Two for the Road Trip
It was one of those typical February nights in 2007. The sun had set early and with the darkness the cold had come. There was also a little dampness in the air which was part of the average February nights in Jersey. Anyone who has spent a February living in New Jersey knows exactly what I mean. But this night was going to end up stirring dreams in the two life long friends that were working together in my garage.
Mike Kuybida and I were working on my 1975 Corvette as we had done many times before. We had been friends since meeting at the Jersey Corvette Club back in the mid 1960s. Not only were we close friends because of the cars we loved, but our friendship went deeper than just the Corvettes. We had many common interests and our families enjoyed social events together over the 40 plus years. But, the bond between us had started even before we met.
A Friend in Deed
In the early 1960s, never having met, we both bought 1960 maroon Corvettes. Mike's had a white soft-top (this is a picture of Mike's) and mine had a black convertible top. By the time I met Mike at a Jersey Corvette Club meeting, the '60 Vettes had been sold and newer ones were owned. I loved the cars and the mystique that went with them since I first saw pictures of the 1953 white one at the GM Motorama Auto Show in New York City. A life long love for Corvettes had formed long before I was able to drive and or to buy my own. When I first met Mike he mentioned that he had experienced the same feelings when he first set his eyes on a Corvette and this helped sealed the bond between us.
During the 1960's we both had a couple of mid-year Corvettes, but in 1968 when the C3 arrived, we had to have them. Without talking to each other regarding what we would order, Mike and I both purchased '68 LeMans blue cars with matching interiors....Mike had a roadster with a white soft-top and I had the first T-top (picture of my car). Both cars had some issues with body structure and a few other minor issues. I had a 400/427 engine with the 3x2 setup and Mike had the 350/350. We both had 4 speed transmissions, so there were fun cars to drive--most of the time.
During the summer of 1968, after having a few bad experiences with the cars, we both decided to order 1969 Corvettes. This time we did discuss all the options prior to visiting the dealer. We ordered roadsters. War bonnet yellow with black interiors and black soft-top's, we couldn't wait to get them. We were both signing up for the 427s....I had one in the '68 and loved it. Back in that era, gas was still relatively inexpensive and gas mileage was not taken into consideration, but power was!
Then the bad news--the St. Louis plant where Corvettes were manufactured went on strike. The strike lasted approximately 6 months and during that time I had gotten engaged and cancelled the order on my car. Mike had also gotten engaged but instead of cancelling his order, he opted to move it forward a year and waited for the 1970 models. Instead of a convertible, he changed the order to a T-top in green with a beige interior (Mike's 1970 when it was purchased). Mike still has this car. A few years back, Mike had the engine rebuilt and he is now getting ready to put the car back to its original state. Each year when we journey to Corvettes at Carlisle and Mike continues to buy more of the parts he needs or wants to replace. Needless to say, we will be working on this project together and hopefully having fun doing it. To add fun to the project, Mike is seriously considering taking the body off the chassis which will allow us to refurbish the chassis, put new brake lines in and replace all the body mounts. Once we get started, we are going to have several fun months of work ahead. But for us, working on Corvettes is almost as much fun as driving them.
In the fall of 1974 GM announced that the '75 model year would be the last convertible Corvette for the C3s. From then on only coupes would be manufactured since the number of roadsters sold each year had steadily declined. Since my first love had always been convertibles, I got in touch with a friend in GM and he was able to get me one of the first roadsters produced. I didn't even know what color the car was going to be when I told him to get it for me and have it shipped to the local dealer. At this time I was living in Marietta, Georgia and the dealer was in Roswell, the next town over. When the dealer called and told me my car had been delivered, I rushed over to find a white car with black interior and a white hardtop (picture is my car). It was a fully optioned car with an auto transmission and it even had a rear window defroster. I don't think there were too many convertibles with that option and since they only produced 4609 convertibles during the 1975 model year, I always felt this was a special car--at least it always has been for me! This is the same car that Mike and I were working on that cold February night.
So, up to this point in time, we both had C1's, C2's and C3 Corvettes. During the 1980s we both took the plunge again and bought C4's. I had a 1984 red couple and Mike bought an '87 black couple (the picture shows both our cars in Mike's driveway). At the time, these were very impressive cars with digital dash gauges, the new body design, and much improved handling. We both had Z51 suspensions on the cars. Even though we bought the C4's we still kept the other Corvettes....by the end of the 80's we both had a C2, a C3 and the new C4s.
On this cold February night we were putting a new fuel pump on my 1975 Corvette roadster (see picture) which I owned since September of 1974 when the 1975 model year was first introduced. This car was the first 1975 convertible sold to the public for the '75 model year. Since my car has never been altered and it's all original, this is a Survivor in my opinion. One of these days I should drive it to the Bloomington Corvette Show and get it certified as a Survivor. But enough about the car. As we worked we discussed our favorite subject on all different levels.
Mike bought a 50th anniversary Corvette in 2003 (picture is Mike with his 50th) and the discussion turned to how exciting the trip had been to Bowling Green to pick-up the car at the National Corvette Museum. For most of an hour Mike described the journey through the plant tour and then onto the museum to take delivery of his new Vette. He described how it has snowed the night before he drove the car out of the museum and headed home. I could not imagine the thrill of driving a new Corvette out of the museum for the first time and then all the fun of driving back to Jersey.
About half way through the evening, with the fuel pump slowly being connected with all the correct hoses, we both joked that we should think about buying 2008's and picking them up in Bowling Green. At first we laughed and talked about how exciting it would be to do it together and all the fun things associated with this far out idea. As the night ended, we both laughed about buying new Vettes and parted with a handshake and bear hug and my many thanks to Mike for all his help. Even today, we are not sure who first mentioned the idea or who twisted whose arm, but the seed had been planted.
Would this be the end of the story??? No Way!!! This was just the beginning...
