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August 16. 2012 11:51PM

Bath man finds and restores the Corvair he drove as a teen


Craig Pursley, owner of a Bath art gallery, sits behind the wheel of the recovered and restored 1964 Corvair Monza he drove as a teenager in Nebraska. (BOB HOOKWAY/Union Leader Correspondent)


Father Gene Pursley, older brother, Scott, and Craig with the family Corvair in 1966. (COURTESY)


The Corvair was in pretty sad shape when Craig Pursley got it back in 2004. (COURTESY)

BATH -- Looking at the little red convertible nestled in Craig Pursley's garage at his home in Bath, it would be impossible to guess the story that goes with it.

In 1966, his dad, Gene, brought home a slightly used novelty that would serve as a counterpoint to the family of four's big Buick. When Chevrolet unveiled the Corvair in late 1959 for the 1960 model year, it caused quite a stir, as it did with teenage Craig and his older brother, Scott, in Lexington, Neb.

“I think he may have been having a mid-life crisis,” Craig said Thursday of his father's decision to buy the 1964 Corvair Monza.

“It was a three-speed on the floor. I learned to drive on it. I drove it every day in high school,” he said at the art gallery he runs these days in Bath Village. “The first girl who ever told me she loved me said it in that car, and vice versa. The first time I got stopped by the police was in that car.”

Pursley went away to college, leaving the Corvair behind. He came home from campus one day in 1972 to a grim discovery. His father had sold the red convertible for $125 to a local junk dealer.

“Immediately, my heart fell out,” Pursley said.

As the years passed, Pursley chose a life in art. He worked as a magazine illustrator, and even as an artist for Topps, the baseball card company. His travels brought him across the country to New Hampshire, where he settled with his wife, Julie, in Bath Village.

But through it all, he never forgot the little red Corvair, and decided one day in 2004 to search for a car like it.

Pursley did an Internet search for “'64 Corvair convertible,” and a red one appeared on the screen. As he studied it more closely, the image started to look familiar.

There was a problem with the door, and the mirrors were too big for a Corvair. This correlated to a large dent Pursley said he had left in the passenger-side door of his dad's car as a teenager.

“And the original owner had tried to tow a boat or a trailer with it. He took off the original side mirrors, and put bigger mirrors further forward on the fenders,” Pursley said. “I couldn't really believe it, but the car in the picture had been sold a year and a half earlier at an estate auction in Bladen, Neb.,” he said.

The detective portion of Pursley's tale begins here. He found the auctioneer and tracked down the names of several people whose hands the car had passed through.

“It was kind of the same story with most of them. They bought it intending to fix it up, but no one ever did. What probably saved it is that one owner kept the car garaged for 22 years,” he said.

The search went over several months. Finally, in Johnstown, Neb., he found the woman who had the car. She quickly agreed to sell it to Pursley for what she had paid, $550.

Pursley arranged for the car to be shipped east to the automotive and body shop of Craig Darling in South Ryegate, Vt. A year later, he drove the restored convertible home, where his wife was waiting with a big “welcome home” banner.

Pursley would find in the car a 1923 silver dollar that his father had placed behind the speedometer, and a pair of golf-shoe tassels that he had put in the trunk himself when he was a teenager. The tassels now adorn the car's rear-view mirror.

Though his dad is gone, his mother, Donna, lived to see the Corvair again.

“My dad sold Chevys; he would have loved this story.” When I drove it back home, it was pretty special. I felt like he was with me,” Pursley said.

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Bob Hookway may be reached at bhookway@newstote.com.


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