LISBON — Back in 1984, Rick Mason’s father asked him one day if he’d like to go with him and his mother to buy a new family car.

He jumped at the chance.

Mason, a Republican state lawmaker, recalled standing with his parents at Louis Chevrolet, a gleaming white Corvette convertible parked on the showroom floor in front of them.

A 1984 print advertisement for the new Corvette. Steve Collins

When Paul Mason, his dad, declared he intended to buy it, his son couldn’t believe it.

“I was really rattled,” Mason said.

After all, the car carried a price tag of $24,890, a figure “unheard of back then,” Mason said. Just thinking of it made him nervous.

But his father, a roofing and siding contractor, didn’t hesitate.

“He’d always wanted one and he just made his mind up,” Mason said.

A family photograph of Paul Mason’s new white Corvette at home in Lisbon in 1984. (Photos provided)

He recalled that the Corvette hadn’t been in  his family’s hands for even a week before his father mistakenly dropped a cigarette and burned a little hole through the leather driver’s seat.

For the next decade, the car became a focal point for the family. Mason said his parents used to take it for drives on weekends. Everyone in town recognized it.

“That car was my father and my mother,” Mason said, with a lot of emotions tied up with it.

One day in the mid-1990s, though, his dad sold it to a fellow in Topsham, and just like that, the car was gone, a pleasant memory of good times in a close-knit family.

It’s a story many families might have about a favorite vehicle, something connected with a rosy past of youth and fun.

But what makes Paul Mason’s Corvette such a rarity isn’t its speed or brand name or cost.

What makes it special is that Rick Mason started trying to find it again more than 15 years ago.

On its face, the idea seems half crazy. What are the chances of finding a car that by then was already 20 years old, if it had survived at all?

A screen shot from a 1984 Corvette television commercial.

That model Corvette, the C4, is not remembered with great fondness in the automotive world. It’s not a costly classic, though any venerable Corvette remains desirable to many.

At the time, though, car fans were pretty jazzed about the C4.

When it got its hands on one in 1983 — the 1984 C4 models were sold for 17 months starting in the spring of 1983 — Car and Driver called it “a true-born, world-class sports car loaded with technical sophistication.”

The magazine noted that it was also “hands-down the fastest American automobile,” capable of hitting 140 miles an hour in a conservation-minded era when the speed limit topped out at 55.

That year, Chevrolet churned out 51,547 of the new-model Corvettes, a line it continued until 1996.

The way Mason heard it, one of those 51,547 cars wound up in a Maine showroom because a lawyer wanted it, until he changed his mind at the last minute, which left the Corvette sitting in a prominent place in the showroom.

He said his father must have known it was there before they headed over to check out the cars.

When Paul Mason sold it, the car had only 36,000 miles on it. Aside from that little cigarette burn, it still looked pretty sweet.

The businessman who bought it kept the Corvette for about six years before deciding that he, too, had to sell.

He called the Masons to see if they wanted to buy it back.

Mason said he wanted it, but with two children heading to college, there just wasn’t enough money. “I had to pass on it,” he said.

When his two children graduated, though, Rick started thinking about that car again.

“I wanted it,” Mason said. He told his dad he was “going to find that thing.”

So he called the fellow in Topsham to ask him who’d bought it. With a little probing around, the man’s wife came up with a name and address of somebody in Bath and handed over the information to Mason.

A few busy weeks went by and Mason finally had a moment to track down the buyer. But he couldn’t find the piece of paper that had the information. It had simply vanished — the only solid record he ever had of the car’s third owner.

Rick Mason said he knew two things: He wanted that car. And it might be in Bath.

“I had everyone I knew looking for a white Corvette,” Mason said.

Sometimes he’d get a tip and go check out a Corvette parked somewhere. It was never the right one.

Then he learned from a car report that the vehicle might be in Windham, probably in the hands of a mystery fourth owner, so the search continued in a new locale.

Mason said that he’d sometimes head out on Sunday afternoons with his wife Gina to eyeball possibilities. They were “always looking,” he said.

Seven years ago, he saw a report that indicated the car may have been painted black, which forced an expansion of the search.

The corvette spotted in Windham, covered with snow. (Photo provided)

Mason’s family and friends — a broad network — were enlisted to look for that black Corvette. Nothing turned up.

When Paul Mason was quite ill before his 2017 death at age 78, he turned to his wife and expressed optimism that the car would eventually return.

“Rick will find it,” he told wife Olivia. “He will find it.”

But not a single clue emerged for four years, without so much as a rumor of where it could be.

Mason worried that tales of Japanese car buffs buying up old Corvettes for parts might be true and they might have snatched the one he sought.

He kept searching anyway.

“I would scour Windham in the hope of finding it,” Mason said, often with his wife. “We just had fun looking for it.”

Then, in January, he finally caught a big break.

Someone had spotted a black Corvette parked in the snow in Windham. It seemed promising.

Mason needed some luck.

His life had been upended when his wife, Gina, died unexpectedly three months after his dad, just before son Garrett Mason was set to announce his gubernatorial campaign.

Rick Mason said he and his wife had driven the Corvette only once, when they took it down the hill into Lisbon and nearly got T-boned by a driver who blew through a stop sign. They never wanted to risk it again, he said.

The couple had a shared love of old vehicles, often tooling around in a 1964 pickup, so Gina Mason understood her husband’s desire to get his hands on his father’s old vehicle.

After hearing about the Corvette covered in snow, Mason “took a ride down” to Windham to see for himself. Right away, it looked promising, he said.

He managed to get hold of the property owner who had gone to Florida for the winter. They arranged for him to take a look at the car.

Mason said as soon as he got the door open, he looked down.

He immediately spotted that little cigarette hole in the worn leather seat where his father had sat for so many years, almost half a lifetime ago.

It took months to work out the details, but in mid-May, Mason bought the car, which amazingly still had all of its original parts and appears to be in great condition save for a missing door panel that Mason has already ordered.

State Rep. Rick Mason and buddy Shawn Moody in the barn at Mason’s Lisbon home recently with the Corvette retrieved from Windham. (Photo provided)

His buddy, auto body kingpin and former gubernatorial candidate Shawn Moody, drove a flatbed truck to the place in Windham and hauled it to the barn on Mason’s property in Lisbon.

Mason said Moody and his son Garrett stood there talking, but all he could think about was getting that car off the truck and onto the floor of the barn he’d constructed in 2005.

The car had, he said, finally come home.

“I can’t tell you the emotions tied to that car,” Mason said. “I can’t believe it’s here. I’m really anxious to drive it.”

His mother and many family members have already been over to see it. Some of them sobbed at the sight of it, the feelings of joy and sadness at the success of his quest mixing freely.

Mason said he gets it because he feels the same way “because it’s something my father had.”

State Rep. Rick Mason, R-Lisbon, stands beside his father’s old Corvette, a car Mason spent more than 15 years searching for without success until he caught a break this past winter. (Steve Collins/Sun Journal)