Collectors' Stories

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1967 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu

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George and Ellen Johnson
(Rensselaer, NY)

This is my 1967 Chevelle Malibu. Its significance other than its age, is the year I married my wife.  I found it in a cornfield in Saratoga NY, all shot full of bullet holes. I had it flat bedded to my house and put four years of work into it, searching junk yards for parts. Finally it is a fully functional shinning jewel.  It has a LT1 V8 power plant, a 67 GTO interior, and rear axle. The body was done by F&R Body of Pittstown NY.  My wife and I feel like we are back in the sixties when we take it out. Each year I place my car 14 inches off the ground, covered.When spring gets here I can't wait to get it back on the ground. I went out and looked at it this morning. It almost talks to me…LET ME DOWN…  We feel well protected by American Collectors Insurance…….  Here’s to the Good Old Days






1968 Chevrolet Corvette

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Rabbi Barry Konovitch
(Aventura, FL)

From the moment I first saw that new 1968 Corvette I knew I had to have it.  Fortunately my Dad had a friend who was a Chevy dealer in Yonkers and happened to have a red T-top on his showroom floor.  It had been ordered for his wife but she changed her mind in favor of a diamond necklace.

At first I hesitated to park it in front of my office.  Truth be told, I was a bit embarrassed.  After all, I was the associate Rabbi at one of the largest congregations in New York.  It wouldn’t do to have 2,000 tongues wagging.  And what would my senior Rabbi say!  So for a week I parked around the corner until I was “outed” by one of my parishioners.

Most of my congregants thought it rather cool.  After all, how many hip Rabbis are there across the country who drove red Corvettes.  Forty-five years later they still ask me about the “little red car.”

Corvettes are built to run, so in the summer of 1968 Aileen and I drove north to Canada, destination the Maritime provinces and the top of Nova Scotia, the beautiful Cabot Trail.

It is difficult to maintain the posted speed limit in a brand new Corvette with a 350-horse, 327 cubic inch power plant.  So when we crossed the international border, I noticed that the speed limit was posted in kilometers per hour.  Math was never my strong suit so I just estimated the proper speed conversion and I hoped that the province police would understand.

Suddenly I noticed a Canadian Mounted Police car quickly closing the distance.  Soon he was only several car lengths behind me.  And there he stayed, mile after mile until we crossed into the next town.  Obviously I was very careful to maintain a respectable speed but he continued to follow me as if he were attached by a cord to my rear bumper (which incidentally was still chrome in those years).  As we slowed for the town, he put on his flashers and signaled me to pull over.  Now I was really concerned.  He got out of his car and motioned for me to join him.  To my amazement he said “I haven’t seen the new Corvette in Canada.  Yours is the first one and I couldn’t help but taking a good look.  I hope you don’t mind.”

I was relieved to learn that I wasn’t about to be hauled before a Canadian judge so I immediately popped the hood, gave him a tour of the car and let him sit in the driver’s seat.  Soon he was on his way and we were left to catch our breath.

Our trip continued uneventfully all the way to Nova Scotia where we watched the first moon landing thanks to a friendly Nova Scotian whose roof antenna proclaimed that he had the only TV set on the beach at Ingonish.

On the way home we bought an old copper ship’s lanterns in Halifax which traveled home under Aileen’s feet in the front seat.  Most of the rear area was filled with a set of Wedgewood dinnerware, a gift from our Canadian relatives in New Brunswick.  

When you drive a ‘Vette, luggage space is the least of your concerns.  What counts is the thrill of cruising the open road in the greatest sports car ever built in the U.S.A. 





1989 Saab 900 Turbo Convertible

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Robert Kosky
(Saratoga Springs, NY)

Saab convertibles started arriving in the U.S. in 1986 and sold in limited numbers.  Since these original "Classic 900" models are disappearing from American roads and Saab's 64 year history as a Swedish automaker ended in 2011, I believe in keeping the Saab heritage alive at auto shows.

I became part of the "Saab experience" when I worked with the legendary American Saab executive, Bob Sinclair, who was responsible for creating the 900 convertible when he was President of Saab Cars U.S.A.  Distinctive Saab safety features include an aircraft-inspired cockpit, deeply curved windshield and an ignition switch located on the floor.  The 1989 model cost $32,095 new and was the first year to incorporate ABS, and the last one built without airbags.

The Saab is powered by a 160HP turbocharged and intercooled 2 liter engine.  My 5-year "rolling restoration" was completed in 2011.  This included a meticulously detailed engine bay, new top, leather interior, carpeting, and premium wheels.

