View Full Version : [Press] At 50, Corvette speed, curves still fuel passion

06-19-03, 07:33 AM
Thursday, June 19, 2003 - Detroit News

<div align="center"><b>From the first Corvette in 1953 to the latest in 2003, the sports car has endured as a symbol of speed and freedom.</b></div>

<h4 align="Center">At 50, Corvette speed, curves still fuel passion</h4>

America's first sports car endures in dreams, driveways

By Ed Garsten / The Detroit News

<b>DEARBORN</b> -- Suzanne Lees loves her two sons. She jokes her love became even more intense 18 months ago when they decided to join the military rather than go to college.

The Brownstown mom didn't begrudge her boys a higher education, but the money she would have spent for tuition helped make the difference between a dream and a dream come true -- the purchase of a rare 1982 collector's edition Chevrolet Corvette.

Only 6,700 were made that year -- the first 'Vette built when production moved from St. Louis to Bowling Green, Ky.

"This car was a long dream of mine," said Lees, who designs exhibit displays for Exhibit Productions. "There's just something about the color, the interior, body style. There's not a thing I don't like about this car."

The low-slung, two-seat sports car with its sound, speed and body curves has seduced men, women, boys and girls since Chevrolet unleashed it onto American streets 50 years ago this summer.

Since the first Corvette rolled off the assembly line June 30, 1953, it has inspired rock anthems and Hollywood movies, served as a leading prop on popular TV shows and paced the Indianapolis 500 on five occasions. More than 1 million have been made.

Even today, spy photos of future Corvette models routinely command the highest price of any car or truck sold in the United States.

One week from today, a caravan of more than 5,000 Corvettes from across the nation will converge in Nashville, Tenn., for a weekend celebration to mark Corvette's storied half-century as an object of desire, passion and aspiration.

Up to 15,000 Corvette enthusiasts, including a Michigan contingent of 250 cars, are expected to attend the 50th birthday bash June 27-28 in Nashville.

America's first sports car was the brainchild of Harley Earl, the legendary General Motors Corp. stylist. Back in 1951, after attending a race at Watkins Glen, N.Y., Earl took a look at the Jaguars, Ferraris and other European sports cars and decided to begin conjuring an American version.

On June 2, 1952, Earl made a formal presentation to GM executives and the car was code named "Opel Sports Car."

The go-ahead was given to produce the car for the 1953 Motorama and named the Corvette after a speedy British Royal Navy warship by Chevrolet public relations man Myron Scott.

<b>Preserving its image</b>

While the Corvette's styling has changed somewhat over the years, Michael Marsden, an automotive historian and chief academic officer at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wis., said GM has strived to advance the car's technical innovations and preserved its image as a high-performance sports car.

"It is the only true American sports car," Marsden said.

"I suppose the automotive world, at least in the United States, is divided between people who have a Corvette and people who kind of wish they had a Corvette," said GM product czar Bob Lutz.

One reason the Corvette has endured is its combination of style, performance and price -- compared with its competitors.

A 2003 Corvette will set a buyer back $43,635 to $51,435. By comparison, a Dodge Viper is priced at $79,995, and the Porsche 911 will set you back $68,600 to $181,700. Buyers can't touch a Ferrari for less than six figures.

"You can always compare the Corvette to European sports cars that cost two and three times as much and you can always blow their doors off," Lutz said.

<b>'A special relationship' </b>

Pam Dansbury isn't necessarily looking to blow anybody's doors off. The Utica Montessori teaching assistant is the leader of the Michigan Corvette Caravan and has owned three 'Vettes: a white 1999 coupe, a 2002 magnetic red coupe and a 2003 anniversary red coupe -- her current ride.

She recalls an episode a while back with a Viper during a driving school at the Waterford Hills track that involved a lesson on taking curves.

"You could only pass in two places and a Viper was coming up behind me fast," she said. "I went into the turns and when I tried to wave the Viper around in the straight part, there was no Viper, he had run off the track. My Corvette and I were developing a special relationship."

Married with two grown sons, Dansbury first caught the Corvette bug in high school when her dad, who worked for GM, came home in one from the company's demo pool.

The bug bit again many years later after she was married and attended a ride and drive event at the Silverdome. Dansbury then got serious about owning one.

She saved up, scoured the classified ads and found the white 1999 coupe.

"The American dream was mine," she said.

<B>Collector owns 50</b>

Mike Yager built his American Dream into the American Dream. As a boy in St. Louis, Yager's older brother began to describe what a 'Vette looked like as they drove east on Interstate 70 when a silver Corvette whizzed by in a westbound lane, Yager recalls.

"I saw that car and swore that some day I would have one," Yager said. He eventually bought one in 1967, a marina blue convertible, then another and another and another and dozens more.

Over the years, he's owned hundreds, but his personal fleet of Corvettes is now down to about 50. The collection is on display among 8,000 Corvettes at his "My Garage Research and Development Center and Museum" at the Effingham, Ill., headquarters of his company, Mid-America Direct.

Yager started the company in 1974 with a $500 loan used to sell a small line of Corvette emblems, patches, owner's manuals and T-shirts. He built it into a $40-million-a-year mega business, the largest supplier of Corvette parts and accessories in the world.

In 1999, he bought TWEEKS, a mail order business that deals in Porsche-related items, and has since expanded his catalogue business to include Volkswagen parts and accessories.

But his first and foremost passion lies with the Corvette. He serves as chairman of the board of the National Corvette Museum.

"It's America's interpretation of what a sports car should be that has stayed true since day one," Yager said.

<b>Packed with power</b>

As a retired engineer from Detroit Diesel Corp., Tony "Zippy" Vernogis knows a thing or two about horsepower. But then again, he always had his mind on piston-pumped ponies, dreaming of Corvettes as a high school lad.

He bought his first Corvette in 1984, but his most memorable one came in 1996 when he purchased a used high-performance ZR1 in Hartford, Conn.

"I was afraid of the car. I literally drove it easy," said the Grosse Pointe Farms grandfather of 8. "This is a remarkable car."

So remarkable, he's owned seven and currently drives a 2002 Z06 Corvette packed with 405 horsepower.

A sixth generation -- the "C6" -- Corvette will make its debut next year. Not many details are being released yet, but GM North America President Gary Cowger promises "new styling and a lot of technical innovations. It's going to continue to surprise and delight."

On the occasion of Corvette's 50th anniversary, the word "icon" is frequently tossed around to describe the car's place in automotive history as an enduring symbol.

But icon is a term ascribed to a number of products and people. Mike Yager has a description reserved only for the Corvette.

"This is freedom. This is horsepower," he said. "This is America."

You can reach Ed Garsten at (313) 223-3217 or egarsten@detnews.com.

06-29-03, 09:57 AM
Originally posted by Rob
"I suppose the automotive world, at least in the United States, is divided between people who have a Corvette and people who kind of wish they had a Corvette," said GM product czar Bob Lutz.

I would say that I agree with that statement 100%. There is just something special about the Corvette that you just don't get with other American cars.

One of these days..........