Due to paint advances in the early ‘50s, white pigments became
stabilized enough to avoid uneven chalking and GM design chief
Harley Earl preferred using white finish on dream cars like the
EX-122 to highlight their massive curved shapes.
For decades, the car has been known as EX-122. It’s part of the Kerbeck Brothers’ collection in Atlantic City, N.J. It is the car in which the first V-8 was developed for the Corvette, but this car may also be the famous GM Motorama Corvette. If so, it’s the very car displayed at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, in New York City, in January of 1953.
We also have some evidence that EX-122, although built for show, was the car that Chevrolet counted as the first of the 300 Corvettes numbered for the 1953 model year.
Clearly, EX-122 was re-bodied by Chevrolet. So, the unique show car features were missing when Jack Ingle bought the car from Russell Sanders on Oct.10, 1959. A photocopy exists of Ingle’s check, which was written for $1,000.
The “EX” indicated an experimental car and the number “122”
represented the car’s place in the long line of concept cars
created by Earl’s Art and Colour Section and GM Design Studio.
Perhaps the re-body is why Ingle did not promote the car as the Motorama show car of 1953. Under the hood was a 265-cid V-8. The body is a ’55. The hubcaps are from ’56.
Nonetheless, Ingle received a letter, postmarked December 8, 1959, that came from R.F. Sanders, director of Engineering & Sales of Rochester Products Division. In the three-page, typed letter, Sanders explained that the car he sold Ingle was EX-122. The letter said it was built in the “Experimental Department of Chevrolet Engineering” — which was located in Detroit — in the “latter part of 1952.” At the time, Sanders worked there.
Sanders said EX-122 was to be the Motorama show car put on display at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. It was “carried, babied and handled” in shows in the United States. Afterward, it was parked in the lobby of the General Motors Building for public display. Later, it went back to the Engineering Department and was used as a test car.
The new V-8 was under development, so engineers installed the 265-cid V-8 in place of the straight six. Sanders indicates the car became a “plaything for the Engineering Department” and was used for “various performance demonstrations.”
When Chevrolet decided to go ahead with a V-8 in the production ’Vette, EX-122 (still 265-powered and re-bodied) ran a 25,000-mile durability test. On completion, it was torn down. Each part was inspected and reports were made. Then, the car was reassembled and repainted red. A new top, new seats and a new speedometer were installed. The transmission was completely overhauled and safety items were replaced. A new set of tires was put on the car.
Sanders explained in his letter that EX-122 was next used as a courtesy car. It was driven about 5,000 miles and then put up for sale. He bought the car on April 11, 1956. His letter said he had “considerable difficulty” licensing the car in the states of Michigan and New York, due to the serial number. The VIN EX-122 denotes an experimentally built automobile. His daughter drove the Corvette while she attended the University of Rochester. She was known as “the girl with the little red sports car.” When she transferred to Michigan State University at East Lansing, she was not permitted to have a car, so EX-122 again went up for sale.
In the final paragraph of the letter, Sanders says EX-122 was not the first Corvette ever built; It was the first Corvette built for show. The test cars, he wrote, “looked nothing like a Corvette at all, having some handmade bodies in place of the smooth, plastic body which was finally released for production.”
From the facts in the letter, we can conclude that EX-122 is the car pictured here. The car’s history is documented by the VIN plate (EX-122) and by the fact it was in the possession of Jack Ingle from 1959 until recently, when the Kerbeck brothers bought the car.
George Kerbeck recalls that he first saw EX-122 in the “Special Collection” at the Bloomington Gold Corvette show in 1993. His brother, Frank, was with him.
“We were walking around and saw this car,” he said. “At this time it was painted Venetian Red or a shade similar to Venetian Red. It had this V-8 engine and the placard out in front of it that said EX-122.”
George and Charlie were “totally intrigued.” In all their searches for unique and interesting Corvettes, they never knew that such a car existed. Having a car-dealer mentality, George had to own this ’Vette. He says he figured it was “just too special to go through life without.”
They met the owner, Jack Ingle, and his son David. Jack explained that he bought the car in 1959 from a good friend who worked for General Motors. Jack was not interested in selling EX-122. He planned to own the car until the day he died.
“Jack went on to tell us he had this house on Lake Canandaigua,” George continued. “He built a living room for the car and the car sat in the living room and overlooked the lake. It was his prize possession. He loved going to shows and showing the car.”
But George Kerbeck was persistent in his efforts to buy EX-122. He said he called up Ingle “probably twice a year.” Kerbeck is not the pushy type; he’s very polite and cordial. He would tell Ingle, “You know I’m in love with your car and I know it’s not for sale, but if you ever change your mind . . .”
