Part Three: Mike Pillsbury
Mike Pillsbury spent a lot of time scrounging through junkyards for Vette parts. He haunted swap meets like the aforementioned one in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and was at the center of an informal network of used-parts vendors that could get anything from the hood emblem of a ’56 Vette to the taillight of a ’76 Sting Ray…and anything in between. In June, 1980, a friend told him about a junk yard in Irwindale, California, that was being shut down the very next day by the Environmental Protection Agency. If he wanted to salvage any Corvette parts, he’d better get over there pronto. So Mike hustled over to the spot and searched the long aisles of abandoned cars. He stopped at one heap. Halfway up the stack was the rear-end body “clip” of a C1 (i.e., first-generation, pre-1963) Corvette. He couldn’t see much of it, but he noticed something odd; something he couldn’t quite place. Inboard of the taillights, on either side of the trunk lid, were a pair of very small auxiliary taillights. He’d seen those somewhere before, but where?
He hurried home and pulled down magazine after magazine from his extensive collection of Corvette articles, stories and automobilia. In the wee small hours, he found what he was looking for. At Le Mans in 1960, the race officials in charge of “scrutineering” (making sure the cars were compliant with the thick rules book) had decided the taillights of the Cunningham Corvettes weren’t “legal” (perhaps because they were combined brake and running lights) and forced Alfred Momo and his mechanics to install a second pair of tiny taillights inboard of the regular taillights. Mike Pillsbury suddenly recognized the car in the junk yard wasn’t just any old discarded Vette, it was an invaluable piece of racing history!
Mike was at the junk yard at dawn the next day, before the EPA crew showed up with their bulldozer to plow the old cars into a shallow grave. Mike offered the owner of the yard $300 for the clunker, threw what was left of the #2 car into the back of his pickup and drove his prize home, elated.
By the time I finally met with Mike at his home in Buena Park, California, he was well along with the restoration, but the car wasn’t running yet. He had contacted nearly everyone who had ever been involved with the car, both on the Cunningham side (like Bill Frick and the car’s crew-chief at Le Mans, Frank Burrell) and on the Chevrolet side. Zora Duntov signed the car before he died in 1996 and Mike had managed to unearth many original parts, even some one-off parts made especially for the Cunningham team, like the seats, the anti-bug air dam on the front hood, and the stainless-steel mesh grille. I brought the only part I had kept (one of the mag wheel hub spinners), the original bill of sale from Don Allen Chevrolet and a sheaf of track notes in Briggs Cunningham’s own hand. I took some pictures of the car in Mike’s garage, and signed a picture of me in the car at Thompson in 1961 for him.