Neil Armstrong’s 1967 Corvette touches down again on Space Coast


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Joe Crosby of Merritt Island bought and preserved a 1967 Corvette once owned by astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. 

Photo Courtesy of Joe Crosby

Neil Armstrong’s preserved 1967 Corvette Sting Ray is scheduled to be on display at a car show.

Saturday May 2

8 a.m to 3 p.m.

Temple Baptist Church
1400 N. Washington Ave., Titusville

Proceeds benefit the Women’s Center. For more information, call 321-269-2520.

 

Joe Crosby keeps a unique piece of American history in the garage of his Merritt Island home.

A retired Brevard County Sheriff’s Office precinct commander, Crosby owns a worn 1967 Corvette Sting Ray coupe once driven by astronaut Neil Armstrong two years before he became the first man to walk on the moon.

“It’s the only documented Neil Armstrong Corvette of any year that there is,” Crosby said. “The man sat in that seat, he held that steering wheel, looked through that windshield, put gas in that gas tank.”

Crosby bought the faded blue Sting Ray in 2012 from a former NASA worker who had kept it in a climate-controlled basement garage of his Georgia home since 1981. Initially, Crosby listed the muscle car on eBay, getting offers of as much as $250,000. Instead, Crosby decided to keep the vehicle and restore it piece by piece to showroom quality, as he’d done with 21 other Corvettes since buying his first in 1974.

But representatives from the National Corvette Museum in Kentucky urged Crosby to preserve the vehicle rather than restore it because of its historical significance. So Crosby agreed to do only enough to get the Corvette to look like it did when Armstrong, who died in 2012 at age 82, drove it around Brevard County in 1967.

“I opted for that and I’m now glad that I did because once you restore a car, you can’t ever go back to the way it was before,” Crosby said.

Working with a group led by noted automobile preservation activist Eric Gill, Crosby spent months searching for old Corvette parts and returning the vehicle to its original condition. It only took some new fuel lines and motor oil to start the car, which sports a powerful 427-cubic-inch V-8 engine and had only 38,148 miles on its broken odometer when Crosby bought it.

“The only thing that’s not original on the car is the tires, the fuel lines, the water pump and the mufflers,” said Crosby, who managed to track down some of the car’s original Marina Blue paint. “The spare tire had never been out of it. It still has the air in it that was put in in 1966.”

The preserved coupe made its public debut at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex’s Rocket Garden in 2014.

“I don’t know how many thousands of people stopped by, took pictures and asked questions,” Crosby said. “It was fun to share the story with them and let them see a piece of history.”

Armstrong bought the car in 1967 from Melbourne auto dealer and former Indianapolis 500 champion Jim Rathmann, who let astronauts lease Corvettes for $1, then turn them in a year later for a new model. The NASA employee purchased Armstrong’s old Corvette the day after the astronaut traded it in for a 1968 silver Corvette convertible. The second owner added fender flares while the vehicle was in storage, but did nothing else.

Crosby said he kept in touch with the owner over the years, learning in 1985 that the Corvette had once belonged to Armstrong. The owner turned down Crosby’s numerous offers to buy the car until 2012, when he needed cash to buy a new Corvette.

“I got in my car, pulled my trailer to Atlanta,” Crosby recalled. “It took me and my brother four hours to get all the boxes and stuff off of it and get it out of the garage and onto the trailer.”

The car still contained the original General Motors “Protect-O-Plate,” a factory-issued metal tag that displays the name of the car’s original owner, Crosby said. The name on the plate reads “N. A. Armstrong.” 

Crosby rarely drives the car, opting to haul it on a trailer to local car shows or photo shoots. The Corvette has been featured on TV and in numerous car magazines and newspaper articles.

“I’ll drive it up and down to the dead-end street and back where I live,” he said, “but I don’t get out on the road with it because if somebody runs into it, what have you got then? If they run into my trailer, I can get another trailer.”

Crosby, a member of the Cape Kennedy Corvette Club as was Armstrong, still gets offers for his one-of-a-kind vehicle.

“I’ve had inquiries from about six people interested in buying it either for a private collection or to put in some type of a museum,” he said. “But I don’t need to sell it. I don’t need the money. If I had to, I’d do so if somebody came along and I thought they were going to do the right thing with it.”

Not long before he died, Armstrong learned that his old car had been found and was being preserved, said Crosby, who provided a scrapbook of photos of the Corvette that was presented to Armstrong during a visit to the Cape.

“To know that the guy had gotten to see the car he had owned years ago, that’s neat to me,” Crosby said.