All American Hero – Dave Baker’s ’71 Steel Cities Gray Corvette

Dave Baker'sThe current state of the new Corvette market is an interesting one. The average age of a C7 buyer is between 58 and 64 years old–depending on who you talk to–and shows no sign of reversing anytime soon. Before any detractors—or ageists—chime in, know that the average age for a new Porsche 911 is  about the same so Corvette doesn’t have the market cornered on “Your Father’s Sports Car.”

No one is more conscious of these demographics than General Motors and Chevrolet. Corvette Online recently spoke with Corvette Program Manager Harlan Charles and he said, “One of the main goals of the C7 program was to attract younger buyers.”

Dave Baker Corvette interior keeper

Come on, let’s go…

Fair enough. The C7 has attracted its fair share of converts, and the new generation Corvette is affordable in base guise, but when the price starts reaching $100K and above, you surrender affordability for killer styling upgrades, cool telematics and supercar performance.

Chevrolet is aware of this and it’s strategy seems to be priming Camaro as an “affordable” ‘Vette rather than to go any further downmarket with the current base model C7.

Modern automobile marketing and demographics is a complicated endeavor with regulations, committees and suits, but there was a less complicated time in the Corvette’s history.

There was a time when life was easier, not to mentioned Corvette ownership.

The car looked good on the man-made peninsula at Embarcadero Park in San Diego, CA.

Take Dave Baker from Escondido, California via Joliet, Illinois. He’s owned six Corvettes, moved across the country to find the California dream and raised three sons all while working as a  quarryman, ironworker and finally, a meat cutter at Von’s supermarkets for the better part of 30 years.

Over the years, many Corvettes have slipped out of Dave’s hands as the winds of change buffeted him as a husband, father and provider.

After a long stretch of being Corvette-free, Dave recently found his current 1971 ‘Vette and although that’s where we first meet up with this dyed-in-the-wool Corvette guy, his backstory is an interesting glimpse at what Corvette demographics used to be.

A C3 usually needs nothing more than Rally wheels and BFG T/A Radials

Our story starts in 1965 when a then 19-year old Baker received a letter from Uncle Sam saying it was time to serve his country. The Viet Nam war was raging and like many other young men at the time, Dave answered the call and joined the Marines.

He had recently bought a 1965 Pontiac GTO but had to sell the car because he wouldn’t be able to make the payments.

Dave Baker Corvette31

Underhood is sanitary clean and mostly original

His military tour was relatively short and he returned home in December of 1967. By May of ’68, he and his sweetheart Karen were married.

The late sixties was when the Corvette bug hit him hard. For the next 22 years, Dave lived the dream by owning six Corvettes, never holding on to any of them long enough to get tired of them. Sound familiar car fans?

The fever hit when Dave took a ride in his sergeant’s 1962 Vette before he went overseas and by summer of 1968, he was an the owner of a red 1962 C1. Dave and Karen welcomed their first son Scott in 1969 and it wasn’t long before the call of family superseded the Corvette and it was sold for a mere $1000 in order to put down $2000 down on a $22,000 house. Those were the days, huh?

With a roof over his family’s head, the fever slowly returned and Dave factory ordered a 1971 Coupe in Steel Cities Gray in the spring of that year. No mega-motors or rare options, just a nice little ‘Vette with a 350 V8 and a 4-speed manual.

Dave recalls that the MSRP for the car was around $4500 back then. In today’s dollars, that’s around $27k, a far cry from the $55K needed to buy a base car today.

Is there a more beautiful front end on any car ever made? Seriously.

Dave and his wife Karen were young, with their first child, and both remember these days fondly. Dave says “ It was a simpler time. We would drop off our son with the grandparents and cruise around in the ‘Vette, have date nights and go to local softball tournaments.”

Dave barely had the car a year when the winds of change began to blow again.

Dave and Karen got news of a second son on the way and suddenly, an expensive Corvette again became superfluous. It was sold shortly after the news of the storks return.

In 1975, Dave spotted a red, 1963 Fuelie coupe in restaurant parking lot in Aurora, IL with a “For Sale” sign on it. The 12 year old ‘Vette was essentially a used car then and the values were hardly stratospheric, so ‘Vette number three was added to the Baker household.

By early 1978, Dave looked outside at the huge snow drifts accumulating around his house in the suburbs of Chicago and a voice whispered in his ear, “Go west…”

By June of the same year the Baker’s had packed up their house and relocated to San Marcos, CA leaving the harsh Midwest climate behind.