These conversations went on for seven years. In “1997 or 1998,” according to Kerbeck, he almost bought EX-122, but Ingle just couldn’t go through with the deal. So, it was left to his family to sell the car after he died.
When the Kerbecks bought the historic ’Vette from the Ingle estate, they began a restoration to return the car to its Motorama show car looks. For the first time in over 50 years, inside and out (but not under the hood), the car looks like the original show Corvette that appeared at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in January of 1953. It’s definitely a sight to behold with its exterior door buttons, special gold body emblems and other unique show-car features that did not make production. The Kerbecks reproduced these items by scrutinizing original photographs and transparencies retrieved from Corvette expert Noland Adams and the Chevrolet archives. (It was Noland Adams who blew up a photo of the shift knob. On a regular ’53, this knob is white, but on this car it is red.) In this way, the car came back to life.
At the ’53 Corvette 50th anniversary celebration in Flint, Mich., in the summer of 2003, George Kerbeck was surprised when Ken Kayser, who worked for GM, handed him the blueprint of the exact EX-122 body side molding. Painstakingly, the Motorama show car surfaced through the Kerbecks’ restorative measures.
There were actually two show Corvettes from the time: the Waldorf car and another. Kerbeck said the second show car was for Canadian display. Apparently, these two show cars were the same, except the Motorama version (EX-122) had two scoops on top of the front fenders.
“We had to re-create the cowl scoops,” he said. “We also had to re-create the body-side spear molding. On a production ’53, the headlight doors are much fatter and on a production ’53 the headlight doors don’t open. But, if you study the pictures of the Motorama car, you can see they are hinged into the body. And so we made the headlight doors an exact duplicate of the headlight doors that were originally in the car.”
The Motorama show car also came with door buttons. The bullets on the bumpers front and rear are two-piece. By June, in production, they had become one piece. On the Motorama show car, “Corvette” is also spelled out in script on the nose and deck lid. Apparently, Chevrolet wanted the public and press to read the name of the car when they saw and photographed it.
The interior is considerably different than on a production car. Kerbeck said that the main difference is “a great big frame around the seats.” The dashboard is all fiberglass. It doesn’t have the vinyl “roll” that comes down the door panel and goes around the dash. The Motorama car also has a different arrangement of knobs including two extra knobs. These knobs, on the left and right of the dash, opened and closed the cowl scoops on top of the front fenders.
The Kerbecks struggled with what to do with the 265-cid small-block V-8 under the hood. They decided to leave it in place for one big reason: Historically, this car was quite possibly the first V-8 installation ever in a Corvette. (For the record, Chevrolet pulled the test engine and replaced it with a fresh 265 before it was put up for sale in 1956, but, it’s still a 265 and it’s still an original factory installation.)
George Kerbeck says a “fraction” of the Corvette cognoscenti believe they should have left EX-122 in the configuration it left GM in 1956. At that time, the car looked like a production ’55 model.
The Kerbecks did not make their decisions about the restoration without counsel. George called Noland Adams, the straight-axle Corvette guru and author of the exhaustive book, “Corvette Restoration & Technical Guide — Volume 1, 1953 -?’62” for his opinion.
Kerbeck told Adams, “I said, before I do this, you’re like the king. What do you think?” Adams answered him, “I’ve told everybody from the beginning, the car never should have been put back together like a ‘55. It’s too significant to the hobby not to look the other way.” So Kerbeck figured, “You know what, that’s the way we’re going to go.”
The Corvette hobby has been embracing EX-122 as never before. At the prestigious 2002 Concours d’Elegance at Meadow Brook Hall, the Kerbecks received the Matilda and Alfred Wilson Award for the “Best Featured Sports Car.” In the 2003 GM Styling Dome, it won an award for “Privately Owned Concept Vehicle” in the “Eyes On Design” show. When the C6 Corvette was unveiled at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in 2004, organizer Bill Warner requested that EX-122 be parked right next to the C6.
EX-122, it appears, is right back on the show car circuit where it started. Any day of the week, it is on display at Kerbeck Chevrolet in Atlantic City. Anybody who stops there can have his or her picture taken next to it. George, Charlie and Frank Kerbeck are not fussy types; they’re “good old” Corvette boys. They are also the owners of a “Corvette Masterpiece.”
This story was excerpted from Jerry Heasley’s book “Corvette Masterpieces” — a 352-page, hardcover compilation of stories and spectacular photography from his 40-year career as a writer and photographer. Copies of the book are available by calling 800-258-0929, or by visiting www.krausebooks.com. For autographed copies, e-mail the author at email@example.com
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