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Joyride of brand-new 1965 Corvette turned into a disaster

First big-block, high-horsepower Corvette in B.C. was an accident waiting to happen 50 years ago in Vancouver

By Alyn Edwards on May 1, 2014

It was an exciting day at the Vancouver dealership. The first 1965 Corvette to come into B.C. with the new 396-cubic-inch big block engine producing an awe-inspiring 425 horsepower had arrived.

The shop mechanics put down their wrenches and went outside to watch the gleaming new Nassau Blue Corvette roadster being unloaded from the truck at the bottom lot below the new car dealership.

The car had been ordered by a Vancouver doctor and had taken months to arrive. Previously, the highest-powered option available with the small block had been the 375-horsepower fuel-injected 327-cubic-inch engine. The new big block Corvette would get a lot of attention in the showroom before delivery.

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The 1965 big block Corvette was smashed up to the windshield when two young mechanics took the new car for a joyride before it was to be delivered to the purchaser. Supplied, Peter and Bill Trant

General Motors ushered in a new era with the horsepower race in the midst of the muscle car era with what became known as the Big Block Turbo Jet 396 engine. It was rated at 425 horsepower and introduced late in the 1965 model year. Although there were only 2,157 big block Corvettes produced in 1965, they furthered Corvette's reputation as the first with an engine rated at over 400 horsepower and the fastest car on the street.

It was just stunning – everybody's dream car. A car that none of us could afford, recalls Maple Ridge engine builder Cliff Hillis, who was a 19-year-old apprentice mechanic and one of those who watched the blue beauty rolling off the truck.

Everyone in the shop fussed over the car when it was sent in for predelivery inspection and detailing. When the time came to deliver it to the customer at the dealership, a young service writer who worked in the shop control tower invited an apprentice mechanic to go for the ride. The dealer plate was put on the car and the Corvette with the big engine was driven out onto the street.

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The 1965 big-block Corvette was smashed up when two young mechanics took the new car for a joyride before it was delivered. Supplied, Peter and Bill Trant

But, instead of going around the block and into the new car dealership, the 20-year-old driver decided to see what the car could do. With his passenger beside him in the Corvette with only three delivery miles on the odometer, the driver headed south on Hemlock Street into the streets lined with beautiful old homes of Shaughnessy to run the high-horsepower Corvette through the gears.

He gunned the engine as the car headed into a curve. When a new Pontiac suddenly backed out of a driveway, the Corvette was going too fast to stop. Upon impact, the complete front end of the Corvette shattered as it T-boned the other car. The young passenger in the Corvette hadn't fastened his seatbelt and hit the windshield.

They went for a joyride and were going too fast, Hillis says. It's a story that someone could have dreamed up, but it did happen.

He was there when the car was towed back to the dealership. The driver and passenger had been taken to hospital. The car was a total loss and was covered up at the dealership so customers wouldn't see it. The car had only travelled eight miles.

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Brothers Peter and Bill Trant rebuilt the wrecked big block Corvette and Bill drove it to the University of BC for his last year of engineering studies. Alyn Edwards, Driving

The driver of the car, now 70, still lives in the Vancouver area.

It was 50 years ago and it was a very tragic time in my life, he said in a telephone interview. The fellow I was with nearly died in that accident. I don't have any more to say about it.

The new Corvette was an insurance writeoff and it was sold for salvage.

Peter Trant, then a high school shop teacher working part-time in a body shop, bought the car with his brother Bill for something less than $2,000. They would repair it and put the car back on the road as a virtually new Corvette.

The brothers recall the car as having almost every option, including both hard and soft tops, electronic ignition and that high-horsepower, big-block motor coupled to a four-speed transmission. But they didn't know until now that it was the first big block Corvette to come to B.C.

Peter Trant had bought a number of nearly new wrecked muscle cars and put them back on the road. They included: a black 1963 Falcon Sprint convertible with a V8 engine, bucket seats and four-speed transmission that had hit a tree; a new 1964 Chevelle SS two-door hardtop which was a new car demonstrator that a customer drove head on into a deep ditch in Victoria; and a K code 271-horsepower 1965 Mustang coupe that hit a huge rock head on in Prince George.

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Bill Trant in the driver's seat of the repaired 1965 Corvette that had traveled less than eight miles when it was wrecked. Alyn Edwards, Driving

He worked part-time at Baxter Collision near Seymour and Drake Streets in Vancouver where he and his brother repaired the Corvette. The only new parts purchased for the car were the distinctive hood that only came on Corvettes equipped with the new big block engine, the special aluminum radiator, the windshield and the steering wheel.

The Trants remember driving to Seattle to buy the rest of the parts for about $200 from Aurora Auto Wrecking. With some help from body man and customizer Don Campbell, Peter was able to straighten the frame by pulling it into place.

Fiberglas body parts don't stay bent like metal does, they either break or spring back into their original shape, Peter said.

He and Bill pieced together the broken bits and grafted in the replacements from Seattle using fibreglass mat and resin much like one would repair a fibreglass boat.

When the car was completed, Bill Trant bought out his brother's 50 per cent investment in the car and began driving the Corvette during his final year of mechanical engineering studies at the University of British Columbia.

The car was exceptionally fast and nothing in Vancouver could touch it, Bill recalls. But you couldn't keep gas in the car it used so much. I had to plan my out-of-town trips around gas station locations because there weren't many open 24 hours a day.

Bill drove the Corvette for nearly four years. When he was offered $3,800 for the car, he knew he would never get more for the car so he sold it.

He used the money to buy a new 1969 Oldsmobile Cutlass and never saw the Corvette again.

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