I am proud of the fact that this 169,100 mile car has been a prize winner at both regional and national shows, including Hemmings 2010 Sports & Exotic Car Show (Saratoga, NY) and the 2011 Saab Club of North America Car Show (Parsippany, NJ).  It has received 21 other awards, including "First in Class", "European Show Winner", "First Place Car", "Top Import" and "Best Engine".  I was also honored to have the Saab's photo appear in the November, 2010 issue of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.






1969 Chevelle Malibu Sports Coupe

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Gayle Smith
(Lake Mary, FL)

My husband & I were married in Sept. 1968. His car broke down soon afterwards and was not worth the repair cost so he had to drive my little Ford Falcon which he did not like because he had always liked Chevrolet sporty, muscle cars.  We decided to trade my Ford Falcon in on a brand new Chevelle Malibu Sports Coupe.  We had to factory order it from the dealer to get exactly what my husband wanted.  I remember we ordered a front "bench seat" instead of two bucket seats because we were newly married and we liked to sit close together. And of course it had to be Lemans blue (our favorite color).  We finally got it in March 1969 and it was the most beautiful car I had ever seen. And wow, what a power horse! I got caught for speeding because I wasn't used to that much power.  

We've raised our 4 kids and had several other cars since then, but we still have that car, our first car together. We gave it to our son on his 16th birthday and it came back to us when it broke down and he decided he wanted a new car. It sat neglected in our garage for many years until my husband had the time to restore it.  He took a welding class at the college and ordered repair manuals, etc.  He took the car totally apart and hung all the parts from the ceiling.  There was no car in the garage, only parts.  It took him 5+ years to methodically restore each part and put them all back together.  After the new custom paint job was done, it brought tears to my eyes as I looked at that beautiful new car and remembered that first time I saw this car as a new bride.





1941 Willys MB US Army Jeep

Barb Balchus
(Middletown, NJ)

Rebuilding after Sandy: A military legacy and a 1941 Jeep

On the one year anniversary of 1941 Willys Jeep Superstorm Sandy’s landfall in New Jersey comes a story that’s about more than rebuilding after the storm. It’s about preserving memories and standing strong and resilient in the face of adversity, whatever its form. And this particular account highlights the dedication of a special group of storm survivors: collector car enthusiasts.
This 1941 Willys MB US Army Jeep was the pride and joy of owner Bernard Balchus. It carried with it a lifetime of military service and family memories – Bernard, a World War II veteran, restored and drove the vehicle until his passing last October. His daughter, Barb, and her mother drove the Jeep to his funeral.
But right after the funeral, Barb took the Jeep to a local restoration shop for some routine repair work. She didn’t know it at the time, but that was the last time she would see the Jeep as she and her father had known it. Three days later, Superstorm Sandy hit the east coast of the US with force, causing widespread flooding, power outages, downed trees and fires. The storm took with it the Jeep’s cushions, flooding the vehicle with saltwater up to its dashboard. It was deemed a “total loss” – but to Barb, it wasn’t. This was no time to give up on a symbol of her father’s legacy. It was time to restore and rebuild.
Unlike many Sandy stories, there’s a bright note to the end of this one. When Sandy hit, Barb had the Jeep covered with collector car insurance. It allowed the family to keep the Jeep and begin restoring it to its pre-Sandy glory.  It will once again be a proud piece of family history that Barb hopes to share with generations to come.
For a look at more photos, including the restoration process and the damage done by Sandy, visit this Pinterest board.

This story is brought to you courtesy of American Collectors Insurance, proud to protect the Balchus family’s Jeep and thousands of other collector cars damaged in Superstorm Sandy. For another great classic car comeback following Sandy, watch two very special episodes of American Detours which feature the recovering Jersey Shore in a storm-damaged, newly restored 1969 Corvette.

For more information about classic cars damaged in Superstorm Sandy, e-mail for an expert perspective from the leading insurer of collector vehicles.




1993 Ford 5150 Lightning

Michael A. Olshefski
(Upton, KY)

Ford LightningI bought my 1993 Ford 5150 Lightning in February 2008 from a used car dealer in Leitchfield, KY. Although the engine, drive train, and interior were in perfect shape, a previous owner had tried to paint it, so it was about three shades off, peeling all over the trim and windows, and had some rust over the rear wheels.

I took the truck to Delbert Best in Glendale, KY in April 2008. He took the truck apart, and removed the glass, door handles, and locks. The only thing left on the frame was the engine and the cab. After taking it down to bare metal, he painted it and replaced the bed sides. He put it back together along with a hood scoop off of a 1970 Boss Mustang. While it was apart, I replaced the sending units in the gas tanks, the window motor in the right door, and urethane bushings. It was finished in October 2008.

