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Labor of love for ‘Corvette man’ — his life all about restoring iconic cars

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Donnie Hall Jr. stands in front of Donnie's Corvette Specialists, on U.S. 301 between Lucama and Kenly. Hall has been working on Corvettes nearly all his life.

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By DREW C. WILSON
The Wilson Times

Saturday, September 8, 2018

WILSON — Donnie Hall Jr. was 20 when he spent $300 to buy his first Corvette.

It was a 1966 convertible that had rolled over in a fatal, high-speed wreck.

Hall’s friends said he would never get the car working again, but the young mechanic proved them all wrong.

“A year later, I had it put back together,” Hall said.

The Kenly man admits he did not know anything about Corvettes at the time.

“I made an old car out of it and kept it for four or five years,” Hall said. “I sold that one and then another one and then another one.”

Hall had an interest in cars and a gift for mechanical work from a young age.

“I was changing motors at 17-18 years old and rebuilding motors at that age,” Hall said.

On Hall’s business card is the phrase “What we can’t fix can’t be fixed.” He and his double first cousin, Alton Ray, came up with that motto while sitting on the front porch talking cars at age 12. They did a high five and made a promise that they would both work on cars when they grew up.

“We were like brothers,” Hall said. “He got killed Oct. 13, 1965.”

A train ran over him in Middlesex.

“Nobody’s ever known what happened, but it’s still with me today,” Hall said.

Hall, now 68, honored that original promise to Alton Ray.

“I’m one of those lucky people that got to do what I wanted to do my whole life,” Hall said. “It’s all I wanted to do since the beginning.”

Along the way, Hall met some people who knew what they were doing and took time to show him the ropes.

“Why do it the wrong way if you can do it right the first time?” Hall asked.

Hall had heard that advice from Mack Woodard, owner of Woodard’s Body Shop and from Layton Tart, then owner of Tart’s Chevrolet in Kenly. Both men have passed away, but each gave Hall jobs doing auto body work when he was in his early 20s.

“Mack Woodard was who got me started. He taught me enough that Mr. Tart would hire me at the Chevrolet place,” Hall said. “It was a step at the time.” Hall said. “It’s all I have ever known.”

In 1979, Hall bought the old Dixie Diner at the corner of N.C. 581 and U.S. 301, between Lucama and Kenly.

“I bought it at a deal. I sold two Corvettes to buy this place. It made my wife mad,” Hall said.

Hall told his wife that he would do the very best job he could with it.

“I’m going to do real good work,” Hall remembers telling her. “One of these days, people are going to come from far away for me to work for them, and they won’t even ask me how much it’s going to cost.”

And that’s pretty much what’s happened with Donnie’s Corvette Specialists.

“When I came here, there hadn’t ever been a car in here,” Hall said. “Over the years, I got to know Vollis Simpson really good. We were good friends.” Simpson was a house mover and a mechanic himself.

“Vollis would rent me equipment for about nothing, trailers and stuff, so me and the boys that helped me, we moved tobacco barns in here, and we added that whole wing on with tobacco barns. We hauled all those barns in here and tied it together. We used what we had.”

In the intervening years, a couple of the letters on the sign have dropped off, but Hall has bought, fixed and sold hundreds of Corvettes.

“I rebuilt a ’54 from the ground up, and every one in between I have worked on. I built a ’56, a ’57, several in the ’60s,” Hall said.

He might have seven or eight cars on hand at any one time in various states of restoration.

“‘The Corvette man.’ That’s what a lot of them got to calling me,” Hall said. “I love them.”

Hall points to a ’78 Corvette from Tarboro being readied for a paint job.

“It caught fire under the hood, and it burned,” Hall said. “I basically do everything it needs. I’m a turnkey man.”

Hall does the body restoration and the painting, sews upholstery, does the engine work and everything except parts machining.

“I’m not trying to say I know everything, but I know these Corvettes inside out,” Hall said. “After 43 years right here, it was educational.”

Hall has worked on cars from neighboring states. His reputation brings the work.

“It’s all just word of mouth,” said Hall, who has never advertised.

“I’ll build one to keep for myself, and before I get through with it, somebody else will want it,” Hall said.

Many times, Hall will work seven days a week and often late into the night.

Through the years, Hall has bought a lot of wrecked Corvettes and uses their parts to fix other Corvettes.

“Corvette parts kind of find me,” Hall said. “I bought Steve’s Corvette Shop out years ago. That was in Wilson, and he was there forever. He was a really good guy and still is, but I bought all of his Corvette parts, seven or eight truckloads in the beginning, and then I have gathered a lot of them.”

While over the years, many a sleek Corvette has turned heads in front of the old garage, these days, what gets the most attention is a rusted ’57 GMC wrecker.

It looks identical to the “Mater” character in the Disney movie “Cars,” with the eyes and everything. Hundreds of people have taken a picture in front of it.

“One night, I looked out and there were two vans out here and another vehicle all with lights shining on it,” Hall said. “There were 15 girls with ball uniforms and three adults, and they were sitting all over it.”

The group had a big trophy sitting in front of them, and they were posing with the wrecker getting their pictures taken.

“Evidently they had won something somewhere,” Hall said.

“I enjoy what I do. I look forward to coming to work every day. I really do,” Hall said. “It’s all I’m ever going to do the rest of my life.”

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