John Gilson is kinda picky—but in a good way. He knows what he likes, and that happens to be some really special C2 Corvettes. Shown here from his small but high-quality collection are a silver ‘63 Split Window coupe with an L84 engine, a blue ’66 powered by an L72, and a black with white stinger ’67, powered by the fabled 435hp, 427ci L71 engine.
Gilson also owns a 1965 model, but it was being repainted, and not available for the shoot. “I wasn't necessarily looking for a 65,” Gilson explains, “But my son suggested that wouldn't it be cool to own all the C2 Vettes (’63 to ‘67). He does enjoy helping me spend my money! I agreed and the ‘65 was sitting there at this auction in great shape, soooo...”
Actually, Gilson has acquired almost all of his cars at auction. How did he get so hooked on Corvettes? “This all started when I retired in 2002,” he recalls. “When you go to car shows there are always people around who tell you that they had this or that Corvette in their youth. I like to reply that my first Corvette was when I was 55 years old. Now I own four.”
The ‘63 Split Window was the first of his collection, bought at Barrett-Jackson in Scottsdale in January of 2002. For the following year, he set his sights on a ‘67, 427/435 roadster, also at Barrett-Jackson, which resulted an ironic on-air comment.
“During this auction, SPEED TV was televising the event,” Gilson relates. “At the time, this ’67 was the highest sale, so they had a camera right behind the auction associate who was standing by me while the bidding was going on…and I was looking very serious indeed. What was funny about it was the television commentator, after I won the bid, stated, “There goes a very knowledgeable Corvette owner.” Yeah, right!”
Later that Spring, on Father's Day, Gilson’s son presented him with a personalized “67 SKUNK” license plate (for the black-and-white color combo). This ritual has continued with each Corvette: The ‘63 reads, “63 SPLW”, the ‘65 is “65 CNVT”, and the ‘66 is “M22 66” (M22 refers to the “Rock Crusher” transmission, with only 15 installed on 1966 models).
So many Corvettes, so little time! But Gilson is a practical fellow, and learned a little lesson about shopping around: “I was in no hurry and these cars aren’t cheap, so no additional Vettes until January ‘07 at the Russo & Steele auction in Scottsdale,” he notes. “I went looking at another car (a ‘61 Pontiac convertible) and noticed the ‘66 Vette. It was not on the web site or the sales list, as it was a late entry. I strongly believe I would have had to pay a higher price if the car was at Barrett-Jackson, given the larger amount of high-end bidders there.”
Gilson’s C2 collection is not yet complete, as the ‘64 Vette is still missing from the lineup. “Once the 64 is found and my C2 collection is complete, I’d like to try to bring all five to a car show together. Seems to me that would be very cool.” In the meantime, though, he really relishes the ones he has.
“Given that we live in Southern California, car shows are held all year round, every weekend, and during the week as well,” he says. “So I rotate the cars (one week per car) and go to various car shows. They’ve won numerous trophies, but the ‘hanging’ with other car guys is the most fun.”
Once Gilson’s Vettes are in as perfect condition as is possible, he points out that simple maintenance keeps them performing well and relatively inexpensive to drive (notwithstanding the fact that he puts100 octane gas in them).
So what’s his favorite Corvette? “I tell them the one I’m driving that week.”