The Hog Farmers Fuel-Injected Mouse Den

1957 Corvette

We are a day late publishing our weekly In the Barn story, but we think that you will agree that the wait was well worth it after reading this one. Just about every car guy would love to find an old Corvette that had been stashed away, but the prospect gets even sweeter when it is a rare racing Vette. This tale was penned by Bill Connell and was originally published in The Corvette in the Barn, but is featured here with permission. You can signup to win a free copy of the book or just purchase it through Motorbooks or Amazon. Enjoy!

“It’s not for sale!”

How many times have we heard these as the first words out of an old car owner’s mouth after we rang the doorbell?

This is what Bill the Farmer said when asked if the old Corvette in his barn was for sale. Bill was a hog farmer in rural Ohio. In his younger days, he raised a lot of hell street-racing and drag racing various hot rods in and around his rural hometown. As he got older, though, he became both reclusive and a “hoarder” of all things mechanical.

Inside various barns and outbuildings around his farm, Bill stored an assortment of Corvettes, farm tractors, pre–World War II motorcycles, and literally tons of assorted junk. Bill Connell was the one who asked Bill if he could purchase the above-mentioned Corvette.

Connell was intrigued with the car and its No. 4007 serial number because he believed it was one of the long-lost serial No. 4007 cars, one of only 43 Corvette “airbox” racers that Chevrolet built for serious road racing in 1957.

In January 1957, General Motors announced the car’s development at a special Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) meeting in Warren, Michigan.

Corvettes ordered with the RPO 579E option would be fitted with a competition suspension, which included heavy-duty springs, a quicker steering ratio, heavy duty shocks, larger wheels, and special ceramic drum brake linings with cooling ducts. But the major modification was the installation of a cold airbox, which captured cooler, higher-density outside air and forced it into the Rochester fuel-injection unit. The same air was also supposed to aid cooling to the rear brakes.

“General Motors told the amateur racers in attendance that if any of them ordered the car during the convention, they would guarantee delivery in time to compete in the Cumberland, Maryland, road races that May,” said Connell. Several versions of the Corvette would be driven by professional racer drivers that March in Sebring, with the team of Dick Thompson and Gaston Andrey finishing in a hard-fought 12th place overall, first in class against a strong field of Maseratis, Ferraris, Jaguars, and Porsches. Interestingly, at that race, the airboxes were removed because they contributed to overheating of the left-rear brakes. “The front brakes had funnels that resembled elephant ears to cool them,” said Connell. “But the rear brakes were a different story. The right rear brake was cooled by a large hose, and that worked fine, but the left rear brake shared cool air with the engine intake.

“When the engine was driven hard, it required all the cool air that the airbox could capture, which caused the left-side rear brakes to badly overheat. There just wasn’t enough air in the box for both duties.”

Anyway, at the January SCCA meeting in Detroit, two racers were particularly excited: Bill Howe and Jack Knab. Howe owned a Chevrolet dealership in Middletown, Ohio, and on weekends he raced in amateur sports car races. Knab was his racing buddy. At the conclusion of the meeting, Howe plunked down his deposit and was promised the car in plenty of time to make the May 19, 1957, SCCA National event in Cumberland.

He waited and waited, hoping he’d get the car soon enough to at least practice driving it in a lesser event. What Howe didn’t know was that General Motors, along with Ford and Chrysler, voluntarily ceased participating in racing events and marketing high-performance automobiles. Chevrolet’s head engineer Ed Cole had the factories in a tizzy as they attempted to get their racing programs closed down before the end of June.

“There was such tension to complete the cars that engineers sourced prototype parts from the engineering department just to complete the cars on time,” says Connell.

Racing in 1957

On May 16, word finally came that his Corvette was completed. Howe and Knab jumped on a plane and flew to the St. Louis assembly plant to take delivery. They quickly signed the papers and headed east. They drove through the night, as they had only two days to drive the new Corvette to Maryland, change tires, prep the car, and practice before the Sunday race. That Sunday’s feature race has been viewed as Corvette’s “coming out party,” because the brand dominated the field with the “Flying Dentist,” Dr. Dick Thompson, winning, and champion racer driver Carroll Shelby finishing second, both driving 1957 Corvettes. And amateur driver Howe finished third, attesting to the race-worthiness of No. 4007 with the RPO 579E package.