An Idea Takes Shape
For the next week or so, neither one of us mentioned the idea of buying new Vettes, but it was not too far from our thoughts. I'm not sure who mentioned it again, but the subject came up during a phone conversation and some serious discussions were about to follow. Mike stopped by my house one night to go over some Corvette Club business. We were officers of the Jersey Corvette Club, which had been established in 1959 and we were meeting to plan events for the coming year. As the evening progressed the subject of 2008 Corvettes came up. So, we decided to visit one of the larger Corvette dealers in the state to see if any details were available on next year's car. That Saturday we drove two hours to the dealer and were a little disappointed that not too much information was available yet. The Sales Rep at the dealer seemed to know less about Corvettes than Mike and I did. We looked at each other as he talked and that "This is not good" look passed between us. Without a word being exchanged, we both knew this was not the place we were going to buy a car.
Over the next couple of weeks we hunted the internet reading all the Corvette data that could be found either on forums, magazines (Corvette Fever of course) or from auto websites. Since we were both members of the National Corvette Museum, we received their e-news letters. One of the letters mentioned the C5/C6 Bash that would introduce the 2008 Corvette to the public. Upon reading that article, the phones began to ring with the idea of a road trip. The excitement began to grow and the idea of buying 2008 cars was starting to take shape. I was definitely ready for another convertible, thinking to get another white one to match my '75. Mike was leaning towards a Z06 maybe black, maybe yellow. After a few trips to the dealer that we both had used in the past for Corvette purchases, I decided to order a 2008 convertible. Since no details were available this far in advance of the official introduction of the car, colors and options did not need to be decided upon.
Mike had decided to wait to place an order since he was still undecided about what model he wanted and if he should sell any of his current Corvettes. At the current time Mike had a 50th anniversary convertible, a '70 T-top, and a '66 black roadster. But the thing we both readily agreed upon was a Road Trip to the Bash.Solidifying the Game Plan
Over the past years, Mike had established a friendship with the owner of Schumacher Chevrolet, our local neighborhood Chevy dealer in Little Falls. The relationship had begun while two fathers were watching their sons play high school football. One of Mike's three sons was on the high school football team and so was the son of the sales manager of this dealership. When Mike mentioned that he might be interested in a new Corvette, the dealer invited him in to meet the owner, who was also a Corvette person. After a few preliminary meetings, Mike invited me to join him at the dealership to let them know we were serious about buying 2008 Vettes and about doing it together.
Schumacher Chevy was celebrating their 75th anniversary this year and immediately thought this would be a great publicity event for them. The dealership had been in the same family for 75 years, which was even more amazing. Schumacher contacted the GM Zone office and mentioned the potential story of two friends buying two Corvettes from a dealer celebrating a major anniversary. The GM Zone representative agreed immediately and a meeting was setup for all of to discuss this unique opportunity. Our biggest concern was that the dealer would be given the allocations for two Corvettes from the zone office for the first group of cars to be built. During the meeting we were assured that the zone office would make sure the dealer had the two allocations whenever they were needed What would the next step be.....the C5/C6 Bash at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Road Trip Time
Plans were put into place and reservations were made to journey to Bowling Green, Kentucky the last weekend in April for the Bash weekend. As each day went by, the excitement grew and the forums on the internet were buzzing with speculation on what the 08's would be like. I can't begin to tell you how much fun we were having. We were like two high school girls--on the cell phones several times a day, emailing each other constantly whenever either one of us heard something about the new Vettes, or talking about colors and options every time we were together.
Finally the big day arrived. I woke up at 3:30 that Friday morning and it was raining like cats and dogs outside. As I left the house and drove up the Garden State Parkway, the thunder and lightning was constantly overhead and the rain kept coming down in buckets. It was a slow drive up and as I got near Newark Airport I called Mike. He was about the same distance away from the parking area that we had decided to use. Upon arriving at the parking area we discovered it was flooded and had to detour to one of the long term parking lots run by the Airport. We quickly parked and caught the bus to our terminal. Luckily, the rain had let up a little and we didn't get soaking wet....just a little damp. We both had carry-on luggage and I also had my laptop. The laptop would allow us to take pictures with our digital cameras and load them to the PC each night. It also gave us the ability to email some pictures home and to the guys in the club after each days events.
Our flight was on time and uneventful and we were soon in Louisville picking up our rented car, a Saturn. Mike set up his GPS and off we went. I had butterflies in my stomach; the excitement was so high for me...going to the home of the Corvette was like going to a holy spot. Mike covered the hundred or so miles in record time and there it was the GM Assembly Plant. As Mike pulled off the exit there was the National Corvette Museum and already hundreds of C5 and C6 Vettes were all over the parking area and on the lawns. We parked across the street in a motel parking lot and walked over. I can't even begin to describe the feeling I was having as my eyes soaked in the building, people, tents with vendors and all the Corvettes.
The first thing we did was to register and get our badges, shirts, and event pins. From there we entered the museum and walked around. Since Mike had been there before, he acted as my guide and pointed out the things we should pay attention to. We asked for Gary (the fellow in charge of museum delivery for new cars) and we introduced ourselves to him. Gary was very friendly and helpful and told us to find Lori; she would be the person to answer all our questions. After spending time with Gary we were directed to Lori's desk in the museum administration offices. She turned out to be an extremely helpful person and spent over an hour talking to us about the delivery process and what had changed since Mike was there. The more she described the process and what we were going to experience, the more thrilling it sounded. Lori turned out to be one of the most helpful people we have ever met, but more important, a good friend.
We walked out of the museum and one of the volunteer workers told us the 2008 Vettes were parked out behind the building. Since the introduction event was still a couple of hours away, we decided to take a walk and look at the new cars. From the outside, the cars were almost identical to the 2007 model. There were new wheels available. But, the big appearance change was the interiors. As soon as Mike and I saw the new two tone leather interiors, especially the one in black and dark brown, we looked at each other and nodded...this was the interior we had to have. There was a black convertible with a black top and the new interior that we feel in love with. The more we discussed the options, the more we agreed that the cars would be exactly the same except Mike wanted a 6 speed and I wanted an auto. So, it had been decided--two black on black convertibles with the new Siena interiors and fully loaded with all the options available.
