barn-find, fire-damaged Corvette proves to be one for the restoration record book.
We've all heard the rumors and stories about the forgotten Corvette
-- the one squirreled away in a dilapidated barn, with only the warped planks of the walls or a hole in the weathered roof allowing indiscriminate beams of sunlight to grace its curvaceous fiberglass.
The thought of cracking open the barn doors, brushing away a few layers of dust and discovering a long-lost L-88 is a romantic notion all Corvette enthusiasts harbor.
cracked open those proverbial barn doors more than a decade ago, after hearing about a fire-damaged Corvette that had been neglected for decades.
It wasn't an unaccounted L-88, but it was nonetheless a rare and desirable 1965 Fuelie roadster that was originally ordered as a radio- and heater-delete car.
Only 39 of the more than 23,500 Corvettes that year were ordered without a heater.
There's no telling whether any of the other 39 were also radio-delete Fuelie cars, but there's a good chance it was a one-of-one combination.
It was also one of only 975 cars that year fitted with the heavy-duty F40 suspension.
"Like so many of these stories, I found out about this car in passing, around 2001," says Verrillo, who co-owns Prestige Motor Car Company, a sales and resto shop in Clifton, New York, with his wife Sunday.
"The owner of the body shop
told me the car was rough and he
wasn't kidding," says Verrillo
"They guys at his
shop nicknamed it the 'Chia Vette' because moss was growing on the body and interior had become an unintentional planter over the years."
Despite the body's wretched condition, Verrillo
wouldn't be deterred as long as the rumor of the original engine proved true.
And it did.
"The engine wasn't with the car, but it was at the body shop
owner's house," he
"It was just a bare block and heads and they all looked terrible -- just like three chunks of scrap metal."
A quick check of the numbers confirmed the 375-horsepower fuel-injected 327 engine was original.
Like the car's body, Verrillo
didn't let the condition of the components dissuade him, but he
wanted a little more reassurance before committing to what would ultimately be a very involved, painstaking restoration project.
"The value in restoring the car would be its numbers-matching powertrain, so I really needed to know that the original engine was salvageable," he
"The block had never been decked, which was great, but I asked the owner if we could get the block and heads magnafluxed to ensure I could use them."
When the parts passed the machine-shop test, Verrillo
struck a deal for the fire-bitten, moss-covered Corvette and its remnants.
They were hauled back to his
shop, where even his
staff technicians scoffed at the idea that the car could be saved.
began to collect parts for the restoration, insisting on as many original and NOS parts as possible, he
also began to piece together the story of how the car became a Corvette flambé.
That included tracking down the owner of the car at the time of the fire.
was the original owner and had driven the Corvette
from California back to New York in 1966, after his
discharge from the service," says Verrillo
Fortunately for Verrillo, the relationship he forged with that previous owner produced a wealth of paperwork and parts, including the original and specific exhaust manifolds, sales receipts and registration cards.
The original California black plates were still on the car, too.
"Those items were invaluable," he
"They really enhanced the car's provenance."
As the restoration got underway, Verrillo and his technicians were glad to find the frame was straight and rust-free, but nearly every other nut, bolt and component required replacement -- although the F40 suspension's original shocks and springs were salvageable.
was thinking of NCRS Top Flight status and Bloomington Gold recognition, so accuracy and authenticity were paramount considerations throughout the project.
was able to locate NOS fenders, quarter panels and other body parts, while the driver's door is a used original.
"We actually had a few original doors in stock and tested each of them on the car to find the one with the best fit," says Verrillo
, who had the car re-sprayed its original Tuxedo Black after all the body parts were fitted and smoothed.
To dress up the restored car, Verrillo
has added the aluminum knock-off wheels and incorrect-but-stylish blue-line tires.
"It's definitely a combination of options you don't see everyday," says Verrillo
"I think that makes the car all the more interesting."
Restoring this rare Corvette took the better part of a decade, as Verrillo's
business -- and work on customer cars -- took precedence.
It was finished in the spring of 2010 and was promptly entered in a NCRS event in Pennsylvania, where it achieved a Top Flight award.
And as we finished this story, Verrillo
was readying the car for the 2011 Bloomington Gold judging.
It's a safe assumption that anyone gazing at the burnt, moss-covered shell more than 10 years ago would not have guessed it could be restored to award-winning condition, but this Corvette
and its roster of rare options demonstrates the value of perseverance.
"They always tell you not to buy a car that's been in a fire," says Verrillo
, with a grin.
"Fortunately, I'm not a good listener."
The Upstate Connection: 30 Years in the Corvette Business
The Upstate New York burg of Clifton Park, just north of Albany, may seem an unlikely hot spot for Corvette activity, but it's the location staked out by Joe
and Sunday Verrillo and their Corvette-centered business, Prestige Motor Car Company
In 2010, Joe
and Sunday Verrillo moved their business into a new, 18,000-square-foot facility to accommodate a business that has grown steadily for about 30 years.
And while the company handles the sales, service and restoration of just about all classics and late-model performance cars, the focus is decidedly on Corvettes.
Like so many successful entrepreneurial stories, the Verrillos started small.
worked at dealerships before launching his
own used-car business that focused on Corvettes and performance cars.
That was 1975.
In the early 1980s, the first restoration job was tackled -- albeit one that didn't earn the Verrillos a big profit.
It was a '66 Corvette
with all the custom trappings of the era, including triple taillights, flared fenders and the like.
"There were a lot of hours in that car," says Joe Verrillo
"It's a great, fun business," says Joe Verrillo
The company, founded by Joe
and Sunday Verrillo, sells a variety of cars -- including those from decades as early as the 1960s all the way to brand-new 2011 Corvettes.
"Everything we do has to be the finest, highest quality," says Verrillo
strives to make every customer feel welcome.
There is at least one owner there everyday greeting everyone and making deals, so all customers have an opportunity to meet with the founders themselves.
"We pride ourselves to go above and beyond," says Verrillo
"I'd like to invite people to our new facility and meet my husband and me and our service director, Mike Capasso
and give us a try," says Verrillo
Photography by Dino Petrocelli (provided By Joe Verrillo, Prestige Motor Car Co.)
Restorer and collectible-car dealer Joe Verrillo
barely had time to bask in the glow of the 1970 GTO Judge convertible his
shop restored last year, when the car's owner rolled out another legendary muscle car in need of a makeover.
"We were working on my client's 1970 GTO Judge convertible at the time, and he
said, 'I've got a surprise to show you,'" Verrillo
I suggested that we could wet-sand and buff it," Verrillo
"As we took the car apart, we noticed that it was damaged in the driver's side cowl and one of the doors had been replaced with one that had been Hugger Orange," Verrillo
"We never took the motor out because it was in nice shape; we refinished the wheel wells, the radiator support, changed all the bolts around in the engine and touched up the firewall," Verrillo
"We took the seats out because the owner complained that they were mushy," Verrillo
"The car runs and drives like the day it was brand new," Verrillo
and Sunday Verrillo already had their hands full running their business, Prestige Motor Car Co
., when they assumed the role of general contractor for the company's newest location.
The couple estimates they saved $500,000, or 25 percent, by hiring their own sub-contractors and serving as general contractor for the $2 million project.
"We bid out every job ourselves.
They were all small, hands-on contractors, about a dozen in all," said