It’s not his first Corvette, nor is it his only, but for Mike Emerson this 1970 LT1 coupe is definitely his favorite. He’s owned it for 34 years, he’s driven it across the country twice and he’s had three wives come and go while only one shark has occupied his Hayward, California garage.
Having been born in the summer of 1953, Emerson’s personal history is inextricably linked to that of the Corvette’s—both were June deliveries. He remembers seeing a ’63 split window for the first time and thinking it was the coolest car he’d ever seen. “It looked fast just sitting still,” he remembers. A neighbor had a ’65 coupe, so, as a youth, Emerson had every reason to be fixated on Corvettes. He was, but he was also into motorcycles, hot rods and everything else that was fast and loud.
Emerson hadn’t planned on buying a Corvette on a spring day in 1972 when he bought his first. A senior at Castro Valley High School, Emerson was at work at a local tire store when a blue ’65 big-block convertible rolled in for new rubber. After his boss told him that the Corvette owner was selling it and only wanted $1,200, Emerson immediately thought of his bank account: It held $1,150—certainly close enough to close the deal. He was right, and before the purchase fully registered in his brain, Emerson was a Corvette owner. The only hitch was that the car’s fuel gauge was on E and he had spent his last dime. Graciously, the former owner gave the young tire jockey a twenty and Emerson was on his way, wasting no time showing off his new ride to friends. He quickly gained an appreciation for the big block’s 425 horsepower, blasting up to 120 mph on a banked freeway overpass. “I could kill myself in this car,” Emerson remembers telling himself.
For the next two years, Emerson was the envy of the East Bay, but his Corvette ownership experience wasn’t without its problems. Though he managed to stay out of jail, Emerson couldn’t keep the ’65 out of the repair shop. First, a valve spring broke. Though he was able to get that repaired for just $250, the next fix was going to be far costlier: The blown clutch needed to be replaced. With work slow (Emerson is a fourth-generation masonry contractor) and gasoline prices high (the OPEC crisis had just hit and that 396 V8 was a guzzler), the Corvette was proving too much for his budget to bear, so he decided to sell it. Emerson was barely able to coax the Corvette over to a local hot-rod dealer, where he was offered $1,500 on the spot. It was just too good to pass up. While he eventually regretted selling that mid-year, at the time, he didn’t really have a choice.
Towards the end of the ’70s, Emerson was more established and could finally start thinking about getting back into a Corvette. He had the money to buy a new one, but the ’78 Corvette’s styling update didn’t appeal to him, nor did its relatively weak, 185-horsepower V8—he wanted an early, chrome-bumper shark with a strong motor. A neighbor who happened to be a Corvette broker told him that he had just what he was looking for, a ’70 convertible. Emerson was excited about the prospect until he found out the car was yellow, a color he hates, and told the neighbor, “No, thanks.” After some coaxing, however, Emerson agreed to at least see it.
Originally a New York car, the Corvette was in good shape with just 32,000 miles. It didn’t have power anything, nor was it equipped with air-conditioning, but the engine felt really strong and emitted a soul-stirring racket through its sidepipes. Plus, it had a four-speed manual transmission, thus fulfilling Emerson’s performance requirements. A factory hardtop was included in the $7,000 asking price. It seemed like a lot of car for the money, especially after negotiations brought the price down to $6K. Emerson still didn’t like its color, but he was overjoyed to be back behind the wheel of a Corvette. Anyways, he planned to have it repainted.
The ’70 convertible immediately became Emerson’s daily driver, taking him to his job sites. On the weekends it transported him all over Northern California, to the Mendocino Coast for abalone diving, to the American River for rafting and to the Sierra mountains for skiing. A rear luggage rack aided in these adventures. He didn’t baby his Corvette, driving it hard and usually parking it outside.