Car of the Week: 1968 Chevrolet Corvette custom

By John Gunnell

The first time Deaner Probst saw his Corvette “sedan delivery,” it was covered in snow behind a shed that had once been its home.

“To be honest with you, I didn’t know what it was,” says the Jefferson, Wis., antiques dealer. “The snow had drifted against the side of the shed and over the top of the car.”

After that, the car disappeared. The owners moved it into the shed just before one end of the building collapsed. Luckily, the car was parked in the other end. When Jack Bender of Jack’s Auto Ranch in Watertown told Probst the car was still there, he decided to look at it once winter ended.

Probst went back in the spring and found the front end of the Corvette sticking out of the shed. The car was absolutely filthy, full of mice and it stunk. The wheels were corroded, the tires were shot and the exhaust pipe had rusted right off.

“It had custom graphics on the body,” Probst recalls. “So I thought it had to be something special that might be worth saving.”

Probst bought the car. “I felt sorry for it,” he admits. “And I also felt sorry for the people who had it.” The lady who owned the customized 1968 Corvette kammback really had no idea what to do with it. She had called many people to examine the car and none of them wanted it because it was modified and looked terribly rundown.

“You couldn’t easily see the graphics,” Probst recalls. “It was so dirty from just sitting in the old shed.”

Probst dragged the car to his Jefferson home “like some kid who brings a sick dog home.” He soon had it running down the road and found it to be a great driving car. He’s also shown it at several collector car venues and it drew attention.

The Corvette — which Probst calls a “sedan delivery” — has a customized roofline that extends to the rear of the car, making it into a kammback coupe or kind of a “Corvette station wagon.” Under the hood is a 350-hp/327-cid V-8 that’s linked to a four-speed manual transmission and a Positraction rear axle.

Stickers under the hood are a “who’s who” of 1970s performance companies: Edelbrock, Hooker, Mallory, Factory Racing Parts, Cobra, EBC, Tuff Stuff, The Paddock and other companies. It has a full chrome undercarriage, Ansen wheels and fresh tires.

Probst doesn’t know the complete history of the car, but from meeting various people at car shows, he has pieced together a bit of its background. It was originally built in 1968 from a new Corvette and was made to compete on the International Show Car Association (ISCA) professional show car circuit.

“Someone I met told me that a man named Butch, who was from Milwaukee, originally built the car,” Probst says. “This fellow said that he had worked on it for Butch. He told me it was built at ‘Sahagen’s’ body shop, or something that sounded like that, and that the shop was also in Milwaukee.”

Probst was told the kammback body was made from the hull of a boat rather than being one of the aftermarket kits that might have been sold by companies such as Eckler’s or American Custom Industries.

“At one show, I parked next to a Corvette that had one of those kits on it,” Probst said. “Their kit didn’t have this little lip that goes all around the roof, and they had windows in the side.”

The Greenwood Corvettes website (www.greenwoodcorvettes.com) documents Eckler’s kammback roof kit for 1968-’73 Corvettes that it called the Panelwagon. The roof came with or without windows. According to Mike Guyette, who wrote the online article, this kit could be ordered as an upper-half rear section or as a complete rear clip, with or without flared fenders.

The custom graphics on Probst’s Corvette were done by Vince Balistreri of Vince Balistreri Signs in Orlando, Fla. According to a 1995 web article, custom graphics and flames became a big part of Vince Balistreri’s business in the 1970s. Over the years, he painted flames on boats, bikes, trucks, toys — and even a mailbox.

Balistreri remains active in the “Pinstriping Legends” charity event that started in 2003 at the World of Wheels car show in Milwaukee. The Pinstriping Legends auction held annually at the show benefits the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.

Probst’s main interest in buying the custom Corvette was to save the car and give it a new life. He says that at first he didn’t think the paint on the car would ever come back, but he wanted to try to preserve the graphics since he knew they were special. He buffed the paint out and found the lacquer to be very forgiving. It cleaned up well and the Corvette was once again a good, solid, drivable car. Eventually, he met Balistreri, who originally painted the graphics.

As might be expected, the Corvette’s period custom interior was in bad condition and it smelled. Luckily, Probst was once a used car dealer and an upholsterer, so some years ago he had purchased a special ozone machine designed to take foul odors out of cars.

“I had bought a really nice Cadillac that had the back seat burned out of it,” Probst says. “It cleaned up good, but it stunk. So I bought that ozone machine for about $80. It was advertised in … Old Cars Weekly, and it works really good as long as you treat the rubber parts first, because ozone attacks them. The machine took all the stink out of the Corvette.”

The Corvette was so nice after Probst reconditioned it that his daughter took it to her company’s “drive your fancy car to work” day.

“Every year she takes one of my cars and she had taken my ’33 Ford convertible and my Berlina,” Probst noted. “But the Corvette sedan delivery got the most attention with those custom graphics.”

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