Six generations of Chevrolet Corvettes have been produced since 1953, dazzling owners both behind the wheel and under the hood.
Cary Kuczkowski and 14 other employees of D&M Corvette Specialists, Ltd., in Downers Grove have worked together to repair and restore thousands of those Corvettes.
Kuczkowski broke into the restoration business as a hobby back in 1984. Facing an economic downturn in the early 1980s, he, like many other factory workers, was laid off from his welding job at a Caterpillar plant.
Kuczkowski had a passion to drive his own 1967 Corvette 427/435, just like fellow 1963 Corvette owner Dave Glass, a crane operator by trade. Both were mechanically gifted.
"Dave said, 'I want to start up a Corvette shop, do you want to come and work for me?' " Kuczkowski says now. "I said, I guess, I've got nothing else better to do."
Twenty-eight years later, they're still at it.
"I've never been to an automotive school," Kuczkowski said. "I just know how to do it."
He said he learned a great deal working on his own car.
"I pulled the first body off a car helping my brother when I was 15 years old and, to me, that was no big deal. It's still no big deal. It's like changing tires on a car for me. I remember everything in my head."
Kuczkowski says the typical "car guy" of yesterday has been pushed into the back seat by investors.
"I couldn't duplicate what I bought 30 years ago," he said. "That car I bought 30 years ago for $17,000 now is, say, $125,000. I was there at the right time, at the right place. We grew up in the right era. They were just cars."
Both Kuczkowski and Glass say restored cars are a better investment than stocks and bonds.
"You can touch it, you can feel it, control it, and you can go out to the garage and look at it," Kuczkowski said. "With stocks and bonds, what are you going to do, go to the bank every week?"
Glass acknowledges D&M Corvette Specialists is a luxury business.
"My customers have become really close friends, and they're from all parts of the country," he said. "It's almost scary that they will say they're shipping me their $200,000 car and just say, 'take care of it.' "
"It's a lot of work, but it's really worth it in the long run."