Of all the people living near Bob Drews in Des Plaines during the 1960s, one neighbor in particular left a lasting impression. His name was Frank and he had a 1957 Corvette parked in his garage.
"It was set up for going fast; equipped with a roll bar, race tires and a high performance engine," Drews said. "Frank frequently competed at Road America, Meadowdale Raceway and Blackhawk Farms Raceway."
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As a teenager, Drews helped crew in the pit lanes and saw firsthand what his neighbor's Corvette could really do. A decade later and the allure of that special Chevrolet hadn't left him, but rather intensified. He now wanted his own.
In the fall of 1971, Drews, who still lives in Des Plaines, came upon a classified ad for a 1957 Corvette and drove to Kenosha, Wis., to check it out. This icon of motoring was tucked away in a dusty barn and covered by an old canvass tarp.
"When the cover came off, there was my dream car. Although, at the time, it was merely seen as a worn-out used car."
Drews found this Chevrolet had nearly every option, including power windows. When the key was turned, the vehicle's 283-cubic-inch V-8 sputtered to life but ran rough. A bit of negotiation settled on a $2,400 price tag, a bit more than Drews could handle.
Undeterred, he left a deposit and headed home to solicit his dad for a few hundred needed bucks. Drews returned the next day with his wife, 1-year old daughter and parents to bring his Vette home.
"The interior gauge lights didn't work, the brake and license plate lights were out and my wife complained the exhaust stunk," he said. "Despite all that, I couldn't wait to get up early the next morning and start working on it."
Over the next several decades, Drews simply maintained the vehicle, keeping it roadworthy. One deviation from stock was changing out the factory four-speed manual transmission for Hurst components. Drews found the factory pieces "sloppy" when in use. Cruising to the McDonald's in Des Plaines was one of his favorite hangouts.
"Many summer nights I'd cruise up and down the strip. Seeing all the cars lined up and the burble of the exhausts was simply exhilarating."
When 2010 rolled around Drews deemed it time to give the Corvette a proper frame-off restoration to "get it back to its glory days."
"The carbs were leaking and the 50-year-old wiring was ready to come out."
Drews tackled the deconstruction himself and opted to let D&M Corvette in Downers Grove handle the bodywork. They stripped off the faded factory Polo white paint and applied a new coat of Inca Silver. "I saw it on another vehicle and found it to be one of the prettiest colors I've ever seen. I had grown tired of the white and was ready for something new."
The comprehensive overhaul wrapped up in just twenty-four months. Drew's "babying" over the years had helped avoid any major complications. "It was a pretty easy restoration. The car was dirty but not rusty or abused."
Four decades is a long time to hang onto a vehicle, even one as special as this Vette, and Drews admits it wasn't always easy.
"On a couple of occasions, I almost sold it," he said. "Whenever I tried, something nagged at me. As I looked back on our time together, that diamond in the rough had become part of the family."