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A True Car Guy

Meet Mike Shepherd

Lawrence J. Giberson - August 09, 2012 10:00 AM

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Freshly rebuilt engines stand ready for placement in two cove cars Mike is restoring.

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With the exception of a couple of ’Vettes being restored or worked on, any of Mike’s Corvettes are ready to be driven.

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These cars are ready for a wide-open throttle run on the road or for judging on the show field.

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An exceptionally clean L-88 motor resides between the fenders of this 1967 Corvette.

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Almost out of place in a collection of pristine cove cars, a 1959 Corvette modified to pro street standards sits in Mike’s collection.

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Still residing in its trailer after a Corvette show, Mike fires up the big block motor of his ‘67 Sting Ray to move it out for a photo shoot.

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This enchanting 1960 fiberglass beauty captured Mike’s attention as a child. Mike spent three years on the restoration to bring the Tasco Turquoise Corvette back to its original condition.

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This 1967 Marlboro Maroon convertible Sting Ray is one of Mike’s favorite Corvettes to drive. The 427 is an L89 with aluminum heads and 435hp.

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Style, speed and beauty in one collection, 1967 427/435 Sting Ray convertible in Marlboro Maroon, 2006 pre-production Z06 in Daytona Sunset Orange and the original Corvette that stirred Mike’s soul as a little boy, 1960 Corvette in Tasco Turquoise.

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A Corvette pinball machine and a miniature Corvette highlight a well-decorated Corvette room in Mike’s home. The Corvette pedal car was Mike’s very first Corvette that he won in a cereal contest.

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A wall full of Corvette trophies and automobile collectables emphasize Mike’s enthusiasm of the Corvette hobby.

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A busy man, Mike takes a minute to relax in his Corvette room and reflects on a busy morning before heading back out to distribute wood chips with his Lions Club.

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Display cases in Mike’s Corvette room are filled with a nice collection of Corvette, automobile and Hollywood history.

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Here’s a sight seldom seen in a mid-year Sting Ray, a baby seat. Mike’s granddaughter loves to cruise the back roads with the top down and the breeze in her hair. Mike is starting off the next generation of Corvette enthusiasts in style.

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Waiting outside of Mike’s workshop, two fresh numbers-matching small-block motors wait to be dropped into Corvette engine bays. Mike purchased a Metropolitan for his wife and plans to restore it. It’s the only car in Mike’s collection that is not a Corvette.

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Two Corvette pedal cars wait in Mike’s garage for restoration.

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The factory fresh 1960 Corvette dressed in stunning Tasco Turquoise Metallic sat on the dealership floor in Alexandria, Virginia. It was the flagship of the small Chevrolet dealership and commanded center stage.

Standing outside the showroom, a 10-year-old, wide-eyed boy stared intently and took in every detail of the sleek vehicle. He studied and counted each tooth of the grille, the sloping line of the cove, the cool white color of the coves trimmed in gleaming chrome and the tailpipe exiting through the chrome rear bumper. The fiberglass beauty in the showroom had cast her magical web of fascination and caught another victim. This event was seared into the young boy’s memory.

The story moves to Aquia, Virginia, 50 years later. Walking out the front door of his ranch-style house, a smiling gentleman says, “Good morning, I’m Mike Shepherd and it’s a pleasure to meet you … give me a few seconds and I’ll open up the garage doors.”

The man quickly disappeared inside the house. With the doors fully open, Mike turned on the lights in his garagemahal to reveal the brilliant colors of a stunning collection of Corvettes. The small boy fascinated with a single Corvette back in 1960 had grown up to be a successful businessman who now had his own collection of 18 Corvettes.

Mike’s collection is a fascinating review of style, speed and beauty. There are award plaques on every wall, and an impressive gathering of solid-axle Corvettes, mid-year Sting Rays and chrome bumper models highlighting the creative design styles of the GM design department. Mike’s oldest Corvette treasure is a 1956 beauty, Cascade Green with beige cove. It is Mike’s little hot rod with a ZZ4 motor, disc brakes and A/C. He utilizes it in the late fall to deliver Christmas trees for his local Lions Club, when the northern Virginia roads are free of ice and snow.

We see a red-on-red ’57 with beige coves, a 283/270hp motor hosting a two-by-four carb set-up and four-speed transmission. A red-on-charcoal ’58 with a 283/230 four-speed Corvette sits in the front row of the collection, kept company by a red-on-black 283/290 fuelie ’59 Corvette dressed out with white coves.

Almost out of place in the collection of nine cove cars is a stunning blue and silver 1959 modified Pro Street Corvette. Once owned by Corvette racer Bob Newberry, this car is modified with tubbed wheel wells, a roll cage and wheelie bars. Mike has raced this ’Vette in the past and driven away with several impressive trophies.

