At 18, Steve Stone was determined to buy a new 1963 Chevrolet Corvette. He convinced his parents to let him order the car in October 1962, soon after he saw the restyled bodywork. He even got his dad to co-sign the loan note.
But Stone wasn’t only determined to acquire the car. He was determined to drive it. Make that drive, as in “let’s take this car and make it do what it was intended to do.” In his car’s first year on the road, Stone racked up 33,575 miles with the 340 horsepower, 4-speed roadster, using up the 24,000-mile warranty in eight months.
Stone has never looked back as he’s tallied more than 565,000 miles on the black roadster, visiting every state in the U.S. and all the Canadian provinces. And the saga hasn’t ended yet.
Taking delivery of a car in February in Iowa is no small accomplishment, but Stone was undeterred. He sold a ’56 Chevy to buy the Vette, which sported 4:11 gears, manual steering and brakes, and those little skinny bias ply tires that were still being offered from the factory. It wasn’t something you’d normally use to navigate an Iowa winter.
When asked how he managed to rack up those miles in that first 12 months, Stone says simply, “The guys I knew bought cars to drive ‘em, not keep ‘em,” so it wasn’t unusual for the Cedar Rapids car community to drive everywhere and do everything. Stone describes trips within a 50-60 mile radius of Cedar Rapids for all kinds of get togethers with fellow enthusiasts, including a newly organized Corvette club made up primarily of Collins Radio (now Rockwell-Collins) employees.
“We’d provide cars to pace races at the local Hawkeye Downs race track, which at that time was still dirt, and even drove to a tracks some 60 miles away to lead dirt-track races on a regular basis.”
The group also put together events like an autocross in a pasture and multiple trips to nearby Iowa City when half-a-dozen Vette owners would group together to just cruise for the fun of it.
But those years were also marked by the Vietnam War and the drafting of young men for military service. Stone was called by the U.S. Army in May 1965. He was prepared to be sent to Vietnam and placed the Vette up for sale, but two things happened that has made an impact on his life to this day: He wasn’t sent to Vietnam as part of his Army experience and the Vette didn’t sell.
So, for 55+ years ,Stone has owned the black roadster — and no other Vette — during that time. He got married, raised four sons, divorced, remarried, had two jobs, and currently has been married 29 years to a woman he says shares his love for the Vette and has been a constant companion for much of the mileage which now equals going to the moon and back and taking an additional three trips around the earth’s equator.
In conversation you can tell Stone has enjoyed each and every mile of his Corvette adventure.
“Yes, the car has had it’s share of issues,” he explains. “It’s been painted four times because the front end has been damaged in four separate accidents over the years. Each time I had the car repainted and it’s now on its fourth engine.”
Stone says he kept the original engine (180,000 on that one) and has it tucked away and he’s not been afraid to add touches to further enhance performance or simply because he liked them.
The first thing you notice are the black “steelies” and black wall tires with baby moon hubcaps that somehow fit the road-warrior personality of this high mile traveler. Stone says he added some performance in the 1970s — disc brakes, headers and the black side exhaust when he was into drag racing and autocrossing, but he admits he’s gotten away from those activities today. He even had the faux hood louvers in the hood made into functional louvers to help with engine cooling.
“I’ve experienced maintenance issues most anyone has with cars, but I did have to learn how to adjust solid lifters, change points and plugs and how to deal with the old style canister oil filters.”
Stone also learned how to replace drum brakes before the car was converted to disks and he handled most of the mechanical issues during those early years, though he said he did manage to get warranty work done for a leaky water pump and faulty ignition in that first 8 months before the warranty lapsed.
Currently, he runs a more contemporary 350cid engine pumping 400 horsepower with tall gears that get him around 18 miles per gallon. “As gas changed I found the high-compression engines just couldn’t do what I needed, and I finally landed on this combination,” he explains. Stone also added a pair of aftermarket ignition systems (one acts as a back-up, so he isn’t caught somewhere with ignition problems) and he’s a huge proponent of preventative maintenance.
Each winter the Vette gets a full review for potential repairs in anticipation of warm weather driving, and it rarely ventures out into snow-covered or salted roads any longer.
“It has an oil change every 3,000 miles and is started regularly during the cold months just to insure everything is still working as it should.” He says he has a trusted mechanic help with maintenance and brings plenty of spare parts with him on his trips.
The Vette’s soft top has been replaced twice. The dash and console remain stock and in excellent condition, and he’s added simple pleasures like a more modern sound system and cupholders.
He says he figures he spends $1,000 each year to keep the car in perfect condition, and when you visit him at any of the numerous shows he attends during the summer months, you can see he is adamant about keeping the Vette in tip top shape.
The Vette has been to car shows across the country in Washington, New Jersey, Indiana, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Utah, Montana and the province of Saskatchewan, Canada and has been featured at Spring Jefferson, Wisconsin; Bloomington Gold in Champaign, Illinois; and Back to the Bricks in Flint, Michigan.
As time has progressed, so have Stone’s interests and the ’63 Vette has adapted to the changes. Stone and his wife spend a lot of time camping, canoeing, and traveling to “See the USA in your Chevrolet” as he likes to describe it.
The couple has become adept at packing not only backup items like a water pump, fuel pump, hoses and belts for the Vette, but “soft packing” all their clothes and sleeping needs and somehow getting it all into the tiny storage area of the convertible. It is quite a sight when they take along their canoe, which is carried on a trailer behind the Corvette, which brings even more curious bystanders when they stop for gas and rest breaks along their routes.
The couple doesn’t intend to stop traveling i so it’s likely you might see a black ’63 roadster most anywhere in the U.S. including hot lapping the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (yes, they’ve done that too.) Having witnessed various storms, forest fires, mountain lions, national parks and monuments, mountains, deserts, floods, museums, beaches, there’s not a lot the couple and the Vette haven’t experienced, Stone admits there’s still plenty to see and more miles to be traveled.
As an 18-year-old, Steve Stone preferred top-down driving to the now-famed split-window coupe
“People ask if I ever plan to sell it,” Stone says, “and I tell them no. It looks like it will probably pass on to my youngest son when we’re done with it. And that’s the way I want it.”