Chevrolet Corvettes at the Petersen Museum - Diamond Anniversary

Celebrating 60 years of Corvettes at the Petersen Museum

Steve Temple Oct 1, 2013 0 Comment(s)
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For Corvette owners, it couldn't have gotten any better: a comprehensive gathering of every era of Vette from the last six decades, including some priceless collectibles, capped off by the unveiling of the '14 Stingray. And that was just the start. Attendees were treated to wild tales of racing, expert tips on investing and restoring, a chance to rub elbows with luminaries of the Corvette universe, and even a bevy of beautiful customized Vettes to ogle. There was so much to relish, in fact, it took two full days to take it all in—and then some.

Held on March 1 and 2 at the famed Petersen Automotive Museum in the Mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles, the event was so popular that admission lines literally ran around the block, with attendance figures the largest since the museum's opening in 1994. Such is the draw of the Corvette, and of the new Stingray in particular.

Chevrolet Corvettes Petersen Automotive Museum C3 Corvette 2/10

Not all of the Corvettes in attendance were restored classics or vintage race machines. This heavily customized C3 was one of the standouts of the car show, held in the museum's garage.

On the first day, the seminar "Corvette Values" featured Robb Sass from Hagerty Collector Car Insurance, "Corvette Mike" Vietro, John Kraman from Mecum Auctions, and Mike Yager from Mid America Motorworks. They shared a number of practical suggestions for those considering a first-time purchase, or looking to expand their horizons in the Corvette world. Breaking it down into three basic scenarios, this panel of experts touched on daily drivers, promising investments, and high-end collector cars. Yager, who has experience in all of these areas (and shipped his personal collection to the museum for the event), kept his advice simple and practical. For drivers, "Drive what you like," he advised, citing the C5 and C6 as especially enjoyable.

As for Corvettes that are likely to increase in value, just about any early model from C1 to C3 can be a smart choice as a quintessential American classic. "You can hardly make a mistake there," Yager noted.

On the other hand, he pointed out that the somewhat less desirable '84 to '96 C4 models offer a lot of "bang for the buck," and that racers such as the factory Corvette Challenge cars from 1988 and 1989 appear to be an up and coming opportunity for investors.

While ultrarare racing Corvettes owned by the "uber collectors" are out of reach of most folks, Yager said that shouldn't be a discouragement, as there are Corvettes for all levels of enthusiasts.

No discussion of competition Corvettes would be complete without talking to the cars' drivers, so another seminar brought out some colorful figures from the world of racing: Jim Jeffords, Paul Reinhart, Bill Krause, Reeves Callaway, Doug Hooper, Dick Guldstrand, Joe Freitas, and Doug Fehan.

Their gritty and humorous anecdotes would make a great book all by itself. Reminiscing about the early days, these elder statesmen of the sport shared similar comments about the incredible talents of Socal hot-rodders and how they made the most of the Corvette, even while bewailing old-school drum brakes and the lack of official corporate support (relying instead on Zora Arkus-Duntov's clandestine provisions).

"Thank God for Duntov!" Hooper exclaimed. "He's the man that kept Corvette alive." He also commented on the difficulties encountered by privateers campaigning early Corvettes without GM's help, "We were the bastard children then. They didn't care about us." But with Duntov's assistance, they were able to realize the car's enormous potential for performance, and found ways to overcome any impediments.

Chevrolet Corvettes Petersen Automotive Museum 64 Worlds Fair Corvette 6/10

Mid America Motorworks' Yager poses with his '64 "World's Fair" Corvette. The car was customized by GM for display at the New York Fair held that year.

"Yeah, there was resentment," Freitas admitted, alluding to Chevrolet's intransigence on racing. "But we just did our thing, and they just knew to get out of the way."

High praise erupted from the audience, many of whom observed that if it weren't for the resourcefulness and persistence of these pioneers, the Corvette wouldn't be what it is today. Fittingly, these groundbreakers all acknowledged the enormous impact the Corvette had on them. Dick Guldstrand summed it up by stating that, "The V-8 changed my whole life—it defined my whole life." (As proof, recalled an instance in which his first wife tersely informed him, "It's me or that car." The two departed company soon after.)

Looking back on the decades of development, Fehan, who oversees the current Corvette Racing program, noted that, "No other brand in the world has the following that Corvette has. It has been an amazing journey for me." He added that it wasn't until the fall of 1996 that, "The factory finally saw the light and got behind us."

Everybody lingered to hear more of these remarkable recollections, but eventually they gave way to a gala celebration of "What Corvette Means to Me." It not only featured a dinner and auctions (with proceeds going to the Petersen Museum's educational programs), but also several speakers whose careers have been shaped by Corvette, including Fehan, Art Spong, and Ken Kayser.

Chevrolet Corvettes Petersen Automotive Museum Noel Park 7/10

Noel Park of J&D Corvette displayed his vintage racers, which include this flawless blue-on-white '55.

Kirk Bennion, exterior designer of the new Stingray, topped off the gala with an illuminating presentation on how the C7 was developed. And the evening concluded with an unveiling of the C7, which emptied every seat in the house as people clamored to get a glimpse and hear Bennion elucidate various details of the design.

The following day started off with some astute comments from a group of Corvette restorers, featuring NCRS judge Jeff Reade and resto gurus Ken and Gary Nabers. They shared tips on a variety of technical details, covering subjects such as lacquer paint, fiberglass repair, chroming, frame inspection, and more.

In addition, the "Corvette Day" car show featured several hundred Vettes occupying four floors of the museum's parking structure. There was a special corral for Corvette race cars, and several vendors who specialize in the Corvette market were on hand.

All told, it was a glittering tribute to the diamond anniversary of the Corvette, and Vette owners and enthusiasts couldn't have asked for much more. Even so, other 60th celebrations are scheduled for later this year, so this great ride isn't over yet. Stay tuned as the party continues.

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