Nine years is a long time for any product or organization to remain in existence in this day and age. However, the National Corvette Museum has weathered the storm to reach another new milestone-its ninth birthday! Ya' know, it seems as though the museum and the Corvette have lived somewhat parallel lives (albeit separated by 40+ years).
Like the car for which it stands in honor, the museum has seen its share of ups and downs. In the first nine years of the Corvette's existence, the car was introduced to an adoring public and went into full production. After only two years, the car became nearly extinct when sales didn't meet The General's expectations. The bean counters at GM were questioning the wisdom behind building a "sports car" when the average buyer wanted fins...big fins! After some serious modification and much improvement, the Corvette, which had been shunned on the country-club promenade, was welcomed on the racetrack. There it achieved glory. It took people with vision, dedication, and passion to bring the car into the limelight. The sentiments of these few examples are shared with the museum. When the National Corvette Museum opened its doors in 1994, it was an instant success. Thousands of people from the world over flocked to the grand opening. But after that first wild Labor Day weekend, the difficulties of the day-to-day operations of the Museum became apparent. The Museum was reeling in debt. Gate receipts were weak and revenue-generating events at the museum were few and far between. Meeting the public's expectations became increasingly difficult. People (especially local folks) began to question the wisdom behind building such a facility. It took new people to treat the museum like a business and not like a big hobby. It took people with vision, dedication, and passion to bring the museum full-circle and make it the ever-growing monument it has become.
During the weekend of August 29, 2003, the National Corvette Museum celebrated its ninth anniversary. Even though 2003 has been a banner year for the Corvette with the 50th anniversary celebration, this party was all about the museum. The party kicked off on Friday evening at the Sloan Convention Center in Bowling Green, Kentucky, with the induction of two more automotive pioneers into the National Corvette Museum Hall of Fame. Mr. Noland Adams and Mr. Robert S. Morrison, both men of vision and passion, were honored for their dedication to Corvette and those who love the car.
Mr. Noland Adams (literally) wrote the book on Corvette restoration. His books The Complete Corvette Restoration and Technical Guide, Vol. 1 (1953-1962) and Vol. 2 (1963-1967) have obtained biblical status to those involved in absolutely perfect restorations. His series of books entitled Corvette American Legend chronicles the first seven years of the Corvette's production in intimate detail. (Much of the technical material and photographs assembled in the books are gleaned from actual Chevrolet archives.) Mr. Adams served as the technical advisor on the restoration of the EX-122, which is the actual '53 Motorama car unveiled to the public at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in January 1953. Mr. Adams is one of the NCRS's earliest members and has traveled extensively throughout his career. During the induction ceremony, he related the story of his recent trip to England with his daughter. He told of their journey across the English Channel to "France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Paris." While there, he said, he didn't forget his wife back in the States. He bought her a new can opener. Mr. Adams was still able to walk unassisted onto the stage to receive his recognition.
Mr. Robert S. Morrison was inducted posthumously into the Hall of Fame for his untiring efforts to make the Corvette what it is today...a plastic fantastic. Mr. Morrison owned a company called Molded Fiberglass (MFG) in Ashtabula, Ohio. Richard Morrison related his father's story. It seems that GM was looking for someone to make the body for their new Corvette out of a little-known material called fiberglass, as had been the New York Motorama car. No one in the industry at the time had the capability to manufacture parts as large as autobody panels from fiberglass. After a couple of GM engineers visited the MFG facility, it was decided back in Detroit that the Corvette would be made of steel (gasp!). Mr. Morrison drove to Detroit to present his case and try to convince management to change their minds. The meeting did not go as planned as he was stood up by GM execs. A dejected Mr. Morrison headed for the elevator to go home to Ohio when he met a friend who was head of the purchasing department at GM. The two met for a while during which time Mr. Morrison convinced his friend that he could gain the financial backing for the facility large enough and he could produce the parts the GM needed on whatever scale they needed. During the drive home, the execs met and decided to give Mr. Morrison a chance. That's all it took. The rest, as they say, is history. MFG (still) produces body panels for Corvette today!
Saturday was the day to shine up and show off. Several celebrities were in attendance to pick their favorite car from among the many prime examples of Corvette flesh (not sheetmetal) in the museum parking lot. Corvettes Limited of Bowling Green was on hand to conduct their signature road tours. Although bad weather had been forecasted, the weather cooperated for the most part to make the tours enjoyable and safe. The attendees had an opportunity to sit in on several seminars and discussions on topics ranging from fiberglass repair (presented by the folks at MFG) to "Corvette Reflections" by Jerry Palmer and Chuck Jordan. (That one brought about all of the probing for insight on the upcoming C6.) Noland Adams and Dave McLellan were on hand to sign copies of their books.
Later that evening, the museum sponsored the Lifetime Members Banquet. Whereas the dinner is usually held at the 1869 Homestead (NCM Executive Director Wendell Strode's home), it was decided to move the affair into the museum sky dome. For good reason, too. Just a while before the event was to begin, Mother Nature gave Bowling Green a fine demonstration of her mischief. Things could have been ugly if not for some great prior planning of the part of Wendell and his staff at the NCM! Bolton's Landing provided catering. Once again...good eats! The banquet attendees recognized several people who have been Lifetime Members of the museum for ten years. An auction was held to benefit the Building Expansion Fund. Several items of Corvette memorabilia were auctioned. Between the Lifetime Members and the silent auction held in the NCM lobby, a total of $5,300 was raised.
There were several vendors on sight peddling their wares. Mid America Designs gave away gift certificates to a couple of lucky attendees. Captain Joe Jacobs of the Warren County D.A.R.E. Program was out with his Crime Fighter Corvette. Let me tell you, if you see that Corvette behind you, don't be tempted to mash on the tall pedal. That car is BAD! You will lose in more than one way. Gordon Killabrew was on hand to fix nearly any problem that may crop up in a C4. He was pretty busy answering questions and tweaking on the cars.
Sunday is usually a day of rest and relaxation before many begin the journey home. Many did leave; those who stayed around were treated to more seminars and the presentation of the awards to the Celebrity Choice car show winners in the front "circle" of the museum. That was a fine display. Cars ranged from a pristine '58 from Maryland to a brand new '04 Z06 owned by Buzz Nielsen and "seven banks"-according to NCM Board Chair Elect Larry Martin. Dollie Cole presented the trophies to the winners.
After the presentation of the car show trophies, those remaining had one question on their minds...where am I gonna park that new blue convertible? It was time to make someone very happy by drawing the winning ticket for this year's NCM give-away car, a '04 LeMans Blue convertible. Wil Cooksey drew the winning ticket from the barrel. With a bewildered look on his face, he showed the ticket Larry Martin. Larry mirrored the question in Wil's face. Larry read the name (due to legal restrictions we can't print the winner's name) and said "No Phone." The winner had written "no telephone" on the ticket! We didn't have our annual opportunity to call and congratulate the winner "live." Bummer! Not only did I not win (again), but we couldn't call the guy! I did hear from Gary Cockriel of the NCM staff that they did finally get in touch with the winner. Congrats go out to the winner and better luck next year to the rest of us!
With that came the close to another birthday bash at the National Corvette Museum. As was discussed in the beginning of this piece, the Corvette and the National Corvette museum have lead nearly parallel lives. As the Corvette, the museum has grown to be a self-sustaining entity to hush the naysayers. As the Corvette, with vision, passion, and dedication, the National Corvette Museum will stand the test of time and will continue to improve with age. Happy ninth birthday NCM!