Thursday, 27 July 2017

National Corvette Museum, Bowling Green, KY

Our nation is filled with many fantastic museum destinations for the auto enthusiast. The Corvette is such an American icon that the museum dedicated to this car, that just happens to be next door to the factory where they are made, is definitely a destination spot for motor heads. The National Corvette Museum is located in Bowling Green, KY where the Corvette has been manufactured since 1981. This is the largest Museum in the country dedicated to a specific model. The number of concepts and prototypes makes the cars on display very unique.

When you think of Kentucky you think of bluegrass, race horses, fried chicken, and maybe college basketball. Car guys and gals will think of the Chevy Corvette. Bowling Green, Kentucky in the south central part of the state is the unofficial home of one of America’s greatest automotive icons. Bowling Green is where the Corvette is manufactured and it is also the home of the National Corvette Museum.

Corvette museum

Finding myself in this part of the country recently I planned a visit to this motoring mecca. When I was a little kid, one of the things I ever said on a routine basis was, “Neat car!” According to my mother I would usually shout this phrase excitedly whenever a Corvette would drive by. As you can imagine, visiting the town that’s the home of the Corvette would be a priority.

The Corvette is fantastic because it has always given excellent bang for the buck. Performance wise, it has always been competitive with cars that were and are much more expensive. The Corvette has always kept up with the likes of Ferrari and Porsche and it has done so at a fraction of the cost. The Corvette was introduced by Chevrolet back in 1953. At more than 60 years old the Corvette is the longest running car model sold in the United States. The model has been offered every year except 1983 because of a major redesign that was not quite ready. In the Fall of 2013 Chevrolet released the 7th generation of this iconic sports car.

The National Corvette Museum is right next to Interstate 65 on the east side of town. This is the biggest museum in the country dedicated to one single model. The museum is amazing in the way it chronicles everything the Corvette has ever been. The plant where they build the Corvette is just north of the museum. Because of poor timing and my usual bad luck, I was unable to tour the factory. With the recent arrival of the 7th generation Corvette, the factory was in the process of retooling and rolling out the new model so they were not allowing tours when I was there.

The museum however, was one of a kind and definitely made the visit to Bowling Green worthwhile. The museum starts out with the history of the Corvette, and what a history it is. Considering how long the car has been in production there is much to see and they show you everything. Every model that has been produced over the years can be seen in the history section. Many famous people involved in developing the Corvette or other celebrity enthusiasts have their cars on display. Zora Arkus-Duntov, perhaps the most influential engineer in Corvette development only ever owned one Corvette in his life and you can see it on display.

The Performance section of the museum is dedicated to the many racing iterations of the Corvette and contains many of the original racing versions. In the late 50s the world of motorsport realized they had a great car for racing so the Corvette has shown up in many different racing classes. This section also had many different engines on display. For a motorhead such as myself seeing the various Corvette engines souped-up for racing is a treat. My long-suffering wife is a saint in places like this.

A section of the museum dedicated to Corvette development and engineering has displays on what GM has done over the years to keep this vehicle on the cutting edge of automotive performance. This part of the museum displays many of the original concept vehicles that Corvette engineers developed over the years, in order to try new ideas and see how they work. My personal favorite in this section was either the original C6 that set a new lap record time at the Nurburgring in Germany, or the Indy Corvette concept that brought back memories of the posters on my bedroom wall when I was a kid.

Perhaps my favorite room in the museum was the Skydome. Under this modern vaulted structure many interesting and unique corvettes can be found. High performance Lingenfelters and Callaways, both leaders in aftermarket Corvette performance. Several Indy 500 pace cars are also on display. The only 1983 Corvette ever made is on display. The 1983 model year was skipped because they were gearing up for major changes for the 1984 model year. Too many cool things to list were found under the dome.

The National Corvette Museum is open nearly every day, and hosts many special events each year. This museum is truly amazing for a car lover. So if you think Corvette whenever you think of Kentucky, you will enjoy spending some time in Bowling Green.

