Keith Kolerus — Band of Banners

  • story by David M. Brown
  • posted on 04/2010
  • posted in: Great Garages

Keith Kolerus loves cars — Corvettes, in particular.

This started as a child and has just grown. “The first car that I drove was a hand-me-down 1958 Chevy,” recalls the Chicago native. In college — engineering at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn. — he drove a street rod, a 1939 La Salle opera coupe with 12 coats of midnight blue lacquer, a bored and stroked ’59 Caddy motor, Mickey Thompson Hydro Stick and other fun items. He also has an MBA from Loyola University in Chicago.

After graduating from college in 1968, he worked at Motorola Automotive Products Division and, as soon as the paychecks came in, he bought a new 1968 Impala coupe. A few weeks later, the mother of a classmate who had died in Vietnam called to say that his red 1965 Corvette convertible was for sale. Because Keith had a new car, he declined.

“For the next couple of weeks, as I drove to work everyday, I imagined myself driving that red Corvette instead of the big Impala,” he recalls. “I couldn’t stand it, so I called back to say that I was indeed interested in buying the Corvette — only to find that it was already sold. I was hooked, so went out and ordered a new 1969 Corvette convertible.”

Two years later, he bought a 1971 Corvette roadster and two years later another new Corvette, with the big-block 454 motor. It’s been nonstop since then for Keith.

While in California, he and a partner began building project cars; they drove, tweaked and modded, and then sold them. This led him to having a regular collection.

He and his wife — 40 years this summer — bought a lot in Estancia in 2000 and began designing a new house, including a bigger garage and some shop space. It took two years to design and permit and then two years to build. They moved in at the end of 2004.

Keith’s is a two-level configuration: the top for daily drivers, the lower, through a gateway portico, for the toys. “I wanted a space that would store and display 10 or 12 cars, and some of the automobilia I had collected over the years. It had to have a lift, and some work areas.”

His display of car emblems sets it apart: A five-inch band of car-related emblems circles much of the garage like a chair rail — more than 500 of them.

These two cars aren’t necessarily the most valuable, but they have the stories, Keith says:

•1974 Corvette Convertible — “This is the last year of the big block and next-to-last year for convertibles — not a great year but a rare car. Our first child was born in 1974, and my wife was going to be a stay-at-home mom. I had the ‘73 Corvette, but it was a 4-speed manual transmission and she couldn’t drive a stick shift.

“One day I went to work, and left the Corvette parked behind her car. She was frustrated at not being able to get out. The owner of a dealership where I had service done was driving a ‘74 big-block roadster virtually the same as my ‘73 except that it had an automatic transmission.

“For Mother’s Day 1975, I traded for the ‘74. I had owned convertibles for some time, and felt that I wanted to always have one around. By the time I got the ‘74, the big block was discontinued and they were no longer going to make convertible Corvettes. I didn’t like the car as well as the 4-speed cars that I had, so didn’t drive it very much.

“I bought a 1976 Eldorado convertible, and used that as my daily driver for a few years. The Corvettes of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s were uninspiring, so I just kept the ‘74; at least it was a big-block convertible. I didn’t buy another new Corvette until the new generation in 1984. When I bought the ‘84, they still weren’t making a convertible, so again I kept the ‘74. I later bought a 1987 convertible, but by then old big block was kind of a fixture so we kept it to this day, and will probably always have it around.

“It now has about 43,000 miles on it, and, of course, I know the history of the car. I repainted the car once in the late ‘80s because I liked black better than the original silver. I am now in process of some restoration of the car. The mechanical work is done, so it will soon be returned to the original silver.”

•1966 Mustang GT — “My wife’s first car was a 1965 Mustang. Her dad bought it for her while she was in college. When we were married, he bought her a new car, so the Mustang was passed down to her younger sister. A couple of years later, her sister traded the car on a new Cutlass, but her dad loved that Mustang and whined about it for years.

“When my oldest daughter was 14, she announced that when she was ready to drive, she wanted a Mustang convertible. I said OK, but we would restore an old one instead of buying a new one. This was late ‘80s, and I didn’t like the new ones as well as the old ones.

“We completely redid a ‘71 Mustang convertible in our garage, and with her very much involved. My father-in-law loved it, but he still complained about the ‘65 being gone. I told him that we could build him one as well. He was retired in Florida at the time, but loved the idea.

“I bought this ‘66 GT from the original owner who had worked at the Ford factory in San Jose and personally escorted the car down the line. My father-in-law loved this car, and used it as his second car until he died. When Ford was introducing the new Mustang in 1994, the launch was at the old Ford mansion in Ft. Myers, Fla. He drove his prize ‘66 to the event. As he arrived, they directed him to a special parking area because of how nice his car was.

“When he went back to his car to leave, he found a trophy on the car. He didn’t realize that they had directed him to a judging area for the show of vintage Mustangs. As my daughters grew up, we frequently visited Florida, and their grandfather let them use the Mustang for their trips to the beach.

“My youngest daughter always said that she wanted that car someday, and that I could never let it be sold. When my father-in-law passed away, I had the car shipped back to us. My daughter’s husband is into cars, so he wanted to help give her the Mustang for her 30th birthday. It is now close to being ready to ship to them.”

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