Ignoring naysayers, Corvette lover painstakingly restores 1959 car
Jill Jahn loves Corvettes, especially those early ones from the 1950s. So, when she saw one at a Kemah car collectors’ meetup, she knew she had to have it, she said.
“The car wasn’t in too bad condition,” Jahn said. “It needed a lot of fiberglass work to rework the areas where the previous owner had punched the front nose to make it look like a race car.”
Oh, the car also didn’t have an engine or transmission, Jahn said.
Thus began an eight-year adventure for this Dickinson resident who carefully restored or replaced virtually every inch of this 1959 Corvette with a Crown Sapphire Blue body, highlighted with Snowcrest White coves and turquoise interior. The complicated paint job perfectly matches the original factory colors on the vehicle.
It was a rare find. Out of 9,670 Corvettes manufactured in 1959, only 888 were painted with that color scheme, Jahn said. What makes this car exceptional is it has the factory power top unit option. Only 186 were manufactured in 1959 with that option, she said.
“There were very few made with these two combinations, causing it to be a low-production car,” she said.
She named her car Elizabeth Maybelline, giving a nod to popular 1950s names — Elizabeth Taylor, Queen Elizabeth — and the color was Crown Sapphire. And her mother liked the named Maybelline. Her friends all gave her a hard time, warning her the car wouldn’t be a good project. She wouldn’t hear it. She sought help from experienced restorers, who encouraged and provided feedback and advice.
“I saw the car and knew there was hope,” said Gary Summerville, who has been driving and restoring Corvettes for 50 years. “I look at the whole car and the big picture.
“These cars aren’t easy; all have their own personality and issues. But I think Jill did a great job on this. It is a nice restoration.”
It was a tedious job. The body was taken off the frame so extensive repairs could be done. Elements had to be repaired, replaced or reproduced and holes or modifications needed serious welding to return the car back to its original condition. All the work was done to specific National Corvette Restorers Society standards: the paint, the interiors, the dashboard, the engine, the mufflers, the bumpers — everything.
Jahn and her husband, J, spend many hours a week with their hobby of restoring vehicles, but this was her project. Before the Corvette, she completed a restoration of a 1976 Jeep CJ-5, which took her nine months of weekends to complete. The idea was to fix it up, sell it and then move on to her next venture. But she couldn’t part with the Jeep, so it’s parked on their property along with several other vehicles waiting to be rebuilt.
Getting parts for the Corvette wasn’t particularly difficult, she said. Between some known suppliers, eBay and members of the Corvette and restorer websites, she could order most of what she needed. But Corvette parts cost three times what regular car parts cost, she said. Still, Jahn was determined. On weekends, when she was off from her job as safety program manager at an industrial cleaning company in LaPorte, she spent all of her time researching and restoring, she said.
The most difficult challenge was the body, she said. The fiberglass was in bad shape and painted burnt orange by a previous owner. It had to be stripped down, soda-blasted, sanded and prepped just right before she could begin applying the paint. It took another two years to get all the wet sanding and buffing down to perfection, and then seal it with the lacquer paint.
The original odometer had 53,000 miles on it; the new one has .10 mile. She hasn’t driven it except to road test it once and then to load it on a trailer for a Galveston car show in March and later to the Keels & Wheels competition in May at the Lakewood Yacht Club, where Jahn took home the Best in Class award for her car.
The journey with Elizabeth Maybelline has been interesting and expensive. But if — and that’s a big if — she were to sell the car, she could make a sizable profit.
For now, the car lives in her garage until the next outing.
“If I kept it anywhere else, I would have to sleep with the car,” she said.
And, although the sporty car, with its 270-horsepower engine, has the power to go fast, Jahn hasn’t taken the vehicle out past 40 mph, she said.
“I’m still working out the bugs and want to make sure all is good before I go any faster,” she said. “I don’t think I’ll ever ‘drive it like I stole it’ because of all the hard work I’ve put into her. She’s definitely a trailer queen.”
Her plans are to enjoy the car and share its story with everyone, she said.
“I just really love the whole car,” she said. “I’ve had my trials and tribulations with it during the restoration process, but I don’t regret one thing about it.”