Dave Baker Corvette14

Restoration was mostly complete when Dave bought car, but his massaging of details really paid off.

Sadly, the ’63 didn’t make the trip as Dave sold the car for around $10k. From the way Dave tells it, there’s a little melancholy looking back,  “I wish I would have kept that car, I had no idea what the market would go to on these cars.” Hindsight’s usually 20/20.

Once settled on the west coast and the ’63 long gone, Corvette withdrawals began. The “fix” was a new, red on tan, 1978 Coupe with the new fastback and redesigned interior.  (A note from your Editor – The ’78 was a big deal when it debuted, and as a fellow Shark junkie, I can attest to being pulled into it’s vortex.) According to Dave, Karen was a big fan of their red, Silver Anniversary model.

Dave Baker Corvette45

Steel Cities Gray up against So-Cal Cities Chrome

By 1980, Jimmy Carter’s reign was ending, but 18% interest rates had lingered and a tumultuous stock market short-changed Dave and Karen, sending another Vette packing.

The next plastic Chevy that saw Dave’s stewardship was a Mosport Green Coupe with side pipes and knocks-offs. Dave said it was “perfect” and he showed it at concours shows and really had fun with the car. A 300, 327ci V8 car, by 1986, it went on to a new owner.

In 1988, Dave was wandering through a vast Pomona swap meet and met his sixth Corvette.  A red 1973 Coupe with a black interior and a 4-speed.  He remembers it as a “really nice car” but again, in two years or so, the car was off to its next keeper.

From there, Dave swore off Corvettes. He says, “I didnt want to see one, didn’t want to go to any car shows, no talking Corvettes, nothing..” He had reached the saturation point. From 1990 to 2013, Dave was ‘Vette-free.

Then, in around 2013, Karen was poking around on the internet and saw a Steel Cities Gray 1971 Coupe–similar to the one Dave bought new years ago–consigned at a dealer not far from the National Corvette Museum in Kentucky. Ironically, just as Dave as gone through multiple cars, this Corvette  passed through 3 owners before Dave acquired it in 2013.

The car sported matching numbers, 100k miles and is running a 350 V8 with 270hp and a three-speed Turbo-Hydramatic. It’s a high option car as well with PS, PB, PW, tilt wheel, and air conditioning.

Dave Baker Corvette7

The face that’s started a million automotive love affairs

Dave and his son Scott flew out to see the car and although mostly in its current condition, the car has sat for awhile, “was tired,” according to Dave, and needed some freshening up. Dave bought the car and had it shipped to California and slowly began getting the car back in shape.

From there, Dave set out to freshen the car up and hit some car shows. The engine compartment was treated to a thorough detail by Brad Jenkinson of Jenkinson’s Concours and Customs and Ted Barnes at About Service in Escondido, CA got the car running like a top. Lastly, Dave spent many hours cleaning the car and tying up loose ends.

He kept the LT1 hood–for no other reason than he liked it–and while a few items like the air cleaner and other sundry items aren’t stock, the bulk of the car has been returned to the way it was when it left St. Louis.

From there, Dave and Karen have shown the car multiple events culminating in Best Of Show at the 2016 Plastic Fantastic in San Diego.

We knew it was a special car when we saw it cruise in. Corvettes look good in almost any color, but the Steel Cities Gray hue is especially beautiful on a C3. The Mako Shark ‘Vette looks good in earthy, metal colors like gold, silver and charcoal. The curvy flanks of Bill Mitchell’s masterpiece really pop in these tones and Dave’s car looked especially voluptuous as it rolled on the grass.

Dave Baker Corvette42

Those hips…

Now retired, Dave and Karen spend their spare time with family and the ‘Vette at car shows around Southern California, but it’s the early morning cruises up to Fallbrook just north of San Diego where Dave bonds with his ‘Vette, man and machine.

Early in the morning, the sun is down low in the sky, the air is cool and traffic sparse. We can picture Dave steering the ‘Vette down the highway with hand firmly on the wheel.

This time, we don’t think this Steel Cities Gray Corvette is getting away anytime soon.

Dave Baker Corvette52

Dave (Left) and Chris (Right) Baker with the ‘Vette by San Diego Harbor

About the author

Dave Cruikshank

Dave Cruikshank is a lifelong car enthusiast and the Editor of Rod Authority. A zealous car geek since birth, he digs lead sleds, curvy fiberglass, kustoms and street rods.
Read My Articles

Corvette's in your inbox.

Build your own custom newsletter with the content you love from Corvette Online, directly to your inbox, absolutely FREE!

Free WordPress Themes