How many people do you know who purchase a new Corvette and then drive it for 55 years? I know one – my neighbor, Bill Hatch!
In July 1957 Bill, a native Californian, and recent graduate from the University of Southern California (class of 1955) had secured a good job as a high school English teacher and basketball coach at Monrovia High School in Monrovia, California. Because Bill’s 1950 Ford convertible was showing its age he decided it was time for his first new car. Intent on purchasing a 1957 Chevy, he visited Bates Chevrolet in his home town, Arcadia, California. The dealer asked Bill if he would consider purchasing a Corvette rather than a Chevy. Bill was unfamiliar with the Corvette but agreed to take a look. The dealership had three new Corvettes: white with a red cove, red with a white cove and black with a red interior. Bill liked the looks of the black car and took a test drive. The car was a dream to drive and was the perfect ride for a single guy in the Southern California beach cities. But could he afford it? Bill’s beginning salary in 1956 was $4,600 per year, including the stipend for his coaching assignments.
Bill’s 57 Corvette was delivered with the basic 283 engine with a three speed transmission. It was optioned with the wonderbar radio but came from the factory with no heater; Bill figured, “Who needs a heater in LA?” The optional hardtop was included, but there was no convertible top; Bill figured, “Who needs a convertible top in this great So Cal weather?” The price was $3,400, about $600 more than the Chevy Bel Air. Bill rationalized that a basketball coach deserved a sports car and made the purchase by making a down payment of $2,000 and financing the balance at $83 per month over 36 months.
Bill used the car as his daily transportation commuting to work on weekdays and visiting the beaches of the greater Los Angeles area on weekends to join his friends in beach volleyball pickup games. Interstate Highway 5 was brand new in 1957 and the Corvette put its non-stop high-speed access to good use. Bill was still driving the Corvette as his only car when he met his future wife, Marylyn, in 1958. Marylyn had cruised in her girlfriend’s 1957 Thunderbird but she had her first Corvette ride on her first date with Bill in 1961. Romance blossomed into true love, and ultimately marriage. Bill and Marylyn left for their honeymoon in 1962 in the Corvette. Leaving the wedding reception, Bill noticed that their travel bags were just a bit too large for the trunk of the Corvette, so Marylyn’s Dad removed the cardboard trunk liner to provide a bit more space. Off they went for a memorable drive up the California coast to San Francisco, then east to Lake Tahoe, then through the beautiful Yosemite Valley and Sequoia National Park. The steep and narrow road to Tuolumne Meadows at the time was gravel, and Marylyn remembers Bill driving slowly to keep from chipping the Corvette’s paint job. Bill remembers the gas prices were only 29.9 cents per gallon.
In the early years of ownership Bill and his fraternity brothers enjoyed excursions throughout Southern California in their 50’s cars. One fraternity brother owned a 1957 Porsche sports car. Bill and his friend once rat-raced the new cars from Los Angeles to Lake Arrowhead. The Porsche was faster in the turns, but was no contest for the Corvette on the straighter stretches.
Marriage led to a family (two daughters) which frequently leads to the concern for practicality. In so many households small children and a Corvette are incompatible and the next thing you know, a Corvette gets sold. Bill confesses that from time-to-time he gave consideration to selling his cherished sports car but each time he discussed it with Marylyn she would talk him into keeping their first date car.
Bill and Marylyn’s loyalty to each other, their family and the Corvette is reflected in other areas of their lives. Bill inherited a 1964 Chevy Impala from his Aunt in San Francisco. It has become the garage mate of the Corvette. Over the years they fell in love with Western Europe, taking frequent vacations there. Their favorite trip was in 1980 with a six-month itinerary which included buying their second new car – a VW Vanagon – and using it to tour 10 countries. The Corvette was safely guarded by Bill’s parent’s desert home. And, yes, they still own and drive the Vanagon! Bill is also loyal to his USC Trojan football team and I am lucky enough to go with him to a game each year in the Los Angeles Coliseum.
Now, 55 years later, Bill and Marylyn are happily retired in the beach city of Carlsbad, California. They are grandparents to three beautiful girls each of whom takes turns riding in Grandpa’s Corvette. The Corvette is still running as well as it did on the honeymoon now with 159,164 miles on the odometer. Bill is still driving the car on a weekly basis. Other than two engine overhauls, one fender-bender, and a re-paint, the car is stock as a stove and a pure “survivor”.