Editor’s Note: A 1967 Corvette once owned by singer Roy Orbison is now part of the collection at Hendrick Motorsports, owned Rick Hendrick of NASCAR fame. For a time, that storied automobile was owned by Robert “Bob” Martin of Great Bend, the former owner of Christmas Fantasy Village. Martin died on April 9. The story of his Corvette was recently reported by The BLOCK.com. An abridged version of that story appears below.
n many of our day-to-day lives, our automobiles are where we get to spend some good, old-fashioned, quality time. So, imagine the tales these cars could tell, if they could talk.
That’s how our recent conversation with the one and only Mr. Rick Hendrick began, talking about one of his recent acquisitions: Music legend Roy Orbison’s 1967 Corvette Roadster.
The car originally exchanged hands from the Orbison estate through Terry Michaelis of Pro-TeamCorvette.com.
This particular Corvette wasn’t your run-of-the-mill production car though. Terry explained, “I bought the car from Barbara Orbison a few years after Roy passed away. It’s only one of two known black and red ‘67 Roadsters Convertibles with the 435 motors produced. But, this one in particular is the only known with its original motor. And it’s probably one of Rick’s crown jewels now.”
But before this Corvette made its way into Mr. Hendrick’s collection it passed through the home of fellow Corvette enthusiasts Bob and Carol Martin. We had the privilege of visiting with Bob and Carol for a bit to learn a bit more about them, their story with the car and their relationship with the car’s new celebrity owner. Bob and Carol’s Corvette was very dear to them, so much so that they’ve referred to it as “their baby.”
Bob’s story isn’t limited to his ownership of a classic Corvette, though. You see, Bob had been fighting various forms of cancer for roughly 13 years. His decision to buy a classic Corvette came about when he was first diagnosed with cancer, circa 2000. Ever resilient, Bob’s story is one about living a life full of vigor, passion and enthusiasm in the face of such an incredibly difficult diagnosis. The BLOCK team was fortunate enough to be able to speak with Bob and his wife Carol just a few weeks ago.
Sadly, Mr. Martin’s battle came to an end in early April of 2013. Survived by his cherished wife and their fond memories together, Bob’s life was celebrated by his friends and family just a few days later. So let’s take a trip down to Great Bend, Kan., to celebrate Bob, Carol and hear their passion for a piece of automotive history.
I had a power-line construction company. I built power-lines all across the United States. In 2000, at the age of 56, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. As I grew my businesses I told my wife, “I’ve always wanted a Corvette, and now I’ve got prostate cancer. I’m going to have to sell my businesses and get out of this, but I’m going to buy a Corvette.” As a kid in high school everybody wanted a Corvette, and I still wanted one to that day. In 2001 I found a 1967 Corvette Roadster on Terry Michaelis’ website. It was advertised as being Roy Orbison’s, who I was a big fan of.
So my wife Carol and I decided to buy the car. We got a great deal on it. We made the 14-hour drive from Great Bend up to Terry Michaelis’ facility in Napoleon, Ohio, and we brought our young grandson along with us. He got to see that 1958 hard top retractable Corvette there, the only one ever made, and we got a picture of our grandson in that car. Then we made the trip over to Niagara Falls. We spent three days there; it was one of the most wonderful times of our lives, getting to enjoy Niagara falls and buying this car together.
In 2003 the car was actually stolen out of our garage. I’d get up early in the morning, fix myself a sandwich and cup of coffee, start my truck and pull out of my driveway. Sometime after I left they managed to open up my wife’s car, open the garage door, and then push the Corvette out of my garage. They drove it 10 miles north on a dirt road and ran it off into a muddy wheat field. A little later the police called Carol and said, “Your husband’s car is in a ditch in Hoisington, Kan.” And she said, “No it’s not, that car is in the garage.” And they told her to go check. She did and sure enough the car was gone. When we found it there was mud all the way up the sides of the doors, it was a complete mess. The car ended up having about $14,000 worth of damage to it, but we sent it back to Terry Michaelis to work on. It took about a year to get it back into shape, but when it was done it was just immaculate.”
Bob just really loved that Corvette. He’d drive down Main street and be so proud of it. Bob scared me with the car though; he liked to drive it more like it was an airplane than a car! Once in a while he’d pass some cops and they would just shake their finger and grin. And all our grandkids used to love to be able to tell their friends that their granddad had a Corvette. ...
The car is just so pretty; I’ve got a picture of it on my cell phone. I show it off to people occasionally because it’s just so pretty, and I’ve seen how it sparkles like a diamond in the Hendrick museum.
What made you comfortable selling Rick “your baby?”
Well, Rick found us and the car through Terry Michaelis. We called Terry when it was time to sell the car since he was the broker the first time around anyways. Really just knowing that Rick had such an interest in Corvettes and that he would take care of it like he did was what eased us. It’s a phenomenal piece of machinery and we just needed somebody to take care of it. ...
I think our relationship with Rick is just great. He’s a wonderful man. Being ill, I can get a little emotional about the whole thing. I cried the day the car left, that’s for sure. It’s a sight to see, a near 70-year old man crying over a car leaving, but I did! But I haven’t regretted selling the car as I know it went to a wonderful owner. When I was in the hospital a few months ago my wife e-mailed Rick. I was having some issues, lost the use of my legs and couldn’t walk. Once Rick found out about that he sent a care basket. It must’ve weighed 50 pounds! Carol couldn’t even carry it into the hospital, she had to go get a cart to wheel it in.
I haven’t met Rick or his wife Linda in person, but that gift basket he sent Bob in hospital… when we saw who it was from Bob cried. He’s been so gracious just to write Bob and send him cards. He’s just such a kind-hearted man. When I write him he always seems to answer.
It’s just phenomenal. You know, Rick Hendrick didn’t really know me and we had already made the deal, he owns the car now. He doesn’t have any outside reason to send us gifts or write us, but he does. And it’s very touching that he does so.
The BLOCK team was truly privileged to be able to spend some time with Bob and Carol Martin. Their courage was to be applauded. Carol did get a chance to read Bob this story twice before he passed, and he was very happy with it. Many thanks to them for sharing their story, and we hope this article honors Bob and his legacy.