On February 12, 2014 a massive sinkhole opened up underneath the Skydome portion of the National Corvette Museum. The hole was about 40 ft. wide, 65 ft. long and about 30 ft. deep. No one was hurt in this horrible tragedy because the floor gave way early in the morning while nobody was around. The sinkhole swallowed 8 rare and collectible Corvettes:

2009 ZR1 “Blue Devil”
1993 ZR1 Spyder (one of a kind)
1962 Convertible
1984 PPG pacecar (one of a kind)
1993 40th Anniversay Edition
1992 1 Millionth Corvette (one of a kind)
2001 Mallett Hammer Z06
2009 1.5 Millionth Corvette (one of a kind)

All of the other cars in the Skydome escaped without damage, and museum personnel were able to remove some other especially rare cars such as the only 1983 Corvette in existence. The museum has posted many different videos of the sinkhole and the evacuation of the remaining cars from the Skydome so that fans such as myself could be unproductive at work while we are wrapped up in seeing everything that happened. They even had engineers and geologists from Western Kentucky University fly a drone down into the hole to inspect the situation. These videos were all posted on YouTube.

This part of Kentucky has massive limestone layers just under the surface of the Earth. Limestone, combined with run off from all the rain they receive annually creates massive, seemingly endless caves that extend everywhere underground. Mammoth Cave National Park is the longest cave system in the world and is located about 30 minutes from Bowling Green. When you drive through the area on I-65, much of the green fields and rolling hills are pock-marked with sinkholes. Imagine driving across the surface of a giant golf ball.

This event is tragic because the cars that were swallowed up in the earth are rare, collectible, valuable, and just fun to see. To think of something that should be pampered getting treated with so much disrespect is difficult. Not to mention that any car guy out there who would love to own one of these fine machines, just can’t fathom the idea of throwing them out with the trash as Mother Earth has done. The total value of the cars is hard to estimate exactly but it’s in the millions. The most valuable of them all being the 1992 1 Millionth Corvette which is probably worth about 400k.

One person commenting on one of the websites reporting on this story stated that this was an act of God because he loves the new C7 Corvette so much that he wants to erase all evidence of previous generations because they have been deemed unworthy. I think that God would not be so cruel to commit such an atrocity and that this could only have been done by the Devil. He can’t go into a Chevy dealership and buy one so he figured he would selfishly try to draw one down into the depths of Hell. Considering that 3 of the swallowed cars are not visible at all in any of the pictures or video, initially I thought he might have succeeded. All the cars have been pulled out so…

Having been to the museum and seen most of these cars on display, the entire ordeal became personal. The Skydome was the best part of the museum. I immediately had to go back through my pictures to see if  had photos of the cars that are now in the hole. When I was there they had a large Lingenfelter display that had since been rotated out so many of the cars in photos were no longer in the Skydome. A few of the cars that went into the pit were not in my photos but most of them were.

While it is tragic to see these machines in the hole, they are just machines however, and GM has stepped forward through out this process to do whatever it take to help. They initially said they would restore all the cars that were swallowed up but after worker extracted them all it was obvious that some fo them could not be restored and could only be replicated. No point in that. The museum will keep some of the most obliterated cars around as displays showing the extent of the destruction caused by falling into the crust of planet Earth.

Since the sinkhole appeared, museum visitation has skyrocketed, so much so that management explored the possibility of keep the hole. They wanted to shore up the floor around the hole and leave it as a monument to this unfortunate event. As it turns out the necessary renovations would be too expensive to make it worthwhile. The most cost-effective thing to do is to fill in the hole entirely and return the Skydome to its former glory.

Check out some of the things to see at the National Corvette Museum:

 

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A 1957 C1 Fuelie. A fuelie is what they called any car from the late 50’s that had GM’s early mechanical fuel injection system.

 

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A 1967 C2 with the 427 big block. Perhaps the greatest Corvette ever. This particular example was owned by the late Roy Orbison.

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1953, The year that started it all.

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When the corvette came out in 1953 it had a straight six engine under the hood. Only 300 cars were made in 1953 and they were all white. The V8 came out in 1955 as an option.

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The 1974 Corvette was certainly not the lest bit special. In fact the mid to late 70’s were a bad time for all cars. This particular 1974 was owned by Zora Arkus-Duntov, the engineer who made the Corvette into the legend that it is today. This is the only Corvette that he ever personally owned.

