By Jerry Heasley, Hot Rod Magazine
1954 Chevrolet Corvette
The two C1 Corvettes found in an Illinois barn were in surprisingly good shape. One was sporting a stock Blue Flame Six and the other a 340-horse, 327ci V-8.
“You’ll never find the barn. Meet us at the Dairy Queen in town. Call us when you get there.” Larry Fisette was about to embark on another old-car hunt, this one for Corvettes — both C1s — preserved on blocks in the same barn since 1973. Fisette, who lives in Wisconsin where he runs the De Pere Auto Center, got this phone call a week earlier from a man in Illinois.
“I understand you buy old Corvettes?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Well, my brother has one.”
“Yeah, what does he have?”
“He’s got a ’54.”
First words out of Fisette’s mouth were, “I’ll buy that.” But the caller, a man named Richard, spoke of a “problem.” There was “another” old 'Vette behind the ’54. Fisette’s ears perked up. Another 'Vette was a wonderful problem to have. This one was a ’62.
Richard’s brother Lewis owned both Corvettes, but the two were business partners in farms and other real estate. Apparently, the two brothers had decided to sell off some of their properties, one of which Richard recalled housed a pair of Corvettes.
A half hour later, Lewis called Fisette. Yes, he wanted to sell both Corvettes. “We’ve been selling off some of our properties. But, before we sell that barn we almost forgot there are two cars in there.”
Behind the ’54 is a ’62 'Vette, also stored on blocks for over 40 years.
The ’54 is dusty and dirty, but complete (save for hubcaps) with no body damage.
Fisette was busy that week. He could meet the brothers the following Monday. “If I leave here at 6:00 a.m. I can be to your place by noon.”
Fisette brought along his Corvette friend, Bob Brown. Brown relishes original and unrestored early 'Vettes, and his excitement level was high. “We got to the Dairy Queen at noon. We got a hamburger. I called Richard.”
Richard arrived first. He was with his grandson. Lewis arrived next. Fisette was encouraged to see both men driving pickup trucks that had been used, so they “just looked the part.”
They were two brothers that started and worked together their whole lives. They acquired quite a little empire. Lewis bought a rust free ’54 Corvette in California that he “never put in the elements.” He drove the car a couple years and then bought a ’62. But, as time went on, he and his brother got so busy developing their businesses, they parked the cars in barns and there they sat for 42 years.
Opening the barn door, Larry Fisette got “That 14-point-buck-in-your-sights feeling.” In this barn there was an old Dodge and some other old Fords. Fisette opened the door of the old Dodge — about a ’24 model — and jumped back when he saw a snake. The Dodge was “just junk,” but the 'Vettes were real treasure. “He had wiped the cars off before I got there, but they still had about a quarter inch of dust on them. A raccoon had eaten a hole in the passenger side seat of the ’54.”
Raccoons ate the passenger seat of the ’54, apparently in pursuit of mice. Raccoons did not bother the driver’s seat, which was infested with mice.
Fisette has pulled old cars out of barns before. Mice had built a nest in the coil springs using factory burlap. But, the driver’s seat was “perfect.” Rodents had moved into both cars. As the men looked over the Corvettes, Fisette and Lewis went “back and forth on price,” on the ’54. The exchange was friendly and fun.
The ’54 was typical, a six-cylinder with automatic, white with red interior. Incredibly, Lewis had already installed a new battery in the ’54 and fired it up. “Unbelievable, the exhausts had rotted off, but the damn thing ran strong!”
The three chrome air cleaners were missing, as were the hubcaps. Lewis explained years ago they hired roofers to repair the barn. Apparently, the hubcaps left with the roofers. So, the brothers wisely hid the air cleaners in the house. “Lewis brought the three chrome air cleaners off the ’54 to me and that was it. That deal was done and we advanced to the ’62.”
The ’62 was also infested with mice — nothing Larry hadn’t dealt with before. This deal was really sweet because Lewis had been gathering NOS parts for decades. The ’62 came with “a whole skid” of NOS parts — parking lights, bumpers, armrests, grille, headlight assemblies, sunvisors, and more, all in factory boxes.
Under the hood, Fisette and Brown stared at a 327 with an aluminum intake and “the big harmonic balancer.” This 327 wasn’t the base 250-horse 327 or the step-up 300-horse 327. Apparently, the engine was the optional 340-horse 327, but not a fuelie and not a dual-quad either. The transmission was a four-speed, which was more good news, and the car had both tops. Accessories were few — just a radio and heater, nothing more. The tires had “rotted off.” The frame had surface rust, but was sound.
Larry Fisette installed the air cleaners on the Blue Flame Six. Otherwise, the Blue Flame Six is as-found.
The ’62 had no body damage.
Fisette made a deal for the ’62. He had room for one car on the trailer and brought the ’54 home first. The brakes had locked up, and the ’54 had to be winched onto the trailer. On the way home, Brown told his good friend Fisette, “You know I have to have that ’62.”
Fisette laughed. Good friend that he is, Larry let Brown have the ’62 for the same price he paid. Larry’s shop fired up the ’62 in Wisconsin. Fisette removed the valve cover to find “it was absolutely perfect inside.”
“We put on new exhausts, brakes and tires, hubcaps, rebuilt the starter, generator, carburetor, fuel pump and gas tank. I took the two cars all apart and pressure-washed everything and got them so they are livable.”
Larry drove the ’54 for a couple of weeks before he sold the car. His joy is the thrill of the hunt; “the whole anticipation of driving there, wondering what we will find.” Brown will keep his ’62 as original as possible.
The 340-horse 327 found intact, minus air cleaner, preserved inside for fear of theft.
The red ’62 is pretty well preserved for being stored in a barn for over 42 years.
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By Jerry Heasley, Hot Rod Magazine