By Brian S. Akre
It's been a long time coming, but today Chevrolet has a completely redesigned Corvette in showrooms - a select few showrooms, anyway. Above, George Kerbeck gives a peek at one of the new 1997 models at his dealership in Atlantic City, N.J. But Hawaii Corvette fans must wait a little longer. - Associated Press
Chevrolet's calling it "an automotive high holy day" for the rabid Corvette faithful. Today 402 select Chevy dealers across the nation will take the gray covers off their sleek '97 'Vettes -- showing off the first complete redesign of the venerable sports car in 13 years.
It's an old marketing trick. Decades ago, dealers would keep covers on their new models until the designated unveiling day each fall, making it a special event.
Today, new models come out year-round with little, if any, showroom ceremony or fanfare.
Hawaii isn't likely to see any of the new cars until some time next month and the islands are likely to get a total of only five of them this year, said Gary Marxen, new car manager at JN Chevrolet.
Marxen said he expects to sell the car easily but would like to keep one in the showroom for a while to attract people. "It's gorgeous," he said.
Details of the new 'Vette are no secret -- especially to Corvette fanatics. It was unveiled at the Detroit and Los Angeles auto shows in January. Pictures have adorned car magazines and Chevy's Internet site for months.
But Chevrolet dealers have been under orders to keep their new 'Vettes under wraps until today. No touching. No peeking.
When pressed, however, some dealers admit they've given discreet "sneak previews" for their most demanding customers.
Today the nation's highest-volume Chevrolet dealers begin selling '97 Corvettes, the first full redesign of the car in 13 years. The rest - including all Hawaii dealers - have to wait until production ramps up. - Associated Press
"You can't really offend someone who has bought several 'Vettes from you," said Charlie Kerbeck, vice president of the nation's top-selling Corvette dealer, Kerbeck Chevrolet in Atlantic City, N.J.
"The car's sitting there and they've come a distance to see it. You have to be a little bit human about it," he said.
But for the 'Vetteless masses, today will be their first chance to see the car in person, sit in it, or shell out $38,060 to drive one home.
Don't have that much cash or credit? At one dealership you can pray for a raise at a "Corvette shrine," an exhibit of 'Vettes representing the car's five generations.
Only the highest-volume Corvette dealerships -- less than 10 percent of the nation's 4,200 Chevy dealers -- will have the car today. The rest will have to wait until production at Bowling Green, Ky., catches up.
Some dealers plan to take the covers off at just after midnight to give their local Corvette fans the earliest possible peek.
Cauley Chevrolet, which bills itself "America's Corvette Dealer," plans a wine-and-cheese Corvette showing tonight, by invitation only, for about 300 of its best customers.
The hype over the new 'Vette already seems to be working.
Cauley sales manager Mark Worthington said he has 10 new 'Vettes in stock but has orders for 50.
The self-described "Corvette King," Les Stanford Chevrolet in Dearborn, Mich., has taken 105 deposits and pre-sold the two covered 'Vettes in its showroom, assistant manager Lew Tuller said.
Today also is when the first Corvette advertising in 13 years hits the television airwaves. The spots will be run in 2,600 movie theaters nationwide, as well.
The commercial has a suspense theme: A nervous bunch of CIA-types monitor a German test track via satellite when they spy a speeding car they haven't seen before.
"Does anybody have any idea what it is?" the station chief asks after he's summoned into the command room. There's a long pause.
"I do," an engineer replies. "It's the next 'Vette."
"Get me one," the chief orders.
Star-Bulletin reporter Russ Lynch contributed to this story.