By Brian Earnest
When it comes to vintage Corvettes, and old cars in general, Jack Ross isn’t an easy guy to impress. In his 69 years, he’s owned scores of collector cars, and “about a dozen” Corvettes from various eras.
So when he gets really fired up about a car, particularly “The Great American Sports Car,” you can bet it’s for something pretty sweet. Such is the case with his stellar 1959 Corvette convertible. It’s not a pristine all-original Bloomington Gold survivor, or a perfectly restored national show winner. No, his stunning Crown Sapphire is just your run-of-the-mill dream car — a stunning roadster with seemingly timeless appeal that people of all ages can’t seem to get enough of.
Including the car’s owner. From the first moments when he got it home 20 years ago, it has been a conversation piece and source of pride that hasn’t dimmed. “I remember when the guy with the transport brought it to drop it off, everybody in the neighborhood came out to see it,” recalled Ross, a resident of Haines City, Fla. “Everywhere you go with it, people want to look at it. Everyone is taking pictures of it. Everybody wants to stand by it at the local cruise. It’s just a gorgeous car. It’s just one of the special cars.”
As is so often the case when car fanatics meet their perfect automotive match, Ross fell for his ’59 Corvette by happenstance and luck more than by design. He was prowling the grounds at Bloomington Gold in Bloomington, Ind., the country’s premier Corvette show and a hotbed for unrestored cars, with the idea of maybe finding a 1961 Corvette, or perhaps a 1965 — a year he was particularly fond of. Instead, he became smitten with the gorgeous blue ’59, even though it was missing its hardtop and had lost its original 283 V-8. “We just kept going back to this car, and kept going back to it,” Ross said. “We went over that car I don’t know how many times. The car just stood out. It was just a beautiful car.
“I wound up buying it and bringing it home, and I’ve had it ever since.”
He had to have a little fun with his wife, Carol, though, before the car arrived at its new home in Florida. “She called me and told me, ‘Don’t buy a red car!’ Well, I told her it was red, and I didn’t tell her any different until I got it home. She wasn’t hot on the idea of another red car at all.”
Ross said he could have lived with the transplanted 327 V-8 that had been put in the car a few years before he bought it, but when he got the chance to buy the car’s original 283 he didn’t hesitate. “I got to talk to the owner of the car and he hooked me up with the guy who had the original motor,” Ross said. “The engine was just sitting around in his garage and the guy was tripping over it. He had actually started to rebuild it and when I got it there was really no pistons in the block. The pistons were gone, so when I got to the motor I took it to guy who does machine work and had him re-machine everything and put it all back together …I think [the original engine] was just tired and it probably needed to be rebuilt. The car has 97,000 miles on it, so it’s been driven over its life. It hasn’t always been a trailer queen. Yeah, I’m glad I did it. [The 283] looks much better in it, with the two four-barrels, you know? It’s the way it should look.”
Ross eventually put new carpet in the car and had the gauges re-done, but beyond that he hasn’t done a lot to his ’59. The car had been restored previously at some point in its life, but Ross isn’t certain when, or who did it. “Somewhere along the line someone did a frame-off because the frame was very clean. It was clean underneath. The guy who had it before me traded it for a brand a new pickup truck, so he might not have been the brightest guy. I bet he’s sorry now.”
If there was a way to define the model year that had the quintessential Corvette “look,” the 1959 ’Vettes would have to be in the conversation — at least among the “First Generation” (1953-'62) cars. The ’59s were sold with soft tops, but the available hardtop was a popular option that added $236.75 to the $3,875 base sticker price.
Hard as it might be to believe today, the Corvette still hadn’t really established itself as a viable money maker and hot property after seven full years in the fold. The jury was still out on whether General Motors’ first real sports car would be around for the long haul. The 9,670 cars produced for 1959 were certainly better than the meager, but it had taken the first six years to sell 23,000 cars total.
The 1959 models were similar to the 1958 models, but no longer carried the fake louvers on the hood or chrome strips on the trunk. New bucket seat and door panel designs were found inside, along with new concave instrument lenses. Dual exhaust, electric clock, tachometer and exterior rearview mirror were among the standard features. In addition to the Sapphire Blue, the Corvette was available in Onyx Black, Polo White, Arctic Blue, Aztec Copper, Cascade Green, Venetian Red or Inca Silver. Ross’s car is one of 888 that were painted Sapphire Blue at the factory.
The body side coves were either silver or white. Soft tops came in black, white or beige, while the vinyl interiors were available in black, red, blue or turquoise.
Up front the Corvette again wore a toothy smile in its grille and, for the second straight model year, featured two pairs of headlights integrated into the leading edges of the fenders.
Popular options included a power top ($139.90), signal-seeking transistor radio ($149.80), deluxe heater ($102.25) and electric windows ($59.20).
A variety of power train options were also available, and only about 11 percent of buyers stuck with the standard three-speed manual transmission. Most went for one of two four-speed manual options, and a two-speed Powerglide was also available for $199 extra.
The base 283 had a single four-barrel and was rated at 230 hp. From there buyers could go up the ladder for a 245- or 270-hp, 283-cid dual-quad like Ross’s car, a 250-hp 283 with fuel injection, or the top-tier 290-hp “fuelie."
Ross says he’s found the original paint codes “in crayon in hidden places” to prove his car was originally painted Crown Sapphire blue with a turquoise interior. “You see the Crown Sapphire cars with black interiors in them, and they never made them. All the Crown Sapphire cars had turquoise interiors,” he notes. Ross’s car also has the Wonderbar radio and four-speed. “The only thing I’ve added are the seat belts, and they were an option back then,” he says. “They were really basic cars. They didn’t have air conditioning or any stuff like that. There is only an AM radio, and there are not a lot of AM radio stations around here!
“But you know, with a car like this you just like to listen to it. That’s music to my ears.”
Ross makes sure to drive his 54-year-old Chevrolet regularly to keep it healthy and happy. He doesn’t have to be convinced that it’s a good idea to keep the tires turning and the fluids moving in his favorite car.
“I drive it easy, but I make sure the carburetors are cleaned out now and then,” he jokes. “It’ll fly.”
“It’s sheer pleasure. You can enjoy the car, but it drives like a 1953 car, because it’s basically the same suspension. My everyday car is a Ford F-150 and it’s like a Cadillac. This doesn’t drive like that, but who cares? It doesn’t have power steering and can be a bouncy ride sometimes, but it’s sheer pleasure. Right now I have the hardtop off and you have the wind in your hair and everybody looking at you. It’s just a great car.”
The list of cars that have come and gone from Ross’ garage over the years is long and varied, but he insists he will never have any seller’s remorse with his 1959 Corvette, because it isn’t leaving.
“I’ll never get rid of it. I’m very attached to it,” he admits. “It’s got a great personality and it’s never failed me. It’s reliable and I can get it anytime and it’s ready to go. It can sit for a month and when I get in it, it fires right up.
“Yeah, it’s got some flaws and stuff in the paint from age, but I’m not going to pay $15,000 or $20,000 to repaint it because then I won’t want to drive it. Nobody sees those flaws but me anyway.”
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