Any idea I had about a white car disappeared in a flash. The only question we still had was which wheel to order. We snapped picture after picture of the car and especially the new interior....you have to love digital cameras. I had bought my laptop along so that at the end of each day we could download all the day's pictures and start fresh the following morning. Between the two of us we took over 200 pictures that weekend. Imagine how many we are going to take when we take delivery of the cars. Might even throw in a little video!
Since the early 1980's the last weekend in August had meant our annual journey to Corvettes at Carlisle. I don't think I missed one year since it began. It was like a 'right of passage' signaling the end of summer. The fairgrounds in Carlisle were filled with Corvettes and vendors selling anything that was related to the world of Corvettes. Each year we would walk the many acres in search of that one special part that we needed or looking for that something special to bring home. Seeing all the cars and parts also gave us the yearly incentive to work on our cars. We all had projects that we had been planning for several years, but never seemed to have enough time to get to. Carlisle allowed us to dream of finally getting to our car projects. This dream usually lasted for a couple of weeks after our journey. It's funny how the following year most of our Corvette projects were the same ones from the prior years and still hadn't been worked on. But, it was the excitement and fun of dreaming about doing them that counted. We had our usual schedule that had been established over the many years of making the trip. We would all meet and leave at 6AM on that Friday morning and drive out to the Midway Diner. Breakfast was a tradition, usually with pancakes. Then it was onto Carlisle. Once we arrived, we would stop at the Hess Gas Station and fill the car up for the ride home. Parking the car in the now closed John Deer building and walking into the world of Corvette was part of the ritual. After a day of Vette talk, parts buying, seeing some old friends that we met at Carlisle over the years and fun company, it was back to the car with the goodies we obtained. And of course, we grabbed as many new catalogs from the vendors that were there. We would then drive back to Allentown to the local Cracker Barrel Restaurant. This same weekend of each year, a hot rod show would be going on in Allentown and we would get to see some of the great cars driving around or in the restaurant parking lot. After a refreshing meal, it was back to the journey home. It was a long day, but one of the best days of each year and we all looked forward it.
A few years ago during one of our trips to Carlisle, we meet a fellow representing GM from Detroit. He was working in Bob Lutz's group (Lutz was a GM president in charge of technical development including the Bowling Green assembly plant where the Corvettes were manufactured) and we chatted for quite a while. We bonded immediately. During our conversation he realized that we were lifelong Corvette guys and took a liking to us. He gave us his business card and told us to contact him if we ever needed anything. Little did he realize we would take him up on his offer.
Falling Into Place
After meeting with the GM Zone representative, Mike and I thought we could do business with Schumacher. They were willing to give us a great price on the cars if we would allow them to use us in publicity for their 75th anniversary. We readily agree to any publicity they wanted. The beginning of May, Mike dropped off his 50th anniversary car to Schumacher as a down payment on his 2008 Corvette. At the same time I gave them a deposit on mine and things were beginning to fall into place.
Once Schumacher was able to provide Mike and me with order numbers, I called the GM fellow that had given us his card at Carlisle. He was extremely helpful when he heard my story--about two long time friends buying matching cars from a local small town dealership. The end of May I received an email from Detroit saying that the dealer could begin entering orders for the 2008 cars and if I could provide him with the order numbers he would reprioritize our orders to the top of the list. This would allow us to get the first couple of convertibles manufactured. Things were looking good for us and the excitement was at an all time high when the bubble burst.
A Fly in the Ointment
Each week on one of the forums on the internet a list of the options that are on constraint is published. We immediately noticed when the Siena interiors that we had ordered were now on the constraint list--meaning they were not available at the plant. What this meant was that the dealer could not put our orders into the GM system until the constraint was lifted and the interiors were available. Mike and I immediately called Schumacher to find out exactly what this meant. We were informed that our cars could not be ordered until the constraint was lifted by GM. Our next call was to Detroit. We were informed that the new interiors would not be put into production until August 1st. We were told that once the constraint was lifted, our contact in Detroit would reprioritize our orders so that we could get the first Corvette convertibles built with the new Siena interiors that would be offered to the public. Now, with our fingers crossed, we started the waiting game. Each Thursday morning we checked the internet for the latest list of options on the constraint list. As soon as the interiors were available, Schumacher would be called to enter the orders and once we obtained the order numbers, we would then contact Detroit.
During the last week of July things started to heat up. One of the dealers posted a comment on the Corvette Forum that GM was going to build 15 Corvettes with the 4LT interiors as "pilot" cars. I immediately call our contact in Detroit and asked if we could be part of the pilot program. He stated that they were strictly for GM employees to test. A day or two later (August 1st) there was another posting on the forum stating that GM had given the go ahead to begin building the 4LT packages and they would be accepting orders.
On August 2nd we contact Schumacher and asked them to get an update from their Zone office to verify that orders were being accepted for the interiors we wanted. Still no luck.
On August 22 things began to happen. There was a notice posted on the Corvette Forum that stated a decision would be made the next day (August 23rd) regarding a go or no-go on the 4LT (Siena) interiors. I contacted the person that posted the notice and asked him how good his source was....he said "you can bank on it". The next day a 'go' decision was posted on the forum. Mike and I decided the next course of action was to contact our Detroit person to verify this good news and to get our cars re-prioritized to the first production day for the 4LT interiors.
We contacted Detroit and it was confirmed that the 'go' decision had been given. We immediately called Stephen at Schumacher to see if he could get us the two allocations and he said he would work on it. In the meantime I contact Detroit again and asked if he could move us up to the top of the list. He not only put our cars first but provided us with the allocations we needed.....this was getting exciting! Based on this news, Schumacher does not have to do anything except get paid for the cars and handle all the paperwork.
It now appears that our cars will be manufactured on September 17th and we should be able to pick them up by the end of September.
