The jury is still out on whether the late John Riddle bought a 1962 Corvette roadster as a birthday present for his wife, Betty, or as a toy for himself.
Regardless, Betty’s 25th birthday was Oct. 19, 1962 and she was at home preparing dinner when she was interrupted by a telephone call from her husband. He wanted her to come to the Knapp Chevrolet dealership in downtown Houston to look at a car.
Dinner was on the stove, rain was coming down and she didn’t want to go downtown. Her husband, however, wouldn’t take no for an answer. When she arrived at the Chevrolet dealership the protective brown paper wrap was being removed from the Corvette.
She was presented with her 3,065-pound present! Her husband had paid $4,407 for the base model silver Corvette. It was the last model Corvette built before the Sting Ray models came out in 1963. The 1962 Corvette is the final version to feature a solid-rear axle, exposed headlights and a wraparound windshield. This Corvette was one of 14,531 manufactured that year set up to deliver 250 horsepower.
For the next seven years Betty drove her 14-foot, 9.25-inch-long birthday present to her job as a school teacher. After an occasional trip to Galveston, the Corvette was more or less retired and parked in the garage with some 80,000 miles on the odometer.
That’s when Clayton Catchings entered the picture. He was an Army sergeant who had just recently moved next door and was about to go to his next assignment in Southeast Asia. Catchings went next door to bid a farewell to his neighbors. For the first time, Catchings saw their Corvette. He raved about the car and how it starred in the “Route 66” television show. He offered to buy it but his request was emphatically rejected.
Before Catchings returned home from his tour of duty, Betty’s husband had died. Once Catchings actually returned, he again made an offer to buy the car. He told her that he would restore it to “like new” condition and would even let her drive it occasionally. She said she would think about it.
In September of 1971 Catchings got word that the owner of the Corvette was ready to deal. He was able to pay about half of what the other offers she had received but he had convinced her of his good intentions. A deal was struck and Catchings drove his prize to where he was stationed at the time, Fort Hood.
Six years of fun and games with the Corvette ended in 1977. Family obligations kept the Corvette in the garage until 1994 when it underwent a frame-on restoration. Since the car had always been garaged a lot of the typical restoration parts were not required.
The original Sateen Silver paint was resprayed with a coat of Light Tarnish Silver. The all-encompassing Tuxedo Red interior was put back into original condition.
In front of the passenger is what Catchings calls the “sissy bar.” Below that grab bar is a package tray in lieu of a glove compartment. Through the three-spoke steering wheel the 160-mph speedometer is visible atop all the rest of the necessary instruments. On a restricted course Catchings says, “I’ve had it up to 130 mph.”
With the 327-cubic-inch V-8 engine delivering 250 horsepower thanks to the four-barrel carburetor, Catchings says, “It performs okay in a straight line.” He says his car delivers about 10 to 11 mpg and has a gasoline tank with a capacity of 16 gallons.
The owner says his car has no power-assisted equipment and as far as he knows the sole accessory is the Wonderbar Signal-Seeking AM radio. A heater was standard equipment but the air conditioner, Catchings says, is simply the cowl vent in front of the windshield.
The 6.70×15-inch white sidewall tires have been replaced, with a nod to both safety and handling, with radial tires featuring the same width white sidewalls. The Corvette rides on a 102-inch wheelbase. Still, Catchings questions how the Route 66 television show actors were able to endure long hours in such a car.
The restored Corvette now has logged about 135,000 miles. Catchings enjoys driving the car he first saw so many years ago. — Vern Parker, Motor Matters