Mike Yager — Fired Up on ‘Vettes

  • story by David M. Brown
  • posted on 06/2013
  • posted in: Great Garages

The Chevrolet Corvette is 60 this year, and Mike Yager is a couple model years older, but his many ‘Vettes keep him young and always on the move.

“The Chief Cheerleader and Founder” of Mid America Motorworks, Effingham, Ill., fired up his lifelong passion for Corvettes in 1970 when the 20-year-old tool and die maker purchased a 1967 Corvette Roadster.

“I will always remember my first Corvette sighting in May of 1963 when I was in eighth grade,” he recalls. “I was with my older brother, Frank, on our way home from St. Louis, when I spotted that 1962 Corvette going eastbound on the highway. Needless to say, this car has made an impression on me, and I have based my career on it.”

As a 24-year-old, he borrowed $500 in 1974 to begin what is today Mid America Motorworks, the world’s leading supplier of Corvette aftermarket parts and accessories such as seat upholstery, molded carpet sets, floor mats, door panels, shifter consoles, headliners, convertible tops and interior trim. He is also a major vintage Volkswagen supplier.

Today, with wife Laurie and sons Michael and Blake, he combines business, family and their Corvette hobby. They will host their 20th Annual Corvette Funfest Sept. 19–22, the world’s largest Corvette party, on the 160-acre Mid America Motorworks corporate campus in Effingham.

Yager’s collection is housed at the same location in his MY Garage Museum, where auto enthusiasts can view the cars and supporting memorabilia seven days a week.

The collection comprises more than 40 prototype, rare and racing Corvettes including the CERV-4b (Chevrolet Research Vehicle), used as a proof of concept vehicle for the C5 Corvette ; the 1996 “Last C4 Coupe,” signed by nearly all plant employees and assembly line workers in addition to GM dignitaries; the 1969 Elliott Forbes-Robinson #8 Corvette Race Car, one of only five L-88 convertibles equipped with the open-chamber cylinder heads and a “Distance Kit” for racing; the 1964 Styling Corvette built for the Chevrolet’s General Manager, Semon E. ‘Bunkie’ Knudson, in September 1963, with features by Bill Mitchell; and the 1989 Pre-Production Pilot LT-5 Corvette, one of only six pre-production ZR-1 prototype Corvettes in existence, found in a field in England by Yager, who took eight years to restore it.

“Corvette is iconic in the American automotive industry and in the world,” Yager says. “From show-ready trailer queen to beloved daily driver, each Corvette has a story that resonates with someone else. For me, it’s evolved into much more than a car; it was, and remains to this day, a passion, a business and a lifestyle.”

From his garage, Yager chose five featured cars to discuss with us:

1962 Corvette #69 SCCA (1962 Big Tanker Corvette) — “This SCCA National Champion Corvette last ran at the 2002 Monterey Historic Races in August 2002, saluting the Corvette’s 50th Anniversary. Laurie and I purchased it right after the event.

“It’s equipped with an L84, the 327-cubic-inch, 360-horsepower fuel-injected engine, and an M22 4-speed and ‘687’ heavy-duty drum brakes — oversized units that Corvette offered as an option for race vehicles.

The car’s originally fabricated race modifications also remain intact, including roll bar, open exhaust system, suspension, springs, shocks, 24-gallon racing tank and fuel filler and oil cooler.

“Frank Dominianni, a popular and successful sports car racer from the 1950s to the 1970s, purchased this new in 1962 and converted it to a dedicated race machine. He modified the car many times during its 10-year race career from 1962 to 1971 — including the banner 1964 season when he won the SCCA B Production National Championship in it.

“Retired from racing, it was placed in storage after the 1971 season, then it reappeared at several historic races, often with Dominianni at the wheel.”

1964 New York World’s Fair Mitchell Styling Corvette — “Chevrolet was famous for its radical dream cars, like the Mitchell Stingray. In 1964, Chevrolet decided to build a less radical creation for auto shows and the New York World’s Fair.

“This fuel-injected coupe was transferred from the assembly line in St. Louis and modified by the Tech Center as Shop Order #10361. It started as a Red L-84 Fuel Injection Coupe, with the transformation completed as a styling exercise to showcase future Corvette production enhancements.

“Larry Shinoda lent his great talents and added styling cues such as the rear brake vents (purely cosmetic) and the special side inset fiberglass treatments. The car has the famous Mitchell-styling polished stainless toe board grills, one-of-a-kind handmade emblems and an extra-large special cast egg crate grill.

“The ribbed cover of the fuel-injection unit has a special cast cover that extends the top of the unit through the hood, which was filled and modified to the later 1965 cleaner look. The engine compartment was custom finished and heavily coated in chrome trim. To finish, 16 coats of gold-base candy apple red lacquer were applied to match the interior.”

1968 Le Mans Corvette — “A wrecked street car, it was removed from a junk yard and in eight weeks built into the highest placing Corvette at Le Mans of its time. It had a nickname “Ole Scrappy” and was driven by David Heinz and Bob Johnson. This is the car that beat the 911S Porsches, the Ferrari Dino 246GT, Lola T280 Cosworth and both of the Greenwood Corvettes driven by John Greenwood and Dick Smothers.

“Out of a starting field of 55 entries, only 18 finished the grueling 24-hour race. Placing 15th overall and 7th in class GTS, this was only the beginning of a true American grassroots legend.”

1997 C5 Corvette Alpha Build — “Most pre-production vehicles are destroyed during testing or soon after they are no longer needed; there are no Alpha and Beta cars from any earlier generation in existence.

“The Alpha car is a close design of how the C5 Corvette would look, and the Beta perfected the use of hydro-formed frame rails and the all new Gen III power plant. The test Corvettes are camouflaged to help GM Engineers keep them under wraps during testing. The Alpha and Beta have been preserved in as-tested condition, battle scars and all, as a testament to the research process.

CERV I, Chevrolet Engineering Research Vehicle I — “Chevrolet Research Vehicle Number 1” was the darling of the engineering master Zora Arkus-Duntov and was a test bed for the independent suspension geometry that was introduced in the production 1963 Corvettes. In 1960, it was designed by Larry Shinoda, who was also the accredited designer of the 1963 split window coupe.

“It was also an engineering test bed for powertrains, receiving seven engines for testing over its lifetime. The first engine was a stock block cast iron 283, the second a 283 special aluminum block, the third a 327 iron block, the fourth a special 286 aluminum block sporting twin turbos, the fifth went back to a 327 turbocharged, the sixth was an iron 327 with Hobby Horse injection. The seventh, which it has today, is a 377-cubic-inch all-aluminum GS engine, of which only six were ever made.

“The fuel injection is also a one-of-a kind Hilborn type unit. The 377s were specially cast by Alcoa for Chevrolet in 1963 at a staggering cost of $284,000. With this special engine and towards the end of the car’s test life at Chevrolet, CERV 1 rounded the oval test track at Milford, Mich., at more than 204 mph — 10 years prior to anything achieving that speed at Indianapolis.

“CERV 1 was the space age design of its time and Zora the Buck Rogers of Chevrolet.”

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