With that, Howe jumped in his car and drove back to Ohio so he could be at work on Monday morning.

Howe continued to race No. 4007 for the rest of the season and even assisted GM in early brake testing of the new sintered metallic competition brakes, which would be offered to racers in 1960.

At the end of the 1957 season, No. 4007 was retired from road racing.

Howe parked the car on his used car lot as he awaited the delivery of his new 1958 Corvette with the RPO 684 competition package.

According to Connell, No. 4007 went through three more owners and accumulated about 41,000 miles—much of it one-quarter mile at a time—before going into a 28-year hibernation. But none of the owners subsequent to Howe knew of the car’s significant racing heritage.

This is where Bill the Farmer comes in.

In the 1970s, Bill the Farmer, who was a longtime drag racer, decided he wanted an early fuel-injected Corvette. He stumbled across No. 4007, which to him was just an abused old Corvette. He bought it and partially stripped it to begin restoration.

Bill stripped the paint and removed many parts before losing interest and pushing the car in the corner of the barn, where it sat for the next 28 years.

During that time, the Corvette became increasingly crowded in the barn as Bill continued to purchase and store additional vehicles and machinery.

An old drag racing buddy of his, Joel Lauman, was one of the few people who saw the Corvette when his friend bought it. Lauman, a Corvette restorer, believed the car was an authentic airbox racer, which didn’t seem to faze Bill.

“I’m going to finish the restoration when I have the time,” he’d say.

Lauman called his friend Connell and told him of his suspicion that the car was possibly a rare racer. The two decided to try and take a look at it.

Bill was becoming increasingly reclusive. He was a well-armed big man who could lift engines in and out of cars without the use of an engine hoist—not the sort who attracts folks just to drive up to his farm and knock on the door.

“You had to arrange your visit in advance so Bill would put away the guns and dogs,” said Connell. Phone calls went unanswered, so Lauman and Connell left notes in Bill’s mailbox, hoping to get an appointment.

Buried Corvette

Eventually, Bill invited Lauman over “To pay tribute to Jack.” In other words, the two would sit on the porch on Sunday afternoons, sip Jack Daniels, and bench race. Just when Lauman thought he was making progress, Bill mentioned he was still planning to restore the Corvette when he had some time. “And it’s definitely not for sale!”

As the years passed, Bill’s health began to deteriorate to the point where even he admitted he was no longer capable of restoring the Corvette.

In 2005, Lauman finally said to Bill: “Bill, you’re never going to restore that car. I know a guy [Connell] who will pay you for the car and allow me to restore it.” Bill agreed, but only after Lauman promised he would arrange for Bill to drive the car upon completion. That sealed the deal, or so Lauman and Connell thought.

“So the next week I went out to the farm and gave him a Kroger shopping bag filled with cash,” Connell said. “That satisfied him.”

Bill invited Lauman and Connell into the master bedroom of his old farmhouse, where he reached under the bed, pulled out a briefcase, and removed the title. Before handing the title to the new owner, Bill said, “You know, you are the first man to ever set foot inside my bedroom.”

It took at least two days for Bill to dig out all the Corvette’s pieces that were hidden around the farmhouse.

Once the car was removed from the farm, Connell began to take account of what he had just purchased. “At this point, I knew I had an airbox car, but many of the experts said that it wasn’t; that the serial number was too early.”

Lauman and Connell decided not to restore or even disassemble No. 4007, but instead take thousands of photos and attempt to document the car properly.

“Joel was going to Corvette Carlisle, so I asked him to bring the distributor with him to have Ken Kayser take a look at it,” said Connell. “Ken, a former senior GM engineer, is considered the dean of old Corvettes.

“Kayser looked at the distributor and asked, ‘Where did you get this? The codes say this is an engineering piece. This is unusual; I’d like to learn more about this car.’ He asked if he could come down to see the car sometime.”

As Connell explains, Kayser conducted a forensic engineering audit on No. 4007 and was underneath the car for at least two hours. When he crawled out from under the car, Kayser proclaimed, “This is the real deal with this low serial number. It was probably the pilot for the airbox-series cars.

