Lupe Keller with her new Corvair at Niagara Falls two days after picking it up in Detroit

Lupe Keller with her new Corvair at Niagara Falls two days after picking it up in Detroit

By C.J. Ward

How many times during a relationship with someone, in this case my wife, do you get to piss them off and kind of enjoy it? I can only say that now because at the time, I knew when Beth found out what I was up to, she would love me even more for it, hopefully.


My deception started in July 2023 when I secretly purchased a 1961 Chevrolet Corvair Monza Coupe that belonged to her grandparents. They bought it new in ‘61 and even flew from Los Angeles to Detroit to pick it up, then toured the country in the car as they drove back to L.A. My wife’s grandmother, Lupe, drove the car more than anyone else until she parked it for good in 1970. It sat in a warehouse for almost 53 years with 102,664 on the odometer until my clandestine purchase.


My original plan was to get it running and surprise Beth for our 28th wedding anniversary in October, but the car needed much more work than I anticipated. So, I decided to surprise her with the car on Christmas morning instead. 


Ed Rogoff and the good folks at Neighborhood Car Care in Ventura, California helped get the car sorted. They replaced the dash pad, the carpet, the padding and vinyl on the seats. They got the 98-hp motor running like a champ by rebuilding the dual carbs, replacing the belts, hoses, gas lines and upgrading to electronic ignition. They replaced the gas tank, the brakes, the shocks, suspension bushings and the tires. I ordered all of the components needed for the restoration through Clark’s Corvair Parts and I handled the body, trim and other miscellaneous tinkering to get the car dialed in and looking good.


However, doing all of that and keeping it a secret is not easy. Beth and I live in Santa Barbara, a 30 minute drive north on the 101 Freeway from Ventura. For six months, I had to come up with excuses, stories, fibs and sometimes all out lies to pull it off without her getting suspicious. And trust me, she’s suspicious about everything so that added a layer of complexity to my secret mission that even British Intelligence would find challenging. There were times I had to drive down to Ventura three or four times in one week to either deliver parts or work on the car and not get caught.


I probably placed 10 separate orders from Clark’s over those many months and all of the parts had to be delivered to our house. I knew Beth would see the boxes and start asking questions. Luckily, my daughter’s boyfriend is restoring a 1965 Corvair Turbo Convertible. So, anytime a box arrived from Clark’s I just told Beth it was for Jake’s ‘65. That worked for a while, until one day, all of the new padding and interior arrived. I wanted to see how good it looked and Beth wasn’t home. So, I went out to the garage, opened the boxes and spread everything out to get a good look at it. All of a sudden I hear, “What’s all of that?” and I look up to see her standing in the door with a confused look on her face. Surprised, I blurted out, “Oh, this is Jake’s new interior.” “But Jake told me he was going to keep the interior black. Anyway, that color (Fawn) isn’t really going to look that good with the blue paint is it?” she replied.  “Sure, it’s going to look awesome!,” I said with a tinge of uncertainty in my voice. Beth just shrugged and walked back in the house. I knew that was a close call, but I think I handled the intense grilling like a pro.


At one point, I knew Beth would go to the warehouse where the Corvair had been stored on a car lift for as long as she could remember and she would notice that the car was gone. That would have been more difficult to explain away. So, I had to come up with a game plan and fast. Here’s what I came up with, I approached one of her co-workers, explained my dilemma and asked if he would help in the big lie. He agreed to go along with it. 


One day at work, he casually mentioned to Beth that he had an interest in buying the 1961 Corvair from her grandfather’s trust. Beth’s grandfather, Richard Keller, died in 2021 at the age of 104 and many of his cars and trucks were being sold. Again, Beth didn’t know that I had already bought the ‘61 Corvair and every time I suggested to her that we should buy it, she wouldn’t give me a straight answer but I knew deep down she wanted to keep the car in the family. 

That night, Beth said to me, “Guess who wants to buy the old Corvair?” “Who?” I asked. “Scott asked me about it today, but I think it should stay in the family,” she said. That was my opportunity. I suggested to her that we should take the car to a shop and see if they can at least get the motor to turn over, that way, if we do decide to sell it (wink, wink) we can ask for more money because we’ll know the motor isn’t seized up. Beth agreed that was a good idea and I told her I would find a mechanic and have the car towed to a shop nearby (wink, wink) even though it was already at Ed’s place being worked on. When Beth showed up at the warehouse and saw the Corvair was gone, she didn’t think twice about it. I dodged another bullet.


Some of the parts I sourced for the car I had to clean and restore myself in the backyard with Beth watching. At one point she said, “I know Jake will appreciate how much work you’re putting into his car.”


One day I had to drive 90 minutes north to Arroyo Grande to pick up a used air cleaner assembly for the car. I can’t even remember what story I came up with for that trip. As my trips to Ventura were getting more frequent, Beth made an interesting comment to me, “I notice you’re spending a lot of Tuesday’s down south.” Translation: Who is she? I know you’re having some sort of torrid affair!


As I got closer to Zero Hour (Christmas morning), I had to spend more time in Ventura to get everything done and there was still a lot to do. We both had the Friday before Christmas off from work. Beth assumed we would use the day to do last minute shopping, but I told her I had to meet with some car guys in Ventura and I would be down there all day. Now, most guys know when their wife is pissed at them even when she tries to hide it. I knew I was in deep trouble, but I couldn’t worry about that with only days before the big reveal.


Everybody in the family, our friends, co-workers, everyone knew what I was up to. I know this will sound weird, but if Beth thought I was having an affair with another woman, that was okay as long as the surprise worked. And it did! Our two daughters and Jake came up with a perfect plan and we pulled it off. Beth was blown away when she looked out the window and saw the Corvair drive up to the house packed with Christmas presents. She got emotional and I got a big kiss. I guess I was forgiven.


One family member who had made comments over the six months like, “Beth is going to think you’re having an affair” later asked me, “Now that the car is done, now what? You’re going to have so much time on your hands.”  I replied, “Well, I guess I’ll have another affair!”

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1 comment

  • You Rascal! Your story reminds me of one of mine, just different! The year was 1967, I just graduated from Riverside City College. My buddy had a 1963 Corsair Corsa Convertible with the 150 Turbo Charged engine. It was a perfect Summer day and away we went with a 6 pack of Coors. I was driving, and drinking! With each can, the foot got heavier. Going down a local street at 80 mph, red lights came on! Fast thinking was necessary to stay out of the “clink”. The Corsair has its buckets close together. Squizing the 6 pack between the seats was adequate cover to hide our contraband. The officer checked my ID as well as car registration and sent us on our way! For the next 10 miles, I was a respectful “obiding” citizen. Then came the next can!

    Dana Newquist on

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