After receiving all the good news what could be better--a day at Corvettes at Carlisle...that's what!!! Friday, August 24th and it's time to get out of bed at 4:30 AM for our yearly trip to the Corvette Heaven in PA. When I left the house around 5 AM it was cloudy and foggy. The trip up the Garden State Parkway was fine with very little traffic. Arrived at Mike's house about 6:15 and Mike and John were just walking out of their houses when I arrived (they live across the street from each other). Parked the car in John's driveway as Gene pulled up and we all jumped in John's truck and away we went.
We made our usual stop at the Midway Diner out on Route 78 about 8:15 and it was still foggy and cloudy. As long as it didn't rain, the day would be OK. After our usual breakfast--pancakes or eggs--we were off.
We pulled into Carlisle a little after 10AM and it was cloudy, but the fog had lifted. We parked across the street from the fairgrounds on someone's lawn and headed in. This year we decided to start at the top of the fairgrounds and go to the GM tent first--we wanted to thank our Detroit contact in person. The fairgrounds were always a treat to look at as we walked into the main entrance on Clay Street. To the right was the Corvette only parking and on the left at the bottom of the hill were the old parts dealers. Up on the crest of the hill was the new car area along with the car care products and under the grandstand were the select vendors of jewelry, books, clothing items, and the car display of Chip Miller's (the owner of the Carlisle fairgrounds). As we walked in, we could all tell it was going to be a very exciting day for us.
We had already decided that this year we would head for the GM tent and start our journey there instead of the usual 'old parts' area. I can't even begin to tell you the excitement Mike and I felt as we walked up the slight hill towards the tent area. As we approached the GM tent we realized that none of us remembered what our Detroit contact looked like. It had been a few years since we last encountered him at Carlisle. Once we arrived at the tent I recognized one of the GM guys that we had meet at the Bash in April and asked him if he know our guy. He pointed him out to us and I pulled one of my Jersey Corvette Club business cards out of my pocket. As we approached him, he was talking to someone else. He looked over at me and I handed him the card....he started to laugh as he extended his hand out to us and we gave each other a bear hug. And he did the same when I introduced Mike. It felt like we were old friends seeing each other after a long period of time.
We immediately began discussing all the details of our cars and expressed our thanks to him for all his efforts. He was extremely gracious to us and took as much time as we wanted talking about the new interior and all the other features that we had questions on. We took several pictures with him.
He told us that our cars would come off the assembly line on September 17th, the first day the new interiors (4LTs) would be available. He introduced us to one of the people that reported to him and excused himself to make a call. This guy told us that they were in a meeting when my call came in. He ran into the meeting and they were given the word to move these two orders to the top of the list and to tag them with GMNA allocations. The dealer would not have to make any special arrangements to get us the cars. We were told that once they were given their marching orders--the plant was called and our order numbers were put on the top.....it's nice to have friends in high places!!!
Then, out of nowhere Dave McLellan, the chief Corvette engineer from 1975 through the entire C4 era walks up and joins the conversation. We immediately asked to have some pictures taken with him and began discussing the difference between the C6 and the C4. What a terrific experience it was for guys like us. After spending a lifetime of loving Corvettes, to meet the team responsible for actually designing and building them was like being with the Gods of GM and Corvette Land.
From the GM tent we began our usual walk and hunt for old parts and trinkets. We really didn't have too much on our lists of things to buy so the pace of the walking was a little faster than usual. We made a stop at the C-Magic tent and I purchased some wax, we stopped at the Corvette Fever Magazine tent and renewed our subscriptions for another year and got our free T-shirts for doing so, and we stopped to allow John to get some keys made up for his Vettes.
We also stopped by Digital Corvettes and said hello to Rick Conti of EVS. We had dinner with Rick at the Corvette Bash in April and remained in contact with him via email. Rick is a fun guy and it's always fun seeing an old Corvette friend. Rick bought his son with him and gave us all posters.
By mid afternoon, we headed back to the GM tent in time to meet Will Cooksey, the Corvette Plant Manager. He also got in some pictures with us and we saw the Vette that he had 'burned' the back tire off of. While he burned the tire, it melted into little rubber pieces that flew off and took some of the back wheel panel with it. Will didn't seem to be the least bit upset and told his crew to get a new tire at the Goodyear tent and then have to car flatbedded back to the plant for a new rear fender to be put on.
By the end of the day, we were tired and yet excited. It had been humid and hot, a typical Carlisle Corvette weather day and the AC in John's truck felt good. We drove to Allentown and stopped at our usual dinner place--Cracker Barrel. Each year, on the same weekend as the Corvette show, there is a hot rod show in Allentown and we always see some great looking cars while we are taking a break for dinner. After dinner we continued our journey back to West Paterson where I then drove back to Brielle with fond memories of another great year at Corvettes at Carlisle.
The Excitement Grows
Besides checking the constraint list each week, there was not too much more we could do except keep our fingers crossed that our cars would be built on schedule and the looming UAW negotiations would not effect us. Mike and I calculated that if our cars were to be completed and roll off the assembly line on September 17th, they would have to start the built process either on the 11th or 12th of the month.
On Thursday, September 13th at around noon time my cell phone rang. It was our friend from Detroit calling to tell me he had a meeting that day in Bowling Green and was standing on the assembly line in front of my car! WOW!!! He told me that my convertible was the first to be built with the 4LT interior. I can't even begin to tell you how exciting that was to hear. He informed me that Mike's car was 5 cars behind mine coming down the line and Mike's was the second convertible with the 4LT interiors. As soon as I got off the phone I called Mike and gave him the great news. Then it hit us, I had just received a phone call from a GM president telling me he was looking at my car as he stood on the assembly line......we could not believe it. I immediately called back to Bowling Green and asked if he would be kind enough to send us emails stating that we got the first 4LT cars going to the public....he laughed and assured us he would.
That following Saturday, Elaine and Mike came down to our place and we planned out our entire trip and driving route back to Jersey. We spent about 2 hours going over the plans and making reservations for hotels, flights, and the car rental. We then went out and celebrated with an Italian dinner and some wine.
