Robert Morrison was untiring, enthusiastic and optimistic, with a sheer belief in the business and its potential that drew everyone in.
``First time I talked to Bob Morrison, he called me up one afternoon and said he and someone from Owens Corning were coming in at 2 o'clock the next day, and we were going to discuss the tooling for the first 300,'' Weaver said. ``I said, `Well, why don't you come a couple of hours early and we'll go for lunch.' That's when he told me he didn't mean 2 in the afternoon - he meant 2 in the morning.
``So we met at 2 in the morning. There was a little greasy spoon that was open all night and the three of us went over there and discussed the tooling. I had never built a tool that large, and we did a lot of napkin scribbling.''
In the diner, talking with Morrison, Weaver could see the possibilities. But later, after he got the call confirming the order, he got really worried.
``I think I turned a little white,'' he said. ``I took a deep breath and said, `Well, here's a challenge.' ''
Now the hard push was on. Weaver's shop oversaw the tooling, with Lunn Laminates responsible for the hand layup of the initial 300 vehicles. With a $4 million contract in hand, MFG launched an expansion.
With no room available at the shop, the pingpong table and train set in the Morrison family's basement were removed and drafting tables for the mold makers set up in their place. Everybody was anxious to find out exactly what was happening in little Ashtabula.
Richard Morrison, then 9 years old, would keep engineers and executives company while they waited for a drink or a bite to eat. He tossed around a football with Chevrolet's chief engineer, Ed Cole.
Weaver was offered Corvette serial number nine. He turned it down. With young children at home, he could not see much need for a sports car.
But the Corvette gave him something new. A business.
The foundries that were the backbone of his tooling sales were losing ground. Plastics, on the other hand, was on the move.
``This was an early bird for us,'' he said. ``The Corvette really changed my whole marketing direction because we were exposed to the automobile industries.''
With the help of new investors, Modern Patterns became Modern Patterns and Plastics and later Modern Tools. The company grew from 65 people in 1953 to 175 in just a few years, becoming a pioneer toolmaker for composites. It built production molds for composite panels with the look of wood for station wagons and the tools for the first sheet molding compound Jeep hardtop. The company also made tools for heavy-truck and bus parts.
``I was exposed to both fiberglass and the auto industry through Corvette,'' he said. ``I saw a future in that.''
At Ashtabula, expansion was under way. Owens Corning came through with the promised financing, and new presses and other equipment were installed. Within 10 months, the company began making parts.
``He'd solve problems as they came up,'' Richard Morrison said about his father's management style. ``He just had a feeling that things would work out. He figured we could just jump in and learn how to swim. There wasn't a big business plan or charts or milestones to hit. It was just, `OK, let's go.' ''
Through 1954, MFG turned out nearly all of the composites for 3,640 Corvettes, shipping body panels and structural underbody systems to GM's assembly plant in St. Louis. But there were problems - the Corvette simply was not selling. In 1955, MFG got a call to stop production. General Motors was considering canceling the vehicle. In all, it turned out only 700 that year.
``The 1954 Corvette was cute and it was novel, but it wasn't a very good car,'' Morrison admitted. ``It was more like a toy - an expensive toy.''
While GM considered its options, MFG turned to the boat business, putting its large-scale presses into operation to produce fiberglass hulls.
In the end, GM decided to overhaul the car, driven in part by competition with Ford's new Thunderbird, introduced in October 1954. GM gave the Corvette a larger engine and a manual transmission to help turn it into a true sports car available to a large segment of the U.S. population, not just the elite.
In 1956 production jumped to 3,476. The following year it hit 6,339. By the start of the 1960s, GM was selling about 10,000 annually. In 2002, GM made more than 35,000.
``It makes me very proud of what we've been able to do as a company and to be able to continue with it when it might not have seemed the prudent business thing to do,'' Hill said.
The Corvette has changed, though.
The direct fiber preform processing MFG used through the Corvette's early years has shifted to sheet molding compound for exterior body systems.
MFG broke away from Corvette in 1970 when MFG halted its automotive unit as part of a refinancing plan. It agreed to stay out of the auto industry for five years.
Today the company works in a variety of industries, using a cross-section of processing techniques. It has made composite wood fascia for architectural customers and underground units used to protect electronics. It is a producer of sink and shower basins for recreational vehicles and firefighters' helmets.
In January it purchased Ratech Industries of Reno, Nev., a maker of composite dome systems used to house radar and communications equipment.
It was not until the late 1980s when Richard Morrison, who had taken the reins of the company, decided it was time to re-launch its work in the auto industry full-force.
In 1990, Corvette work returned to Ashtabula when Chevy turned to MFG to produce a direct fiber preform structural component, replacing one then made with SMC.
Now, while SMC remains the primary process used in Corvette's body panels, MFG does preform molding for 12 different components on the Corvette. It has 16 parts on Corvette's new high-class counterpart, the Cadillac XLR - including a composite flooring system using balsa wood for sound deadening.
``We really have a passion here for Corvette,'' Morrison said.
And Corvette has continued its passion for composites.
Later this year Chevy will begin selling a 2004 Z06 commemorative edition Corvette with a carbon-fiber hood, the first use of the material in a Class A surface on a production vehicle.
Hill and his team are making final adjustments to the sixth generation of the Corvette, set to bow at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January.
``We are going to expand the envelope with more innovative plastics throughout the car,'' Hill said. ``This is going to be another breakthrough car.''