As we pulled into the parking lot for the National Corvette Museum amid a sprawling complex visible from Interstate 65 in Bowling Green, I noticed flags flapping with emblems on them. John pointed to one he knew well. “That’s my old Corvette club!”
Established in 1967, the Cape Kennedy Corvette Club had an impressive pedigree, its ranks swelled by astronauts who’d been given cars to drive by a local dealership. A fair number of folks at Kennedy Space Center owned Corvettes, and they’d take to racing out on those wide, paved spots between the buildings, where it would be a wink and a nod in response because “it’s the astronauts again.”
John has one of those lust-after vehicles, a 1966 Corvette Stingray that his dad bought used when he was twelve years old. And yes, back in those wild years, Dad raced the astronauts in that powder-blue beauty, his daily driver to work on the Apollo missions.
A Family Thing
The Chevrolet Corvette is a car with its own cult following, which the National Corvette Museum supports with year-round special events, a Hall of Fame, and member organizations such as the Cape Kennedy Corvette Club. “It’s a lifestyle,” is the mantra you see and hear as you walk the halls of the museum, and I’ve found out firsthand how it gets into the family blood.
While my Dad tended towards whopping big mounds of steel – I’ve never felt comfortable in a compact car in my life – John learned to love that Corvette early on. Following in his father’s tire marks, he picked up his first used Corvette early in 1975, and owned four others over the years. He showed them off at the club shows, and even acted as newsletter editor for a spell. When he decided to trim his Corvette fleet, only that Stingray stayed, restored back to its original glory after his Dad decided he was done with it. People still ask him if he’ll sell it to them.
Honoring the Legends
Thus the mystique. There is no car quite like the Corvette. Launched by General Motors in 1953, it was a car you’d expect James Bond to drive, the sleek look fitting for a dashing gentleman with places to be. The Stingray, the second generation of the car, debuted in 1963, with a bolder definition to the body. Upon entering the main museum space, you walk back through time past some of the rarest Corvettes in existence, including the early concept car. One exhibit honors the original assembly line in St. Louis, Missouri. Production started at the GM Bowling Green Corvette Assembly Plant in 1981, and this museum, opened in 1994 across the street.
Although it has a good variety of interactive exhibits – plenty to keep the kids amused – much of the museum focuses on the Corvette’s role in racing. One room is a recreated pit crew area; the giant Skydome has a section with pace cars from the Indy 500. The Corvette Hall of Fame honors those who’ve made significant contributions to the Corvette, whether it be through engineering and design, racecar driving, or marketing. More than 30 shining vehicles fill this space. Those with a techie background will appreciate the attention to detail shared in the museum gallery on engineering, including clay models and breakaways of the interior to show the chassis and how it is built to be light and strong.
We visited before the Skydome collapsed into a yawning sinkhole that swallowed a bunch of the cars. You can now see those cars – reshaped by Mother Nature – on display, and peer down into the depths of the sinkhole through a window in the floor. To prevent another collapse, the sinkhole was likely filled with grout. A new interactive exhibit puts you in the middle of the collapse on a wrap-around series of video screens.
The National Corvette Museum is the only museum of its kind devoted to a single model of vehicle, and the fact it has 35,000 members says something for brand loyalty. Thousands of owners caravanned here for the grand opening, and clubs regularly make the pilgrimage to show their respect. More than sixty years of dedicated collecting, research, and sharing by local clubs and individual Corvette owners made this museum the world’s top repository for information on the car, the go-to source for restoration research.
In turn, GM works with the museum to show off its future plans for the Corvette. You’ll see the latest concept cars and some of the truly rare vehicles, including the millionth car to roll off the assembly line, and the only known 1983 Corvette. Just 43 prototype models were built that year before GM decided to hold off selling them due to design changes needed to meet the new California emission standards. While GM told their employees to destroy the cars, someone at the plant managed to hide one for many years until they were promised it wouldn’t be destroyed, and it now sits in a place of honor in the museum.
Before we left, I took a picture of John next to a small display in another place of honor with a photo and a patch from the Cape Kennedy Corvette Club. The patch had had been carried into space on the Space Shuttle, the only Corvette memoribilia to orbit the Earth. Since he’d worked on both the club newsletter and the Space Shuttle program, it seemed more than fitting.
Visit the National Corvette Museum
Located in Bowling Green, Kentucky, the National Corvette Museum is open daily, 8-5 CST. The museum complex includes the Corvette Cafe, the Corvette Store, and a handful of exhibits that require no admission fee to visit. Adjoining the museum is the
National Corvette Museum Motorsports Park, where you can drive a Corvette on the track, or take the kids to the NCM Kartplex for go-cart fun.
Ordering a new Corvette? You can opt for delivery to the National Corvette Museum and pick it up with a technician in attendence from the factory. Choose Museum Delivery Option R8C to pick up your new car at the museum’s showroom floor. While the nearby GM Corvette Assembly Plant is retooling, factory tours are not currently available, but will resume in 2019.