Since the Chevrolet division at General Motors went into a bit of a slump in the 1950s, their brand manager, Tomas Keating, thought sports cars were a good idea.
Several British sports cars have started to feel its presence in this country. Codenamed “Project Opel”, a two-seater fiberglass body was made, and to keep costs down they used a long-running six-cylinder engine with a very slow two-speed powerglide transmission. A public relations manager suggested using the name Corvette after the maneuverable ship used by the Canadian Navy during World War II.
The Chevrolet Corvette was introduced as a concept car at the 1953 GM Motorama show in New York. It was the first of the first generation Corvette to last 10 years. The first Corvette received rave reviews, but it wasn’t a very good car. It had a lot of quality issues and wasn’t very exciting to drive.
There were only 300 Corvettes built in their first year, all white with red interiors. Things improved a lot later, however, and now the Corvettes are in their eighth generation with over 1.5 million of them having been produced in the model’s 69-year history.
The flagship of this edition was the 1960 Chevrolet Corvette, which was part of the first generation Corvette. It is owned by Gerald Shmavonian, a retired archaeologist living in Orinda. The history of this car is very unusual.
“To my knowledge, this is the only unrepaired 1960 Corvette in the country,” he said. “This one only has 25,000 real miles on it.”
Shmavonian said he had owned the car for about 30 years. It’s always had basically the same mileage since he’s had it, as Shmavonian drives enough cars to keep it running properly. He thinks he paid about $23,000 (about $47,900 in 2022 dollars) for the Corvette in 1992.
The owner says that during the car’s first 30 or so years, one of the former owners was actor Ken Curtis, who played the role of Festus Haggen on the TV show “Gunsmoke” (the longest-running live-action TV series, primetime, until recently) and the car too. appeared in the 1970s films “Animal House” and “American Graffiti.”
Shmavonian is not really a car collector, because this Corvette is his first and only classic car. His interest in the 1960 Corvette dates back to his junior high school days in the city of Madera, Central Valley, California.
“I saw this car, which I had never seen before in my life, and I just stared at it. To someone passing by I asked, ‘What is that?’ He looked at me like I was an asshole, and said, ‘That’s a ’60 Corvette.’ I never forget that.
“So, I know that one car. This is the car of choice for the covers of all old books about American classics. It has a certain aesthetic appeal even to someone who knows nothing about cars. Even a 14 year old farm boy, like me, understood. This is something extra-extra-special. It’s not just another classic car.”
The 1960 model year was the first in which more than 10,000 Corvettes were built. The base price is $3,875 or about $38,265 in today’s dollars. The car was featured in the premiere of the TV show, “Route 66,” which certainly added luxury and status to the car.
The Shmavonian car is pretty standard with a 283-cubic-inch V8 engine, an upgraded Powerglide transmission, and a removable hard top. About 20 years ago the owner noticed a small crack in the windshield.
“I want the car to be pure. I went here and there looking for the windshield.”
He called PPG, the company that makes glass for GM cars and was told that they don’t produce windshields more than a year or two after the model year. Officers checked, and surprisingly reported one windshield in Altoona, Pennsylvania, that had been sitting there for 40 years. He checked the price sheet, and he bought it for $20 without shipping.
Most classic cars appear to be stored in residential garages or rental storage units, but the Shmavonian is stored in the carport at the Maynard Buehler House Orinda which was built in 1948 and designed by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The Shmavonian has owned this estate for about nine years. The design of the house is interesting, as it is built with concrete blocks and red wood, making it look much simpler than it actually is.
The story is that Wright would only accept building assignments if Buehler would buy all the land in the vicinity. Back in 1947, this was not a problem, as the land was available, and Buehler bought four acres. For me the most unusual feature is that the two rooms in this fantastic house have 24-carat gold ceilings. It has been voted one of the top 10 places in the country to have a wedding, and Shmavonian opens the house for tours several times a year.
Have an interesting vehicle? Contact David Krumboltz at MOBopoly@yahoo.com. To see more photos of this vehicle and other issues or to read more of Dave’s column, visit mercurynews.com/author/david-krumboltz.