September 2009

... plus writing tips and tools from Jim Koscs.

This issue of Wheel People profiles Mike Markowski, an aerospace engineer, pilot, author and publisher whose 1969 Corvette has played a starring role in his life for 40 years.

Sky Pilot

It’s just a coincidence that Mike Markowski and Otto Lilienthal share a birthday. Lilienthal, a 19th-century German aviation pioneer, invented the hang glider, and his work inspired the Wright brothers to pursue powered flight. Markowski, an aerospace engineer who’d dreamed of flying since a boy, brought hang gliding to the East Coast in the early 1970s.

After graduating Penn State in September 1968, Markowski landed a job at Douglas Aircraft in California, then two months later moved to Connecticut to work at Sikorsky Aircraft – and ordered his first Corvette. He spec’d it to be as light as possible, keeping the standard 300-horsepower (gross) 350 cu. in. V8 but paying extra for the 4-speed, which was still an option for the ’69.

Markowski also bought the Positraction axle, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, tinted glass, rear defroster and AM/FM radio. But he passed on the then-still-optional air conditioning, power steering and power brakes. The price was $5,646. Markowski named his Riverside Gold coupe “Goldie” – also a nod to actress Goldie Hawn.

Goldie would be Markowski’s sole transportation for many years, enduring New England winters with no garage cover. He also used it to carry a hang glider he’d designed after reading about the growth of the sport in California. His first flight was September 1971, and he soon went into business manufacturing the gliders.

Markowski authored a story about hang-glider aerodynamics for Scientific American, started a hang glider newsletter and appeared on TV’s “To Tell the Truth” (view Quicktime or Windows Media). His Corvette, hang glider in tow, appeared on the cover of the General Motors magazine, Corvette News.

After leaving glider manufacturing and moving back to Pennsylvania, Markowski wrote his first book, “The Hang Glider’s Bible,” in 1977. That was the start of a publishing business that would become Possibility Press, which today focuses on personal development titles. He even re-published Lilienthal’s book, “Bird Flight as the Basis of Aviation.”

Through it all, Goldie remained a constant, accumulating over 140,000 miles. By then, its frame had begun to rot from all the sand it had picked up from Markowski’s many trips to hang glide in Cape Cod. A major restoration, with a new frame, came in 1980, but Markowski sold the car after a divorce in 1988.

He remarried in 1990, and his wife, Marjie, goaded him into buying back Goldie. He did -- 27 years to the date after first taking delivery in 1969. He then upgraded the entire car, including rebuilding and slightly modifying the original 350, and adding power steering.

Mike and Marjie chose a “more cheerful” color, 1973 Corvette Yellow, and Mike installed the American Racing mags he’d always wanted. The body finish is far better than when the Corvette left the factory. Among other upgrades, a customized 1978 Corvette leather interior added luxury not available in the 1969 model.

The car has been a "Celebrity Pick" three times at the Corvettes at Carlisle show. Mike and Marjie drive Goldie on clear, dry days in all seasons. They pop the T-tops and the removable rear window, letting the Corvette's burbling exhaust note drown out the Kenwood stereo.

Photos of restored Corvette by Bill Erdman (201-343-0680). Vintage photos from Mike Markowski. 

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