By Monday, September 17th, we had received our letters from the National Corvette Museum (NCM) informing us that we could pick up our cars on September 27th. But we knew our cars had come off the line and were sitting at the plant waiting for our arrival. The next step was to get the VINs from the cars. Lori called us, while we were playing golf and provided the VINs for us and then we contacted our insurance companies to get the cars covered. We also contacted Schumacher to make arrangement to pay for the cars and complete the necessary paperwork. We needed to provide the NCM with all the necessary documents prior to them giving us the cars.
At this point it's the wait that is the killer....knowing that the cars were ready to go and here we were in Jersey until the following Wednesday. But, we knew the wait would be worth it. I can't tell you how much I was looking forward to putting the top down and cruizin' up in the mountains with this car. Everything I had read about the handling and performance of these cars only excited me more and I couldn't wait to see for myself. From my earliest fondness of cars, I always loved the look of convertibles. After my first ride in one, I vowed to myself never to be without one for the rest of my life. I've pretty much lived up to that if you consider the '68 T-top in that class. But even when I owned the '68, I had a '67 Impala convertible....not quite a sports car, but it was a Super Sport. To me, there is something about the wind and sun and being able to look up and see the sky. I love riding around on a warm summer night and looking up at the stars whenever I stopped at a traffic light. Or on a warm sunny fall day with the leaves blowing all around as I drive through them. But the best is not only being in a convertible, but being in a Corvette convertible!!
On the Sunday before we were to fly to Bowling Green, I washed and waxed the '75 and got it ready for the winter. I had purchased a battery tender on my last trip to the NCM and had everything ready to store the car in the rented garage in Manasquan. This was the first time that the Vette had ever been away from me....not in my garage and it was breaking my heart. I filled it up and put a can of Sta-Bil in the gas tank on the way to the rented garage. I put the car in the garage, hook-up the battery tender and put the cover over it. I knew I would not see it again for several weeks. I would take it out and run it on nice days, but it's not the same as having it in my garage where I could walk down and look at it each night. I know--I'm a sick person when it comes to my Corvettes! Finally I said my good-byes to the roadster, locked the garage and left.
The Sky is Falling
On Monday, September 22nd, we receive word that the UAW had announced a strike against GM. Now what? Where are our cars and what does this mean for our NCM delivery? Do we have to alter all our plans, airlines, hotels, etc.....we need to make some quick decisions. As soon as the news hit regarding the strike, we were on the cell phones to each other discussing all of our options. We realized that the first thing we needed to do was to find out where the cars were physically located. Depending on where the cars were, we could plan our course of action.....if they are at the museum, we can still take delivery and forego the plant tour....if the cars are still at the plant, there is no way we can cross the picket lines and take delivery of the cars. Our next step was to contact Lori Bieschke at the museum and see if she can be of any help.
Lori was terrific!!! She informed us that both cars had been delivered to the museum late Friday and were in the back parking lot. At the very least we could take delivery of the cars on Thursday, September 27th, as scheduled. This meant we did not have to change any of our plans. The only thing that would be a last minute call would be the plant tour. If the strike ended by Thursday, we would get the tour. If the strike continued, we would not. But, at least we would have our cars and that was the most important thing. We could always plan another road trip to Bowling Green and schedule a plant tour.
Mike and I were two of the most relieved guys on the planet after talking to Lori. We decided that even if we could not tour the plant, we definitely wanted to pick up the cars at the museum and drive them home. We had mapped out a route and we were thrilled that we were going to make the stops that we had planned.
Finally It's Wednesday
Tuesday, September 25th finally arrived. Late that afternoon I pulled out a suitcase and began packing the clothes I wanted. The most important thing was the Corvettes Limited polo shirt and jacket. Mike and I had decided that we would wear them to the museum for the pictures we would be taking. Mike had purchased a fold-up tripod for the trip and we both had digital cameras with large memory sticks so we could take all the pictures we wanted. I also decided to bring a laptop with me, so we could transfer the pictures from the cameras to the PC on a daily basis and thus free up memory. Needless to say, I didn't sleep too well that night. I was too excited! As with any trip, after I got to Bowling Green and began to settle down a little, I realized I forgot to make a CD of my favorite road songs to play as we drove out of the museum parking lot. That wasn't the worst thing. The cars did have XM radios and they were activated when we got there, so I could find some stations that played songs I would enjoy driving to.
At 11:15 Wednesday morning the car service arrived and we were on our way to Newark Airport. The ride up took about 45 minutes and we got dropped off in front of the Continental terminal. Mike and Elaine were there waiting for us. We checked our bags at the curbside and headed to the security check area. As we went through the security area, Elaine got stopped, we think because of a piece of jewelry, and she had to be checked by a guard. We headed toward our gate and stopped to get a quick bite to eat. We boarded the plane and took off pretty much on time. Our plane was delayed by 15 minutes, not bad for the airlines.
The flight was fine and we arrived in Nashville. While Mike and the wives went to the carousel to get the luggage, I went to Enterprise to make arrangements for the car to drive us up to Bowling Green. Got the luggage, loaded everything into the HHP Chevy SUV that we were assigned, and we were off. We decided to stop at the Grand Old Opry House and Hotel on the way since it was only 4 miles from the airport and along the same route we would be driving. We reasoned it would be a good place to stop and walk around for a while, see the Opry House and have something to eat. Since we had reserved rooms in Bowling Green, it didn't matter what time we arrived up there.
The Grand Old Opry Hotel was one of the largest I had ever been in. In the lobbies and I think there were three or four of them, there were little towns or southern mansions. I was glad we stopped and got to see it. There was also a huge exhibition center as part of the hotel and Cracker Barrel Restaurants was having some kind of event going on. Needless to say, since Cracker Barrel was associated with our Corvettes at Carlisle yearly trips, I had to have a picture in front of one of their exhibits. We walked through the hotel and over to the Grand Old Opry Theater. The only thing original on the theater was the wooden doors. The rest of the place was fairly new. One thing that impressed me immediately was how clean everything was and how friendly all the people were. I felt I was in a part of Disney World.
