1958 Corvette flirts with immortality

By PAM FIRMIN - pfirmin@sunherald.com

Mississippi - John Harral's 1958 Corvette is likely one of the most family-oriented classic cars that ever cruised the Coast - as well as one of the most-often restored. It has been white. It has been maroon. Now it's Carolina Blue.

Don't underestimate the emotion that comes with such history.

It caused Harral the worst 15 minutes of his entire Katrina experience when he learned a few weeks after the storm the Corvette's insurance had lapsed a year earlier- he and wife, Marge, each thought the other had paid the premium.

"But after 15 minutes," he wrote in an e-mail, "I said, 'What the heck; just another $25,000 on the bottom line.'

He had bought the Vette in 1967 from its original owner for $1,000. In college, he had courted Marge in it and he jokes it may have helped keep up her interest in him.

In 2002 he'd had it fully restored so their daughter Alyse could ride in it to the church on her wedding day.

But the wonderful old car had been under 8 feet of water with an oil drum on top of it during Katrina and he decided to scrap it altogether.

Enough was enough.

Except in March 2006, Alyse had a baby boy, Fuller, and John had a new fantasy: to one day teach his grandson how to drive - in the Vette.

The decision to restore the car was a family one and work began In September 2006, at Sison's Corvettes on 42nd Avenue in Gulfport. It would cost about $50,000 and take much longer than expected. Two years later, Sept. 20, 2008, it still was not quite complete when the Harrals' younger daughter, Jessica, rode in it on her wedding day.

As thousands of other old cars take over Coast roads this weekend, Harral's is not among them. Not this year. It's back at Sison's for the final touches, he said, and, "it may take another month to finish 100 percent."

But "the 1958 is one of the most beautiful cars ever built," Harral said, "but at the same time has the muscle and power of a dragster. It's the perfect car."


Restoration timeline

During the two years John Harral spend having his 1958 Corvette restored after Hurricane Katrina, the Sun Herald followed the work in segments timed to visits by Harral's young grandson, Fuller - the reason for the restoration. Harral intends to one day teach Fuller to drive in the Corvette.

Following are excerpts from Harral's notes during that time.

June 25, 2007: "The restoration is moving very slowly. The body has been meticulously prepped and painted its new color... the new engine is here but has not been placed in the car yet. We are looking at six more months of work."

May 2008: The restoration is going painfully slowly but is progressing. My car has been completely stripped, body cleaned and put on a new frame. The car has been painted a beautiful 'Carolina' blue. Much more work is to be done but the expected finish date is August ('08).

July 15, 2008: "The engine was to have gone in last week. Working on interior trim chrome this week. Fuller turned two in March and that's how long this Katrina restoration has been going on."

Sept. 12, 2008: "I just came from Sison's shop and he continues to say he will deliver the car to me next week in time for Jessica's wedding Saturday evening. (The car will not be 100 percent complete; there will be some fine tuning to do after the wedding.)"

Sept. 18, 2008: "Junior (Sison) is working furiously to have the car ready for the wedding. He'll turn it over to me Friday (90 percent done... ) The car looks really great and runs like a bat outta hell!"

Oct. 6, 2008: "Have the years of work and the thousands of dollars been worth it? As the work came to a close... as I experienced the thrill of driving Jessica to her wedding, as I did for Alyse five years ago, I knew the answer.

Oct. 10, 2008: "It's back at Sison's for the final touches. It may take another month to finish 100 percent."