Portrait of an Artist

Also from Issue 88

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More book work followed, as well as magazine jobs, including illustrations for Car and Driver. While the fact that the magazine’s editor at the time, Bob Brown, was Grove’s college roommate certainly helped open the door, it was the quality of his work that kept it open. As another Car and Driver staffer, Gene Butera, wrote in David Grove: An Illustrated Life, “The important thing about Grove’s illustrations was that, in addition to their exhibiting all the qualities of fine painting, they were always dead on in their ability to get to the heart of the story.” In 1972, Grove was admitted into the Society of Illustrators in New York, the most prestigious organization of its kind in the U.S.

Well before he’d firmly established himself as an illustrator, Grove did something a little rash—he bought a Corvette. He caught a glimpse of the car from the window of his apartment up in Bernal Heights. Parked below in the used lot of Stewart Chevrolet on Mission Street, the Sting Ray looked very familiar. “It was the exact car I had nearly purchased in lieu of going to Europe in 1964,” he wrote. “The body, engine, transmission, radio—everything. The only difference was the paint; the silver I had wanted was now Silver Blue.”

As it turns out, Grove didn’t buy the Corvette right away. “I needed a new car like a hole in the head,” he wrote of the small-block coupe. “The Impala was running great—and I had no money.” After a month of gazing at the car from afar, and waiting for someone else to buy it, Grove went down and talked to a salesman. Well, he did more than talk; he became the car’s new owner. “It looked real nice, but mechanically it was a mess,” he wrote. “I was under it for three months before I could drive it.”

But drive it he did. In 1972, Grove and then-girlfriend Barbara Jones took it on a road trip up to Grant Pass, Oregon. Longtime friend Terry Forgette accompanied Grove on numerous road trips in the Corvette, including mid-week ski trips to Lake Tahoe. He says Grove relished getting behind the four-speed coupe’s steering wheel and taming curvy, mountain roads. “He drove fast and hard,” says Forgette. “But he was a good driver and wasn’t dangerous.”

While Grove thoroughly enjoyed his ’64, he did not turn his back on the ’53; it just took a while longer before he was ready to bring it out west. In the mid-’70s, he moved to North Beach. He loved the neighborhood’s cafe culture (Caffé Malvina soon became his “headquarters for living”), Italian food and late-night haunts, but owning one car there, much less two, presented a challenge. It was not until 1979 that he could afford to buy an apartment on Union Street with a good-sized garage, and even then he had to spend a lot of money modifying it to make sure it could accommodate both Corvettes. Ever focused on the details, Grove also had a heater and a thermostat installed in the garage. “Nothing was left to chance with David,” says his longtime friend and the executor of his estate, Ray Alexander. In 1980, Grove had the ’53 shipped out from Philadelphia, finally giving Mrs. Gazarra her garage back.

Though Grove didn’t usually venture beyond the San Francisco city limits in his first-year Corvette—he used the ’64 for longer outings—he did drive it around town on a regularly basis. He usually entered it in the North Beach Christmas street fair, proudly driving it down Grant Street. According to his friend Dan Walsh, Grove got a kick out of turning heads in the car.

Walsh, Forgette and others helped Grove work on his Corvettes. While the ’64 proved to be a reliable machine that only needed regular maintenance, the ’53 had some gremlins. At one point it refused to start, and Grove and his buddies had a hell of a time diagnosing the problem. After trying all sorts of remedies—from replacing the battery to rejetting the carburetor—the old Blue Spark six still wouldn’t fully turn over. Then Grove tracked down some original spark-plug wires that were unencumbered with modern attenuators and installed them. That did the trick.