“I need to do more research, but in the meantime, please don’t show anyone the car until we have more documentation,” said Kayser. “And don’t throw anything away. We have a lot of questions to answer before you begin pulling it apart.”

Kayser, along with a number of Corvette experts, including Joe Trybulec and Jack Knab, finally concluded that No. 4007 was the original “pilot” car for all subsequent airbox cars and is the earliest known in the series.

Corvette No. 4007 went through a comprehensive two-year restoration and was completed in time for the 50th anniversary of the 1957 Corvette at the annual Bloomington Gold event. Connell’s Corvette shared the special collection stage with several other airbox racers and other 1957 models of special note. In 2008, No. 4007 was awarded the Bloomington Gold certificate, as well as the National Corvette Restorers Society Top Flight Award. The car has also appeared at the Cincinnati Concours, where it was awarded Best Corvette, at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, and on the Discovery Channel’s one of-a-kind “How Stuff Works” series.

After restoration

These days, the car is absolutely beautiful, but Connell reminds admirers that this car hasn’t always looked so proper. “This is a barn-find car in the truest sense, because we had to remove a family of mice who had been happily living in the airbox!”

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Comments

  1. Mike Butchart

    After the restoration, did Bill the Farmer ever get a chance to drive it?

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  2. Danger Dan

    did they let the farmer hit a couple turns or a victory lap?

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  3. C Bryant

    This was interesting as I know where the last airbox car was until about 20 years ago but never followed it after that.

  4. Dolphin Dolphin Member

    Hmmm….guns, lots of Jack Daniels, an invite into Bill the Farmer’s bedroom just so he can get the title out of a briefcase….and then he tells the car’s new owner that he is “the first man to ever set foot inside my bedroom”.

    I would say Connell has paid his dues to be able to own this important car. Congrats to him and his cast iron will to own the car and do the right thing with it. This Corvette definitely deserves its new owner.

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  5. Sunbeamdon

    Even tho I’m a Cobra kind-a guy, this is a great story. One question – Did Bill the Farmer ever get his ride??

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  6. jim s

    yes another great story. i too hope the farmer got to see the car after it was restored and if not up to driving at least taking another ride.

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  7. jim s

    i watched road racing at the cumberland md airport which was not a course to make a mistake on. i do not know if that is the course that was used in 1957.

  8. Koolpenguin

    And I want to know how much cash did they stuff into that Kroger bag to make Farmer Bill happy?

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  9. Ke100

    I’d like to know what kind of motorcycle he had.

  10. geomechs geomechs Member

    Terrific story! So often a person pursues a vehicle of significant importance only to find the owner too reluctant to let it go to someone who will do it right. Too often such vehicles become available only after the owner passes away, and in many cases parts have disappeared, making the restoration nearly impossible.

    I’m so glad that this car went to the proper party. I recall a story going onto 40 years ago now where a guy pursued a Unique car (I’ll leave out the make and model for the time being) for over 20 years only to be away when the reluctant owner’s wife sold it to another party who hauled it away and butchered it beyond recognition. The outcome to that was the new owner getting beaten within an inch of his life.

  11. Charles

    What a great story and a great find! Finding the Air Box Racer pilot car… What are the odds? I am surprized that GM did not demand to get it back.

    I too want to know if Bill the farmer ever got his drive or ride in his car?

    With restored and nice original Corvette’s bringing the big bucks these days, what is the value of this car in its fully restored state? With the current prices, every first gen vette is worth saving.

    One of my best friends is currently restoring a 54 that his parents bought in 1958. It is the same general body style as this one, but has the typical 235 six with three one barrel carbs and a powerglide trans. His car was driven up until 20 years ago, and parked inside of their garage with 80K miles on the clock. No one ever molested the car, and it is 100% complete, even the original wheel covers. With some tinkering, fresh fuel, and a battery, the old girl started right up after sleeping for 20 years. The car is very solid, but needs some work on the gelcoat, and paint. The owner is also a professional body man which is real handy. He is taking it slow and doing a first class job. Of course it will get all new rubber stuff all around. I can’t wait to see the car completed and to get a ride in it.

    Thanks for sharing this story.

