Spring in Kentucky is the time to celebrate another year of production for the Fifth-Gen.(C5) Corvette. Bowling Green, Kentucky, has been the Corvette's home since 1981, so it's only fitting that the C5's birthday should be celebrated at its birthplace.
The C5 was introduced in March of 1997 and became an instant success. A new group called the C5 Registry was founded later that year. The Registry was dedicated to keeping owners informed about all things related to C5 ownership. In April 1998, Directors Dan Adovasio and Jake Drennon celebrated the birth of the C5 by holding a party at the National Corvette Museum. About 300 Registry members came to that first event. Several years ago, the National Corvette Museum and Chevrolet joined the Registry to co-host this annual gathering which had been named The C5 Birthday Bash. With over 7,000 C5 members, the Registry still plays an important role in the annual Bash. Now in its fifth year, the Bash is always a special event thanks in part to Chevrolet. Each year they use the event as an opportunity to give us a sneak peek at new Corvette products.
The big news this year was the unveiling of the '04 Commemorative Le Mans Edition Corvettes (for details, see last month's issue). The coupe and convertible will be offered with LeMans Blue paint, special badges, and color-keyed interior. The LeMans Z06 receives a new carbon fiber hood with red and silver striping on it, the roof, and the rear deck to compliment the LeMans Blue color. These special editions are intended to celebrate the factory Corvette C5-R's two GTS wins at the 24 Hours of LeMans. Corvette Chief Engineer Dave Hill hosted the unveiling of the new cars with assistance from Brand Manager Rick Baldick, Corvette Plant Manager Will Cooksey, and C5-R factory driver Andy Pilgrim.
A large crowd was on hand to take a look at the new Vettes. The response to the cars, especially the Z06, was very positive. Dave told the crowd that GM factory driver John Heinricy lapped the famous 14-mile Nurburgring course in Germany in a stock LeMans Z06 in 7:58, a feat that puts the new Z06 in very exclusive territory. Very few production cars are able to lap this demanding course in less than 8 minutes. After the unveiling, the presenters made themselves available for autographs. Long lines formed for people wanting their cars, models, hats, shirts, etc. signed by their favorite Corvette celebrity.
On Friday, Corvette plant tours were offered to Museum visitors. C5 Registry members served as plant tour guides. They were stationed around the tour route to explain the production process to visitors. Beech Bend Raceway hosted a Corvette drag race and for a low $5.00 entry fee drivers could line up and see how fast their Corvettes could cross the quarter-mile. The best time we saw was an 11.02 turned by a highly modified red coupe on slicks.
Back at the Museum, large crowds gathered in the parking lot to look at other Corvettes and get a close look at the new Cadillac XLR coupe. Visitors gathered around the new C6-based Cadillac all weekend while Plant Manager Will Cooksey answered questions about the new car. We saw many people looking under the car to see if they could gather any suspension clues about the new-for-'05 C6 Corvette.
The ever-changing displays inside the museum always make it a delight to tour this impressive facility. New to the display this year is the #003 '63 Corvette Grand Sport. This rare racer gave viewers a glimpse of what racing was like 40 years ago. Only five of these 1,900 pound, 500-plus-hp Grand Sports were built, and this one was driven by Jim Hall, Roger Penske, and AJ Foyt.
The museum also provided visitors with nearly continuous presentations about Corvettes throughout the weekend. Many notable Corvette celebrities covered a wide variety of topics about the C5. Many other fine exhibits in the museum kept visitors touring the facility all weekend. NCM director Wendell Strode announced a new museum expansion plan that will include an archive facility, restaurant, storage areas, and a banquet facility. A new fund raising campaign will be started to pay for the expansion.
The final event of the weekend was a banquet and a museum fundraiser hosted by the C5 Registry. Over $35,000 was raised for the museum during the evening. The highest item sold was a photo of the '01 factory C5-R Daytona racecars at Daytona. The photo was autographed by the team drivers including the late Dale Earnhardt. The winning bidder, Larry Murphy, paid $13,500 for the photo that was donated by Jim and Charley Robertson! We're looking forward to attending the final C5 Bash next April, which will both celebrate and mourn the production end of the fabulous C5.