A father-son barn find


Blake (left) and Mike Yager of Mid America Motorworks pose with the 1957 Corvette they recently unearthed from a barn just 40 miles from their business’ corporate headquarters in Effingham, Ill. According to Mike Yager, the Corvette had been parked for 35-40 years and, “needless to say, this thing has had possums sleep in it.”

By Angelo Van Bogart;
photos from Mid America Motorworks

Those who dabble in cars occasionally get leads on interesting cars for sale. Those who eat, sleep and breathe cars in business and pleasure get barraged with them. Mike Yager, “head cheerleader” for the largest outfitter of Corvette parts, repairs and upgrades, falls under the latter category.

“Pretty regularly, people say ‘I have a Corvette for sale,’” said Yager of Mid America Motorworks in Effingham, Ill. “The older it is, the more you hold on to your chair for the price — most are not very reasonable.”

Even though Yager receives tons of tips, most of them don’t pan out. But a lead Yager received last summer grabbed his attention.

“A guy stopped by my office a few days before the Fourth of July and said he had a Corvette for sale,” Yager recalled. “I asked how long he had it and he said, ‘35-40 years.’”

About that time, Yager’s ears perked up and he grabbed on to his chair as he prepared to ask the “big” question — how much?

“I said, ‘What are you asking for the car?’ and he said, ‘I have been looking at the prices of these cars and I know what they’re worth.’ Then he quoted me a price and it was reasonable,” Yager said.

The thought of a straight-axle Corvette was appealing, but the idea of hunting down a true “barn find” Corvette was irresistible. Yager knew he had to jump on the Corvette — a desirable 1957 model — lest he lose out on the opportunity. When he asked about looking at the car the next day, the car’s owner said it wasn’t possible. It would have to be that day.

To share in the rare experience, Yager called on his son, Blake, the corporate director for Mid America Motorworks and a Corvette enthusiast himself. This would not be the first time Blake had bought a Corvette with his dad, but it was one of the first times he had 100 percent approval from his father.

“Well, the first car that I bought ‘with my father’s guidance’ was our blue 1964 [Corvette] Styling Car,” Blake recalled. “My brother and I decided we had to get this car for my dad for Father’s Day a few years back. We helped him bid on the car and even let him write the check for it in the end!”

This experience would be different. Together, the duo hopped in their car and made the 40-mile trek to examine the mysterious Corvette. The Yagers soon realized they were about to uncover a car so well-hidden, Louis and Clark would have walked right by it.

“We pulled up in the country and the weeds were growing up 3-4 feet tall and I said, ‘Where’s the car?’” the elder Yager recalled. “You could see an old house about 250-300 feet in the woods, then two barns came into view.”
Traversing through tall grass and brush wasn’t half as challenging as opening the barn door where the Corvette was said to be stored.

“The door was nailed shut, so we found the pry bar and it moved 2 feet and it hit a tree,” Yager said. “A tree had grown up and the door wouldn’t open. On the ground was an old rusty saw and we picked up that saw and started sawing on the tree. Finally, the saw broke but the tree went down and there was this ’57 Corvette.”

The elusive fiberglass two-seater was a solid representative of one of the most popular years of Corvette models. Its colors were an attractive red-and-white scheme and the white hardtop was definitely an added bonus.

On the drive over to see the car, questions were spinning through the elder Yager’s mind, from the condition of the car to its options. Some of those questions were answered with the opening of the barn door, but from its steel shed tomb, some mysteries remained. Blake’s mind also spun through the possible secrets kept by the nearly forgotten straight-axle Corvette.

“The first thing that crossed my mind when I saw the car was, I wonder if this car has a race history,” Blake said. “Does it have the correct engine? Could it be an ‘air box’ 1957? All the stuff most Corvette guys will ask themselves when they find an old car that hasn’t been touched in many years.”

