Head-turner Corvette now a pin-up

Vern Toedtli's 1957 car featured in the 2013 Snap-on Tools calendar

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

Published:

 

A timeless beauty is, by definition, beyond any concerns of chronology and calendar.

That's kind of the approach Vern Toedtli took with his 1957 Chevrolet Corvette.

Did you know?

• Chevrolet produced 6,339 Corvettes in 1957 (which was the year “Leave it to Beaver” premiered).

• The 1957 Corvette’s base price was $3,176 — which would take most of a man’s average annual income of $3,700. (Women only earned, on average, about $1,200 in 1957.)

Toedtli bought the car in 1975, then waited almost 30 years before restoring it.

Now his timeless beauty actually has turned up on a calendar. It's featured in the March layout of the 2013 Snap-on Tools publication, which is on the walls of repair centers, shops and garages around the world.

The black 1957 Corvette is a first-generation "C1," representing model years 1953–1962.

Toedtli is the owner of Todd's Auto Body in east Vancouver. (The name of the shop matches how "Toedtli" is pronounced.)

He said he passed up a chance to buy the car the first time around. In the summer of 1975, the car's previous owner asked Toedtli if he was interested in buying it for $750.

"I like the '57, but I wasn't flush," Toedtli recounted. And he didn't have a lot of time, either. He was leaving on vacation the next day, so Toedtli gave it a pass.

When he got back from vacation, his brother was wondering about that car.

"Connie asked me if I'd bought that Corvette yet."

"If you don't, I will," Connie, who died in 2009, told his brother.

So Vern Toedtli bought the car, which was missing its engine and transmission.

"I had no money to restore it, so I put it in storage," Toedtli said. "In 2003 or 2004, I decided that if I was going to do it, it had better be now."

Better than new

Toedtli disassembled it, and shop technician Don Smith smoothed out the Corvette's fiberglass curves with a filler. The body probably looks better today than it did in 1957, Toedtli said.

"I was a car painter when I worked in the shop, so I did the painting, and then I put the body back together," he said.

He got the same type of 270 horsepower V-8 engine and three-speed transmission that came with car in 1957, then bought a reproduction red interior to match the original color scheme.

"I'm not a nut about totally

original, but I lean in that direction," Toedtli said.

Toedtli said that his '57 actually rolled out of the factory in November 1956. Some hard-core restorers would make sure that the replacement engine they put under their hood had a November 1956 date stamp, he said.

"I got what was available."

It sure doesn't make any difference as far as the car's curb appeal, which is considerable. When Toedtli drove his Corvette out of the garage so The Columbian's Steven Lane could photograph it in natural light, a man driving past the house saw the car.

Ralph Simantel stopped and knocked on the door. Doris Toedtli brought the visitor out back to meet her husband, and Simantel explained why he wanted a closer look: He had owned a black 1957 Corvette in the 1970s.

"I bought it for $1,150 and sold it for $1,200," Simantel said.

Some fine distinctions in the paint job meant that this wasn't his old car, but, "I might stumble across it again somewhere," Simantel said.

A local distributor of Snap-on tools urged Toedtli to send in a photograph of the 'Vette for the annual "Snap-shots" calendar.

"We get at least 300 (submissions) a year," said Daniel Golla, program manager at National Premium Inc., which produces the calendar.

"This year, we got them from Australia, Switzerland and Germany" in addition to the U.S. and Canada, Golla said. "Only 36 make it."

This year, 33 automobiles and three motorcycles were selected for "Snap-shots." Toedtli's Corvette shares March with a 1967 Ford Mustang Fastback and a 1969 Pontiac GTO labeled "The Judge."

The classic-car calendar made its debut in 1995 and represented a change in corporate direction. Previous calendars had featured pin-up girls, and that wasn't the image they were going for, Snap-on officials announced in 1994.

Hobby, job do differ

For someone who has worked in a family-owned auto-body shop for almost 50 years, his car-based hobby hasn't resulted in wrench overload, he said.

"I do get away from the job. I'm at a desk now," Toedtli, 74, said. "I don't restore cars in our business, and I wouldn't restore one for someone else."

The 1957 Corvette is not a daily driver. Toedtli has put 1,157 miles on the car since it was restored. "I have no idea what the original mileage was," he added.

Without power steering, the 1957 Corvette doesn't handle as well as more recent cars. However, Toedtli said, "You put up with that for all the waves and high-signs."

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558; http://www.twitter.com/col_history; tom.vogt@columbian.com