Dad’s 1966 Corvette is the one that got away – so I brought him a C8 for Father’s Day
My parents raised me and my sister in the Corvette church. And like many of those families, there is a particular car that holds a special place in our American history; for us, it’s the 1966 Corvette C2 that my dad bought new after he got engaged to my mom, whom he’d met on a blind date a few years earlier.
Dad’s Corvette was draped in Milano Maroon, a stunning shade of burgundy that was one of 10 colors for this model year. It gained legendary status in our family largely because he only owned it for two years, for reasons both familiar and unique to his life. Like a first love, it’s something he never forgot and misses deeply.
When the mid-engined C8 came out in 2020, my dad – now 78 – and I talked about it several times. I knew I could never reunite it with that first C2, but I also knew bringing it into a new one was something that just had to happen. And a few weeks ago, I was finally able to hand him the keys to drive around Florida for a few days, together marveling at how far the Corvette has come since its experience over 50 years ago.
The Corvette Years
At 16, my father lost his arm in a traumatic car accident. The driver was traveling at 110 mph when he lost control, and dad was thrown from the vehicle, thrown several meters, smashed on the asphalt. When he woke up in the hospital and the doctors told him they had to amputate his right arm and put a rod through one of his legs, his first thought was that he was just happy to be alive. While in the process of joining the Navy after graduating from high school to follow two of his older brothers, Dad was forced to change course drastically. Instead of donning a uniform, he got his degree in accounting, met my mom, and started a family.
He never lost his taste for cars, however, and it always amazed me that he could drive a manual transmission vehicle with one arm. He pressed the clutch on the floor, reached out his left hand and shifted gears. Sometimes he’d let me move the shifter from the front seat of our two-tone blue-and-white 1981 Chevrolet Citation. (I hated that car when I got my driver’s license; the clutch was unforgiving.)
He bought the Corvette in 1966 for the same reasons as hundreds of thousands of young men in the 1960s: it was cool. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. He sold it in 1968 after three minor fender benders, including two by someone hitting it while it was parked. The third, well, the third came when he was driving behind my mom and rammed her car at a give way sign. Fearing that his insurance would bring him down, he decided to trade in the Corvette.
“It was an expensive toy,” he told me sadly.
His place in the garage was taken by a 1968 Chrysler New Yorker, a 350-hp eight-cylinder beast. Fun fact: When I was born, The New Yorker wouldn’t start. It had to be pushed out of the garage for a jump so my mom could get to the hospital. Today, my parents are super GM fans. Currently, there’s a 2014 Buick LaCrosse, a 2019 Buick Envision, and my dad’s beloved 2009 Chevy HHR SS in the driveway. Looks like a C8 would fit in just fine…
Ding-Dong: There’s a C8 at the door.
My family likes to prank and surprise each other. For example, my mom, sister, and I have a hideous antique pink ashtray with a poodle figurine perched on one edge that we sneak into each other’s houses, and we laugh every time the next person finds it. So when I unexpectedly showed up in Florida at my parents’ condo for a few days in May, they were surprised, but not really. You never know what can happen to the Vander Heys. The day after I arrived, I had the C8 delivered to our driveway.
“Dad, you have to see this outside,” I said knowingly looking at my sister, who was in the shot. “Mom, come check it out.”
When they saw the Corvette, my dad’s face lit up as my mom screamed. It was the moment I had been waiting for.
“This is for you, Dad,” I said, handing him the keys. “For a few days, anyway.
Dressed in Red Mist Metallic Tintcoat, the ‘Vette color was the closest I could get to the 1966 Milano Maroon. Other than that, though, nothing was quite like Dad’s old car. Powered by a mid-mounted 6.2-liter V8 mated to a quick-shifting eight-speed transmission, it develops a healthy 490 horsepower and 465 lb-ft of torque. The C8 skates on an all-new space frame and weighs 3,647 pounds, nearly 500 pounds more than the C2. It’s also seven inches longer.
