There are firsts for everything in this life. For instance, the first time you ride a bike, pick up a basketball, go to a birthday party, and so on. However, there are those firsts that you'll never forget-those select few that stick out in your mind like a sore thumb. Try these on for size: The first time you drove a car, first kiss, first speeding ticket, and of course, the first time you and a friend, or friends, headed out on a road trip. Now when I say road trip, I'm not talking about heading to the beach or the lake; I'm talking about straight truckin' from state to state.
Ahhhh...I still remember it like it was yesterday. My younger brother, three of my best friends, and myself all crammed into the Canyonero (or should I say a '96 Suburban (and to be honest with you, it was actually pretty roomy)-traveling 1,500 miles from SoCal to the northeastern part of Oklahoma. And here's the real kicker, we made it there in 22 hours! Yep, I learned a lot on that trip. I learned a thing or two about camaraderie, that Stroker Ace is one of the best movies ever (oh yeah, the Subdivision had a TV and a DVD player in it...and for the record, Burt rules), and that when traveling across the 100-plus degree weather of the Arizona desert, if you add scorched Budweiser to ice you get Bud Light! Who would of thought? But that's beside the point because there really is no feeling like taking a road trip. Just ask Al Hill and Kurt Meiers.
In the summer of 2002, Hill and Meiers took a road trip they'll never forget. They had the privilege of joining four dozen other Corvettes for a 1,400-mile cross-country drive, where they would eventually end up at the Corvette assembly plant and the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green for Corvette's 50th anniversary. Oh yeah I forgot to mention, each year model Corvette was represented out of the fifty. For example, Al's '53, Kurt's '54, and so on until finally it ended with the then-latest model of the Corvette-the '03 Z06.
Their trip started off in Flint, Michigan, at the Sloan Museum. All of the 50 Vettes were on display before they headed out on their journey. During that first show alone, Al and Kurt were able to meet several men who worked on the very first Corvettes ever. In fact, some of the men even worked on Al's way back in 1953 when it was built. But before the Vettes headed out, the state See on the road next page of Kentucky had issued each owner a commemorative license plate that had the year of their car on it. Al's plate reads 1953 and Kurt's 1954. Just before they headed out to Warren, they stopped by the Flint plant for a photo 'op', but then it was on the road again.
Once the Historic Motorama arrived in Warren, they attended a banquet at a local Chevy dealership. However, the dynamic duo ducked out early to visit Elfie Arkus-Duntov, Zora's widow. They sat around with her drinking English beer-which she requested (hey, you can't argue with that)-while she told two stories about the glory days. Then they rejoined the brigade and headed towards the next leg of their trip, Joliet, Illinois. But what's a road trip without hitting some rain, especially when you're cruising in a not-too-weather-tight Corvette roadster. In Joliet, Hill and Meiers were able to get in a little gamblin', but more than anything, they were just anxious to get back on the road because the next stop was St. Louis.
When they drove to St. Louis, the Vettes cruised old Route 66 until they reached Kiener Plaza to take photos with the Gateway Arch in the background. It was here where all the fun really started. It all started when the two took a short "intermission" to get some grub while they took pictures. When they got back, they noticed that their cars were the only ones left out there. Everyone else had headed to the hotel for the night. Oops. But then they got to thinking, well since we'll probably only be here once, let's have a chariot race of sorts around the fountain. After that fun was over, the two decided to hit up a Cardinals game. But how do you get last minute tickets to the game? Easy, Al and Kurt walked around while Kurt politely yelled, "Need two, down low!" Afterwards, they prepared for the last leg of the trip-the 300 miles to the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green.
But their the fun wasn't exactly over. With only about 5 miles to go before they reached the museum, Al's '53 had a tire blowout. After a quick 10-minute break, the cars were ready for their last hoorah! That night the museum had a banquet lined up for everyone to attend, but Al and Kurt had other plans-well at least until then. The two had a bet going about who would win in a drag race. Therefore they lined up outside the museum and had another driver drop the flag. The '54 took the '53 by a few feet, but with a rolling start, the '53 edged out the '54-if you want to count that as a true drag race??? After the banquet and visit to the Bowling Green plant, the road trip was over. Which only leaves one asking, "How did Al and Kurt get picked out of all the Vettes out there for a gig like this?"
Well to be honest with you, I'm not sure. But one thing is certain, you had to have a restored or original Vette and it needed to be nice, real nice. So let's get to the real stars at hand, the cars.
In December of 1999, Kurt purchased his '54 from a guy who'd kept the car in his garage for 20 years. The last time the car had been at a car show was in 1973 at an NCRS meet. When Kurt bought the car, he wanted to drive it home, until the previous owner knocked some sense into him. The owner reminded Kurt that he was deep in the hills, it was cold and dark, and the road was windy. It's a good thing Kurt heeded his warning because when he finally got the Vette running, the water pump seized within the first 10 miles. However, that wasn't all that was bad. The 235-cid Blue Flame six also had a cracked head. Once Kurt starting looking around for another head, he quickly found out it was going to be much harder than he had expected. He ended up buying a whole new engine to go in place of the used and abused original. Then, within a matter of time, the I-6 was rebuilt and back to producing the mighty 150 hp it did when it came from the factory. As for the rest of the restoration, with some help from Keen Corvette Parts, Joe Bruden, and Ron Whitaker, they were able to finish the '54 with an NCRS-spec restoration. Much of the car is still original since it was kept in such great shape over the years. As for Al's '53, it's pretty much the same story, different chapter.
When everything is all said and done, the pair looked back on their journey with the utmost certainty that they had the time of their lives in every aspect. After meeting some people they never knew even existed, getting lost in downtown areas, eating at 24-hour Coney Islands, racing around fountains and museums, getting baseball tickets from a scalper, and more, they look back on their trek with no regrets.
As far as I know, it is possible that they may have left a few details out of their story, but hey, who knows. They don't even frown upon those times when things didn't go their way because those are the things that add drama and excitement to any road trip.
Man, just thinking about all of it makes me wanna head out on the road, again.