Customs & Classics
This started out as a story of buried treasure.
Then it turned into the story of mystery and intrigue.
And buried treasure.
But it's mostly about a man given up for adoption as an infant, who found himself alone late in life when his adopted parents died and his short marriage ended without children, only to be adopted once more and embraced by a whole new family.
First, the buried treasure.
It was a pristine 1967 Corvette coupe, with fewer than 5000 kilometres, which was left buried under a pile of blankets, a US flag and a flag of the Marine Corps.
This sweet Corvette was unrestored and worth a small fortune in the supercharged world of classic car collectors.
It was white with a red stinger stripe and red interior.
Under the hood was a 427-cubic-inch, 390-horsepower engine with a manual, four-speed transmission. It was equipped with a "Positraction" rear end, tinted glass, telescopic steering wheel, AM/FM radio, side exhaust and aluminum wheels. It had no power steering, power brakes or anything to drain juice from the rear tyres.
In other words, it was a four-wheeled, fibreglass rocket.
And from May 1968 until 2011, the Corvette sat parked in a one-car garage behind a modest home on Wolfe Avenue near South 8th Street and West Cheyenne Boulevard.
The reason the rocket stopped flying down area roads was a mystery and part of the larger story of its intriguing owner, Donald J McNamara.
McNamara was 74 when he died in July 2011, and he had no relatives.
But he did have family. And they are the folks who helped unravel McNamara's fascinating life story.
They are also the lucky folks who inherited his estate, including the '67 Corvette that was known to a select few car collectors in town.
But they don't want their identity revealed. They are put off by the national fame achieved by the "McNamara Corvette" as a result of a publicity campaign designed to generate interest and bidders when the car was put on the auction block in a nationally televised event in April.
They want to respect McNamara's memory as a private person and don't want to be viewed as profiting on their friendship with him. And the couple don't want to be targeted by strangers who might learn they enjoyed a windfall from the sale of the Corvette.
That's a shame because it's a great story and they deserve recognition for how they befriended a man with no relatives and welcomed him into their lives, embracing him as if he was their flesh and blood.
The couple helped me piece together McNamara's life story, starting with his birth in September 1936 and his adoption a short time later.
His father was a used car dealer on South 8th Street, not far from the family home. McNamara served a hitch with the Marines in 1956-60 and returned home to become a window glazer. The couple told me he spoke with pride of working on the glass in the Air Force Academy chapel.
The couple said that sometime after getting out of the Marines, McNamara went to Las Vegas and won $5,000 playing the slot machines. He used his winnings to special order a new Corvette, seeking out a Chevrolet dealer in Lamar who gave him the best deal.
According to extensive paperwork related to the car found in McNamara's home, he paid $5,504 for his car, taking delivery May 20, 1967.
This is where the mystery and intrigue come in. For some reason, McNamara stopped driving his Corvette with just 2996 miles (4821 km) on the odometer. He parked it in the little garage behind his family home. And he turned the garage into a Corvette shrine, covering its walls with memorabilia.
In the following years, McNamara married and divorced and never had children. It seems he spent his later years as something of a recluse.
That is, until about 1991 when McNamara was introduced to a car collector who heard of the legendary Corvette from friends in the upholstery business.
"They told me about the Corvette and said he wouldn't let anybody see it," the man, who insisted on anonymity, explained to me. "I said I'd like to meet him and see the car. So they arranged for me to go over to his house.
"We sat in the living room and talked quite a while. Maybe two hours. Finally, I asked if I could take a look at his car. At first, he was very reluctant to let me see it. Finally, he got comfortable with me and he said OK."
The car was hidden beneath at least nine blankets and the two flags, the man said.
"He said the number of people who had seen that car could be counted on one hand," he said.
That meeting began a friendship that would last until McNamara's death. The two men became so close they met every weekday for coffee, sitting at a cafe on south Nevada Avenue from 6-7:30 a.m. chatting about cars.
While the man was very fond of McNamara, he confessed his friend was a bit eccentric.
"He was an odd bird," the man said. "He wouldn't leave the city limits of Colorado Springs for anything.
"And he didn't have many friends because he didn't want to."
He said McNamara would sometimes tease him about the Corvette.
"Don would say: 'I bet you wish you had my Corvette' and things like that," the man said. "I always said I didn't want it. I believe anybody who turns that odometer to 3,000 miles ought to be strung up. So if I'm not going to drive it, what good is it? I wasn't going to put it up on a pedestal in an air-conditioned garage and look at it."
Eventually, he introduced McNamara to his wife, and they formed a close bond.
"Donnie was like my little brother," she said. "He was my husband's best friend and a very dear friend of mine."
How close, I asked.
"Donnie started coming to family birthday parties and Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas dinner," she said. "Our kids and our grandkids were Donnie's, too."
Over the years, she started handling McNamara's personal affairs - bookkeeping and taxes and ferrying him to doctor's appointments and things.
"We used to kid him about being the baby of the family," she said.
Finally, McNamara let the wife see the car.
"I'd known him about 10 years before I got to see it," she said. "I'd heard about this car, and I didn't have any idea if he really had a car."
But he did. Definitely did.
"It was gorgeous," she said.
Her husband was there, too. It was a special day.
"Before Don died, I saw that car twice . the first time 20 years ago and the second time 19 years later," he said.
He said McNamara claimed no one ever rode in the passenger seat of his Corvette, and he was the only person who drove it.
When McNamara died, the couple inherited his estate, including the car.
The man knew the Corvette would be coveted by collectors and contacted an appraiser in Illinois who came out and arranged for it to be shipped to his business in Champaign so it could be displayed and marketed.
The couple sold it to a man in West Virginia who then contracted to auction it off, choosing Mecum Auctions in Houston to handle the deal.
The "McNamara Corvette" was heavily promoted in recent months building on the mystery and intrigue and even creating a legend that McNamara only drove the Corvette to The Broadmoor hotel on moonlit nights.
It all sounded pretty goofy to me. Neighbors reportedly never heard anything, and it would have been impossible to muffle the sound of that rocket roaring to life and pulling out of the garage.
So I asked the couple and they said emphatically that McNamara never drove the car after 1968 for a simple reason: money.
"He lived like a pauper," the man said. "In May 1968, the tags expired. He didn't have the money to renew the tags or his insurance. So he just quit driving it."
His wife agreed, insisting McNamara would never risk getting pulled over by police in a car with no license or insurance.
The car, the extensive paperwork and the legend was powerful enough to drive the price to US$725,000 when it was sold by Mecum Auctions in Houston in April. Everyone, it seemed, was talking about McNamara and his Corvette. When an 8 percent commission was added, the final price came to US$783,000 (NZ$899,000).
And that, the couple said, would not make McNamara happy.
"He would be mortified," the woman said. "Just absolutely mortified. That is not who Donnie was. He was a very private person. We adored him. We have such fond memories of him."
She said he wouldn't want to be remembered for the commotion over the car.
"Don was an interesting fellow and a good friend," she said. "He is missed on a daily basis."