For comparison, the 1966 Corvette was the first to receive the 427 cubic inch engine; options that year ranged from a 300 horsepower 327 cubic inch small block engine to the 425 horsepower 427 with a 350 horsepower and 390 horsepower version in between. Dad chose the 390 horsepower four-barrel version because he “didn’t see paying the extra money for just 35 extra horsepower.” He knows this information by heart, 56 years later.
Dad wanted to jog the car out, get to know it a bit before wringing it out. Taking his time, he inspected the interior and inspected the controls before starting the car. He noticed that the rear camera was clearer than that of his Buick Envision, and he was delighted with the digital rearview mirror. A smile split his face as the engine roared.
As he drove slowly around the block, the bow was evident and I fell silent, giving him a chance to bask in the sound of the V8. It was in the grip, although looking at it I noticed how difficult it could be for someone with an artificial right arm to use the touchscreen and the large center cascade of face-facing buttons. right. He never complained once.
We cruised to Mario’s, an Italian market where people pronounce sausage as “saw-sage” with a heavy New York accent and frequent shoppers are easy to spot. They know exactly what they want: cannoli, meatball sandwiches, homemade pasta, pizzelle and other products you won’t find anywhere else. At least not in this town. Dad commented that he wished the C8 had a stick shift, but he liked the super-fast automatic shifting and acknowledged the C2’s technological improvements. When he got his 66, he controlled the speed while rowing through the gears. Well, most of the time, anyway.
“I ran it up to 110 in third gear,” my dad told me with a half-smile. “I didn’t dare to take fourth place.”
Florida, like California and Arizona, is a state where cars and people are going to retire. There’s no shortage of flashy vehicles of all shapes and sizes, sure. Still, as we rode the Tamiami Trail, heads turned and people took pictures of the ‘Vette from their own cars. Corvette enthusiasts get dizzy when they see us, like Ryan Reynolds just passed. Dad is a discreet Dutchman and sequins are not his favorite fashion. But he ate this.
“When I picked up my 66, on every corner people were watching me pass,” he said.
Before heading to Captiva Island for dinner, my mom and sister hanging out in the Envision, I removed the top panel after briefly checking YouTube and tossed it in the trunk. It was surprisingly easy for me to do it myself; he only weighs about 15 pounds, after all. We parked it outside the Key Lime Bistro where Dad could keep an eye on it while we ate our coconut shrimp and crab cakes.
The C8 isn’t a perfect car, but it’s obviously perfect for my dad, even if it’s a bit difficult for older people to get into. We drove the car around the block to visit his friend Bill, and when Bill sat down to get behind the wheel, he couldn’t swing his knee to make it work.
“Well, I guess you better know that before you buy it,” Bill said.
This generation of Corvette is resolutely driver-centric; the controls and infotainment screen are angled towards the driver’s side and the passenger is isolated by a row of buttons and toggle switches. While the frunk and trunk have more room than you’d expect (12.6 cubic feet total), there’s certainly no room for extra passengers like there was in the 1966 version. Years before I was born, a few of my cousins were able to ride in the second-generation Corvette’s “luggage area,” which had a carpeted area behind the seats. Along with the dog, too (a Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Kasha who was my parents’ first baby), it was a complete sports car.
“If you could have a Corvette from any era, what would it be?” I asked my dad on the long oceanside drive through Captiva and Sanibel.
He considered his answer for less than a second.
“This,” he said. “The C7 was nice, but before that they were generally underpowered.”
Then he added with a smile, “In this one, we could make donuts quite easily.”
So we walked through an empty parking lot several times under the guise of testing the turning radius.
Yes, the car is beautiful and powerful, and what Chevy has achieved with it is impressive. But for me, it’s not just that. It’s the connection I have with my father and the opportunity to share this moment in time, our appreciation for the legacy and future of the car, and the lives we’ve built as a family. Finding a way for my dad to race the new Corvette was a gift to show him how much he means to me. It was worth every second of the wait.
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