Written by independent automotive journalist Steve Magnante
In 1965, the Corvette Stingray was in its third year of production and sales escalated to 23,564 units, 8,186 coupes and 15,378 roadsters. One of the fortunate few to own a new ’65 coupe was Gary Bennett, Barrett-Jackson’s vice president of consignment. “Actually I was the second owner, but I bought it in model year 1965 with just a handful of miles, so to me it was a new car,” says Gary. “I was starting my family and it was our only car. I was a sophomore in college and working for Unit Rig, a leading manufacturer of massive off-road trucks used for mining. I’d owned a 1964 Stingray roadster before and wanted the coupe for its styling. When I bought it I had a child on the way, and another arrived during my ownership in 1966. The car was set up exactly the way I’d have ordered one.”
Corvette fans may ask if that meant Gary’s ’65 coupe was a “Fuelie” (in its final year) or a 396 big block (in its first year). “It was neither,” he says. “I was always a road racer, not a drag racer, so I didn’t want the extra nose weight of the 396. And it wasn’t a ‘Fuelie.’ Back then most guys were running away from the Rochester mechanical fuel-injected cars. Mine was the 365 horsepower L76 (one of 5,011 made) with knockoff wheels, off-road exhaust and a Nassau Blue body and interior. The off-road exhaust system, by the way, wasn’t the same as the N14 side-pipe option. Instead it used lower restriction mufflers and bigger tubing, but still ran all the way out the rear of the car.”
Back then it was before the advent of today’s safety laws, so Gary’s kids got to know the coupe’s cargo deck pretty well. “I had two toddlers and we’d just let ’em hop into the storage area under the big rear window and hang on,” Gary remembers. “If you hit the brakes, they’d bump the backs of the seats; if you gave it the gas, they’d land up against the bulkhead. It’s just what people did back then.” We can see it now, the giggling Bennett kids smiling up at the world through the Stingray’s big glass window, the rumble of the off-road exhaust lulling them to sleep.
Another thing people did then was race. “I did all the usual things with that car,” says Gary. “All my friends were into fast cars, and there was one particular Mustang Shelby GT350 I kept racing ‒ and beating. I had a lot of fun in that car, but at the time … well, it was just a car. I kept it until 1971, when after about 40,000 miles of faithful service, it was sold to help fund the purchase of a 1969 Jaguar XKE coupe that was spectacular and went on to become a national show winner. The Corvette was sold and life went on, simple as that.”
Fast-forward to 2012. “I got a call from a guy,” Gary recalls. “Now I get lots of calls about cars every day, and his name didn’t ring any bells. He says, ‘I bet you don’t know who I am, but I am the guy who bought your Corvette in 1971. I still have it. Do you want it back?’ It surprised me, but I knew it might be a once-in-a-lifetime situation.” Gary says he wasn’t losing sleep over the car, but was just too curious to ignore the offer. “I brought my wife to go look at the car and when I first sat in it, I have to admit, I cried.” Very understandable: no doubt Gary’s memory came flooding back with sights and sounds of giggling children – now fully grown adults ‒ riding out back, late-night races won under cover of darkness, and several years of dutiful service shuttling him to and from work and school.
Though the body and cosmetics had been restored to original condition, the engine and transmission were completely original to the car. Also present were decades’ worth of maintenance records from Claver’s Garage, a leading Tulsa-area Chevrolet specialist. Gary was especially surprised to see that the odometer only read 60,000 miles, just 20,000 more than when he sold it. It even retained the same ignition and door lock keys Gary had used decades before.
So he bought it. We had to ask if the seller was compassionate in his asking price – or if he was being an opportunistic mercenary. “Well, he knew me and my role at Barrett-Jackson, and understood his position of power,” Gary says. “We worked through all of that and I paid a price that was fair, but certainly not any bargain.” Once home in Gary’s garage, the flood of positive emotions that come to those lucky enough to be reunited with a long-lost vehicle came back. Some were bittersweet, some were scary, but all were priceless.
But here’s the funny part: once Gary took possession and began driving the vintage Stingray occasionally, he had an epiphany. “I’ve owned three 427 Cobras, seven 289 Cobras, as well as just about every major muscle car and special-interest vehicle you can imagine,” he says. “And like any vehicle engineered in the ’60s, the Stingray has been surpassed by modern vehicle technology.” It’s another way of saying Gary’s Corvette was faster in his memory than it was in reality; the bar has been raised. He continues, “I drive a Cadillac CTS-V with 640 horsepower, and it was a little sad to realize the Corvette’s solid-lifter, Holley-carbureted 327 was no longer one of the hottest things on wheels. A brand-new Mustang V6 can give it a scare.”
But that’s not the point. “This is the very car I owned when it was new,” Gary explains. “And the memories are still there, an experience I cannot have with the Caddy. What I enjoy about it more than anything else is just having it. I don’t need to race anybody and, at the end of the day, it’s still my old car. The keys are the same ones I held almost 50 years ago as a recent college grad and new father. And that’s very special; it’s incredible.”
Reacquiring a car you once owned – or, in a pinch, one just like it – is the closest thing to time travel we have. Why not start your search today?
To learn more about Gary Bennett and the team at Barrett-Jackson, click HERE.