The NCRS Beginning Years
Angola, Indiana, March, 1974. Seven guys coincidentally meet each other in a bar, start talking, realize they all like Corvettes and end the evening by forming NCRS.
Well, Not Exactly...
By the late fifties and early sixties, the Corvette, by its styling, but mostly by its performance, had become a very popular car. Many who could afford a new one made their purchase. Those who couldn't step up to that approach saved and bought a used one while many others just promised themselves that some day, they'd own one.
Owning and driving a Corvette was a statement in itself, but beyond that, the car seemed to beg to be modified, road raced, drag raced, wrecked, fixed and restored. For most, it was not a point A to B means of transportation, unless A was the starting line and B was the finish line. And, as they say, “If I have to explain, you wouldn't understand.”
As the sixties rolled on, Corvette clubs started popping up around the country, mostly for Corvette style social enjoyment in a particular town. There were, however, some notable exceptions; some with a larger vision.
Ed Thiebaud, a turkey farmer in Fresno, California, liked to fly airplanes and collect Corvettes and Corvette parts. In the late sixties he formed the Vintage Corvette Club of America (VCCoA). Ed’s club pretty much centered around the 53 to 55 models and grew enough to have over 1,000 members and 10 regional representatives around the country and publish a newsletter, the “Blue Flame Special”. Included were a few articles, reprints of Corvette showroom brochures and service manual information, member ads selling cars, selling parts, looking for parts and offering some reproduction parts along with club related items. George Campbell’s International Registry of Early Corvettes (IREC) reports were published and probably represented one of the earliest efforts of compiling statistical information on the 1953 through 1955 models.
Some members appearing in the VCCoA roster and addendum additions in the 1969 through 1973 era would resurface later. Give yourself one point for each name you recognize: Noland Adams, John Amgwert, Martin Ball, Dick Campbell, Gary Mortimer, Joe Bridgeman, Roger Brower, Chip Miller, Bob Jorjorian, Mike McCagh, Jan Hyde, Ivan Bailey, Chuck Brigermann, George Campbell, George Riehl, Toby Taylor, Bob Clark, Kenneth Frenchak, Don Hein, Jack Podell, Mike Antonick and John Hutchins.
In reviewing several issues of the “Blue Flame Special”, it is relatively apparent this was a club run by a single person. Ed’s ads to sell his Corvettes, parts and VCCoA club items took up a comparatively large portion of the publication; one issue alone showing 13 of his Corvettes for sale. Of course, in retrospect, his offering of two 1953’s for sale, one at $1,250 and one at $1,750 might have proven to be a rewarding investment.
Judging events were not part of Ed’s program. To a large degree, it was a “mail order” club, but there was no question the club was filling an ever growing need for members seeking parts no longer available from Chevrolet to repair, refurbish or restore their cars, particularly the earlier models. Additionally, owners had developed an appetite for information - information about their Corvettes we take for granted today. At that point in time, an owner of a ‘55 Corvette that had been through five previous owners, would be hard pressed to have any real idea of how to determine if his car retained the original engine or transmission, let alone be sure if the body was painted in a color available for that model year. Of course, many didn’t care, and still don’t. But there were quite a few who did. No one realized just how much those few cared.
Now let’s jump 2,000 miles away from the turkey farm in Fresno to the Holiday Inn, Angola, Indiana, August, 1970. John Hutchins of Alma, Michigan, with six other Corvette enthusiasts formed the Classic Corvette Club 53-55 (CCC). Each came up with five dollars dues to get the club started and John Hutchins subsequently appointed five of these six, in addition to himself, as Directors to “help him run the club”. Their names may sound familiar; Gary Mortimer, Jay Kellogg, Tom Essig, Joe Chess and Dick Campbell. The seventh, Larry Goolman, declined appointment.
Two years later, membership in this club had risen to 150. 1953 through 1955 Corvettes were being judged, events were small, but slowly increasing in size and a newsletter was being published. The September, 1972 newsletter announced a new position; Technical Advisor, followed by the name of Sam Folz. Shortly after, in December, 1972, the newsletter has a name, “Good Times” and a fellow by the name of John Amgwert who had “after hours” access to a printing press offered to do the printing chores for the club.
By the summer of 1973 membership stood at about 400. Among others, Noland Adams, Mike McCagh and M.L. Young are taking advantage of the For Sale or Wanted ads and Richard Fortier is parting out a ‘54. Gary Mortimer is explaining the judging process and Chip Miller has sent in a letter about this great 1953 Corvette he just acquired.
