In a class all its own

Clyde Godfrey’s refurbished Corvette is in pristine condition, and though he doesn’t take it on the road often, it would surely turn heads with its sleek design and state-of-the-times features, inside and out. (Photos: Richard Greene)

GM’s Chevrolet Motor Division almost abandoned its 1953 trial entry into the sports car business. When sales of the inventive two-seater were disappointing, the auto manufacturer came close to shutting down production of the vehicle that would one day be declared “America’s Sports Car”: The Corvette.

History records three important events that saved the experiment. First was the introduction of Chevrolet’s 265 small-block V8 engine and dual four-barrel carburetors that turned the Corvette into a credible performer. Second was the tenacity of the now-famous Russian engineer, Zora Arkus-Duntov, who was determined not to let the company give up on it. And third was Ford’s introduction of their two-seat Thunderbird.

Then, with the launch of the substantially improved and restyled 1956 model, Chevrolet was in the sports car business for good.

Arlington businessman Clyde Godfrey is the proud owner of this one, which has been perfectly restored to original showroom standards. And that includes the optional “transistorized hybrid” car radio that was available for the ’56 model. So meticulous is the outcome of the work done by two different restoration perfectionists over a span of two years that the car could easily have accumulated a bunch of car show trophies. But Clyde has never entered it into a single one.

In fact, it rarely leaves his garage even for a drive across town.

“I know that as soon as I take it out somewhere, it will get dinged or scratched or worse,” he says. “With what I have invested in getting it to this level of quality, I don’t want to take chances with it.”

While he doesn’t have knowledge of its original owner or its history before he acquired it 20 years ago, his purchase in 1997 occurred via an interesting acquisition process.

“Scanning the newspaper for the car I was looking for, I came across the announcement of an auction to be conducted by the U. S. Marshal Service,” he recalls. “They were selling off assets seized from drug dealers, and this Vette caught my eye.”

He next found himself in a bidding war with a Houston area car dealer/collector, but his competitor pulled out at the $17,500 mark, the auctioneer’s hammer fell, and Clyde became the car’s new owner.

“The car was drivable, but the paint, interior, engine and much more of it as I discovered was in bad shape,” he says. “I worked on it myself off and on for about three years, didn’t really get much done, and realized I needed a professional for what had become a frame-up restoration project.”

Clyde wondered if his investment was safe, so in 2007 he visited the renowned Scottsdale auction “just to look” and watched as similar ’56 Corvettes were bringing 10 times more than he had paid the U. S. Marshal for his.

That made him smile.

The Godfrey family’s history in Arlington is quite a success story. Clyde’s father Emmett brought him to town in 1939 when he was two years old. His dad had accepted a job from Hooker Vandergriff, who put him to work selling Chevrolets.

After achieving the distinction as Hooker’s number one salesman, Emmett began to look around for a way to start his own business.

He acquired a tanker truck, and with a $500 bank loan co-signed by Hooker, he entered into the business of selling propane gas to homeowners who needed the fuel to heat their houses, to power their kitchens and, for some, to run their farms. That 1943 start-up company would in 20 years’ time grow into Texas’ largest independent distributor of propane and butane gas and is still operated today by his sons and grandchildren from their Arlington headquarters.

Clyde’s business interests are currently centered in real estate holdings, mostly warehouses leased to clients doing truck maintenance and storage operations. He’s also thinking of building an enclosed, custom-made, color-matched trailer for his Corvette. Maybe if he does that he can finally take his 61-year-old iconic beauty to some shows and begin to acquire those trophies it is bound to attract.