As Larry Fisette told it, “I couldn’t believe it was in there. That it had been sitting there all that time.” The story is, a couple bought the Vette in Chicago in 1964 and drove it home to Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. Then, the husband began the restoration project. So, the ’54 Corvette roadster had been parked and torn apart until 2014, over 50 years. “He had jacked the body off the frame and pulled out the motor,” Larry recalled.
Fisette believes life is sometimes more about luck than skill. He’s already known in the hobby as the man who found 21 trailers full of Chevrolet muscle cars and parts. He calls this find luck, too.
One day a man and his wife walked into Larry’s business, De Pere Auto Center in De Pere, Wisconsin, to look for Chevrolet parts from these 21 trailers. The wife then revealed, “We have a ’54 Corvette, as well.” Fisette expressed interest with a line he uses frequently, “Well, when you don’t want it, I’ll buy it.”
Eight years passed. Larry got a call. The couple with the ’54 Vette didn’t want it anymore. Their car was for sale, finally. Fisette jumped immediately to go see the ’54 because the Corvette was just 50 miles away in Sturgeon Bay. The address took Fisette to a home in the downtown area, right down the street from the Door County Maritime Museum. The owner led Fisette to a garage on the back of the property. The car occupied two stalls of the three-car garage. The sight was an adrenaline rush for Fisette, or as he said, “like if you shot a 16-point buck, but then you’ve got to contain yourself and not get too excited.”
Fisette began sifting through the parts. The seats “were very nice because he had started restoring them,” same for the Powerglide transmission, which had been rebuilt. Fisette started noticing in the scattered piles various N.O.S. parts, such as a “beautiful set of hubcaps and a brand-new distributor in the box. A distributor is worth $2,500-3,000,” Fisette relayed. A friend of Fisette’s had just bought a used distributor for his ’54 Corvette for $1,600.
There were several other N.O.S. parts in the various piles, including a starter, grille surround, washer jug, and side moldings. The body had been repainted red, but the original color was Polo White, accented by a red interior, but the white top was in poor condition.
Fisette remarked, “This was a real weathered car. It had been driven, year round and hadn’t been preserved. It was a bit hammered and rusty underneath. The body, of course, is fiberglass and doesn’t rust.” Fisette mentioned a problem area for rust on early Corvettes is the U-shaped back of the frame. However, the frame on this car was repairable.
Fisette was pleased with his purchase. He assessed the parts and pieces—seats up in the attic, body up in the air, frame over in the corner, engine laying under a bench, transmission on one of those little wheelie things—and said the car was complete and “everything was there” with “not one part missing.”
Gathering up the remains and loading it all onto Fisette’s trailer occupied a whole day. While loading up the car, Fisette was amazed with a story the owner told him. “This same guy had a ’53 Corvette years ago. And it belonged to one of the higher-ups in General Motors. I forget which one. But, he sold it to a used car dealer and the used car dealer called him and wanted some money back because he thought he had purchased a ’54, and it was a ’53.” Of course, a ’53 is worth significantly more than a ’54 model today.”
Fisette stuck the ’54 in his garage. “The very next morning a guy walked in and just said he wanted the car. I shot him a price, not a ridiculous price, but a fair price, and that was it.”
Then, before the new owner picked up the ’54 another man Fisette knew very well came in the shop and wanted to buy the Corvette. Fisette explained, “He was upset that he didn’t get it. I told him—not the car for him—he would have to be very mechanically inclined or pay somebody a lot of money to restore it.”
Strange as it may seem, Fisette already had a lead on another ’54 Corvette, this one completely unrestored. He bought that one, too. But, that’s another story, even more amazing, for next issue.