The Winter, 1974 issue of “Good Times”, announces the Classic Corvette Club’s upcoming meet schedule including one to be held at Wapakoneta, Ohio, May 31 through June 2, 1974. That particular meet was destined to turn out quite a bit differently than originally planned. Let’s touch on why.
As the club had slowly grown, the efforts, dedication and enthusiasm of the Directors, Sam Folz and John Amgwert were boundless. However, there was an ever increasing feeling that they were working FOR John Hutchins, rather than WITH him. While Hutchins was appreciative of their efforts, it ultimately became clear this was his club, period, end of story. John Hutchins was President, Treasurer, Secretary, Membership Chairman and Editor. His Corvette interest was directed at the ‘53 through ‘55 models and that’s the way it was going to stay.
Failed attempts to persuade John to change his approach resulted in a March, 1974 “reorganization” meeting called by the other Directors to be held at the Holiday Inn in Angola, Indiana. John Hutchins was invited but was unable or chose not to attend.
The net result of this meeting called for:
- Establishment of a constitution and by-laws.
- Incorporation of the club as a nonprofit organization.
- Election of officers.
- Establishment and adherence to mailing dates of publications.
- Full financial accounting and audit practices.
- Business meetings involving all members.
- The addition of John Amgwert and Sam Folz as CCC Directors.
Following this meeting, John Hutchins was presented with the conclusions reached. His reply, “I find them unacceptable.”
As you can see, to say there was no dissension among the involved parties would be grossly naive. Nevertheless, there existed a group of seven men who had a broader, more forward looking vision for the Corvette hobby. Rather than an impossible CCC reorganization, the chosen option was to form a new club.
The name was first planned to be the Corvette Restorers Club, but that thought quickly evaporated. In its place, the National Corvette Restorers Society was chosen, along with its first slate of elected officers and directors. A mailing was sent to all members of the Classic Corvette Club explaining the reasons behind the newly formed club, including the following, “This mailing has been sent at the expense of the directors listed below since we have no funds for this new club” and, “Enclosed is a flyer announcing the first meet of the National Corvette Restorers Society. Hope to see you there!”
The meet originally planned as a Classic Corvette Club event became the first NCRS meet; Wapakoneta, Ohio, May 29 - June 2, 1974. Participation in judging was open to 1953 through 1962 Corvettes. The “directors listed below” were John Amgwert, Dick Campbell, Joe Chess, Tom Essig, Sam Folz, Jay Kellogg and Gary Mortimer; the names we recognize today as the Founding Fathers of NCRS.
It was agreed if membership reached 100, a newsletter would be published. By the summer of 1974, membership well exceeded that level and Volume 1, Number 1 of The Corvette Restorer was mailed and included the message below from Gary Mortimer, first President of NCRS.
Dear NCRS Member,
I am confident that our club is off to a good start. We have well over 100 members and our first meet is now behind us. This is the first issue of our newsletter and you will receive three more with your years membership. We will also be publishing a membership roster soon. Our publishing dates for the newsletter will be July 1st, October 1st, January 1st, and April 1st.
There are seven founders who will serve as Directors thru the first year. The Directors have elected officers for the club and appointed members to act as Chairmen-. We are in the process of finalizing a Constitution and By-laws to present to the membership.
Our purpose as written in our Constitution shall be "the preservation, restoration, and enjoyment of early Corvettes and related material as well as to encourage and publish studies and research pertaining to their history. An additional purpose shall be to conduct meetings, tours, and programs of any sort relating to the development and history of Corvettes.
We certainly appreciate the kind letters and phone calls that accompanied many membership applications. These words of encouragement and offers of assistance have certainly been appreciated.
There will be two more meets this summer. The next will be in Goshen, Indiana on July 26, 27, and 28. The second will be decided by the membership. We have two possibilities; Grand Haven, MI. and St. Louis, MO. with a club tour of Chevrolet's Corvette facility.
I'd like to take this opportunity to invite the members who have never attended a meet to come to Goshen and receive your full membership benefits by meeting fellow members and viewing their cars.
Gary Mortimer, President
The page is mostly derived from an article written for the 25th Anniversary Restorer by Dennis Clark and/or Vinnie Peters. Vinnie supplied the original text and provided the photos of the founders as well.