As a child, Steven Lesser dreamed of having a Corvette to call his own. His father wanted to help him reach that goal and offered him an incentive the year he turned 16. If he made the dean’s list and the football team at Baltimore City College High School, he would buy him any car he wanted.
They ordered a fawn beige Corvette with red interior from Park Circle Chevrolet, and Steven excitedly awaited its arrival.
One morning, he was called to the principal’s office and was told that his father needed to see him immediately. He hopped on a bus and went directly to his father’s office. His father had seen an advertisement in Sports Illustrated that stated that Chevrolet sports cars were the only ones made of fiberglass.
“You haven’t driven one mile and you want a plastic car?” he asked Steven. “No way!”
His father canceled the order.
Instead, Steven ended up with a 1962 Bonneville convertible. The matador red sports car had a tri-power engine and three carburetors. It was fast. Steve loved it.
Five years later, with a job and steady income, Steven traded in the Bonneville and bought his first Corvette. His parents loaned him some money, too, and he ordered a brand new ’68 model.
Today, he’s the proud owner of three Corvettes, and a fourth is on order, due at the end of the year. He’s had 18 different Corvettes in his 67 years.
Steven matches the prototype of the classic-car owner, according to the Historic Vehicle Association (HVA). An economic-impact study commissioned by HVA and released in January 2010 found that there are an estimated 2.75 million historic-vehicle owners in the United States and Canada who own an average of two classic vehicles. Classic is defined as at least 25 years old.
The study also concluded that the average enthusiast is likely to have been involved in the vintage car movement for 10 years or more. Many cite the historic and cultural value of historic vehicles as being very important to the decision to own them, although personal interest and nostalgia are the most common reasons.
Similar to Lesser, Mike Stuck’s passion for classic sports cars started in his youth. He remembers seeing someone in Northwest Baltimore driving a red Jaguar XKE roadster with the top down.
“I just immediately fell in love with that car,” he said. “And when I saw the hard-top version, I fell in love with it even more.”
In March, he and his son, David, went in as partners on a 1970 Jaguar XKE two-door coupe. It is British racing green with a 4.2 liter engine.
“Every time I look at the car, I smile,” said Mike, 65. “It’s a beautiful piece of equipment. It’s like a piece of artwork.”
Mike desired a coupe instead of a roadster, citing its sleek design and long nose that extends from the windshield to front bumper. He also wanted a car that was not a “trailer queen,” which is pretty to look at but is never driven. Instead, he and David chose a “driver,” a car in reasonably good mechanical condition that they could update and enjoy driving.
Mike enjoys pleasure rides on back roads through Worthington Valley toward Hampstead or Westminster.
“I got it for the love of it, pure enjoyment,” he said. “There’s no real functional purpose, just to enjoy it.”
Within the next year, the Stucks plan to repair a few minor leaks and replace the window rubber gaskets that are cracked from age. They plan to be meticulous in caring for the car and expect it will never see a raindrop.
Mike’s love of cars was passed to David, who can’t pinpoint the start of his interest but remembers that his bar mitzvah party theme 11 years ago was cars. He also recalls attending car club shows with his father for more than a decade.
“I never thought I would get a [classic] car,” said David. “It’s always been a dream.”
For Lesser’s 40th birthday, his wife, Eileen, coerced him into taking a Sunday drive in the country. They pulled into a driveway at a horse farm, and he saw a beautiful red ’62 Corvette, which they eventually purchased. He tracked the history — it was purchased from Luby Chevrolet on Monument Street and had the original window sticker.
In honor of his 45th birthday, he bought a ’67 model in Marlboro maroon with a 327-cubic inch, 350-horsepower engine. It’s a hot rod with noisy side pipes.
With the help of the National Corvette Restorer’s Society, Steve returned both cars to their original state with no customization, just like they left the factory. As a result, he’s forced to drive to Glen Burnie to buy racing fuel at $8 a gallon since neither runs on the unleaded gas.
Lesser became a racing enthusiast, and at the Cecil County Dragway, he raced the ’67 and a 2005 model he later bought as part of a fundraiser for the Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital. He has a room full of drag-racing trophies, but today his thrills are more from showing off at weekend shows in Hunt Valley and Marley Station.
His mood dictates which car he takes out, mostly on weekends.
“I feel like a kid reliving my high school days,” he said about driving his vintage cars. “I like to cruise down the highway, listening to oldies from the ’50s and ’60s on the AM radio.”
Lesser loves the thumbs-up he gets as he drives along, but nothing’s more powerful than hearing “hit it” and doing so. Sure, he gets pulled over by the police. But it’s usually because they want to see the car.
Linda Esterson is a local freelance writer.
Full disclosure: David Stuck is a Clipper City Media photographer.