KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL (Florida Today) -- The Marina Blue paint is flaking with age. Grime covers hoses surrounding the 427-cubic-inch engine. And the driver's cockpit remains like it was when the first man on the moon motored across Cape Kennedy decades ago at high speed.
Neil Armstrong's newly "preserved" 1967 Corvette Sting Ray made its public debut Wednesday at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, attracting spectators, a documentary film crew and a contingent of fans from the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Ky.
"It's amazing to have this car unrestored and see it as-is. It's a piece of art right now," said Karen Renfrow, the museum's event director.
Merritt Island resident Joe Crosby, a retired Brevard County Sheriff's Office commander, owns the one-of-a-kind coupe. He bought the car from an undisclosed person in Georgia in February 2012 and initially listed the vehicle on eBay — where it garnered offers topping $250,000.
Crosby changed his mind and kept the car. Rather than mechanically restore the Sting Ray part-by-part, as is typically done with collectible vehicles, he worked with a team of Corvette buffs from the Space Coast and Daytona Beach to keep the vehicle in original condition, as if Armstrong was still driving it today.
"My intent was to restore it. And the museum said, 'Please don't do that.' I went the preservation route and only did what I had to do to put the car back drivable," Crosby said, watching a tourist photograph his Corvette.
"The few parts that I had to replace or repair, I just spent months and months and months finding Chevrolet stuff — which they quit making 30 years ago," he said.
The Georgia owner had stored the Corvette in a climate-controlled garage since September 1981, Crosby said. The odometer shows 38,148 miles, but the cable broke many years ago.
Crosby said that when he removed the seats to vacuum the carpet, he found about $1.50 in loose change and a Kmart receipt from Houston, home of NASA's Johnson Space Center.
Crosby would not reveal how much he paid for the Corvette. He said recent renovations cost about $10,000, including $3,000 for two fiberglass rear fenders from a North Dakota man and $1,000 for brake equipment. He also replaced the fuel pump, rebuilt the carburetor and acquired a quart of Marina Blue paint that was custom-mixed in Atlanta.
Armstrong died in August 2012 at age 82. His Corvette was parked in the sunshine Wednesday in the outdoor Rocket Garden, flanked by a towering 109-foot Gemini-Titan II rocket and a hulking 18,500-pound Saturn V F-1 engine.
KSC Visitor Complex officials also showcased a Victory Red 2006 Corvette convertible autographed by 27 astronauts, including Armstrong. The owner is Titusville resident Jack Legere, a NASA operations safety specialist who advised Crosby during the preservation process.
"I know I'm not an owner, but I feel I'm part of its legacy," Legere said, looking at Armstrong's Corvette. "I saw Armstrong land on the moon. I've tinkered and helped fix this car, sat it in."
Filmmakers with King's Eye Productions, an Ormond Beach video production company, captured footage featuring Armstrong's Corvette. Video clips documenting the entire preservation process should be posted next month on recapturethepast.com, said Chris Hoch, owner.
The Armstrong Sting Ray and Legere's Corvette will go on display Saturday at Port Canaveral during the Cape Kennedy Corvette Club's 13th annual Vettes at the Port car show.
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Corvettes at the Cape
Alan Shepard drove a 1957 Corvette when he reported for Mercury spaceflight training. After he became the first American in space during the 1961 Freedom 7 mission, Chevrolet General Manager Edward Cole presented him a white 1962 Corvette.
Melbourne car dealer Jim Rathmann, the 1960 Indianapolis 500 champion, continued the trend by leasing Corvettes to astronauts for very little money.
In his book "Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America's Apollo Moon Landings," Shepard described how Rathmann lost control of a Corvette on the Cape at more than 100 mph, spun out and slid into a salt marsh.
Gus Grissom was sitting in the passenger seat — and he worried aloud that NASA administrators would yank him from his upcoming flight, which was a few days away. That didn't happen, and on July 21, 1961, he became the second American in space.
Apollo 12 astronauts Dick Gordon, Charles Conrad and Alan Bean were photographed in LIFE Magazine with matching gold 1969 Stingray coupes.
In 1971, LIFE photographed Apollo 15 astronauts Jim Irwin, Al Worden and Dave Scott with red, white and blue Corvettes alongside a moon buggy.
Astronauts and Corvettes were later featured in Tom Wolfe's 1979 novel "The Right Stuff" and the 1995 Tom Hanks movie "Apollo 13."
In May 2011, about two dozen astronauts and family representatives rode in Corvettes during a Cocoa Beach parade marking the 50th anniversary of Shepard's historic spaceflight.
Sources: General Motors, FLORIDA TODAY research
Corvettes go on display Saturday
Neil Armstrong's 1967 Corvette Sting Ray and a 2006 Corvette convertible autographed by 27 astronauts will go on display Saturday during the Cape Kennedy Corvette Club's 13th annual Vettes at the Port car show. Vehicles will park next to Exploration Tower at Port Canaveral. Car registration opens at 8:45 a.m. Awards presentation at 3:30 p.m.