Chattanooga: Showroom

By: Clint Cooper, Chattanooga Times Free Press
Monday, April 1, 2008

To members of the National Corvette Restorers Society, there’s nothing like the real thing.

Forget the outsized engines. Skip the wide stripes. Ditch the big tires. Pitch the dayglo paint.

“We want the cars like they were the day they came out of the showroom,” said Tony Woodard, chairman of the Southeast chapter of the organization, which held its regional meet in Chattanooga over the weekend. “This is not a most-chrome-wins competition.”

It wasn’t a beauty contest, either. To be sure, there were a lot of classic beauties on the back parking lot of the Chattanooga Choo-Choo. But authenticity was more important, and judges used a fine-toothed comb and a magnifying glass to make certain it was there.

If the disc at the top of an antenna was incorrect, points were counted off. If the Chevrolet bow-tie logo was missing on the driver’s side mirror, that was a no-no.

Cars at an NCRS meet aren’t judged against each other, said Mr. Woodard, a resident of Jacksonville, Ala., who has a 1971 model with 7,000 original miles.

Instead, judges use a manual for cars of each model year, he said, and “each one is judged on its own merit.”

Brian Duncan, a sales associate at Honest Charley Speed Shop, said his business is split about 50-50 between owners who want to restore their cars as close as possible to original and owners who want to customize their rides.

“It often depends on what vehicle you’re talking about,” he said. “With Corvettes, the majority go with pretty close to original. With something more mundane, they’re often shooting to modify it.”

Eighty cars of various model years were judged over the weekend, and 25 were put through a performance verification trial over a 10-mile road course.

Wayne East of Gadsden, Ala., bought his first Corvette for $1,500 when he was 17 years old in 1969. Over the years, he’s had seven of them.

The one he brought to the regional meet was a white 1967 Sting Ray, one of 13 Central Office Production Cars made that year.

The cars had been made for the Tangier Shriners of Omaha, Neb., who ordered 10 to 20 new Corvettes each year to use in regional parades. The Shriner owner sold the car to a man in Oklahoma, and he sold it to Mr. East in 2004.

Although the car had only 43,000 miles, it hadn’t been driven in 12 years. Eventually, he restored it to original condition, and it has now earned Top Flight status and was tabbed a Bloomington Gold Survivor.

(Corvettes are awarded Top Flight status if they score at least 94 percent at meets in the areas of restoration, performance, or preservation. A Bloomington Gold Survivor is awarded a car at an Illinois Corvette show if it is assessed as being within 95 percent of the way it left the factory.)

Mr. East was hoping to earn his Performance Verification Award at the Chattanooga meet.

Jimmy McCutcheon, who has been an NCRS national judge and national officer, said his wife’s interest in the model got him into it.

“One day,” he said he told her, “I’ll buy you one.” In 1974, he did.

Since then, Mr. McCutcheon of Birmingham, Ala., stays involved with NCRS because of his love of the car and the people he meets.

“They’re like Lay’s potato chips,” he said. “I once had 12 at once.”