Prince Michael could hardly keep his happiness and excitement about winning the ’59 fuel-injected Corvette walled up inside a barn for 44 years after just hearing stories about it from his father.
Like Prince said: “I had to chain saw trees that were 16 inches in diameter.” Once he was inside the barn, he had to tear down wooden walls which were placed there by the owner to keep the ’59 treasure safe.
The story gets even stranger when you find out that that Prince actually knew the owner because of working with him for many years at his uncle’s. “There was a period of time of about three years, from 2004 to 2007, when I saw him almost every work day.”
Both of them had been working for Prince’s uncle. Lots of times he would ask him if he could show it to him or if he wanted to sell it to anyone.
Carrol Johnson, the owner, would’ve never said no, he would’ve just walked away. Growing up, Michael heard stories from his father about the Snowcrest White, fuel-injected/four-speed Vette. Right after buying the Vette, his father “promptly removed the hubcaps and chromed the wheels and added chrome center caps to complement the wide whites.”
“He told me about running the car on Mulholland Dr. I’ve got pictures of the car with drag racing trophies sitting on the hood and the decklid.” The ’59 was a winner at the dragstrip, but wasn’t as dominant when the ’60 Corvette fuelies came out. So, Michael said his father explained how he and his brother simply went to the Chevy dealer and bought the improved ’60 model fuel-injection unit. Suddenly, he was competitive again and back on top.
The ’59 was a piece of family history from long ago and far away that intrigued Michael, who was born in 1967. His father had “a barrage of cars: a ’57 Chevy, a ’58 Chevy, a ’65 GTO. Dad was from a little town called Campobello, which is just north of Spartanburg, S.C. He moved back there, from California, in the early 1960s and took the Vette with him.”
Soon, the ’59 Vette was well known around the area. Harold kept the car pretty much stock. In 1963, Pontiac introduced the Grand Prix and Harold “had to have one.” He traded in his ’59 Vette. One of Harold’s childhood friends, Carroll Johnson, hustled down to the dealership to purchase the ’59 Vette. Johnson replaced the fuel-injection unit with a four-barrel carburetor and painted the Vette blue. He traded the chromed wheels for a set of aluminum mags.
Johnson drove the for a couple of years and one day he even took it to Atlanta where the car suffered from front-end damage. After he came back there were many potentials buyers trying to buy the Vette. So then Johnson moved the car in his parent’s farm and he eventually berried the car to keep the potential buyers away.
Michael Prince told us, “Everybody knew this fellow had bought it from the dealership after my dad had traded it in, and boarded it up inside a barn. It was not unknown, but it was certainly unseen.” When his parents died, Carroll Johnson and his brother moved into the old home place on the farm. His brother died earlier and Carroll died in 2013, leaving 21 cars and all his possessions, including the Vette. He had no family and no will. His cousin liquidated the estate.
The cars and estate attracted a lot of attention. Michael Prince wanted the Vette and teamed up with his brother David and uncle to bid on a lot of 12 vehicles that included the ’59 Vette. Corvette enthusiasts in the area did not know the ’59 was a fuelie. Bidders could “take a peek” at the old Vette through a door in the barn, but they could not actually get into the space to touch the car and really check it out.
Michael father passed away three years erarlier. He wanted to get it back and he asked Carol for getting it back for him. Also Michael would never talk about the car to his dad. It was with high anticipation that Harold’s son, Michael, cut down the trees to clear a path and then tore down the walls to reveal the Vette he’d dreamed of all his life.
It was hard to believe for Michael that his dad has bought the car for him after so many years.
“Neighbors and people who had heard about the car for all their lives came out to see. I think that they were almost as excited as I was to see that the car actually did exist.” Michael was surprised by how much the Vette had degraded, from “the years sitting in a dirt floor barn as the home to squirrels, ’coons, and field mice.” I wondered about the fuel-injection unit. Yes, Michael found the fuel-injection unit in an adjacent room in the same barn, where he also found the tach-drive distributor.
Michael and his uncle Jerry hunted through multiple barns on the 60 acres for the 283, which proves that the original engine was not the car. He couldn’t find the engine until his uncle talked with his old fellow named Cooter who was a close friend with Carroll. Cooter led them to the matching-numbers engine in another barn on the property. The ’59 has both tops, a Wonderbar radio, and came from the factory in St. Louis with the 290-horse fuel-injected 283. “I’m pretty sure it has Positraction, too,” Michael said.
He is planning on a complete restoration, except he just got the car. So we have one more mystery. The next thing that he has in plan is to get the trunk open, and the components which are parts that are supposed to fix the front end are supposedly inside the trunk.