I was barely a teenager and had my bedroom walls covered with pictures of and advertisements for various vehicles when I had decided I wanted an actual piece of a car in my room. I can’t remember what the source of my inspiration for this might have been. It might have been the Cord 810/812-shaped couch on the TV sitcom “My Two Dads”, though I can’t say for sure. It was also around this age that my eyes were perpetually glued to my copy of the Encyclopedia Of American Cars by the editors of Consumer Guide almost as much as I’ve been known to be on my smartphone on some days. Reading about yearly styling detail changes, like to header panels and taillamp lenses, had me focused specifically on the front clip of a car.
I had no spatial sense of true scale in terms of how this was going to work out. I didn’t realistically think I was going to be able to put the entire front end of a car in my bedroom on the lower level of my parents’ moderately sized split-level house. My first thought was that I wanted just the front nose cap of a ’73 Pontiac Grand Am to mount on one of my bedroom walls. Even by the late ’80s, this part would have been tough to find, let alone cost-prohibitive to a kid making paperboy money at the time. I was undeterred. With an uncharacteristically relaxed attitude about my idea, my mom basically said “okay”, handed me the Yellow Pages, and let me tie up our singular phone line that Saturday morning by calling various car parts vendors and body repair shops in and around Flint.
I started with some of the junkyards that lined North Dort Highway (Michigan highway M-54), with those businesses basically telling me that they wouldn’t have something like what I was looking for. I mean, I was only a kid and didn’t know what a tall order the first choice on my automotive wish list might have been. I was hoping against hope that there might have been some person who thought of an early G/A as just another old GM Colonnade coupe and had junked it, with no other parts-seekers recognizing the special nature of its pliable Endura front fascia. I didn’t want a front grille assembly of, say, a Cavalier or something. This sculptural installation piece had to be special in some way.
Without giving up hope, I let my fingers do more walking, and I eventually landed on a business called Flint Bumper Mart in the northern suburb of Burton. (I’m so happy to find out they’re still in business, now for over fifty years.) The gentleman who took my call was patient and listened as I explained to him what I was looking for, and the purpose for which I wanted it. Thinking back to this as an adult, I can imagine it must have taken a good listening ear for an adult to extract from an adolescent exactly what the order of business was. I don’t remember many specifics about that conversation, but he did mention that they had in stock the rear bumper cover of a ’79 (or so) Corvette that had some light damage. Corvette?, I was thinking. Let’s go. Now. “MOMMMMMM… I think I found something! Can we go soon before they sell it?”
I’m not sure how soon after I shouted my request across the house that we left, but at some point that afternoon, my mom, my brother, and I were in the family Tempo driving north to Flint Bumper Mart to check out the merchandise. Those kind people at the store were very helpful, and after showing us the rear bumper cover (finished in factory Dark Blue metallic) and pointing out the scratches and minor damage to the bumper cover, I could barely contain my excitement when the salesman quoted me a price of just $25. I have wondered sometimes if they had given me a low price just because I was a kid, or maybe for positive word-of-mouth for their establishment, but I rode away from Flint Bumper Mart that day with one of my most prized purchases of my entire life up to that point.
I fed Christmas tree lightbulbs through the individual holes around the inset taillight-mounting brackets, bought a set of four, domed, red taillamp covers and a “Corvette” license plate for it, and mounted the whole ensemble on my bedroom wall using drywall screws and household tools. When the lights were plugged in, I’d turn off all the other lights in my room and gaze at it, dreaming of one day cruising the streets of Flint at night in my own Corvette. This bumper cover followed me to the walls of my first college dormitory room in Florida. I still own it today, though it’s currently wrapped up and in storage. I just can’t part with it, even if I’m all grown up and have decorated my home in an age-appropriate way for a forty-something. If I had a house with a garage or a basement, I might have found some way to incorporate my Corvette piece into the decor in one of those two areas.
My badge-less bumper cover might actually be from a ’79, the Corvette’s all-time-high sales mark, with about 53,800 sold. This was a high annual figure for a premier sports car by any standard, but especially for one in the twelfth year of its basic design – which makes this number seem all the more mind-blowing. Its $12,313 base price translates to about just over $47,000 in 2022. The base price of a new Corvette coupe starts at around $60,900, but few could argue against that fact that the C8 is of a much more sophisticated ilk than the ’79 C3 was in its day. That’s not the point of this story, though. A Corvette is a Corvette. A little kindness and patience go a long way, and when the owners of one auto parts store in the greater Flint area took the time to do business with some random kid, their acts of goodwill and great service left an indelible mark on me. Flint Bumper Mart granted me the ability to purchase one of my most treasured souvenirs of my formative years spent in the birthplace city of General Motors – and one I may never part with.
Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.
Friday, May 1, 2015.