On two different occasions, 81-year-old Dee Clark looked at his red 1966 Corvette roadster, smiled with pride and gushed about the vehicle that has been so good to him for over four decades.
“I think,” Clark said, “I have the prettiest car ever made.”
Clark first laid eyes on the ’66 Corvette in 1969 when he drove by a Ford dealership near 77th and Metcalf Avenue in his 1952 MG TD.
Call it love at first sight. Clark knew he had to have that car. His love affair with the Corvette started in the early 1950s.
“When I was in service in 1953, right outside the gate at Fort Hood, Texas, was a Chevy dealer, and he had a brand new Corvette sitting on a big ramp,” Clark said. “It was a beautiful white Corvette with a red interior, and I fell in love with it right then.
“It took me 16 years before I could afford one.”
So when Clark saw the ’66 Corvette in a dealer’s lot, he quickly inquired about it, traded in his MG TD and paid $2,600 for his new car that the dealer hadn’t even had time to clean up from the previous owner.
“It is a driver,” Clark said. “I didn’t buy it as a show car. I bought it as a car to use, and I still use it.”
For 20 years, Clark drove the Corvette from his Overland Park home to the IBM offices at Crown Center in downtown in Kansas City.
Through the years, he added things to the car like off-road side pipes. In the 1970s, he changed engines. He took out the 300 horsepower engine and added one with 350 horsepower.
“They took the lead out of gasoline in the 1970s, so my engine was a high performance engine and it got to knocking real bad,” Clark said. “I pulled the engine out and all the pistons out and put lower-compression pistons in it. I made a few other changes to the engine. It pulls better now than when it was new.”
Anybody who visits Clark and Jane, his wife of 55 years, at their Overland Park home can see that he is fond of unique gizmos. For instance, he has an electronic gate that opens before driving up his driveway. Once inside, you see a couple of red, yellow and green traffic lights.
Clark also made a street sign that says Corvette Way. He has had it up on his property longer than he can remember.
His creative spirit with his Corvette struck him again in 1988 when he saw a model of a headrest on a Corvette. He knew he had to build one for his car. It took him three months.
“I liked the look of that headrest,” he said.
It is easy to be caught up in Clark’s enthusiasm for his Corvette even when his wife says she is not a fan of the car. Clark just smiles and continues talking about his red Corvette.
“I like the color,” Jane Clark said. “That is about it. I don’t like to ride in it. I don’t like it as a convertible. He has a top, but he doesn’t put it up.”
Clark retired in style from IBM in 1991. On his last day on June 1, he took a day of vacation and drove himself and wife to Bloomington, Ill., for the 25th anniversary celebration of the 1966 Corvette.
They spent a week in Bloomington with 200 other owners of 1966 Corvettes.
“We had a wonderful time,” he said. “But time sure flies by.”
More than two decades later, Clark can still count on the car he bought in 1969.
“Obviously, the look is the No. 1 reason I like it, but it has been a very dependable vehicle,” Clark said.
Clark and his wife get to share these stories and hear wonderful stories from other Corvette owners in the Touch of Glass Corvette Club. The website is www.touchofglass.org. The gallery page shows some of the unique Corvettes in the Kansas City area. Clark’s car is one of the featured Corvettes.
“They are so friendly,” Clark said. “It is a family; it is not a club. We have been in it since 1989. We have a lot of fun together. We take quite a few short trips.”
The age span of club members ranges from 30 to over 80. Clark speculates that there might be only one other member who is older than he is.
But when Clark talks about his Corvette or gets in it and revs it up, he is the young man who bought the car in 1969.
“I drive it three or four times a week in pretty weather,” he said. “I put it in shows, but I bought it to drive. I love to drive it.”
Do you have a car, truck or motorcycle or other vehicle you would like see featured in Make It Yours? If you do email your idea to David Boyce at Drive@kcstar.com