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RARE – AND ROASTED – ROADSTER

Joe Verrillo’s barn-find, fire-damaged Corvette proves to be one for the restoration
record book
Story and photos by Barry Kluczyk
We’ve all heard the rumors and stories about the forgotten Corvette – the one squirreled
away in a dilapidated barn, with only the warped planks of the walls or a hole in the
weathered roof allowing indiscriminate beams of sunlight to grace its curvaceous
fiberglass. The thought of cracking open the barn doors, brushing away a few layers of
dust and discovering a long-lost L-88 is a romantic notion all Corvette enthusiasts
harbor.
Joe Verrillo cracked open those proverbial barn doors more than a decade ago, after
hearing about a fire-damaged Corvette that had been neglected for decades. It wasn’t
an unaccounted L-88, but it was nonetheless a rare and desirable 1965 Fuelie roadster
that was originally ordered as a radio- and heater-delete car. Only 39 of the more than
23,500 Corvettes that year were ordered without a heater. There’s no telling whether any
of the other 39 were also radio-delete Fuelie cars, but there’s a good chance it was a
one-of-one combination. It was also one of only 975 cars that year fitted with the heavyduty F40 suspension.
“Like so many of these stories, I found out about this car in passing, around 2001,” says
Verrillo, who co-owns Prestige Motor Car Company, a sales and resto shop in Clifton,
New York, with his wife Sunday. “I was told it was an original Fuelie car and that the
original engine was with it. That was enough for me to start the detective work.”
The search for the car led to a body shop in nearby Stillwater, New York. The car was
indeed there and had definitely been involved in a fire, but perhaps more importantly, the
car wasn’t in a barn. It had been stored in a shed that did little more than shield the sun
a bit. The Corvette was all but exposed to the elements and, in fact, had begun to return
to them.
“The owner of the body shop told me the car was rough and he wasn’t kidding,” says
Verrillo. “They guys at his shop nicknamed it the ‘Chia Vette’ because moss was growing
on the body and interior had become an unintentional planter over the years.”
Despite the body’s wretched condition, Verrillo wouldn’t be deterred as long as the rumor
of the original engine proved true. And it did.
“The engine wasn’t with the car, but it was at the body shop owner’s house,” he says. “It
was just a bare block and heads and they all looked terrible – just like three chunks of
scrap metal.”
A quick check of the numbers confirmed the 375-horsepower fuel-injected 327 engine
was original. Like the car’s body, Verrillo didn’t let the condition of the components
dissuade him, but he wanted a little more reassurance before committing to what would
ultimately be a very involved, painstaking restoration project.

“The value in restoring the car would be its numbers-matching powertrain, so I really
needed to know that the original engine was salvageable,” he says. “The block had
never been decked, which was great, but I asked the owner if we could get the block and
heads magnafluxed to ensure I could use them.”
When the parts passed the machine-shop test, Verrillo struck a deal for the fire-bitten,
moss-covered Corvette and its remnants. They were hauled back to his shop, where
even his staff technicians scoffed at the idea that the car could be saved.
As Verrillo began to collect parts for the restoration, insisting on as many original and
NOS parts as possible, he also began to piece together the story of how the car became
a Corvette flambé. That included tracking down the owner of the car at the time of the
fire.
“He was the original owner and had driven the Corvette from California back to New
York in 1966, after his discharge from the service,” says Verrillo. “It was his only car and
he drove it in the winter. In the early Seventies, he blew up the engine while trying to
drive on an icy incline.”
According to the previous owner’s account, he took the car off the road, removed the
engine and disassembled it with the intention of rebuilding it. Before the rebuild,
however, the owner’s motorcycle caught fire in his garage, roasting the rare roadster
along with nearly everything else in it. The charred hulk was sold off and, while it moved
around a few times, eventually ended up as the Chia Vette outside that upstate New
York body shop.
Fortunately for Verrillo, the relationship he forged with that previous owner produced a
wealth of paperwork and parts, including the original and specific exhaust manifolds,
sales receipts and registration cards. The original California black plates were still on the
car, too.
“Those items were invaluable,” he says. “They really enhanced the car’s provenance.”
As the restoration got underway, Verrillo and his technicians were glad to find the frame
was straight and rust-free, but nearly every other nut, bolt and component required
replacement – although the F40 suspension’s original shocks and springs were
salvageable. Verrillo was thinking of NCRS Top Flight status and Bloomington Gold
recognition, so accuracy and authenticity were paramount considerations throughout the
project. He was able to locate NOS fenders, quarter panels and other body parts, while
the driver’s door is a used original.
“We actually had a few original doors in stock and tested each of them on the car to find
the one with the best fit,” says Verrillo, who had the car re-sprayed its original Tuxedo
Black after all the body parts were fitted and smoothed.
When it came to the refurbishment of the Fuelie, solid-lifter 327 engine – 1965 was the
final year for Ram Jet fuel injection – it was rebuilt with as many of the original parts as
possible, including the distributor, water pump and fuel pump. They were torn down,
rebuilt and reinstalled. The fire had damaged the original plenum housing of the
Rochester fuel injection system beyond repair, so another was located and rebuilt by
noted Rochester guru John DeGregory, at his Pennsylvania shop. The M20 four-speed