Didn't sleep too much, but we were all at breakfast by 6:45 Thursday morning. The Holiday Inn in Bowling Green serves a nice breakfast and since we knew it was going to be a long day, we all ate big portions. As we left the hotel, the rain was coming down at a good clip. We arrived at the museum a little before 8AM and Ron Barton and Larry McCool were there to greet us. The first thing we did was to give them copies of our sales slips from the dealer, driver's license, and proof of insurance. We then proceeded to our cars. I was in delivery spot #2 and Mike was in #3. WOW!!! The car looked even better than I expected! In delivery spot #1 was another black convertible that was owned by a fellow named Harvey who was from Long Island. Even though he could not get to the museum to pick his car up on the same day we did, we have since become friends and we got copies of our pictures to him with all our Vettes waiting to be driven off.
Our cell phones were ringing like crazy and all our friends were looking at us and taking screen shots on their PCs as we talked to them on the cells. The wives were waving to everyone on the camera and Mike and I were all over our cars. After 15 minutes of fun in front of the cameras and going over the cars, it was time to head over to the plant for the tour. It was still raining pretty good as we drove over to the plant which is across the highway from the museum. As we drove over, Ron and Larry gave us an overview of what we were about to see and some general information regarding the plant and its operations.
As we arrived at the visitor's entrance, our names were flashing on the sign about the door. Ron told us we could take our cars back here later and take photos of the cars under our names. We had our fingers crossed that the rain would let up by the time we finished the plant tour.
As we entered the plant we were told no cameras, cell phones, or electronic devices and the wives could not bring their pocket books with them. We were issued safety glasses, tags to wear around our necks telling all that we were buyers and not just on the normal tour. We were asked to sign a statement saying that we would not divulge any confidential information on what we would see and hear. We then proceeded to the manufacturing floor and to my amazement it was very clean and organized. All of the people we came in contact with were terrific...friendly, talkative and thanked us for buying our Vettes. Ron, our guide, had worked in the plant and not only knew all the people, but was able to point out things to us that only an 'insider' would know. The things we saw were truly amazing. How all the many parts come together to form this fabulous car is a work of wonder! We learned tons of facts about the manufacturing process, about the plant itself, and about the cars. We spent almost 3 hours walking around the plant and at the very end of the tour I got to start of yellow convertible with a black soft-top and black interior for the very first time. The odometer read '0'....I can't begin to tell you how excited and thrilled I was. To me, this was like a dream come true.
As the tour ended, we were driven around to the back of the plant and shown the test track where random samplings of cars were driven to find any defects. Needless to say, if any thing wrong was discovered, the cars were returned to the work shop that was part of the plant and repaired immediately. From there we went back to the museum where we were given a guided tour of all the exhibits.
Finally, we arrived back at our cars and the real fun began. Ron sat with me in my car and explained each and every little detail about the car. At the same time, Larry was going through the same routine with Mike in his car. After the detailed explanation, we went into the office and finished all the necessary paperwork and I was given copies of the documents and all the related material that goes with the new car. I was shown the work shop in the museum where all the prep work was done to clean and polish the cars for delivery.
Ron said the time had arrived for actual delivery and we got into my car with him driving. He very slowly drove the car out of the museum around to the front of the museum and we took more picture. While he went into develop them, I began to put our things in the trunk of the car. I was pleasantly surprised at the size of the trunk and even more surprised that everything fit with room to spare. As I was putting my stuff in the trunk, Mike's car, with Larry driving, pulled up behind mine in front of the museum. By now the sun had come out and the roads were dry. We couldn't have asked for nicer weather, it was not too hot and with the sun out I was thinking of putting the top down. But, we decided against that for the first couple of miles. One of the deciding factors was Mike's luggage. His wife had bought an extra bag along and he was having trouble fitting it in the truck space. Actually driving with the top up and being able to listen to all the new sounds of the car itself was not all bad.
We went back into the museum so that we could purchase some corvette items and also to stop by and see Lori, our delivery contact. She had been terrific to us and we had purchased a 'Jersey' coffee mug for her. She was kind enough to take a couple of picture with us and we couldn't thank her enough for all her help with the entire delivery process.
After taking a ton of pictures and moving the cars around the circle in front of the museum, we decided it was time to begin our journey. I felt like race car driver as I got behind the wheel and started it up....what a great sound. My wife even found this car to be extremely comfortable as she adjusted the seat to her liking.
The Trip Home Begins
Mike led the way as we proceeded out of the museum and onto route 65 to head south to Nashville where we planned to spend the night. Mike took off but since there was a truck coming and I was not familiar with the car, I held back and let the truck go by....big mistake! The truck was throwing off gravel and dirt and I was afraid it was going to hit my car. Since there was no one coming on the highway, I took off and swung out around the truck hoping that none of the gravel would hit my car. The car responded without any hesitation and took off. The next I realized I was next to Mike with the truck in my rear view mirror and dropping back quickly. This car was amazing!
The reminder of the ride to Nashville was very pleasant. We kept varying the speed of the cars as instructed and enjoyed the ride. A little less than an hour later we were in downtown Nashville and at our hotel. We had selected a hotel with underground parking so that we could feel safe leaving the cars. The garage turned out to be very tight and narrow, but we managed to get the cars into safe spots. That night we walked around downtown Nashville and had dinner at BB King's. We even met Elvis! When we got back to the hotel, the wives decided to go watch some TV while Mike and I went down to the garage to "play" with the new toys. We got out the detailing wax and I cleaned the front of the cars while Mike checked out the NAV system. About an hour passed and we were still going over the cars, not realizing how much time we had spent talking and check out all the features. I couldn't wait for the next morning to get the top down. The weather forecasts were for terrific weather the next couple of days. After spending one night there, we decided to start driving down towards Lynchburg the following morning.
