By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
DELAND - In 1967 and 1968, Larry Skinner was a young soldier in Vietnam. He was there for the Tet Offensive, one of the war's most violent episodes. The 69-year-old knows what got him home - Corvettes. He spent his days in Vietnam picturing getting home and driving one.
Mr. Skinner is a founding member of the Volusia County Corvette Association, whose members' favorite possession will be seen a lot in high school homecoming parades over the next 30 days.
Mr. Skinner spends his days driving Ol' Leaky, a red, 1975 convertible Stingray. The latest of many Corvettes Mr. Skinner has owned since he got home from the Vietnam War at the age of 25.
"It's been a string of them," he said. "I've had several through the years."
The whole Ol' Leaky thing comes with a humorous story about a car show, heavy rain and improper weather sealing. That problem's fixed now, but Ol' Leaky stuck.
The Corvette association started in February, 2009. Chuck Powers, president, was tired of driving to Orlando to meet with other Corvette aficionados at the Central Florida Corvette Association. He struck a deal with Sterling Chevrolet to host a meeting to see if other Vette owners wanted a local club.
"It just seemed like a long way to go," he said. "A couple members of that club helped me out quite a bit getting this one started."
The meeting night hit, and Mr. Powers was in for a surprise.
"We started with 44 members, and now we have 35, 36 paid members," he said.
Mr. Powers drives around in a red, convertible '87 these days. He used to own a brown 1985, but other club members teased him mercilessly about red being the right color for a Corvette.
"I got that car in 2004, when I first came to Florida," he said. "I call it root beer brown. It looked like the old root beer barrels."
Both men relocated from Michigan, home of General Motors, the maker of the legendary car that's captured people's imaginations since it was introduced in 1953. That year only a few hundred Vettes were made. But, the two-seater powerhouses had an innovation that grabbed attention - fiberglass. The body was made of it then, and that remained a hallmark of its decedents since.
"It's the only real sports car made in America," Mr. Powers said. "And it's the only car made of fiberglass, and they haven't waivered from that since they first started in 1953."
The club full of convertibles will be providing rides in homecoming parades for at least four area high schools this year. The club charges $25 a car in each parade. One school requested 17. That money is going into the club's charity fund.
"We support Parker's Pals in DeLand," Mr. Powers said. "We also help the Neighborhood Center in DeLand, and the Family Book Store. They send free books to service members serving overseas."
Additionally, when club members haven't been showing off their rides at area car shows, they got together to rebuild a Jeep Cherokee and gave it to a struggling Ormond Beach family.
Mr. Powers, 69, remembers the moment he decided to buy a Corvette.
"It was 1962. He said. "A buddy I was going to school with, his dad was a big shot at GM, and I got to ride in one. I said, 'I'm going own one before I die.'"
Mr. Skinner wasn't quite as sure when he first got the Corvette bug. He said he just loves cars - all kinds of cars. But he'd decided long ago that he was going to own a C3, or third generation Corvette.
"I particularly like the '75," he said. "A lot of people say the curves and shape is like a woman."
The Corvette Mr. Skinner bought about five years ago was...well, Mr. Powers generously described it as a "basket case." It needed a complete teardown and rebuild, including a paint job. Mr. Skinner did it all himself - his way.
"These guys that do it correctly, every screw has to be just so," he said. "That gets extremely expensive. By the time you're done, it's too expensive to drive. I wanted to drive it."
To find out more about the Volusia County Corvette Association, visit www.volusiacorvette.com.