It seems that every car enthusiast above a certain age has a story about “the one that got away.” Priorities change as we mature: familial responsibilities, financial obligations, and the pressure to be practical often take precedence over owning a sexy sports car.
Our loss becomes someone else’s gain. Like a long-lost lover, it is human nature to wonder from time to time what might have been.
Robert Beder’s passion for Corvettes started early. He can still recall in vivid detail the first time he saw one in the flesh – or perhaps fibreglass? He’d drooled over pictures in all the car magazines, but seeing that 1954 model in Polo White through the window of his Grade 10 history class only deepened an obsession that remains to this day.
No doubt many teenage boys fantasized about the nefarious things one could do to finance one of their own. Beder had earned some money from part-time jobs, but certainly not enough to purchase a sports car by himself. He managed to make it a reality by orchestrating a brilliant arrangement. In 1959, he proposed that his mother sell her 1955 Pontiac and split the cost of a pre-owned 1957 Corvette with him. Miraculously, she agreed and the two shared the convertible.
“My mother was a very special woman,” he says. “She was my mother but also my friend. She was very hip.”
He couldn’t believe his luck and could hardly concentrate on his studies. Attending his first year of the Commerce and Finance program at the University of Toronto was very serious work. His reward at the end of a long day of lectures and studying would be a 15-minute cruise.
He kept the ’57 for several years. It would be the first of many Corvettes, including a brief stint with a 1958, and then a 1960 model. Beder became a founding member of the Corvette Club of Ontario in 1962; this chapter happens to be the country’s first and longest standing.
Another first came when the second-generation Corvette was unveiled. Having graduated university and then articling as a chartered accounting student, he ordered his first new car, a 1964 Riverside Red 327 Corvette roadster with black leather seats – a $90 option!
The car became an integral part of his life for the next five years. Beder drove it to cruises, rallies, and gymkhanas. Like the road of life, there were plenty of memories made through both good and bad weather: beautiful, sunny days with the top down, but also rain, sleet, and even snow. Prior to the concept of the “winter beater” we know today, Robert installed carbide-studded snow tires when he moved to Montreal at the beginning of his career. He even installed a trunk-mounted ski rack for vacations to Vermont and the Laurentians. The car accompanied him and his wife Sharron on their honeymoon, transporting the newlyweds down to Boston, Cape Cod, and Martha’s Vineyard. It was practically part of the family.
Beder opted to sell the car in 1969, a decision he would come to regret. He’s subsequently owned as many as 15 other models over the years, but he always felt a special bond with that ’64. It wasn’t a trailer queen or a show car, but it was his. He often wondered and speculated about its fate.
Beder’s primary focus for the next 30 years would be his career and the raising of their three children, which he refers to as his greatest accomplishments. Fast forward to 1999. He had recently ordered a new fifth-generation 2000 Corvette coupe and was awaiting delivery. It was a nice summer day and he was returning to the family cottage from a trip into town when a glimmer caught his attention out of the corner of his eye. There, in his neighbours’ driveway sat a gleaming, bright red mid-60’s Corvette convertible. Still a member of the Corvette Club and naturally drawn to the car, he felt compelled to knock on the door and introduce himself to the new neighbours.
Walking out to the car the gentleman asked, “What did you say your name was again?” as they exchanged pleasantries, “Robert Beder? I’ve searched the title and have the car’s history inside the house. This used to be your car.”
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Sure enough, the neighbour returned minutes later with said documentation along with the original owner’s manual with his name legibly printed on the front page. To say Beder was stunned by discovering that this was, in fact, his first new car, the one he missed the most, would be an understatement.
“Not only was I speechless, but tears welled up inside me as I was overcome with emotion,” he admits.
After 17 years of stewardship, the owner conceded that he would be open to a reasonable offer since he hadn’t been driving it much. In fact, it wasn’t even plated; he had just pulled it out of the garage to give it a wash, otherwise Beder wouldn’t have come across the car at all that day. He marvelled at the coincidence of it all, but the timing wasn’t ideal. Among his concerns was the fact that he had just ordered the new C5 coupe.
Most people I know would have a tough time trying to convince their better half that buying a second Corvette would be a worthy and sensible expenditure. While he continued to hum and haw, Beder’s lovely wife Sharron did something wild: she ended the procrastination by buying the car back for him as a gift on his 60th birthday. There’s an old saying that goes something along the lines of, “If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it’s yours. If not, it wasn’t meant to be.” Well clearly, this was meant to be.
The car has since been refurbished. It has been displayed at an international auto show and appeared in several films. Now 81 and retired, Beder is enjoying his retirement by spending time with his nine grandchildren, gardening, golfing, and regularly going out for runs as a former marathon runner. He considers himself very fortunate for the life he has lived. He’s had a successful career, significant involvement with numerous non-profit organizations, and, most importantly, a very close and happy family.
Walking around the car on a sunny summer day, Beder points out the minute, subtle imperfections that only he would be able to notice. A repaired fender bender here and a scuff there. Every blemish is a piece of their shared history. Explaining that the second owner had unfortunately replaced the original engine with a less-powerful crate motor, he laments that it is no longer a “numbers matching car.”
While that fact would lower its value for a potential collector, that doesn’t diminish its worth in his eyes. He admits, “It’s undoubtedly worth more to me than it would be to anyone else.”
Over the course of an hour, as we stood by the car talking, numerous pedestrians and even motorists stopped to admire and compliment the Corvette, as well as ask a slew of questions about it. Suggesting that he must have explained the car’s interesting lineage a thousand times, he smiled and said, “I’ll tell anybody that cares to listen.”
Beder doesn’t drive the Corvette too far or too often these days. He doesn’t have to. Merely washing the car or seeing it reside majestically in his garage safe and sound immediately transports him back to when he was a young man full of dreams, aspirations, and hope for what the future may hold. While it may just be fibreglass and steel to some, to him, it means so much more.
Promising that he won’t be making the same mistake twice, he plans to pass the Corvette along to his children at which point, a new chapter will begin. Everyone has a tale about the one that got away, but Robert Beder is fortunate that his story has a happy ending.