transmission was rebuilt, too, and matched to the engine with a new clutch, pressure
plate and reconditioned linkage.
The blue interior is certainly an odd sight for those used to seeing heater controls and a
radio in the “center stack.” Verrillo’s car shows only a clock and an expanse of blue vinyl
below it, including blue plugs for the heater controls. Despite the deletion of the radio
and heater system, the Corvette was ordered with some premium features including the
relatively rare Teakwood steering wheel. Only 2,259 cars were so-equipped in ’65.
Indeed, the equipment on Verrillo’s reborn roadster is so incongruous that it must have
been special-ordered by the original owner. As it was originally purchased in California,
that owner may have thought a heater in a convertible Corvette was superfluous, but he
didn’t skimp when it came to spending nearly $50 more for the Teakwood wheel. And, of
course, he shelled out more than $500 for the fuel-injected engine, but opted for the
base steel wheels and wheel covers. To dress up the restored car, Verrillo has added
the aluminum knock-off wheels and incorrect-but-stylish blue-line tires.
“It’s definitely a combination of options you don’t see everyday,” says Verrillo. “I think
that makes the car all the more interesting.”
Restoring this rare Corvette took the better part of a decade, as Verrillo’s business – and
work on customer cars – took precedence. It was finished in the spring of 2010 and was
promptly entered in a NCRS event in Pennsylvania, where it achieved a Top Flight
award. And as we finished this story, Verrillo was readying the car for the 2011
Bloomington Gold judging.
It’s a safe assumption that anyone gazing at the burnt, moss-covered shell more than 10
years ago would not have guessed it could be restored to award-winning condition, but
this Corvette and its roster of rare options demonstrates the value of perseverance.
“They always tell you not to buy a car that’s been in a fire,” says Verrillo, with a grin.
“Fortunately, I’m not a good listener.”
SIDEBAR
The Upstate Connection: 30 Years in the Corvette Business
The Upstate New York burg of Clifton Park, just north of Albany, may seem an unlikely
hot spot for Corvette activity, but it’s the location staked out by Joe and Sunday Verrillo
and their Corvette-centered business, Prestige Motor Car Company
(www.prestigemotorcar.com).
In 2010, Joe and Sunday Verrillo moved their business into a new, 18,000-square-foot
facility to accommodate a business that has grown steadily for about 30 years. And while
the company handles the sales, service and restoration of just about all classics and
late-model performance cars, the focus is decidedly on Corvettes.
Like so many successful entrepreneurial stories, the Verrillos started small. Joe worked
at dealerships before launching his own used-car business that focused on Corvettes
and performance cars. That was 1975. In the early 1980s, the first restoration job was
tackled – albeit one that didn’t earn the Verrillos a big profit. It was a ’66 Corvette with all
the custom trappings of the era, including triple taillights, flared fenders and the like.

“There were a lot of hours in that car,” says Joe Verrillo. “It was a learning experience,
for sure, but we kept going, improving our processes and building our business.”
That experience led to the restoration of a ’67 427/435 car in 1985 that earned a
Bloomington Gold award and, well, it the business snowballed from there. More than 25
years later, the Verrillos are restoring award winners, including the ’65 roadster in our
main story. That one’s not for sale, they say, although Prestige maintains an inventory of
about 30 Corvettes that are.
“It’s a great, fun business,” says Joe Verrillo. “Not many people can say they make their
living on Corvettes. We’re thankful to say we do.”