We woke up to another sunny and warm day. After breakfast, we packed the cars and headed south to the home of Jack Daniels. We agreed to take back country roads so that we could play with the cars and see the sights. About an hour south of Nashville we stopped to make a pit stop and put the tops down. Once we were back on the road with the tops down, it was truly driving a Corvette as I imagined it should be. Two clean black cars, warm wind blowing around, sun beating down, some great tunes on the XM radio and an open country road as far as you could see. We passed horse farms and small towns. People never stopped looking when then saw the 'twins' going through their towns or passing on the roadway out front of their farms. At lunchtime we stopped in a small town that had a town square and several cute little stores and places to eat. We parked the cars in the corner of the municipal lot and put the tops back up so that we could lock them up. We walked around the square until we find a suitable place for lunch. It was a typical southern little cafe and the food was very good. The weather was outstanding and the people were all friendly. Everyone that saw the 'twins' would ask us about them and loved looking and walking around them.
After lunch, it was top down to Lynchburg. The Vettes ate up the road and seemed to want to go faster all the time. The turns were taken like the car was on rails without the slightest movement and power was always available. By the middle of the afternoon we pulled into the Jack Daniels Distillery. What a great ride it had been. As we pulled into the parking lot, a group from Australia started talking to us about the cars. The only problem was that the parking lot was dirt. It was hot and dusty as we parked and we both knew the black cars would be covered with dust...and they were. But the fun of driving and thinking about cleaning them up a little that night made it all worth it.
We were in time to take a tour of the distillery which was really interesting. After the tour, Mike and I visited the 'Squire Room' since we were both Tennessee Squires. Ms. Cathy greeted us and escorted us into the Squire Room. She checked our credentials and was surprised to see I had been a Squire for such a long period of time. We took some pictures and were given some gifts....a sampling of Single Barrel and a Squire pin. When we left the distillery we drove into Lynchburg, which was another small southern town with the town square and all the stores around it. We walked around the town and purchased some Jack Daniels items. We then headed over to a town called Tullahoma, about 10 miles away, to find a hotel for the night. Tullahoma was a little bigger than the other towns we had driven through. We found a hotel and were giving the name of a local restaurant where the local people ate. The dinner at the local place was very good and reasonable. We all had a bottle of beer to celebrate our first full day on the rode with the 'twins'. The cars had been great, beating all of our expectations. There were still a few things we weren't to sure how to work or some settings we needed to change, but overall, the cars were outstanding. After dinner, we were about to start back to the hotel and realized this would be the first time we had driven at night. The lights all came on as we started the car and the heads-up display was awesome. I felt I was in a jet plane.
On The Road Again
The next morning, after breakfast, we headed back to the Jack Daniels distillery for a BBQ lunch. Once we arrived at the distillery, we boarded a bus that drove us up to the top of 'the hollow'. A huge BBQ area had been built on top of the hill that overlooked the entire valley. We were greeted by representatives of the distillery and given glasses of lemonade. There was a band playing country/western music as we walked around and took in the views. Once everyone had been bussed up, the food was served. The menu was a true southern one with pulled pork, chicken, all sorts of greens and special Jack Daniels prepared apples. This was followed by Jack Daniels pecan pie. We were all totally stuffed by the time the feast had ended.
When we got back to our cars we headed towards Gatlinburg at the base of the Smoky Mountains. We had been to Gatlinburg in the early 70s and it was a small town that looked like a little Swiss village up in the hills. After driving for a couple of hours, we put the tops up at one of our pit stops and it turns out we did the right thing. Just outside of Gatlinburg is Pigeon Hallow, the home of Dollywood. The traffic was worse than New York City during rush hour. It took us over an hour to go 10 miles through Pigeon Hallow and the pollution from the cars was at an all time high. Having the tops up, allowed us to use the air conditioning and minimize the pollution. The place was lined with fast food places, chapels to get married, Elvis impersonator shows and hotels. It was a zoo!
We expected Gatlinburg would be a little better....it was NOT. What used to be a beautiful little town up in the mountains turned into a circus. The traffic was bumper to bumper. We finally found a motel where it looked like the cars would be OK. Of course the safety of the cars was our first concern even thought the wives didn't totally agree. After unpacking we walked around the town. It was packed with people and we were told the following weekend would be even worse because once the leaves started to turn colors everyone journeyed here to see them. We met a couple of bikers and they told us we had to drive the Tail of the Dragon which was relatively close. The Smokey Mountains are beautiful any time of the year, but the fall is outstanding. Some of the trees had some color on them and all the views were out of a magazine.
So, with another fine early fall day, off we went to find the Tail of the Dragon. After about an hours ride, we found it. The Tail of the Dragon is about 11 miles long and has 218 turns, all in the mountains. There are no wrong turns, if you miss, you're history. The ride was great and I finally got to really try out my paddles. The cars couldn't get enough and responded to our every wish on command. The turns were so tight and quick that Mike's wife almost got sick in his new car...not good. At the end of the Dragon is a biker's hangout and we stopped. Most of the biker's were friendly and loved the Vettes and came over to talk to us about the ride. We got a couple of decals stating that we had driven the Tail of the Dragon. I put the decal on my door jam so anyone looking at the car would know it had made the journey. We also got a picture of a tree where all the parts that fall off the bikes and cars along the road are hung. I guess it's to show the people it's not as easy as it sounds?
Blue Ridge Parkway
From the Dragon we drove to Cherokee and the start of the Blue Ridge Parkway. We made a brief stop in Cherokee and then got onto the Blue Ridge Parkway and headed north for the first time since leaving the museum. The ride up the parkway was awesome. The scenery from the lookouts was unbelievable and we took several pictures wherever we stopped. The road is a twisting two lane one with constant turns to conform to the side of the mountains. Mike was going through his gears and I gave the 'paddles' a good workout. But, it was fun driving and the car responded like it was built for this type of road. We could not really make good time, but I loved driving it and the cars ate it up. We picked another spot on the map that we had visited in the early 70s called Little Switzerland, it was a little north of Ashville on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This time we lowered our expectations. We figured we would arrive there about an hour before sunset and in time for dinner. Our calculations were correct...only this time our expectations were exceeded. Little Switzerland had really changed that much in the 30 plus years since we had been there. The place was like a Swiss Chalet, clean rooms and a very good restaurant. We had safe parking for the 'twins' and spend a comfortable, quiet evening.
