The Phantom 1958 Corvette Retractable Hardtop

In the realm of automotive legends, one particular story has captivated the imagination of Corvette enthusiasts for years. It revolves around a phantom-like 1958 Corvette with a retractable hardtop, whispered about in the collector world like urban folklore. While tales of this unique Corvette prototype spread like wildfire, the truth behind its existence is even more fascinating. This article unveils the captivating story of the Phantom 1958 Corvette Retractable Hardtop, shedding light on its origin, design, and the man behind its creation.

The Origins of the Corvette Retractable

The journey of the Corvette Retractable begins with a passionate car enthusiast named Francis H. Scott. Scott’s dream of owning a Corvette was dampened by his limited financial means, as the base price of the car was beyond his reach. However, Scott’s experience as a General Motors (GM) stylist and sculptor in the GM Styling Section sparked his creative drive. In late 1958, Scott seized an opportunity when he purchased a wrecked and written-off ’58 Corvette from an insurance company for a mere $900.

The Serendipitous Discovery

Initially, Scott’s plan was to repair the damaged Corvette, but a stroke of serendipity changed everything. As he embarked on the restoration process, he stumbled upon a revelation that would define the Phantom Corvette’s identity. With the windshield removed and the rear body area laid open, Scott discovered that the Corvette’s lift-off hardtop could neatly stow in the trunk. It was a eureka moment that set the course for an extraordinary transformation.

Design and Engineering

To bring his vision to life, Scott drew inspiration from the intricate mechanics of the Ford Skyliner retractable hardtop. By adapting latches, lock motors, and drive cables from the Skyliner, Scott engineered a retracting mechanism for his Corvette. The top would smoothly travel back and then down on hinged fiberglass tracks of his own design. Scott’s expertise in fiberglass fabrication, honed through his work in the GM Styling Section, allowed him to create a stunning and functional retractable roof.

Lack of Interest from General Motors

Despite the exceptional craftsmanship and ingenuity evident in Scott’s creation, General Motors displayed little interest in his concept. Scott’s hinged track design even earned him a patent, which he assigned to GM for a nominal fee of one dollar, adhering to corporate policy. However, when the Vice President of Styling, Bill Mitchell, stumbled upon the retractable Corvette in the Tech Center parking lot, he merely circled it once and expressed his surprise before moving on.

Scott’s Use and Trade of the Corvette

Undeterred by the lack of recognition from GM, Scott embraced his Corvette creation and used it as his daily mode of transportation to and from the Tech Center for nearly six years. However, as his life took new turns, Scott eventually found himself in need of a vehicle with more space. Playing in a local band and carrying a bass fiddle in the Corvette proved to be a challenge. Consequently, Scott made the difficult decision to part ways with his beloved creation and traded it for a full-sized Chevrolet.

Disappearance and Restoration

Following Scott’s departure from the Corvette, the car disappeared from public view, occasionally resurfacing to tantalize enthusiasts with fleeting sightings. It underwent a transformation, being repainted at least once from its original black to a striking white-and-red two-tone. The elusive Phantom Corvette remained elusive until 1989 when it was finally purchased by renowned Corvette expert Terry Michaelis. Recognizing its historical significance, Michaelis embarked on a meticulous 1400-hour, frame-off restoration in 1994.

Scotty on Display

After its extensive restoration, the Phantom 1958 Corvette Retractable found its new home in Terry Michaelis’ showroom at Pro Team Corvette Sales in Napoleon, Ohio. Alongside approximately 200 other Corvettes, Scotty, as the retractable became affectionately known, held a place of honor. While the Corvette was technically for sale like the others, it had become much more than a commodity; it had become part of the Pro Team family.

Auction and Current Ownership

In 2005, the Phantom Corvette took center stage at the prestigious Barrett-Jackson auction, attracting attention and curiosity from collectors and enthusiasts alike. Bidding fervently ensued, and the iconic car eventually changed hands for an impressive $340,200. Today, the Phantom 1958 Corvette Retractable resides in the esteemed collection of mega-car dealer, NASCAR team owner, and passionate collector, Rick Hendrick.

Conclusion

The Phantom 1958 Corvette Retractable Hardtop is a testament to the unwavering passion and ingenuity of its creator, Francis H. Scott. From the humble beginnings of a wrecked Corvette in his living room to its transformation into an awe-inspiring piece of automotive history, Scott’s journey is one of perseverance and innovation. As the Phantom Corvette continues to captivate enthusiasts and take pride of place among esteemed collections, it stands as a reminder of the extraordinary feats that can be achieved by those who dare to dream and create.

Note: This article is based on the original story by MCG, which appeared in the May 22, 2000 issue of AutoWeek magazine. The Phantom 1958 Corvette Retractable currently resides in Rick Hendrick’s collection.