One summer afternoon in 2007 or 2008, Gary Hemphill took his 1966 Corvette Sting Ray to a car cruise in Belton. As he was setting up, a man came up to him and said the 1966 Corvette once belonged to him.
Hemphill doubted it. In fact, he was a bit frustrated by the inquiry because several people had come up to him at other cruises and insisted his 1966 Corvette once belonged to them.
The odds of the previous owner finding the silver Corvette with silver interior seemed remote to Hemphill. He bought the car used in 1969 at Miller Pontiac on Main in Kansas City when he was 28.
“He asked if he could check the serial number,” said Hemphill, who is 75 and now lives in Gladstone. “He said he had it memorized. He looked at it and sure enough, it was the guy I had bought the car from. He tried to buy the car back. I said no.”
Actually, Hemphill didn’t buy the car directly from the previous owner, but he did meet him in 1969.
The story of Hemphill’s love affair with the Corvette started in 1963 when he went to a Kansas City area Chevrolet dealership. The look of the interior, the gauges and the way it felt when he sat in it made the Corvette the perfect sports car for Hemphill.
In 1967, Hemphill purchased his first Corvette, a 1964 model. But a couple of years later, he was looking for another one.
One day he was driving home from work and he spotted the silver Corvette at Miller Pontiac.
“I looked at it and talked to the guys and they tested my car out,” Hemphill said. “The ’66 Corvette needed paint. I was having problems with my transmission. It was a wash.”
The interesting thing was the Corvette was missing the glove box inside and missing the chrome on the ignition.
“The salesman first wasn’t going to let me contact the person who owned it previously,” Hemphill said. “But he said he would call him. The guy who owned it before called me and said he had all the parts, come and get them. He was a single guy. He had bought it in Oklahoma. The original owner was a doctor who bought it new. I am the third owner.”
Hemphill learned that the previous owner had raced the car, which meant that over time engine work was needed.
In 1973, Hemphill had a short block engine put in. The car currently has more than 250,000 miles on it. Hemphill said he has replaced almost every part. Now, he drives the car on the weekends and around town, but he trusts it to drive across the country if he wanted to.
When Hemphill first purchased the 1966 Corvette, he drove it everywhere. It was his daily driver until he bought a Chevrolet van in 1975.
“It used to haul three kids in the back, which you would get arrested for now,” Hemphill said. “I had studded snow tires on it. I drove it in the winter. It has been a good car. Everybody thinks it doesn’t hold up, but if you take care of them, they do hold up just fine.”
Hemphill even drove it to Glacier National Park and into Canada in the early 1970s. One fond memory is what his current wife, Ginny, calls the pizza story.
“I was at my in-laws’ house, the younger sister of my then-wife,” Hemphill said. “They made a joke and wanted to go to a Pizza Hut and nobody would take them. I volunteered as a joke, I would take them. I had seven girls in the Corvette. I drove up in front of the Pizza Hut. People stopped and watched seven girls climb out of this little Corvette. They were young teenagers.”
The Corvette is how Hemphill met Ginny. Ginny had a friend in a Corvette Club that Gary belonged to. They were set up on a blind date. The night of their date, there was snow on the ground so Gary picked up Ginny in his pickup truck.
“I told everybody I married him for his pickup,” Ginny said. “I knew he had a Corvette, but I didn’t know what kind.
“In 15 years (they have been married), I have driven it three times. He let me drive it on my birthday one year. It is hard to drive.”
Ginny, though, is not too concerned. When she has the urge to drive a Corvette, she heads to their garage and pulls out in a 2015 silver Corvette, which they picked up last year from the factory in Bowling Green, Ky., and drove it home.
In all, Hemphill has three Corvettes and a Corvair, which he got from his mother.
But the 1966 Corvette will always have a special place in Hemphill’s heart.
“I have so many good memories with this car,” he said.
Do you have a car, truck or motorcycle or other vehicle you would like see featured Make It Yours? If you do, email your idea to David Boyce at Drive@kcstar.com