Rare 1957 and 1955 Chevrolet Corvettes Uncovered

© Provided by Hotrod


NOTE: If you know of a Rare Find, please contact Jerry Heasley at jerryheasley@gmail.com.

Forty-one years passed.

“Get that Corvette running,” “Get it out,” “Let’s get it going,” everybody kept telling Jay Wisler. Finally, in 2015, with his friend Mike LaRocca’s prodding, Wisler unearthed this ’57 Vette, still with the original drivetrain and paint, interior rotted, but also “untouched” since new. Beside the ’57, Wisler had also stored another “keeper:” a ’55, yellow with green interior; this one not so original.

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A car enthusiast for decades, Wisler’s garage accumulated car parts and memorabilia in addition to his two “keepers.”

From 1968 until 1975, Jay Wisler owned a shop repairing and restoring Vettes in Tampa, Florida. In 1974, a friend mentioned a ’57 for sale about 45 minutes north in Leesburg. The price in 1974 was $5,200, not exactly cheap even 40-plus years ago. However, Wisler remembers in the early 1970s when everything “1957 Chevy” was hot: two-door hardtops, Nomads, convertibles and Corvettes. Wisler paid more for the ’57 due to its “untouched” status, very difficult to find even in the early 1970s. Also, the ’57 Vette was a 245-horsepower dual-quad 283 for sale by the original owner, a Colonel Edward Wright James, an Air Force veteran of three wars: World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

The ’55 Vette was much cheaper at $1,500, but it had no engine or transmission. “I bought the ’55 from an old friend of mine that needed the money to buy two Corvair Spyders that he thought were a better investment.”

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Two friends helped push the ’55 onto a trailer while Mike’s wife steered.

More than one person has wanted to buy these two old Vettes over the years. Most recently, the TV show Pickers expressed an interest to do a shoot in Jay’s garage. Wisler killed the proposed deal because a prerequisite was selling them one or both of the Vettes. Jay’s plan is to build the ’55 for his daughter and keep the ’57 for fun driving and car showing.

LaRocca is Jay’s very talented friend of a half century. “We pulled the cars out. We took the ’57 to Mike’s place. He went ahead and changed the oil, rebuilt the carburetors and we got the thing running.”

“The dealer told Colonel James if he would wait two more weeks, Chevrolet was coming out with a new four-speed, all synchronized where you don’t have to stop to go into First gear. He said he didn’t want one more gear to worry about shifting.” James lived in Tucson, Arizona, in 1957 when he went looking for a new Corvette. He found 20 or 21 on the lot of City Chevrolet in Los Angeles, but none in the specific color he wanted: Aztec Copper. Colonel James felt Aztec Copper would camouflage the desert’s red dirt.

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The ’55 Vette looked like this, stored 41 years.

The car got plenty dirty when James raced at El Mirage, probably about 1957 or 1958. “He raced it one time at El Mirage in California. He made a flying mile and got a plaque. He told me he decoupaged that plaque into a wooden coffee table with several other items from his military service.”

The Colonel passed away in 1981, but his wife, Betsy, 15 years younger, is still alive. She has no knowledge of the table, but married the Colonel three years after he bought the Corvette.

Wisler recalls James quoted his top speed in the flying mile at 154 mph, a figure Wisler believes is not possible with a stock three-speed and a set of 3.55s in a 245-horse Corvette.

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Wisler will leave the large black gasket in the rear hardtop window for history’s sake. Apparently, when Colonel James was in England, Air Force personnel suggested this gasket, sourced from a jet, to alleviate the fog problems for rear visibility.

If any readers have seen a wooden coffee table decoupaged with SCTA (Southern California Timing Association) results of an Aztec Copper ’57, send an email to jerryheasley@gmail.com. We could clear up two mysteries: how fast this dual-quad 283 went in the flying mile and what happened to that coffee table. 

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