvette that he had found on a California used car lot.

“I had a ’59 Impala, top-of-the line two-door hardtop and I traded the car and $300 for the Corvette. My dad didn’t think it was a very good move at the time,” Stan recalled.

“I came back here and I met her. This was the car we dated in. In the fall of ’63 we got married and I figured we were going to need something with a little more room, so I sold it,” he said.

He clearly missed the Corvette, though. So much so that in 1966 he located a ’56 Vette and restored it to look like the one he let go, right down to the red-orange paint scheme.

“Then in late 1983 or 1984, our 10-year-old daughter, Tracy, answered the phone and it was a guy in western Kansas who said he had a Corvette he was planning to restore,” Schmidt said.

“He’s talked about a Corvette he had,” said Tracy, who told the caller to call back later when her dad would be home.

When Schmidt and the caller, Bob Meistrell, who lives near Plainville, finally made connections, Schmidt was excited that it might be his old Corvette. Meistrell said he had been calling all the Stan Schmidts he could find in phone books, researching the car’s history.

“The first question he asked was, ‘What color is it?’” said Carolyn Schmidt. Although the car was in primer, it appeared it had, indeed, originally been Venetian Red.

“We got to be pretty good friends,” Schmidt said, noting that once he was sure it was his old car, he began pursuing buying it back, although it was completely disassembled by then.

“It was just a bare frame with nothing connected,” said Carolyn. But a deal was eventually made and their old Corvette came home with them in boxes. “I tell people I stored that car in every room of our house.”

“But it was all there, like he said,” added Stan Schmidt. Actually, there was one part missing: the front license plate bracket. Schmidt had kept that piece and had offered it to Meistrell before he convinced him to sell him the car. “I used that bar to stir the paint when I painted the ’56.” he grinned.

The couple wasted little time getting started with a full restoration, with the help of their son, Brad, who came home from college on weekends and even some week nights, to work on the Corvette.

“It took a good, solid year. We didn’t take a lot of days off,” said Stan. “We did all of it but the paint. It was the last paint job that Jim Troyer did at the Hesston Body Shop.”

The car was a bit unusual in that it had body-colored coves, unlike many Corvettes of the era, which had contrasting paint in the coves. That was an $18 option, said Carolyn. They decided to keep the car true to its original look.

More importantly, the Corvette had been delivered with a 270 horsepower 283 cubic inch V-8 outfitted with dual 4-barrel carburetors. The engine had already been rebuilt when Schmidt bought the car the second time.

“I tried to keep it as original as possible,” he said, but noted that the original Powerglide 2-speed automatic has been replaced by a 1957 model-correct 3-speed manual transmission, complete with a Hurst shifter. There are indications the car was drag raced at some point, although it was Schmidt who added a set of traction bars to the rear end.

“That interior is all original, except somebody put different inserts in the seat and seat backs. They’re not the `waffle’ style upholstery, but the side panels have never been changed,” said Stan Schmidt.

All of the instruments, including the mechanical tachometer, which is driven off the rear of the generator, are original. Only the speedometer required a quick rebuild.

Schmidt said a comprehensive reference book dedicated to the early model Corvettes was invaluable in the restoration process.

“I was the book reader,” said his wife, who did much of the reference research. But she also got her hands dirty, installing the chrome trim around the coves herself.

Schmidt said he was tempted to upgrade to modern radial tires, but, “We went back with bias-ply tires … the way it came out of the factory.”

There was no real rush to finish the car on a deadline.

“It was something that excited me. I just wanted to work on it,” Schmidt said.

“We’ve taken it to car shows every year since it was finished. We still think of it as a new restoration, but it really is a 30-year-old restoration. It has stood up really well,” he said.

And one of the best parts is that the Schmidts have stayed in touch with the previous owner.

“We have met him several times at car shows. We have good times, reminiscing how it all went,” said Stan Schmidt.

He knows how lucky he is to have his original Corvette back and it’s clear that it won’t be leaving the Schmidt family any time soon.

Reach Mike Berry at mberry@wichitaeagle.com.

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