The truck is a numbers-matching original. It is number 2,273 of 5,276 Lightnings that were built in 1993. I have a certificate of authenticity from Ford, and it is fully documented. Red and black were the only colors offered on ’93 Lightnings. It has a 351 high output code R engine, a beefed up E4OD transmission, and a 4:10 traction lock rear end.

It is a blast to drive and show. It ran a 14 second ¼ mile, but it only comes out of the garage for shows, parades, and to pick up trophies.



1989 Chevrolet Corvette

Anthony (Tony) Ponzio
(Thendara, NY)1989 Corvette

Tony has wanted a Corvette ever since he had a rear-end collision in 1967 which totaled his 1963 Corvette. We were dating at the time and even though the accident was not his fault, he could not afford to fix it. We got married in 1968, had a family, sent them to college, had grandchildren, etc. Finally, 42 years later, Tony found a mint condition Corvette he could afford.

Tony purchased the car from Greg, who owned the car for four years and was going through a divorce. Greg purchased it from the original owner, Terry P. When Greg went to go look at the car, he spent three hours talking to Terry. Terry was recently retired, but was dying of cancer. Greg said Terry was meticulous and owned a pole barn in Canastota to house his John Deere memorabilia and his black Corvette. Terry called him back to say another person was interested in it, but he wanted Greg to buy it. Greg thought his wife might enjoy riding in the Corvette instead of on his Harley, so he purchased it. Greg called the car “TP” after Terry.

When we met Greg, we hit it off with him and shared our story also. Tony’s initials are TP (his friends used to call him TP years ago). Tony also got cancer after retirement, but had successful surgery in 2008 and is a cancer survivor. We both felt connected to the previous owners, especially Terry. It is as if Tony could carry on where Terry left off and Greg was our steward.

We ordered personal plates “TP 1989” to commemorate Terry and Tony.



1941 Willys MB US Army Jeep

Bob Rissberger
(Rochester, NY)

I bought my 1967 Corvette new after graduating from college, drove it to work and over 114,000 miles in the following years including one fast “coast-to-coast trip.”

1967 CorvetteSince then, I totally restored it myself as an “11 year project,” including even the paint job in my own garage. I still have a log book showing every mile on the car (gas, oil, maintenance and restoration) from the day of delivery . . . right up to today.

Last year, we were awarded “top flight” recognition at the National Corvette Restorers Society National Convention in Hershey, PA where we also drove over 700 miles on the National Road Tour. Unique is the fact that my car was the feature story in the very first issue of “Corvette Fever” magazine. All the numbers still match and my license place says it all . . . “1 owner!!!”


1956 Chevrolet Bel Air

Edward Kleinlein
Hesperia, CA

When our son Eric was old enough to drive, we promised him a used car to drive to High School. Eric found a 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air at a used car dealer. It was about 50% restored and something my wife and I could afford at the time. Eric drove the car through High School, then he married and his wife drove the car to her work at a supermarket.

1956 Chevy Bel AirOne night, twelve years ago, the car was hot-wired and stolen. We received a notice from the highway patrol about a week later that the car was found abandoned on the freeway about 100 miles away. Whoever stole the car obviously wasn’t familiar with the old cars and where you put gas in. Eric had a toolbox and five gallons of gas and the trunk had been entered through the rear seat. The toolbox was missing and the gas can still there full of gas. At the time, Eric had no insurance on the car (for theft) because his wife only drove a few miles to work.

Soon after this theft, the original engine failed after 230,000 miles. So Eric gave the car to me and I finished the restoration, including a new 350 CI engine. The car has been in our family for 25 years now and needless to say, is fully insured. 


1975 Buick LeSabre convertible

Alan Fisher
(Cherry Hill, NJ)

This is my 1975 Buick LeSabre convertible that I purchased in July of 1994 from the Goodyear tire store on Route 73 in Palmyra, New Jersey. It was in very sad shape and on top of it my wife thought I lost it all together. I always wanted a convertible and this was going to be the car for me. Yep, I just turned 40 and needed another toy.
1975 LeSabreWell 11 years later and a lot of money, this is almost the end result. I still need to finish a few more things on it. The parts came from all over the country. The big cars can be very hard to find in junkyards and it made getting parts a bit harder. I even drove out of Woburn Massachusetts to a new car dealer that actually had a new hood in stock. The interior was replaced and the bodywork was extensive. I also had to replace the engine and have the transmission rebuilt. My wife and I enjoy cruising in it and going to car shows. It is not longer my car, it is OURS. Isn’t that amazing? She also is the one that financed it. Thank You Dear.