In July 2011, Mehrkens took a trip to New Jersey armed with his NCRS 1963 judging guide, flashlight, inspection mirror and a long list of items he intended to methodically scrutinize. He had every intention of remaining completely objective and emotionally detached from the prospective purchase. “There was no reason to jump at the first ’63 I saw because I still had almost six months until my 50th birthday,” he says. At least that was the plan.
“I saw the car appear, and from 100 yards away I knew I was going to buy it,” Mehrkens recalls. “All logic went out the window—a split window! That Daytona Blue would be perfect back home next to my Dark Blue Metallic ’73! I followed Ed over to his hangar where we had agreed I’d inspect the car. In the hangar were his plane, a 1950 VW Beetle and two old Maseratis. He patiently watched me check every number and date per my checklist. I tried to explain why this mattered, but I don’t think he really absorbed the logic that drives an NCRS nut.”
The seller then brought the car to a local service station so Mehrkens could look at it on a lift. He confirmed that it had a solid chassis and all-original body panels. At this point, all that was left was to try and agree on a price. “Over the next few days we haggled back and forth,” Mehrkens explains. “He guilted me saying the proceeds from the sale of the car would allow him to send his daughter to college. I guilted him saying, ‘That’s great, but I have two daughters I have to send to college.’ Ultimately, we struck a deal and I picked up the car. I decided to drive it all the way home. A 48-year-old car I was totally unfamiliar with, in New York City traffic in the heat of summer, the George Washington Bridge, the Cross Bronx Expressway—what could go wrong?”
Nothing did go wrong, but the drive home did deliver a few anxious moments. The split in the rear window is a signature ’63 coupe feature, but it does exact a price in terms of limited rear visibility. Mehrkens started his trip home worried about what he couldn’t see in his rearview mirror, but then became more focused on other issues: “I soon realized there really wasn’t any issue with being able to see out the back because with drum brakes, no power assist and those skinny tires, you’d better be looking forward at all times!”
Though his new purchase was an honest, original car, it still needed a lot of love before it would be ready for the intensity of NCRS judging. The local Long Island chapter meet was a little more than a month away, making any hope of having the car prepared in time unrealistic. “It was a crazy goal,” recounts Mehrkens, “which is why I had to do it.”
His biggest problem was sourcing correctly numbered and date-coded parts in such a short time frame. “The man I bought the car from wasn’t a Corvette guy,” says Mehrkens. “When parts needed replacing, he didn’t care about part numbers and date codes, he just got whatever fit. The carburetor, alternator, starter, horns, water pump and radiator were an eclectic collection of GM and generic parts. It had finned aluminum valve covers, the wrong air-cleaner lid, the wrong exhaust, radial tires, Rallye wheels and so on.”
In between working his day job, tending to his family and getting an occasional wink of sleep, Mehrkens devoted countless hours to frantically tracking down all of the needed parts, sourcing both new-old-stock and rebuilt original items. He also removed the engine and transmission for a full restoration of the engine compartment, going through the NCRS judging guide page-by-page.
All of the effort paid off when the car earned a Top Flight award with a score of 96.2 percent. Mehrkens is understandably proud of this achievement, but for him the journey with this ’63 split window has only just begun. His list of things to do includes restoring the chassis, which was brush-painted by a previous owner with heavy black paint that’s not factory accurate. He intends to take the car further in the NCRS judging system and to the famed Bloomington Gold Corvette show for Certification judging. He also plans to have his car included in the 1963 50th-anniversary display at Corvettes at Carlisle in 2013.
Besides the ongoing process of restoring the car to its factory configuration and, of course, driving it, Mehrkens is also devoting time and effort to tracking down its history. Unfortunately, the man he bought the car from wasn’t big on saving paperwork and, owing to the fact that he bought it all the way back in 1973, he couldn’t remember the name of the seller. He did, however, recall that the seller was an accountant living in Flemington, New Jersey, and among the service receipts he did save was one bearing the name of a “Mr. Zuegner” in Flemington.
“I Googled the name and came up with a CPA firm in Flemington,” Mehrkens says. “I called and spoke to Louis Zuegner, who confirmed he had indeed owned the car! It turned out one of his clients owned a used-car lot and he would occasionally ask him to find a car for him at auction. He bought the ’63 for $1,800 when it was painted yellow over its original Daytona Blue. Soon after he bought it, the headlights stopped working and he brought it to the local mechanic. The mechanic said, ‘You bought a Corvette? These things are nothing but trouble, you’d better sell it before more goes wrong!’ Mr. Zuegner sold it back to his used-car-lot friend for $1,500, glad to take the $300 loss to get rid of his headache.”
Mehrkens didn’t want his search to end there. Thanks to the NCRS Shipping Data Report, he learned that the car was originally delivered by Don Allen Motors in Buffalo, New York. How did it end up in New Jersey? Mr. Zuegner remembered the name of his used-car-lot friend, Jay Wright, but said he was not in business any more. Mehrkens did an Internet search for the name in West Amwell Township and got a hit. Surprisingly, Mr. Wright remembered the car and buying it back. He had originally bought it at a Bordentown, New Jersey auction. It is at this point where the ownership trail goes cold. Never one to give up easily, Mehrkens vows to complete the car’s early ownership history concurrent with his mission to return his iconic split-window Corvette to its factory-original appearance.