Corvette Corner: A Vintage ‘Vette for the Open Road

To paraphrase Bill Shakespeare, “To drive, or not to drive: that is the question.” Now, as far as we know, Bill wasn’t a vintage car guy, so he probably wouldn’t have given our version of his question much thought—but many of today’s vintage car enthusiasts do. One of those enthusiasts is Matt Buchanan, owner of a 1963 Corvette roadster that he and a few friends restored for the express purpose of driving it. One of Matt’s goals is to drive across the U.S. in a historic convertible, so his vintage ‘Vette may get a good workout in the near future.

Matt Buchanan’s 1963 Corvette Convertible

About four years ago Matt Buchanan of Detroit, Michigan, decided to look for the car he always wanted. No more non-descript sedans, like the 1971 Dodge Dart Swinger he had in college, or project cars without a future like his 1994 Camaro with 800 horsepower. Matt now had a freshly- minted degree in mechanical engineering from West Virginia University and a good engineering job with DENSO, a leading supplier of automotive technology systems and components. It was time to scratch that itch for a convertible sports car that began many years ago with his first Hot Wheels car, a red 1965 Shelby Cobra.

Matt’s sports car horizons expanded since his Hot Wheels days to include Corvettes when his father, a skilled mechanic, then employed by Pratt & Whitney and working on cars part-time in the family garage, began performing his mechanical magic on a Nassau Blue 1966 Corvette coupe belonging to his boss. Matt was impressed by the Corvette that, “Really caught my attention.” With the Corvette firmly etched in his mind, his ideal car morphed from the Hot Wheels Cobra of his youth into a Corvette convertible and he began his search, anticipating a long journey with a few disappointments along the way. But the car gods were smiling on Matt—one week later he found a triple-black, 1963 Corvette convertible with an original removable hardtop in nearby Ionia, Michigan. Says Matt, “The car was NOT pretty, but I drove it home.” It was the exact car he was looking for.

The Corvette had about 26,000 original miles and had been a race car in western Michigan. Following its competition career, the ‘Vette had been restored and repainted in the early 1990s by its previous owner prior to its sitting in a pole barn for a long time waiting for Matt to come along. Once home from Ionia, says Matt, “I tore into the cooling system, replacing the radiator and water pump, which looked to be on their last legs.” He and his friends removed and disassembled the engine and set the original block to one side along with other original parts kept by the meticulous former owner.

Matt then obtained a 1962 Corvette block, replaced the whole top end and built-up the bottom end, including installing a slightly hotter cam, aluminum heads, and an aluminum intake manifold along with an MSD ignition system. The new engine produces about 400 horsepower. “Enough to be fun and driveable,” says Matt. The Corvette is not only a great driver, but after a good clean-up, ranks right up there at the top in the looks department. The vintage ‘Vette took first place in the 1960-1969 category at the Thirtieth Annual Motor Muster at The Henry Ford this past June.

Matt feels strongly about driving his vintage Corvette: “My theory has always been that cars were meant to be driven and that the experiences we create around them become the most important memories we have. I have made sure that the experiences with my car follow that philosophy.” A good friend recently told him about an exciting vintage vehicle touring event that is fully aligned with Matt’s commitment to driving—The Drive Home

The Drive Home 

The Drive Home (TDH), a joint effort of America’s Automotive Trust and the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) to celebrate America’s motoring legacy, is a cross-country road trip in vintage vehicles that starts in a different region of the U.S. each year and finishes up in Detroit, Michigan, in the days leading up to the opening of the NAIAS. The vintage vehicles are selected from the more than 300 vehicles in the America’s Car Museum collection, plus appropriate vintage vehicles provided by event sponsors. While participation in the tour is by invitation only, the organizers encourage vintage vehicle owners and fans in the local communities the tour visits to come out and bring their cars, trucks, or whatever.

TDH organizers typically strive to keep the tour on backroads as much as possible. Writer, organizer, and participant of The Drive Home IV in 2019 William Hall captured the essence of the tour when he described visiting the small towns en route in Hemmings: “We went through a lot of small towns, and we also made sure that we ate at local diners, no fast food. Every time we would pull into a diner, we would basically take over the place and just have these great interactions with local people who had memories of their time in old cars and trucks, and who wanted their photos taken with them.”

Hall also addressed some of the more serious goals of The Drive Home: “Without regular use, our vintage vehicles will not require replacement tires, lubricants, rod bearings, or starters, and the aftermarket manufacturers will simply ignore them. A car that doesn’t run or drive cannot inspire, meaning the next generation may never know the mechanical curiosity of automotive innovation or the joys of open-road driving.”

It’s traditional for The Drive Home tour to arrive in the Detroit area several days before the NAIAS officially opens, usually staying in the nearby town of Troy, and then driving down Woodward Avenue to the NAIAS site en masse with a police escort. Local vintage vehicle owners are encouraged to come out and join the group on the final leg to the NAIAS site—which brings us back to Matt. As reported in Hemmings, the final 19 miles down Woodward Avenue saw: “About 12 or 15 vintage cars added onto [The Drive Home] line-up by local enthusiasts. Among them, a 1963 Corvette Convertible belonging to Matthew Buchanan of Detroit, who was with his girlfriend Mercedes Bens.” And before you ask, yes, that is Ms. Bens’ real name.

Given Matt’s and Mercedes’ love of vintage vehicles, it’s no surprise that they joined up with the tour. Matt and Mercedes decided they had to drive the final leg with the top down, despite the frosty January temperature in Detroit. We certainly hope one of the things that Matt restored was the Corvette’s heater.

The Drive Home for 2020

The NAIAS will give up its traditional January show dates next year and move to June. The Drive Home V for 2020 is tentatively scheduled to arrive in the Detroit area by June 6th in time to kick-off the auto show’s public display, which runs from June 13th to June 20th.  The Drive Home V will start in California on May 20, 2020. The theme for next year’s event will be the “Great American Family Road Trip” and will highlight vintage station wagons. The official tour vehicles will include about 12 vintage cars and 3 modern support vehicles. For complete up-to-date information, please visit The Drive Home V website. Who knows, maybe even the Griswold’s Wagon Queen Family Truckster station wagon will show up somewhere along the route.

To Drive or Not to Drive?

There really is no correct answer to our initial question. But should you be of the “drive ’em if you got ‘em” school of thought, be aware that you may suffer, “The slings and arrows of outrageous…” collectors who have never so much as dirtied the tires of their precious collectibles. The bottom line is, your vehicle belongs to you and, as our English friend Bill Shakespeare might have said, “You can jolly well drive it if you fancy.” Happy motoring!

Photo credit for The Drive Home photos – William Hall

SOURCES:

Detroit Free Press https://www.freep.com/story/money/cars/detroit-auto-show/2019/01/12/vintage-trucks-detroit-auto-show/2557396002/

Hemmings https://www.hemmings.com/blog/2019/01/16/the-drive-home-iv-epilogue-sacrificial-anodes/

NCRS http://www.nationalcorvetteowners.com/history/1963-corvette-options-colors.aspx

DENSO https://www.denso.com/us-ca/en/about-us/company-information/diam/

Email correspondence with Matt Buchanan

Email correspondence with Ashley Bice at America’s Automotive Trust

America’s Automotive Trust https://www.americasautomotivetrust.org/

North American International Auto Show https://naias.com/

America’s Car Museum https://www.americascarmuseum.org/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *