- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 23, 2004

Bill Kellenberger was a senior in high school in Independence, Kan., in 1958, the year Chevrolet sold 9,169 Corvettes. The teenager was driving a 1950 Plymouth at the time, but a young man can look, and dream.

He knew that 1958 Corvettes for the first time had four headlights and that a small grille opening appeared to flank the center grille with its nine chrome-plated teeth. He also knew that at a base price of $3,631 there was no way a high school senior could afford to own one.

While he was attending Kansas University, he had a friend, a fellow Jayhawk, who had a 1958 Corvette, which had seen better days. But after a few rides, Mr. Kellenberger was firmly hooked on the fiberglass car.

“I’ve always wanted one,” he says. Dreams, however, often get pushed aside as life gets in the way.

Mr. Kellenberger retired in March 2000 as a United Airlines pilot and 21 months later he was the happy owner of a red 1958 Corvette.

The car had undergone a total restoration in the mid-1980s and had been trailered to car shows ever since.. The man who restored it had given the car to his daughter, who had no garage space or interest in the Corvette.

When he first saw the Corvette, “I liked what I saw,” Mr. Kellenberger recalls.

From disuse, the brakes were useless, so he had the 14-foot, 9-inch-long Corvette hauled to his Manassas home. “All I was going to do was a brake job,” Mr. Kellenberger says with a straight face. “My intention was to go through the brakes and then drive it and enjoy it as is,” he claims. That’s his story and he’s sticking with it.

With the 2,793-pound car up on jack stands, he sent the brake cylinders off to be rebuilt. “While I was waiting I thought I might as well detail the engine compartment,” he says. That proved to be a difficult task with the engine in place. After pulling the engine, he easily cleaned and detailed the engine bay.

And as long as the engine was out of the car, he thought he might as well remove the valve covers to inspect the innerds. “I found two of the 16 valves about to wipe out,” Mr. Kellenberger says. That’s when he discovered that the original 283-cubic-inch V-8 had been replaced with a more powerful 350-cubic-inch V-8 from 1969, so he rebuilt the engine.

At that point he noticed that the cockpit carpet was showing wear and it was replaced. But that made the seats look shabby so they had to be replaced. The door panels, in turn, were replaced, as were the kick panels.

The original dashboard survives.

Of course, the new interior outshone the inside of the trunk, which also got new carpeting.

A hallmark of the 1958 Corvettes, Mr. Kellenberger says, was a pair of chrome spears running from either side of the rear license plate up the length of the trunk lid. When the Corvette previously had been restored, those chrome spears had been left off and the holes in the fiberglass filled in.

Mr. Kellenberger located replacement spears and mounted them on the trunk lid. They looked great but with the additional weight the trunk lid wouldn’t stay open.

He solved that dilemma with a second set of springs. Most of the parts he needed came from a Michigan supplier.

Next came the underside of the car, which Mr. Kellenberger cleaned and painted.

And as long as he was down there, he installed a stainless-steel exhaust system so he wouldn’t be troubled again with that task. “That exhaust talks to me,” he says. “It’s music to my ears.”

Corvettes in 1958 were offered in six exterior colors including:

• Red.

• Blue.

• Black.

• White.

• Yellow.

• Turquoise.

If the buyer wanted the coves with the fake air vents painted a contrasting white or silver, there was an additional $16.50 charge.

Three interior colors were offered:

• Red.

• Black

• Turquoise.

Earlier this summer Mr. Kellenberger rebuilt the balky four-speed manual transmission and installed a Hurst shifter.

Since then, he says, “It’s a totally different car. It’s a sweetheart.”

The odometer has recorded 66,000 miles, which he believes to be accurate.

He’s quite confident of his Corvette whenever he settles behind the three-spoke steering wheel and looks out over the 160-mph speedometer and long engine hood adorned (only in 1958) with an 18-rib washboard.

It will take him wherever he wants to go in comfort and style on its 102-inch wheelbase. “It rides as good as any car,” Mr. Kellenberger says after replaciing the original bias-ply tires with radials.

Mr. Kellenberger has nothing against modern Corvettes, but is quick to remind everyone that in his humble opinion, “Real corvettes have straight axles and a trunk.”

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