Larry Wyte was a teenager in Buffalo, N.Y., when he was bitten by the Corvette bug. His older cousin took him for a ride in his unforgettable black 1958 Corvette with silver coves and a red interior, and Wyte has never been the same.
“It took me five years to get my first Corvette,” he said, “a 1959 pre-owned, low-option model.” He was a civil engineering student at the University of Buffalo and his Corvette became a fixture around the campus. But after graduation the Corvette was traded in favor of more practical family-oriented transportation. Wyte promised himself that he would someday replace his first bare-bones 1959 Corvette with another, fully optioned and in perfect condition. After almost 30 years Wyte realized that a perfect 1959 Corvette no longer existed — at least, not in his price range.
Even more disturbing was the realization that a restorable Corvette that met Wyte’s requirements was almost impossible to find. Wyte continued searching for the elusive Corvette in a condition warranting restoration. He began advertising in antique car publications for an unrestored original Corvette. The ads ran for five years.
A few hundred responses trickled in and kept his hopes alive for a viable Corvette. Wyte checked out about 10 percent of the responses to his ads. Eventually his hopes began to diminish.
In early 1991, he located a 1959 Corvette roadster in Lenexa, Kan. The car had been in the Midwest in a salt-free environment; therefore the steel frame was intact.
Images of the car showed that a hood scoop had been cut into the engine hood between the two original longitudinal ribs. The Corvette did not run (although it still had the original 283-cubic-inch engine), it couldn’t be steered, and the brakes didn’t function. Wyte had every intention of giving the car a ground-up restoration so he wouldn’t have to undo or redo the efforts of a previous owner.
When he bought the 2,840-pound Corvette, it was one of the survivors of the 9,670 such models manufactured in 1959. When the two-seat sports car arrived at his home on the back of a truck, there was no cause for celebration. With great effort, the relic was wrestled into the basement garage where it languished until the appropriate parts and stamina could be gathered for the restoration.
With the Corvette V-8 engine rebuilt to the point where it was once again producing 270 horsepower, Wyte was comfortable placing it back into the restored Corvette. Once the V-8 was nestled in place, Wyte admired how attractive the dual four-barrel carburetors appeared on top of the engine.
He then decided to paint his 1959 Corvette in the original color — snowcrest white. It was difficult, but he did the job himself in the basement of his home. The coves are the same color, each accented by three chrome teeth. The red interior, installed by Wyte, is identical to the original color.
For that matter, everything on the car is correct down to the nine-tooth grille that almost everyone thinks is lifted from a 1954 Chevrolet, but isn’t. A fiberglass boot covers the convertible top when it is lowered.
The small circular reflectors below the covered taillights are correct, along with the cowl ventilator, and windshield washers that clear the wraparound windshield.
The base price of his Corvette in 1959 was $3,875. Extra-cost accessories include auxiliary hardtop, four-speed transmission, 270-horsepower V-8 engine, Wonderbar radio, heater, power windows, Positraction rear axle, white-sidewall tires, windshield washers, sunshades, courtesy lights, and parking brake alarm for an additional cost of $935.85. Seat belts, of course, were a dealer-installed option.
A lot of years and a lot of miles have gone by since Wyte made that long ago promise to himself. Now he has a pristine, fully optioned 1959 Corvette in his garage.