The next morning, after an interesting breakfast which consisted of a little of everything, we got back on the Blue Ridge Parkway and headed north. It was another warm sunny southern day and we couldn't have asked for better weather. The scenery was beautiful but the driving was slow. So, by lunchtime we decided to leave the parkway and hit the major highways heading north toward Charlottesville, VA which would be out last stop before home. Once we hit the major highway, we were able to open up the cars and try out the cruise controls. Zipping along at 80 was like standing still. It had gotten warm that afternoon, so we left the tops up and the AC on. We made terrific time on the highway and arrived in Charlottesville and Monticello in time to get the last tour of Jefferson's home. The tour proved interesting but I was a little disappointed that we didn't get to see more of the house and hear more about the very important historical figure.
After the tour we drove into Charlottesville which is a huge college town and found a hotel for the night. We took a walk into the center of town and found great shops and restaurants along a pedestrian walking area. We had our last supper at an Italian place sitting outside with a bottle of wine. As we walked back to the hotel, Mike stopped at a liquor store and bought a bottle of lemoncello. We got back to the hotel, poured a couple of glasses of the lemon and settled in front of the big TV in the lobby to watch Monday Night Football. It was a great way to end another perfect day.
Home at Last
The last morning we awoke to a cloudy day. No rain, but just overcast. It was still warm and humid and therefore the A/C would be working today. We headed towards Washington DC and estimated a lunchtime arrival. Things were going fine until we hit the beltway around DC. Having traveled down here during my working days, I knew the roads well. Mike was listening to his NAV system, which we still hadn't totally figured out, as we approached the turnoff to the beltway. I veered off onto the ramp for the beltway north and Mike kept going straight...not good! Immediately we contacted each other on the cell phones and he turned around at the first opportunity he had. I got off at the first exit on the beltway and found a place where we could meet. After about 15 minutes of cell phone chatter and worry, Mike's car came into sight. Well, if that's the biggest mishap of the week, so be it. We got back onto the beltway and then onto 95 north. Once we passed Baltimore we stopped for lunch at a Cracker Barrel and thoughts of Corvettes at Carlisle passed through my mind. We enjoyed our last meal together on the trip and talked about all the sites we had seen and our impressions of the cars. Even the wives were pleasantly surprised on much they liked the cars and the ride. It had truly been a great trip and week. We then continued our ride north until we got to exit 7 on the NJ Turnpike where we parted company.
Mike continued north to his home and I got onto 195 to head to the shore area and my home. The following morning when we talked, Mike informed me that he had been in his garage until midnight cleaning his new car. When he called me, I was outside washing my new car. As part of the ride home we started calling the cars the 'twins'. We also named our cars 'Paddles' and 'Peddles'...a true Corvette guy would understand that immediately. A non-Corvette guy will have to think about that for a couple of minutes...which are you?
Not sure Mike like being called Paddles...but it was good for a laugh. The term "twins" did stick and I have a feeling as long as we have these cars, we will all be calling them the "Twins".
By the time the trip ended I had put 1318 miles on the Corvette and averaged 24.8 miles per gallon. That was totals from the time I left the National Corvette Museum with 4 miles on the car until I pulled into my driveway. It had been a terrific experience and I would highly recommend it to anyone buying a Corvette. What made this even more special was the fact that I could do it with a best pal and fellow Corvette lover.
Just the Beginning
Would this be the end of the story? Not by a long shot! After we arrived home and had a couple of days to really spend time with the cars and clean them all up from the week long trip, we had to bring them back to Schumacher Chevrolet. The two people we had been dealing with, Judy Schumacher Tilton and Stephen Tilton were delighted to see us and readily agreed to some pictures.
The following spring we decided to attend the C5/C6 Bash to see if the 2009 Corvettes would be changed much. We decided to drive my car to Bowling Green even thought it was a long drive for one day. Mike arrived at my house around 6AM and left his car in my driveway and away we went in my "twin". It was about 13 hours later that we arrived in Bowling Green.
Early the next morning, Friday, we got up early and drove over to the museum. After we registered, we looked up Lori to see if she remembered us....as soon as she saw us she called out "The Jersey Boys are back". The name "Jersey Boys" has stuck. Since Mike and I are always together at Corvette events, people have started to recognize us and even thought they probably don't remember our names--they remember "The Jersey Boys".
We were lucky enough to meet Will Cooksey, the retiring plant manager and new head of the museum. He asked us for any ideas we might have on making the museum delivery a better experience. We told him we were at Carlisle and watched him 'burn' a tire off of a new Vette...we had some pictures of it that we sent to him.
We also met Tadge Juechter, who is not only a great engineer, really nice person, but a major Corvette player. You can tell as soon as he begins talking just how much he loves these cars. He took time and answered all our questions with an in-depth knowledge of the entire car. It was a real treat for us to be able to spend some time with this type of person that all of us in the Corvette world respect as very special.
Everyone we met was interested in how we liked the cars after having driven them several months.....and having been familiar with every generation Corvette. Our answer has been consistent--OUTSTANDING!!!!
Thanks to Many
There are many people we need to thank for making this entire experience possible:
* First and most important are our wives for putting up with our 'Corvette Stuff' all these years.
* Judy and Stephen at Schumacher Chevrolet for sharing in our excitement every step of the way and becoming our Corvette Friends.
* Our contact in Detroit, whose name I will not name, but he knows who he is and we can't thank him enough for getting us these terrific cars.
* All the wonderful people at the National Corvette Museum, especially Lori Bischler, Ron Butlow, and Larry McCool for sharing their knowledge about the cars and the entire delivery process.
* And last but not least, all those great people that work in the Bowling Green Assembly plant for making one hell of an automobile!!!
Mike and I can't THANK YOU all enough for this once in a lifetime experience...at least until the C7s are available when we may have to do it again!!!