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  12. dj

    Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I had been watching a 69 GTO, blue with white interior for years sitting in front of a house. I always asked about the car. The old woman finally told me that it was supposed to go to her nephew and if he didn’t come get it in two weeks, I could have it. I went back and she said she didn’t tell me that. I pulled out a wad of money and telling her what she said was a lie. I said that nephew would never come get that car and it would rot before he did. The madder I got, the more I flashed that money in her face. They didn’t have a pot to piss in and she really was watching my money. I left and about a month later it was gone when I drove by.

  13. Sunbeamdon

    dj: sugar my man – diplomacy wins out! Tough loss – my son destroyed a ’69 Judge when he was in his late teens – now he wishes it hadn’t gone to that great crusher in the sky! I’ve managed to hold on to my ’67 Sunbeam Tiger MkII since 1968, though.

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  14. Rolly Doucet

    A friend is a Mopar fan. One day, while driving on business, he sees a tarp-covered car under a carport. By the shape, he thought it might be a Camaro, so he drove on. Some time later, he drove by and the wind had blown the tarp off the front, and revealed a ’71 Cuda. He was late for a meeting so, he made a mental note to return one day to check out the car. Not long after, one of his friends called him to tell of the ’71 Cuda with 426 Hemi that he bought recently…Yup that was the car. So the moral of the story is…when you see or hear of an older car somewhere, act on it immediatly.

  15. Sunbeamdon

    — and don’t ask wifies’ permission, just foregiveness! I had to pass on a pristine, legitimate one-owner 58,000mi ’54 Lincoln Capri – she wanted me to sell one of my other toys. Oh well, I did turn a nice profit on the ’54 and it went to a good home!

  16. Alan

    Re: Howe…
    My dad bought the 1966 Corvair Corsa that I still own, from Howe Chevrolet in Middletown, OH. Until reading this piece, I had no idea regarding the competition history of the man or the dealership. The Corsa was sold on the MSO as first owner, but it did already have a couple of thousand miles on it. My brother told me at the time that it had been tagged with dealer plates, and that it was “the dealer’s daughter’s car”. Makes sense to me.

    Great story on a great Corvette!

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    • Andrew G Perreault

      I love the story, and the restored car is beautiful.
      I learned of this story, while researching a car that, while not a Corvette, is an interesting one. The car I’ve been researching, is a 1968 Chevrolet Howe Spyder. I bought the first one I saw, sunk to the frame, in the yard of a friends father in law. It’s a 1968 belair 2 dr. With a post. It wasn’t til years later, that I found another one, that was wrecked in the left front. I put another doghouse on it and was driving it to work every day, from Cincinnati to middle town, ohio. An old maintenance guy that I worked with told me that he used to work at the Howe Chevrolet dealership, in town, and that I should go ask them about it. So, I did. After my shift ended at 7am I drove into town, and found the dealership, which was now Heart Chevrolet. Talked to the service manager, and while he was intrigued, and even came outside to look at it, he had no idea about it. This was about 1992. He told me to maybe go talk to the mechanics, which were just about to start their shift, hanging out by a break table, about 6 or 8 of them. So I asked them about it, and none of them even cared about it, except for one older guy, who told me he knows who i should talk to. A man named Don Koehler, who was the body shop manager back then. So he continued to tell me that Don was retired and didnt live far, and that he just messes with big block Chevy and Cadillac drag motors, and I should just go there, and that he would love to see it. So, I did. I found his house, pulled in the driveway, and parked. Knocked on the door, this is about 8-8:30am. He comes to the door, as I probably woke him, an hes all grumble, and I told him what I was up to, and then he looked out in his driveway, and saw it, and sparked right up. HOLY CRAP I haven’t seen one of those in 20 yrs., he said. Then we talked about them and it for about an hour. I have never gone back to see him, only because, I was too caught up in my own life, with a wife and three daughters. I’ve never had the means to restore these cars properly, til lately, as my kids are grown and gone, living their lives. So sorry for the long story, but I’ve been trying to find out what I can about these cars, Bill Howe, and the dealership, for well over 25 years. So, if anyone has info, or interest, please feel free to email me at spyder6812@gmail.com thanx. My name is Drew

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