Visiting the National Corvette Museum

Historical display in the National Corvette Museum

Historical display in the National Corvette Museum

As we pulled into the parking lot for the National Corvette Museum amid a sprawling complex visible from Interstate 65 in Bowling Green, Kentucky, 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.

In Your Bucket Because…

  • You own a Corvette, or wish you did.
  • All Corvettes are manufactured in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
  • You’re fascinated by automotive history.

A Family Thing

Corvette Museum displays

Pit crew area in the National Corvette Museum

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 fleet, only that ’66 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

Indy pace cars in "Gasoline Alley"

Corvette Indy pace cars in the Skydome’s “Gasoline Alley”

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, race car 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.

Brand, New

Corvette club patch flown on Space Shuttle Discovery

Cape Kennedy Corvette Club patch flown on Space Shuttle Discovery

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. 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 memorabilia to orbit the Earth. Since he’d worked on both the club newsletter and the Space Shuttle program, it seemed more than fitting.

Practicalities

    • The National Corvette Museum is open daily, 8-5 CST. Admission is $10 adults, $8 seniors, $5 ages 6-16; active military and ages 5 and under free.
    • The museum complex includes the Corvette Cafe, the Corvette Store, and a handful of exhibits that require no admission fee to visit.
    • Depending on the schedule at the nearby GM Corvette Assembly Plant, you may also be able to arrange a plant tour at certain times of year. Tours cost $7. Check their website for dates and tickets.
    • Ordering a new Corvette? You can opt for delivery to the National Corvette Museum and pick it up with a technician in attendance from the adjacent factory. Choose Museum Delivery Option R8C to pick up your new car at the museum’s showroom floor.
    • Work is underway to develop the National Corvette Museum Motorsports Park, a world-class motorsports park on 184 acres adjacent to the museum.

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