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Like Father, Like Son

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In searching for his son’s first car, Mike Davidson made a simple promise to his wife: “I won’t buy anything that I can’t touch first,” he remembers with a laugh. 

So, there Davidson stood in March of 2011, an all-night road trip from his home in Arkansas to the Kentucky parking lot where a 1976 Corvette Stingray now sat on his trailer.

Davidson, owner of Parkway Automotive in Little Rock, had given the vehicle a once-over; so had his three then-teenage sons, who all joined him on the trip. Cash in pocket, he pulled his youngest son, 13-year-old John, aside.

“I told him, ‘This is a huge deal, you sure you want to do this?” Davidson says. 

Not many middle-schoolers dream up a multi-year restoration project for their first car—the car they won’t be able to drive for a few years. John was committed, though, Davidson says, and didn’t hesitate. 

They pulled the trigger on the deal, and $5,400 later, the Davidsons made the trek back home, Corvette in tow and ready to launch what would become a two-year-plus project.

“To give your 16-year-old kid a Corvette, people thought I was nuts,” Davidson says. “But when you know your kid like I do, and he has the investment of blood, sweat and tears in it, he’s going to take good care of it.”

It wasn’t John’s first foray into a restoration, as he and his brothers had helped Davidson with his own project, a 1978 Chevy Nova.

“That’s what really made me want to do my own,” says John, who turns 17 in January.

The ‘76 Corvette was chosen based on looks, John says. Davidson liked it because it needed minimal body work (“Not my specialty,” he says).

The goal, both Davidsons say, was a true restoration. They sent off its three-speed automatic TH400 transmission to be rebuilt, but did the rest of the work themselves. The two tore down the car’s original 5.7-liter, 350ci small-block V8 and rebuilt it, cleaning up the steel crank and putting in a double-row timing chain, an aluminum intake and a new factory carburetor.  

“John touched every piece of that engine,” Davidson says.

They restored the interior—recovered the seats, installed new carpet and new pieces for the center console—and rebuilt the suspension to its original specs.

By the time the car was “drivable” this past January (just in time for John’s 16th birthday), Davidson guesses he put a total of $15,000 into the project.

Davidson sold his Nova years ago (“That’s the only time John’s been really mad at me, I think,” he jokes), but John isn’t planning on parting with the Corvette any time soon. He drives it to and from school each day, and is working now to save for an upgraded six-speed transmission. 

“I love it,” he says. “There are problems here or there to tweak, but I love it all the same. It’s just been so much fun.”

“From a dad’s perspective,” Davidson says, “when you see your son be a hard worker and stay so committed to something, it’s just great. He never lost his cool through the whole thing and just continued to work. 

“And the rewards of it—he gets to drive it every day. That’s what I wanted this to be: not just our friendship as a father and son working on it, but a lesson in hard work.” 

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