It would be a while before all of the Yagers’ questions would be answered. First, they had to determine whether they wanted to buy the car. Once the question was answered with a definitive “yes,” it had to be moved, but that wouldn’t be an easy task. The car had been placed in the barn in the early to mid 1970s on a homemade trailer made from pipe, and its tires were flat. To move the car, additional devices would have to be employed.

The next morning, with a rollback tow truck at hand, the Yagers aired up the trailer’s tires and managed to pull the Corvette from its hiding place of approximately 40 years.

“We had to clear debris to get the trailer out and we just winched it all — car and trailer — on the back of a rollback trailer,” Mike Yager said. “As we were extracting the car, I was half expecting a neighbor to say, ‘What are you doing?’ The guy didn’t have a title [handy], so the whole time, I was looking over my shoulder.’”

With the assurance the seller would produce a title, the father-son team had the Corvette driven to their shop so they could figure out exactly what they had bought.

“Driving down the road, there was 35 years of dirt and crap blowing off the car,” Mike said. Then there was the question of how to get the Corvette and its trailer off the back of the rollback tow truck. They decided to use a forklift to lift the pairing, drive the rollback out from beneath its load, then lower the Corvette and trailer to the ground together.

With the Corvette safely on the ground, the Yagers began looking for clues to the car’s past and researching its original configuration. They learned it was a relatively early Corvette (number 1,258 of 6,339 built) and originally carried an automatic behind its standard four-barrel-equipped 283-cid V-8. A few teeth from the grille had been removed and the interior showed other custom tastes of a previous owner.

“It came from California, and in the ’50s and ’60s, it was very typical to take your car down to Tijuana and have [diamond-tuft] seat covers installed,” Mike said. Fortunately, the original red upholstery appears to remain under the 40-plus-year-old “south of the border” seat covers, although the Yagers have no idea what condition the original seats are in beneath. And they will probably never know.

“When we got the car home, I started thinking about it and put it on social media [websites],” Mike said. “I said we were going to wash the car and people started responding, saying don’t wash the car, leave it as it is. We have not attempted to get the car running; we haven’t attempted to do anything but put the car on display. We never washed it and we are just going to display it as it is.”

In its dusty, dirty state, the car offers endless possibilities and inspires infinite day dreams to those who gaze upon the Illinois earth still covering the stainless, chrome and paint. It also allows the Yagers to share the barn find experience with all who see it.

“We put it out at Corvette Funfest [2010] as its first public display, and you just stood around and listened to all the things people would say about the car,” Mike Yager said. “It’s a great conversation piece. This one has a better story with it than one that is restored. It just makes the mind wonder. The cool thing about any barn find, you wonder, why did they park it? What was wrong with it? Why did it get put away? Well, a week turned into a month, a month turned into a year.

“It can always be restored,” Yager said. “It is kind of like an original — a car can only be original once — and it will only be a barn find once. Once I wash it, it will just be a clapped-out, parts-missing Corvette.”

Yager admits that if the car had been an ultra-rare, high-performance Corvette, such as an airbox car or a fuel-injected car, his philosophy might differ.

In some ways, Yager is fortunate the car is a run-of-the-mill Corvette. Not only does he have a great story, he can illustrate it while leaning against the archeological dig. Best of all, it’s a story he shares with his son.

“The fun of it is telling the story — it’s like any quest for something,” Yager said. “I would do this everyday. You really get the adrenaline pumping. I am sure that anybody that has gone on a barn find expedition would tell you the same story. You never know what you are going to find.

“Doing stuff with your children is pretty cool and normally, a lot of people aren’t blessed to have their children involved with their business and hobby, but with Blake being involved, it made it so much more special,” Yager said.

“I think the barn find was greatly enhanced by being able to experience it with my father,” Blake Yager said. “Being able to look at that car and have the memories of walking through the thick weeds and overgrown trees, down to a rusted-out old shed and having to cut a tree down to even get into the shed will always be a pretty neat memory in my eyes every time I think about this car.”

If you liked this, you might be interested in:

More Resources For Car Collectors :

 

COMMENT