1977 chevrolet corvette
Lucas Bell

Whether it's a result of rarity or some form of pedigree, some cars are genuinely irreplaceable. Most people wouldn't consider a 1977 Chevrolet Corvette to fall into that category, but one always will in my book. For a decade now, the memories of an old family heirloom have haunted me. It's the one car I will never get over. Problem is, that C3 was utterly annihilated.

On the evening of March 15, 2012, an EF-3 tornado touched down in my hometown of Dexter, Michigan. The tornado was large, spanning up to 800 meters in width, with wind speeds reaching 145 mph. The storm damaged more than 100 structures across town, including two homes that it wiped clean off their foundations. Thankfully, there were no injuries to report. My family and I were lucky in that our home wasn't severely damaged, though the barn out back wasn't spared. The equipment for our construction company was inside. It also held my grandfather’s Corvette.

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My grandfather acquired the black-over-red Corvette on trade for some construction work. While most folks likely would prefer to be paid, he had a history with Corvettes. In fact, he sold his 1965 Corvette to purchase my grandmother's wedding ring. He wasn't opposed to having another one in the garage, though he didn’t actually drive it much; my father drove the C3 most. But the old car slowly slipped into disrepair.

My maternal grandfather—a tremendous airbrush painter and a mechanic—stepped in. Dismayed by the state of the car, he offered to help revive the Corvette in the early 2000s. My other grandfather told the pair that if they bought the parts and got it fixed, the car was my father’s to keep. And so the in-laws began to restore the car, stripping it down to the bare bodywork and sending the engine off to my uncle for a rebuild. Not long after the new front suspension was installed, my maternal grandfather was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer.

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The shared dream of getting the Corvette back on the road was put on the back burner. My grandpa lost his battle with cancer in less than a year. While my family was still recovering from that loss, my paternal grandfather suffered a stroke and passed away 18 months later.

As we all tried to put the pieces of our lives back together, that old Corvette started to call to me. Whenever I began to miss one of my grandpas, I’d stroll down to the barn to sit with the car. Working on the Corvette became a way for me to feel connected to both of my grandfathers, and it pushed my father and I to spend time together. During a tremendously tough time in life for a young boy, that Corvette provided a bit of real joy. I asked my father to tell me every story he had about the car and the two men that shaped our ownership of it. While our progress was consistently slow, we both had dreams for the Corvette. It was supposed to be my ride to the senior prom and, if I was lucky, the car I pulled away from my wedding in. If my grandfathers couldn’t be there with me in those life moments, I’d always have this gas-drinking part of them.

dexter tornado 2012
Lucas Bell
And so as my family and I left our basement shelter on that March evening in 2012, my heart sank. Strewn amid the wreckage of our family business sat my car, or what was left of it. The Corvette was knocked off our lift and smashed into the ground. Every body panel was marred with gaping holes, the frame twisted and battered. It may have been spared the weight of a concrete wall, something my father’s Bronco was not, but the car was destroyed. In that moment, all of those feelings of loss boiled up again, and they stayed with me.

A few days after the tornado, I sat and watched as my dad folded what was left of the Corvette into a dumpster. I looked on as the forks of our skid-steer pierced the body, wincing as that prized heirloom joined other bits of our lives made worthless. Not exactly the father-son Corvette moment we hoped for. But that's life.

1977 corvette
Lucas Bell

I'll never be able to forget that tornado. I remember the fear in my father's voice when he phoned us, convinced of our demise in the storm. The elation on his face as he dropped to his knees upon entering our basement shelter remains as pure an example of love as I can mentally muster. But while most of the emotions of that day have faded into memories, the tinge of the car's destruction still rings true. I still can't fully accept that I never had a chance to drive it.

I have a few pieces of the Corvette that I rescued from the rubble. If I ever purchase another C3, those parts—the seats, hood, and emblems—will go on it. I owe it to my younger self. That C3 spawned my love for cars.