40-year Love Affair with 'Vettes

Sunday, June 08, 2008
By Charley Hannagan
Staff writer

Vintage Corvettes sparkle like precious stones parked in a necklace around the unassuming brown building on Harbor Street in Syracuse.

The street is quiet, but big white letters on the building scream to the world that this is the Corvette Barn.

Although they sell and restore Corvettes, a car brand that always draws longing stares from other motorists on the road, owners Bob and Nancy Baechle (pronounced BAKE lee) are as modest as the building that has housed their business for 34 years.

Their love of Corvettes began with a road trip more than 40 years ago, the couple said in an interview in their small office off the shop.

"My younger brother bought a yellow Corvette in '65, and we took a vacation with it in the middle of winter up to Montreal. After that trip I decided I had to own a Corvette," said Bob Baechle, 73, of Camillus.

He bought his first Corvette, a 1964, that same year and began racing with the Sports Car Club of America. Baechle did well, racing at Daytona and Watkins Glen. C. Weaver Chevrolet in Utica took notice of his career and became his sponsor.

Baechle had quite a local fan following, and when he wasn't racing worked on the alignments on foreign cars.

In 1974, the Baechles created Endurance Racing Enterprises Inc., doing business as the Auto Barn. They formed the company basically "to support our racing habit," said Nancy Baechle, who says she's younger than her husband, but won't say by how much.

Bob worked on the race car at the business.

"Our fans and other people heard that we were doing a race car Corvette. They started coming over and asking me 'Could you fix my Corvette?' The next thing, we're into a business," he said.

At 73 years old, Bob has given upracing, but not his competitive spirit. He began running at age 50 and has successfully completed 17 Boilermakers, a 15-kilometer race in Utica.

As the Auto Barn, the company repaired and sold several different brands. Then in 1984, "We decided to simplify our life by doing just the Corvette," Bob Baechle said.

Corvettes are the only true American sports car, the Baechles said.

"The Corvette is the most reasonable world-class sports car you can buy," Bob Baechle said. "The same (types of sports) car overseas would sell for $250,000 to $300,000 instead of the $70,000 it sells for here, $60,000 to $70,000."

For some people owning a Corvette is "therapy," said Nancy Baechle.

"Many people even today, especially when the kids go to college, they come over and want a sports car," said Bob Baechle.

Added Nancy, "I think most people grew up in the '60s and '70s when Corvettes were pretty popular back then. Now they're older, and they can afford to buy them, and it kept the interest going."

Cars don't grow in value until they get to be about 15 years old and collectors hold onto them for the long haul, Bob Baechle said.

"I have a '67 coupe out there that's worth $69,000 and it sold for about $6,000," he said.

From the other side of the office, his wife picks up a book about the size of a small paperback dictionary. "Actually that '67 sold for about $4,500, plus options. The base price is $4,500," she said.

Bob Baechle whipped out his own book to check the coupe's value. "I have a tendency to flower things and she reels it back. The Corvette in '67 was $4,388. You're right, I thought it was $6,000," he said.

"It would go up depending on the options it's got," his wife replied.

The business has kept a low profile over the years. They wanted serious buyers, not "tire kickers," Bob Baechle said.

Recently, however, business has slipped as more people buy vintage Corvettes over the Internet. The business that once employed four now employs two: Bob and Nancy.

"It's that eBay thing. We have seen, unfortunately, so many bad choices that people have made buying that way. I think it's because it's the thrill of the chase. Something about buying at auction, sometimes you buy things you really wish you haven't," Nancy Baechle said.

Good deals are rare, and the stories that come with buying a vintage car over the Internet are sad, said Bob Baechle.

"People with somewhat limited income, get a good deal over the Internet, and I've had repair bills in excess of what they've paid for the car," Bob said. The Corvette Barn is on Corvette Fever magazine's annual list of the top places in the U.S. to get your Corvette fixed.

Despite the slow sales, the Corvette Barn has at least a half dozen cars for sale parked around the building.

Their approach to business may be low key, but they like it that way, the Baechles said.

"We kept it at a level that would allow us to take time off, a lot of time off in the winter," Bob Baechle said.

"Corvettes aren't on the road anyway," added his wife.

"It doesn't do a lot for a big income, but we found it fun and exciting to be in," Bob said.

You can contact Charley Hannagan at 470-2161 or channagan@syracuse.com