Generations of Corvettes. (National Corvette Museum)
Kids will work on a full-size automobile, learn about all the logistics of running a dealership back-shop. Alongside is a fully equipped tool chest with wrenches, screwdrivers, spare parts and all the needs of servicing a car. Hands-on continues with magnetic gears that can be manipulated. But kids fun hasn’t been overlooked with games, arts and crafts, a Duntov diner to relax with bragging rights and a library of car-theme movies, awaits visitors at the National Corvette Museum, writes our travel editor Al Auger.
In the 215-year history of the automobile, surreal manifestations abounded; but nothing could equal the “ugly duckling” story of today’s universally respected and lusted after powerful and sophisticated Chevrolet Corvette. Even the mythical story of its genesis that still drifts through the industry today is unstoppable.
According to the tale, General Motors, around 1950, sent a group of engineers and marketing poobahs to Germany to purchase two of the legendary gull-winged Mercedes-Benz 300SLs. Subsequently shipped to Detroit, they were ensconced in a highly secret warehouse where one was stripped completely and laid out on the floor. The second SL was displayed for reference. Once done, the highest level engineers and designers were called in and given the enchanted order: “Build us an American legend.”
Truth to be told, it was a complete corporation decision bolstered by the legendary Harley J. Earle. The most exciting news that filtered out of Chevrolet was the first All-American sports car was to be enveloped in the then revolutionary fiberglass, a glass fiber reinforced plastic. The engine was the ubiquitous 235 CID inline six-cylinder, but “hot-rodded” with higher compression and three Carter side-draft carburetors and a hot cam.
Unfortunately, the storyline veers off into the well-known button-down schizophrenia of GM’s then well-known bean counters. Everything else, it seemed, came off the well-stocked Chevrolet shelves. Automatic transmission, driveline, stock drum brakes; muscle was lacking with a 0-60 bleak time of 11.5 seconds. Things looked dreary for a future when, on June 30, 1953, the first 1954 Corvette rolled off the assembly line. Once again, GM turned against the grain and hired the automotive engineering genius Zora Arkus-duntov. An even bigger challenge came from their ancient rival Ford and the introduction of the 1955 Thunderbird. As they say, “The rest is history.”
This impressive history has been paid a well-deserved homage with the opening of the National Corvette Museum in September of 1994. The museum is located a quarter-mile from the Chevrolet Corvette plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky. A week before its opening, an estimated 200-or-so automotive journalists, feature columnists, editors from around the country and Europe were given the grand tour. What this reporter came away with was the force behind this edifice were enthralled with the subject, its provenance and, most striking the people-connection.
Even more notable is a return trip to find the museum has expanded far beyond its beginning. A mall-like showroom for all the iterations of an American sports car that today is recognized as an international performance machine competing against the European giants. Nostalgia is another prime subject, the creators acknowledging the Corvette’s provenance belongs with the road and the racetrack. But, more importantly, the museum has become truly hands-on joined by a wide-ranging educational program. The most entertaining and instructive is the relatively new Corvette KidZone.
Go back 100-years and there are always kids dreaming of the fantasy automobile that will be theirs. Definitely, bring the progeny – boys and girls, and dress them in the available ubiquitous mechanic work clothes and put them to work in the Service Center. Thanks to Corvette aficionado Eugene Nagowski and the Bowling Green Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, the kids will work on a full-size automobile, learn about all the logistics of running a dealership back-shop.
So, let’s begin at the beginning. One of the first experience waiting is the shop writer complete with work order clipboard. And real fun learning to operate the floor creeper; slide under the car and check out all the bottom functions, such a muffler, catalytic converter. Let ‘s get dirty change tires using a pneumatic drill to take the lug nuts off and on.
Alongside is a fully equipped tool chest with wrenches, screwdrivers, spare parts and all the needs of servicing a car. Hands-on continues with magnetic gears that can be manipulated. But kids fun hasn’t been overlooked with games, arts and crafts, a Duntov diner to relax with bragging rights and a library of car-theme movies. Underprivileged children can take advantage of an endowment funded by Eugene Nagowski in memory of his wife Patricia.
Oh, to be ten-years-old for just a day.
Fear not, folks, the mature gear-heads of the world haven’t been forgotten. Big people stuff is aplenty throughout the vast acreage homage to the singular American high-performance road warrior. Every Corvette age group is represented beginning with the 1954 “ugly duckling.” My favorite generation wafts back to the 1960s and their scalloped silhouette; it was one of the most popular models built. A community of recognizable Bay Area racing names were close friends. Successful drivers like Red Faris, Bill Sherwood took home numerous trophies from Sports Car Club of America road races throughout California, Oregon and Washington.
The Corvette National Museum is no one-day venue. There are activities that augment this vast motorized cavern. Special ever-changing exhibits such as the May-to-September, 2015 “NASCAR:” Moonshine to Finish Line; September-January, 2016 “Hot Rods, Street Rods,” and the beat goes on. How about a tour of the nearby Corvette assembly plant or a very special side display of survivors of the infamous sinkhole, caves and karst. Featured are a 1.5-millionth, ZR-1 Spyder, 1993 Ruby and 1962.
All this wonderfulness and worldwide automotive fame is culminated in the most compelling Corvette ever built: the 2015 Z06. The muscle is supplied by the LT4 6.2-litre supercharged V8 pumping out 625 horsepower. The fearsome Z07 Performance Package increases down force accompanied with Brembo carbon ceramic-matrix braking and Michelin Pilot Super Sport Cup tires. According to GM reports, a Corvette with the Z07 package has turned the fastest lap times ever recorded by a Corvette. For a such a demonic example of numbers and handling, the suggested retail price $78,995 and a convertible priced at $83,995 makes the Z06 a “bargain” that equals the specs of much higher priced foreign performance machines as Ferrari and Lamborghini. All this became real with Corvette Racing’s victory at the recent Le Man 24-hour race. The winning Corvette C&R won over Ferrari in GTE Pro Class.
An added treat would be a side-trip to nearby Nashville for more American roots like the Corvette: true American music from the best of country songwriters and musicians in the world.
Location: Bowling Green, Kentucky
Admission: $10 adults; $8 senior; $5 youth; Under 6 free; Family (same household) $25; active Military Free. Group rates for 15 or more. No pets.
Hours: Open every day, 8am-5pm. For information visit “The Corvette Museum” on Facebook or Twitter.
Toll Free: 800-538-3883 or 270-781-7973; 350 Corvette Drive, Bowling Green, KY 42101