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Zora’s Vette

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57 and 60

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1959 Fuelie

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1965 C2 Convertible. The C2 started in 63 and was the first version to start using the name sting ray.

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A C3 race car

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1998 C5 homologation. This means this was special street version of a race car. In many races the rules require that a version of the race car be made for the street. For many manufacturers this means releasing a very limited run model of something that they really just want to race, and not necessarily build for the public.

 

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The Chevy small block V8 has been the standard for the Corvette over much of it’s life. Originally it was a 265 but for decades the 350 was the engine of choice.

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C6R. GT racing has always been the way most Corvettes have found their way onto the track. They have done well in endurance racing in ALMS and at the 24 hours of Le Mans.

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One of the first Corvettes built as a race car.

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A C6 LMGT2 endurance racer.

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The C6 ZR1 that set a lap record at the Nurburgring.

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An old C3 concept car

 

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The Indy Corvette Concept from 1986. This was a radical experiment into what a mid-engine Corvette could be like. Pretty sure I had a poster of this on my bedroom wall.

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The LSx engine has the been the star under the hood of mdern Corvettes. This is an LS1but the LS2, LS3, LS7, and the LS9, or LSA have all stared under the hood in recent years.

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The museum Skydome. Perhaps the best place in the museum. It’s probably best that they fix this place up after the sink hole.

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Skydome on the non-sink hole side.

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A special display of Lingenfelter Corvettes were on display. Many displays rotate over the weeks and months.

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Skydome

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Some of the many Indy 500 pace cars that were Corvettes.

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Indy 500 pace cars

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The Blue Devil. A C6 ZR1 that was a famous record setting prototype and one of the cars that ended up on the top of the pile after the cars went into the sink hole. The center of the hole was about where the back of this car is. It’s hard to say how it ended up on top. It’s almost as if the hand of God saved this Devil. The white car on the left went into the hole, it is the 1 millionth Corvette. The white on with the black stripes is the 1.5 millionth Corvette and it ended up in the hole. The purple ZR1 Spyder on the stand in the back also ended up deep in the earth. This photo was taken by theautorules during a visit pre-sinkhole.

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A C6 Indy pace car.

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The high tech LT5 engine used in the C4 ZR1. This engine was the most advanced engine used in any GM model when it debuted in 1990. This engine still looks great under the hood of a car.

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The old Fuelie V8. This one from about 1963.

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A rare V12 C4 prototype.

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A C3 L82 with a turbo charged 5.7 V8.

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Early 80’s C3 L82 with a turbocharger.

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A C5 Daytona 500 pace car.

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A C6 Alaska safari custom Corvette. This car was used for a trans-Alaskan adventure by Road and Track magazine. A lot of time was spent on dirt roads in the back country.

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The one and only 1983 Corvette. Several prototypes were built in 1983 but because Chevy was trying to prepare the ground breaking C4 model, they never sold any 1983 Corvettes. All prototypes were destroyed except this one.

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C3, C3, C3

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Who put grandma and grandpa in the trunk?

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A twin-turbo Callaway LT1 from a C4.

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The names and faces around the Skydome make the Corvette Hall of Fame. These are influential engineers, designers, and drivers that had an impact on the history of the Corvette.

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Lingenfelter Performance Engineering is one of the foremost tuners of Corvettes. This twin-turbo C6 is particularly amazing.

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Power, power with some more power on the side.

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The original Z06 badge says 505 HP. In this Lingenfelter it’s more than that.

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This lift ended up in the sinkhole along with the 40th Anniversary Corvette which was on the top and the 1962 C1 which was on the bottom. These two mid 90’s C4s were lucky.

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More Lingenfelters

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1955 C1 with a V8. Probably the very best of the earliest Corvettes.

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Electronic programming equipment used to tune this C4 ZR1 test mule. This is ancient technology by today’s standards. If you do any tuning today this is interesting stuff.

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Many of the labels on these switches and dials can be found in modern programming software. Today though we use a laptop computer with special software that allows a tuner to access all of the fuel and other control maps to change parameters.

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LT5 prototype

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1968 C3 with a rare 427 big block.

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A rare look at your humble author in his native habitat.

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The sinkhole. Those are not Hotwheels in the sandbox.

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sinkhole 2

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last from hole

 

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