CHARLESTON, W.Va. — An ice-blue 1978 diesel-powered Chevrolet Corvette has made its way home.
“I’m just sort of excited,” said Jean Sanson, of St. Albans. “This car has made a full circle.”
The car had burned in 1981 before her husband, Richard, and their 17-year-old son, Ricky, turned it from a pile of charred wreckage into a rare vehicle. Her husband’s business involves overhauling old cars and selling them.
“They made a show car out of it,” Jean told the Charleston Daily Mail. “They turned it into diesel so it would not be a hot rod car but a family car.”
Father and son did some major work on the sleek car, which stole the limelight at major auto shows in Knoxville, Tenn., and Columbus, Ohio.
They had thought for a good while about converting a Corvette from gasoline to diesel.
Then, in October 1981, a Corvette caught fire as it was being driven on Interstate 77 near Charleston. The front end was ruined and the interior gutted. Sanson paid $2,600 for little more than its frame. It was to be a car for Ricky to drive and show.
They installed a diesel engine and welded stronger body supports onto the frame to handle the bigger engine. The car was rewired. Other changes involved the exhaust system, drive shaft and fuel lines. Only the best parts were used.
In mid-March 1982 the Sansons took the car to a Corvette show in Knoxville that was held in conjunction with the World’s Fair. A dealer offered $18,000 for the car. A similar incident occurred in Columbus.
They were looking forward most of all to an April show that year in Key West, Fla., when Ricky died in an unusual accident. On March 28, 1982, he fell out the door of a pickup and broke his neck, his mother said.
Ricky’s grief-stricken parents kept the car as a memorial to their son.
After Jean’s diagnosis for terminal liver disease in 2009, the Corvette was sold to a man in North Carolina. Each time she walked through the garage, her heart ached a little to see it was no longer there.
Recently, the telephone rang and a woman said the man who purchased the car had died. She was his sister and had inherited the Corvette. She said she could use some money and asked whether the Sansons would be interested in buying it back.
Jean, now 72 and on medication and a special diet for her illness, and Richard, 73, talked it over. She learned he also had missed the car terribly.
Jean called the woman back.
“I said, ‘I want it.’ ”
On April 22, the car was back in St. Albans.
“I’ll drive it every day,” Jean said. “I drove wreckers for 30 years. I enjoy driving. I’ve driven tractor-trailers and big and small wreckers. I didn’t think I’d ever see that car again. It was the most wonderful feeling.”