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Florida man restoring Neil Armstrong's prized Corvette

Posted By Rick Neale at 2:01 PM, November 5, 2012

MERRITT ISLAND, Fla. - Aiming a swivel-lens digital camera, Roger Kallins meticulously captured close-up images of the Corvette's wheel well, brake assembly and front coil spring.

Kallins, a photojournalist, is collecting hundreds of images documenting the restoration of one of America's most unique vehicles: former NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong's 1967 Corvette Sting Ray.

"We have to document every square inch of this car, inside and out. We have to record every single part of this car in its current condition," Kallins said.

Joe Crosby of Merritt Island bought the one-of-a-kind coupe from an undisclosed Georgia owner in February. Crosby won't say how much he paid for the car. In January 2007, a 1967 Corvette formerly owned by astronaut Gus Grissom sold at auction for $275,000 in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Initially, Crosby offered the vehicle on eBay -- where it garnered offers exceeding $250,000.

However, he has now decided to repair 45 years of wear and refurbish the sports car to its same condition as when Armstrong cruised across Florida's Space Coast during the Apollo era.

"It's a piece of history to me -- it's not a car. It's like owning Samuel Colt's first revolver ever made," Crosby said, eyeing the Marina Blue Corvette perched atop a mechanical lift at Carter's Antique Cars Paint & Repair.

Armstrong, the first man to step foot on the moon, died in August at age 82.

As Crosby's preservation team recently scrutinized his vehicle, Kallins finished photographing the chassis and moved to the 427-cubic-inch engine compartment. And car-restoration expert Eric Gill, who is spearheading the project, sketched out plans to install factory-authentic fenders to correct body modifications from the 1980s.

Gill estimated the Corvette's chassis still retains about 80 percent of its original paint and finishes. Crosby said the Georgia owner placed the vehicle in climate-controlled storage in September 1981, and only the fenders, water pump and mufflers need replaced.

The odometer shows only 38,148 miles, but the speedometer cable broke during the 1970s. Speaking of the speedometer, it goes up to 160 mph.

Gill likened restoring Armstrong's car with repairing a damaged Rembrandt painting at The Louvre.

"Collectively, everyone feels the car is a national treasure," he said.

An avid car buff, Armstrong's coupe is the 21st Corvette he has owned over the years.

He said Armstrong drove the Corvette for a year, then traded it back to Melbourne car dealer Jim Rathmann for a 1968 model. A NASA employee bought Armstrong's trade-in, continued working at the Cape for seven years, then moved to the Atlanta area.

That's where Crosby spotted the vehicle. He tried to buy it for years without success -- then he received an unexpected February phone call, purchased the Corvette and trucked it to Merritt Island. He declined to identify the former owner or disclose the price.

There is no timetable for the restoration project. Crosby spent two months tracking down four fenders in North Dakota, Texas and Nebraska, which cost a combined $3,000.

"We get excited whenever a car like this resurfaces to take its place in history," said Wendell Strode, executive director of the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Ky.

"This Corvette is history. It is an American icon, owned by an American hero, who was part of a great American achievement: Putting a man on the moon," Strode said.

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