Commitment to Corvettes
A Tale of Two Fine Rides
Story Larry Jewett / Images Bill Erdman - July 10, 2014 09:01 AM
There is always a lot of emphasis put on the price. One of the most common questions a car owner gets is “How much did you pay for it?”
Often, that can be just a very small part of the story (and often a very small part of the cost).
When John Lutz was in the ninth grade, he and his father were looking for a car that would serve as a bonding mechanism between father and son. It would be the catalyst for creating memories and honing skills. In this case, it was a 1954 Corvette in 1976 and the ad rightfully stated “Needs Work”.
John’s father had been around cars plenty and even Corvettes. “Dad had a ’76 Corvette,” John said. “He had had a ’75 and a ’74. I had never seen a first generation car before, though.”
There was plenty of work to keep a father and son occupied with this car, more work than time to do it. “The ‘54 was a basket case,” John recalled. “My father started it and I kinda finished it.” Tragically, John’s father passed away just two years after the purchase, but not before bringing another Corvette into the mix in 1978.
A few months before his passing, though, John’s father found a ’63 Corvette that was in very decent shape near Philadelphia. He had seen an ad in the New York Times. He was running a dealership and thought the car might be a good display piece for a dealership, alongside an Indianapolis Pace Car that was to be displayed. The Pace Car ran into some trouble in transit and the Corvette sat alone, but was still getting plenty of attention.
As John was working on the ’54, he changed the wheels. The car retains the factory hubs, but John pulled the wheels and contemplated throwing the spoked wheels away. For some reason, he hung onto them, only to find out that was a very good decision.
“On its 50th anniversary, I took the car to Carlisle and displayed it with those wheels. That’s when I found out just how rare they were. There are only about five or six sets known to exist and I have one of them.”
The history of the ’54 shows that it was in the possession of a few previous owners, all believed to be in New Jersey. “It was built earlier than mid-year,” John said, “and a lot of it was all there, like the motor, transmission and the rear.” John turned to Keegan Classics in Philadelphia. “He helped a lot with final detail work and advice,” John said.
The ’63, on the other hand, didn’t need a lot of attention. The car was turned over to Hibernia Auto Restoration. There were a lot of original marks that were clearly visible on car, showing it to be “Build 124”. Little has been replaced in the time John has owned the car.
There have been some unfortunate bumps in the road. In his quest for NCRS Top Flight awards, John brought the cars to different shows outside of New Jersey. One of those shows was an event at the National Corvette Museum, when a sudden storm dropped hail onto the helpless cars. Even though his car was wrapped in two covers, John’s ’54 suffered heavy damage. Once again, the expertise of Keegan Classics brought it back to better than ever.
It was a great twist of fate that allowed photographer Bill Erdman to feast his eyes on these two wonderful cars. Lutz doesn’t show them, now that he has the Top Flight awards, choosing not to try for the Duntov Award. These days, the cars will be seen at cruise nights and only occasionally. The ’63 was the first spotted by our photographer, who just had to have the chance to put his talents to work, but could never connect with the owner. A few weeks later, John returned to a cruise night, this time with the ’54 which caught Bill’s eye. In the course of chatting about the first gen car, it came to light that the two had failed to connect a few weeks previous. It turned out fortunate because now there were two.
“I’ve been told by many that they haven’t seen cars as nice as mine,” said John. “The ’63 was my father’s favorite and that makes this car pretty special to me.”
John’s own sons may be able to carry that passion someday, but for now, there are plenty of opportunities for John to look at the cars and smile, allowing those memories free rein into today’s world. The cars serve as silent tribute to a time when a man and his ninth-grade son set out on a journey to create a pair of the finest Corvettes around.