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Lost Chevrolet dealership: LeMars, Iowa (or maybe Larchwood, Iowa?)

Daniel Strohl, Jan 22nd, 2009, Hemmings Motor News

Grotewold Chevrolet, 1963

Amazing what some people will throw out with the trash, isn’t it? Craig Hover of Parkville, Missouri, recently sent these photos from 1963 that he said his father rescued from the trash when Chevrolet closed its Omaha zone office in 1986. Craig’s father, Jim, was then the district manager for Chevrolet, and when he saw these photos, he knew his son would enjoy them. The first photo shows a fairly typical dealership interior, with the new 1963 Corvette up on a podium.

The next photo gets a little odd. That Corvette looks a little different in this pic. A little taller.

Aha: It’s a display stunt, which raises the body off the chassis. But how did this end up in a little dealership with obviously very little traffic?

Was it in between major auto shows and thus on loan to the dealership? Was it one of several displays that traveled around the country going to different dealerships?

And the big question: Where exactly was Grotewold Chevrolet? Craig’s detective work narrowed Grotewold to two different western Iowa towns: LeMars and Larchwood. It seems the Grotewold brothers grew up in Larchwood and had a dealership there, but other evidence, including the paperwork with a 1960 Corvette recently sold at auction and a random obituary, point to LeMars.

Of the two towns, it seems LeMars still has a couple Chevrolet dealerships, Motor Inn and Nuebel, the latter of which descended from Grotewold when Grotewold sold the dealership in the late 1960s.

Maybe the Grotewolds had dealerships in both towns. If so, then which one was this, which apparently was celebrating its grand opening in 1963? As long as the evidence quoted above is correct, we’re going to theorize that there were dealerships in both towns, that the one in LeMars opened first, sometime before 1960, and the one in Larchwood opened in 1963. Anybody from western Iowa care to chime in?

UPDATE (22.January 2009): As Myron pointed out in the comments, a cutaway Corvette display did indeed sell at auction in December of 2007 at RM’s auction of the Al Wiseman collection. That sale actually made quite the splash – it hammered for $704,000. But something doesn’t seem quite right. According to the auction description, one of the marketing department’s biggest concerns was attracting potential customers to its displays at popular cars shows and the corporate-sponsored Motoramas held nationwide.

While the Corvette was certainly an appealing showpiece in its own right, they realized that its ‘look’ was three years old and could benefit from revision. The result was, quite simply, a mechanical marvel. To start with, they selected a very early model year 1965 Corvette coupe taken right from the assembly line. Finished in Le Mans Blue, and fitted with the white leather seats, this car was then shipped to a specialty company that produced dramatic and attention-grabbing exhibits for commercial and industrial shows. The car was immediately disassembled and meticulously operated upon to create a one-of-a-kind Corvette.

Mounting the body to elevating rams, the coupe would magically levitate off the chassis, leaving exposed all the car’s major running gear. To further expose the inner workings of this machine, careful and well thought-out incisions were made in all of the major components. With the push of a button, the body lifted up nearly two feet to showcase a custom finished chassis painted in light yellow. The exterior of the engine, transmission, and other mechanical parts were finished in bright red. Under the hood rested the very powerful 375-horse fuel-injected 327 cubic inch engine. The heads received custom-made, transparent valve covers while careful incisions were made on the most critical parts including the injection unit, exhaust, intake manifolds, and the block itself.

After the body rose, a series of electrical motors and gears put the car into action. Every moving component on the road-going Corvette was replicated on this display. It was geared to operate at just a few revolutions per minute rather than the break-neck thousands of a real car. Observers could thereby watch exactly how the small block engine operated; the turning cam pushed the corresponding intake or exhaust valve while the crankshaft pushed each piston to and fro. The engine was mated to a rock-solid M-20 four-speed manual transmission. As with the engine, cuts in its casing were made, showing the mounting of the clutch and flywheel. The moving driveshaft was painted red to match the rest of the critical ingredients, the U-joints were brightly plated and attached to the Posi-traction rear axle where the wheels spun and moved to activate the rear suspension and demonstrate just how well these cars handle and grip the road. Among the many other features exposed to onlookers, the muffler’s exhaust chambers, the construction of the chassis, and the right front disc brake were all given the cut-away treatment. Informative placards throughout the car explained the operations of many of the components and, to a certain degree, justified the Corvette’s performance superiority over its competitors.

Far from being a made-up unit with parts resembling a real Corvette, this unique display started life, albeit ever so briefly, as a fire-breathing, fuel-injected Stingray coupe. After leaving the show circuit its exact history is unknown, but it was found in the mid-1990s in South Africa and returned to the United States. Since joining the Wiseman Collection, the car has received a sympathetic restoration. Its white interior, accented in blue, looks to have never been used.

All of the original instrumentation including speedometer, tachometer, gauges and even the AM/FM radio and teakwood steering wheel, are still in the car. In fact, one of the only items not in the car that would be in a functional unit is the gearshift knob, which was removed to allow for the body to lift during demonstrations. The car is still fitted with its original white sidewall “Rayon” cord tires. In present condition, all of the mechanical demonstrations are in working order, including the initial lifting of the body, which is accomplished by the simple push of a button.

But the Corvette in Craig’s photos is unmistakably a 1963. And note that the wheels differ between the one above and the one from the Wiseman collection. So was the auction description incorrect in saying that the ’65 in the Wiseman collection came straight off the assembly line (i.e. that it wasn’t re-bodied for 1965), or are we dealing with a second, earlier display car?

UPDATE (27.January 2009): Paul Andrews, who bought the Wiseman ’65 cutaway Corvette, emailed us this picture of the ’65 cutaway from the RM auction.

He notes that the stand differs from the one in the above pictures, and we’ll note that the frame includes the slots for the sidepipes, which means (Corvette guys correct me if I’m wrong) that the frame was obviously a ’65 and later, disproving the theory that the ’65 was the re-bodied version of the cutaway ’63 in the above photos. We’ll post more about this mystery as it unfolds.

Update--update (from the January 24, 2018 Hemmings Motor News)

As 1965 Corvettes go, the Le Mans Blue coupe that crossed Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale stage as lot 1413 isn’t particularly quick, and it certainly won’t post impressive handling numbers. In fact, it doesn’t run at all, but as a one-of-one cutaway 1965 Corvette demonstrator, it represents an interesting and valuable piece of Corvette history. On Saturday, January 20, the cutaway Corvette sold for a fee-inclusive price of $1.1 million, which put it in second place in the annual Arizona sale’s top-10.


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