Obsession with Corvettes drives business venture
The childhood rush did not just last, it grew and grew, first into a collecting hobby, then a job. Now, at 28, Grande’s passion has become a seven day a week business. He’s Corvette Mike of New England, with his own independent Corvette sales operation in downtown Plymouth (MA), brokering sales of new and classic Corvettes to a clientele that extends across the nation.
“I just never let go of those dreams I had as a kid,” he said in an interview at the Corvette Mike showroom on Water Street, which old-timers will remember was built in the ‘40s for Standish Chevrolet, and subsequently was home to Mayflower Chrysler-Plymouth and then Sullivan Tire. IT was filled last week with gleaming, fully restored cars that spanned 45 years, from the straight axel Corvettes of the 1953-62 era to brand-new 1998 C5 models.
“I’ve owned 17 Corvettes now and it’s still a thrill to be behind the wheel. And now, I make a good living from selling them, too,” Grande said. Grande’s childhood encounters with the mystiques of Corvettes began in Plymouth.
“I was born in East Boston but my grandparents had a little cottage on Kings Pond in Plymouth where we used to summer”, he said. “My uncle and his friends, who were all into cars, used to stay there on Friday nights before heading down to the Cape Cod for the weekend. They all had “Vettes, and when I woke up, aged five-six-seven, there would be four or five Corvettes parked out on the lawn. I just thought they were so cool. It became like an obsession – some day I was going to have one of my own.”
It would take him a while, The first car he owned was an aqua-blue 1965 Pontiac LeMans convertible, purchased for $550 in 1976, soon after he earned his driver’s license. He had moved to Plymouth by then, after graduating from Plymouth High School, he followed his grandfather’s steps to the Boston fish piers.
“My grandfather was a big fish buyer and I followed the same line,” said Grande. “I was a buyer on the fish pier until 1998, working 5 days a week, mostly for [M.F.] Foley Fish, but I was also working Saturday at another place, cutting fish. That job was just to save money to buy a Corvette.”
In 1981, soon after he married, Grande had enough set aside in the Corvette account to make the plunge. He bought a 1985 coupe for $8,500 and began attending weekly Corvette shows on Sundays around New England, meeting other enthusiasts, including serious collectors who had stables of cars.
“It’s like an extended family, a big network of people,” he said. “I began learning everything I could, subscribing to ‘Vette magazines, talking to collectors and trading up. I made a little money on my first ‘Vette and bought another one. I was mostly interested in the ’68-’82 era, those were the cars I grew up with. It was a hobby, an expensive hobby, but I did all right.”
Grande had alot of friends in the car business and they encouraged him to try it as a career, saying his knowledge and passion, combined with his natural affability, made success a likely outcome. By 1990, he had left the fish pier and was working full-time for a Chevrolet dealership in Bridgewater, specializing in Corvette sales.
Within a few years, he was sited by General Motors as the top Corvette salesperson in the Northeast. When a new body style cam out, and his dealership was allocated 15 of the new Corvettes to launch the sales campaign, Grande was in clover.“
I sold 14 of ‘em in a little over two hours, all on the phone,” he recalled. “I had customers all over the country, people I wouldn’t know by sight if they walked in the door now, but I’ve sold some of them five, six, seven ‘Vettes over the years. It’s networking and developing trust.
He was still not formally Corvette Mike, however – that moniker belonged to one Mike Vietro, an Everett-born, ex-Marine who had become an independent Corvette dealer in Southern California in 1981 and now is the largest independent on the West Coast.
Grande said, “I remember when I first started reading all the ‘Vette magazines seriously, and I saw his ads, I thought, ‘Corvette Mike, huh? That could be me.’
“Eventually it was to happen – although they were both to be called Corvette Mike.
It seemed Vietro returned to the Boston area annually to see family – and to catch up with the Corvette scene on the East Coast. He also would head east to attend major Corvette shows, like the Bloomington Gold show in Bloomington, Ill., held in late June each year, and Chip Miller’s Corvettes of Carlisle in Carlisle, PA., in August.
“The Carlisle show is incredible,” Grande said. “It’s 90 acres of Corvettes, 17 miles of walking if you went up and down every asile. Every Corvette collector in the world wants to be there. Of course I go and Mike Vietro goes every year.” It was inevitable the the two Mikes would meet, and they hit it off immediately.
“We were both nuts about Corvettes, loved the selling part the most, and started talking about working together somehow,” Grande said.
By last year, it was time for Grande to leave the role of salesman for a dealership and strike out on his own. Last November, Grande formed a bicoastal partnership with Vietro.
Now Vietro’s operation in Anaheim is Corvette Mike – Southern California, and it’s East Coast counterpart is Grande’s Corvette Mike New England.
Grande met with instantaneous success. His business plan 12-15 sales a month – which seems substantial when the prices are taken into account: Some vintage Corvettes with all-original parts and low milage can fetch $50,000 or more. An original ’53 would be right around $100,000. The limited production ZR-1 Corvettes made between 1990 and 1995 carried window stickers in the $60,000 – $70,000 range and have more then held their value. Brand new 1998s, the C5 model introduced in ’97, fall in the $40,000 – $50,000 range for the most part.
Grande sold 18 Corvettes in January, chuckled at his conservative business plan, and has not looked back. Last month he sold 34.
So the little tyke’s dream has come true, which begs a question: Which Corvette does Corvette Mike own now?
“I don’t personally own one now, to tell you the truth,” he said with a laugh. “Certain days, I wake up and want to drive a ZR-1, or maybe a C%, or a ’63 split-window. The family car is a ’98 Chevy Tahoe, a sport utility that my wife Gail drives mostly.”
Mike and Gail have three children. Boys are Ryan, 7, and Andrew, 13, bracket daughter Amanda, 10. The boys in particular seem bent on following in Dad’s footsteps.
“Ryan gets upset when we don’t always have a Corvette in the garage, and Andrew has already let us know in no uncertain terms that he wants a red Corvette when he gets his license,” Grande said. “I tell him that he will have to work for it, like I did.”