Anyone who has taken a car to be serviced recently knows how expensive repairs have become, with labor costs often exceeding the price of the parts themselves. This is especially true with late-model Corvettes, whose shop visits regularly run up bills of the four- or even five-figure variety. It’s a price most marque devotees are initially willing to pay in exchange for the extreme performance these technologically advanced machines provide, but that willingness tends to recede over time.
As a case in point, imagine being charged $1,400 for repairs on an already old Corvette in the mid-1970s. In 1974, that’s the amount John Drahos quoted the owner of the ’57 model shown here. Putting that sum into perspective, the base price of a new C3 ranged from about $5,700 to a shade over $6,000 that year, so spending that much money on a beater C1 was probably not the most prudent decision from a purely economical standpoint. But that’s exactly what the owner agreed to do.
Drahos set up his shop, Corvette Conspiracy, in the Cleveland area in 1970, and as the name implies it was geared exclusively towards the Corvette community. After a few years in business, Drahos had built up a loyal customer base that ensured a steady flow of work through the shop. Much of that work came as a result of word-of-mouth advertising, which is what landed this ’57 on his doorstep. “The owner bought it from a dealer here in Cleveland, who had taken [it and] a ’54 in on a trade for a new car,” Drahos recalls. “This guy had bought both of them.”
This C1 was, according to Drahos, a driver with decent paint and new white top when it came into the shop, but it wasn’t without its flaws. At some point, it had been repainted in a generic shade of blue, and the original engine was long gone, replaced by a ’61 283. Mechanically, it was in need of repairs, and the owner also had a laundry list of modifications he wanted to have done. On that list was the installation of a Carter four-barrel carburetor and manifold, a four-speed trans, new shocks, rear springs, brakes at all four corners and a removable hardtop. It took Drahos and his crew a few weeks to get all the repairs and alterations done to the point that he was ready to send the bill. Unfortunately, the owner was nowhere to be found. Attempts to collect payment started with phone calls, which then led to registered letters. “I had been in business for four years,” he explains. “I was thinking, this guy is eventually going come and pick up his car—he’s not just going to abandon it.” All the while, the ’57 continued to sit.
Drahos continued to play his part as a conscientious business owner by storing the Corvette inside the shop with the hope that the fellow would eventually show up and pay his bill. That generosity only lasted for a few months. Business was booming, and shop space was at a premium, so the decision was made to store the car outside. Not surprisingly, that move had a profound impact on its appearance. For the next six years, the harsh Cleveland winters and brutally hot summers ravaged the Corvette’s body, abetted by the neighborhood kids who habitually lobbed rocks at it. The car’s stint outside could best be described as a “patina builder,” since most of the exterior damage you see today took place during that time.
A new chapter in the Corvette’s life commenced in 1980, when Drahos moved into a larger shop. Rather than having it take up precious real estate at the new place, he towed the car to his house and parked it in a storage barn, where it was pretty much forgotten for the next 14 years. While this next episode slowed the body’s deterioration, it actually ramped up the decline in some of the car’s other areas. The engine bay, interior and top, for example, quickly became a new living space for rodents.
In 1994 Drahos decided to move to a larger house, which forced him to transport the Corvette back to his shop, where it was parked for another 14 years. “It was like a piece of furniture you walked by every day,” he says. “For all those years it sat there like a fixture, and people would just put stuff on it. It became a table for equipment, and if a hood or some other part came off of another Corvette, we would often lay it on top of it. Someone even sprayed parts on it, as evidenced by the overspray outlines on the trunk.” The car also shed a few mechanical pieces over the years, most notably the four-speed that had been installed back in 1974. It was pulled when another Corvette came into the shop in need of a gearbox, after which Drahos dropped another three-speed in the ’57.