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The $400 'Vette

The story behind a $400 Corvette that came to its owner in pieces.

By Wes Ciampo

RW 1956 Corvette

My $400 1956 Corvette came to me in pieces. It was metalflake red when I brought it home, and I later found out that it was painted that way to hide a lot of damage (the dark areas visible in the picture). The body repairs were very poorly done and after I installed a new engine and trans and did all the mechanicals, I did not have the money to have the body re-done.

The Corvette had a 1966 350-hp 327 mill that was bored out, 11.5:1 compression ratio, fuelie cam, solid lifters, headers, 650 Holley dual pumper with mechanical secondaries and an M22 Muncie with Hurst Competition Plus Shifter. A heavy-duty clutch transferred the torque. There were quite a few other items worked in there and it was reasonably fast.

A Corvette body expert at the Corvette Corner of Hawthorne Chevrolet in Hawthorne, N.J., basically told me I needed a new body. I drove the car for a few years, but being in college and paying high insurance rates finally led to the sale of the car by parting it out. This was around 1970.

Incidentally, the Rambler station wagon in the background of the enclosed photo was my grandfather’s car, this picture having been taken in Beachwood, N.J., on a family visit.

He bought the Rambler new at Mide Rambler in Garfield, N.J., in 1960. I had gone with him to buy a new Chevrolet station wagon but we stood at the Chevy dealer for some time and were ignored by the salesmen. Grandpa was a very simple person and they probably thought there was not a big sale to be had by him. He had a black 1955 Chevy sedan to trade on a new Chevrolet, but he eventually walked out of the dealership and to Mide Rambler where he was treated with respect. He traded in the Chevy and paid actual “cash” for the balance.

The Rambler was a six-cylinder with a manual three-speed, radio delete, no carpet, etc. The only thing extra on the rather basic vehicle was a trailer hitch so Grandpa could tow his boat.

Grandpa still had the Rambler when he died in 1994 and it only had 54,000 miles. I was going to keep the Rambler, but the South Jersey sea air and sand in the body cavities had begun a pretty serious rot issue. The engine had also developed a slight knock.

I sold the Rambler to someone who was willing to tackle the rust problems. I miss both of them very much. Curiously, a few Corvette parts somehow found their way from to New Jersey to my current home in upstate New York.

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