The Corvette that still gets Mike’s pulse racing is the Corvette that captured his heart, the original 1960 Corvette dressed in stunning Tasco Turquoise Metallic. Mike performed a 100 percent restoration on the Corvette after he purchased it from the original owner. A distressed shell of its former self, meticulous attention to every detail during the frame-off restoration is apparent and the restoration was not an easy one. Lacking paint and almost everything else that made the Corvette special back in the day, Mike spent countless hours on every phase of the restoration to ensure the old girl would be as stunning as when she rolled out of the St. Louis assembly plant. Mike’s passion and concentrated work ethic during the three-year restoration has paid off with countless first place awards, best of class and best of show honors.

Mike grins and tells the story of a judging official who commented that “the paint under the hood is too neat.” Mike smiled and explained to the judge, “Chevrolet has been able to practice on hundreds of Corvette engine compartments … this was my first one.”

Mid-year styling is well represented in the gathering. A striking 1963 split window coupe in its original black paint and showing 19,000 original miles boasts a few rarities for the time period. Factory-installed A/C, power steering, power brakes, tinted glass, and an AM/FM radio complement the original black interior. It has a 327/300hp small block, coupled with a four-speed. A 327/350hp ’67 Marina Blue convertible with a white soft top, a bright blue interior, four-speed and side pipes is a favorite driver of Mike and his granddaughter.

Three Sting Rays in Mike’s collection represent the top tier of brutal Corvette horsepower from the mid-years. An NCRS Top Flight and Bloomington Gold-certified early production 1967 Marlboro Maroon coupe, with a 427/390 big block, factory A/C and saddle interior is there. The coupe also has factory shoulder belts. A 1967 Marlboro Maroon convertible with a saddle interior sports side pipes, a black soft top and a black stinger on the hood that covers an L89 427/435 mill with aluminum heads. The last big block in Mike’s collection is a Corvette devotee’s dream car, a pristine black 1967 Sting Ray convertible with an L88 motor under the red stinger. The 427 mill is connected to an M22 four-speed transmission transferring an under-rated horsepower of 430 to the seven-inch wide tires.

Although very different from the rest, the last four Corvettes are as impressive as the first 14. With its long sloping hood, sinister grin and arched fender peaks, a 1969 Stingray convertible in Daytona Yellow paint is a sharp contrast to earlier designs. It’s equipped with a 427/435 big block that fires right up. The only C4 that Mike will have in his collection is a red-on-red 1994 ZR-1 with 24,000 original miles.

For driving duty, Mike has a 2006 Z06 dressed in dazzling Daytona Sunset Orange. Mike first saw the pilot vehicle, number 140, on display at Corvettes at Carlisle and later purchased it for his collection. Mike’s last Corvette in his collection belongs to his wife. A 2006 yellow Corvette convertible with a black top and black interior, his wife has been fortunate enough to have had a Corvette as a driver since 1986. Mike loves to keep his wife happy, “when I’m on my front porch and I see my wife come around the corner in her little yellow Corvette, it makes me feel 35 again and at my age when you can feel 35, that’s priceless.”

The Shepherd collection, as Mike’s friends like to call it, is a not a static display of lifeless fiberglass. It is a working collection with each Corvette immaculately show-ready clean and able to be driven. “You can’t enjoy them when you leave them in the garage,” Mike says. “They need to be driven and seen.”

With the exception of one Corvette undergoing a restoration and one Corvette having engine work performed on it, each ’Vette in Mike’s collection is ready to fire up and be driven. “I can’t stand not having a Corvette up and running when I need to move it or when I want to take one out for a spin. Are you hungry? Let’s go get some lunch.”

It was an invitation no journalist could refuse. With the first twist of the key the midyear fired up with the side pipes bellowing their mechanical music. A quick blip of the throttle and we are traveling down the road as the 327 transforms air and fuel into horsepower and torque.

Once lunch is finished, we noticed a 2006 Jet Stream Blue Corvette coupe sitting in the parking lot and the owners were inspecting Mike’s Marina Blue Sting Ray. Ever gracious and a true gearhead, Mike is happy to talk Corvettes with anyone he meets.

Mike’s Corvette room is eye-catching with glass display cabinets on a red and white checkered floor. Inside the cabinets is an extensive collection of automobile and Corvette history with the walls adorned with hundreds of Corvette awards and trophies that share the shelves with Corvette models.

Mike stated his life’s philosophy as “How can you expect to get back if you don’t give out?” As a member of the Lions Club, he has demonstrated his philosophy time and again. He tells the story of distributing Christmas trees for the Lions Club in his ’56 Corvette. “I had sold a tree to a mother who had her young son with her. I asked her if her son would like a ride in the Corvette. The mother explained that the young boy didn’t speak and didn’t think he would like a ride. I offered the ride again to the mother and this time she explained to the boy about the ride. The boy’s eyes lit up and I helped him into the passenger seat. He was so happy sitting there. Being able to help someone or put a smile on a boy’s face, that’s what it is all about.”

Mike volunteers his time and his trucks to deliver wood chips in the spring. Not a person to mention it, he has received several prestigious awards for his dedicated work.

In 50 years, a little boy’s life has changed, but Mike had changed the lives of others for the better and, in the journey, created new memories he and others will never forget.

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