By John Bellah
Zora Arkus-Duntov, Bill Mitchell and Harley Earl all contributed to making the Chevrolet Corvette America’s sports car, but Mike Yager helps keep them on the road through his business, Mid America Motorworks in Effinghan, Ill.
While never employed by General Motors, Yager has been deeply involved with Corvettes for more than 40 years beginning when, at age 20, he purchased his first Corvette, a two-year-old 1967 Corvette roadster.
Long before Yager literally wrote the book on Corvettes — “Mike Yager’s Corvette Bible” — he trained as a tool and die maker. His passion for Corvettes grew after the purchase of a 1967 roadster. Just a few years later, he supplemented his income by selling Corvette memorabilia on weekends. With a borrowed stake of $500, Yager began selling Corvette emblems, owner’s manuals, garments and other Corvette memorabilia at swap meets and shows out of the trunk of a borrowed car.
Yager’s reputation for selling merchandise and, more importantly, his knack of fulfilling his customers’ needs, allowed his weekend enterprise to evolve from a part-time hobby to a full-time business. In 1976, Yager started Mid America Enterprises, a mail-order business with products listed on a two-page, black-and-white flier. Two years later, his business expanded to a color catalog that included Corvette replacement parts and accessories.
In 1998, Yager acquired The Real Source, a Volkswagen supplier, and branched out from Corvettes to marketing parts and accessories for air-cooled Volkswagens. Yager said his VW business now exceeds his Corvette business, due to the number of VWs on the road.
In 2004, the company was renamed Mid America Motorworks and encompasses all branches of his business. Currently, Mid America Motorworks mails approximately 4.5 million catalogs to VW and Corvette owners each year.
Corvette enthusiasts can experience Mid America Motorworks in person through Yager’s MY Garage Museum and Retail Store in Effingham. Currently, Yager’s collection numbers about 50 cars with 15-20 displayed in the museum at any one time. Many are very rare cars, including a 3,000-mile 1954 Corvette, Zora Arkus-Duntov’s CERV 1, an open-wheel engineering prototype dating to 1960, the 1964 World’s Fair Corvette concept car and several other historically significant Corvettes.
Yager loves talking Corvettes, and is a walking encyclopedia on these fiberglass-bodied sports cars.
Given his high level of involvement and experience in the Corvette hobby, he’s also qualified to give advice on purchasing Corvettes, both in his book and in person.
“Collectors should look for as original and untouched example as they can find,” Yager said. “Ownership history and provenance are important to get your return on investment.”
Provenance is important to ensuring one does not make a costly mistake in the purchase of a Corvette. For example, the rarest Corvette is the 1953 model, of which GM manufactured just 300 units of which 200 or so have survived. The 1953’s first-year status and rarity gives it a significant price advantage over the very similar 1954 models, and so some unscrupulous sellers attached 1953 VIN tags to 1954 models in an attempt to pass them off as the earlier model. Proper provenance ensures a buyer doesn’t pay 1953 Corvette money for a lesser-priced 1954 model. However, Yager is quick to point out all early Corvettes are valuable.
“The value of this (1953-’55) Corvette often is overlooked in the marketplace,” he said. Although Yager has a 3,000-mile Penant Blue 1954 Corvette in his own collection, he gives the first-year V-8 model of 1955 its due.
“The 265-cid, three-speed combo was powerful and made the ’Vette a real performance machine,” he said.
Due to the availability of the V-8 engine, 1955 Corvettes are highly sought after, but they aren’t the most coveted early Corvettes. With the availability of a fuel-injected 283-cid V-8 a four-speed transmission, that honor goes to the 1957 Corvette, especially those with the 283-hp, 283-cid V-8 that reaches the the one-horsepower-per-cubic-inch milestone.
“Correct ’57 ’Vettes are the best-of-the-best cars in the collector’s market,” he said.
Yager’s MY Garage has examples of all eras of Corvette history, and while he’s hot for the first-generation models, he credits later models for sustaining the hobby.
The “majorly new” 1963 Sting Ray, designed by Larry Shinoda, had many unique features on an American car of its day, such as independent-rear suspension and hidden headlamps, not to mention timeless styling.
“This is the car that made the Corvette hobby,” Yager said. Later Sting Rays would also get four-wheel disc brakes, optional three-speed TurboHydraMatic transmissions and available big-block engines, all of which helped make them popular.
To see examples of the Corvettes on Yager’s hot list, plan a visit to the Yager’s MY Garage by visiting Mid America Motorworks’ website at www.mamotorworks.com, or call 800-500-1500.
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