In July 2002, I finished reading All Corvettes Are Red by James Schefter. A superb book, it details the trials and tribulations of the design and production of the C5 Corvette. For nine years I had been the proud owner of a '93 Polo Green Metallic roadster; but after reading the book, I was motivated to move on to the next generation of Corvette. I called my friend and fellow Corvette enthusiast, Kristi, who owned a '94 Polo Green Metallic coupe and, after some discussion, we agreed to order two new C5s. However, there were several hurdles to overcome before we could explore this great nation in the newest version of America's only sports car.
Kristi and I are U.S. Air Force officers. She's stationed at the Pentagon as a judge advocate (lawyer) and I'm a fighter pilot, flying the A-10, assigned to Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany. I began searching for a dealer who could work the logistics of this multifaceted purchase, and it wasn't going to be easy. I sent many e-mails, called several Chevrolet dealerships throughout the United States (and one here in Germany), and consulted with Bob Breeding, customer care manager at the Bowling Green Corvette production plant, before finally settling on Maroone Chevrolet in Lake Worth, Florida.
At Maroone, Sharon Dibble worked with us for several months to turn our dream into reality. She provided answers to every question we had at each step along the way, ensuring a great start to our adventure.
Before Kristi and I could even decide on a coupe, convertible, or Z06, we began agonizing over exterior and interior colors. We loved the Polo Green Metallic on our C4s and wanted to get the same for our C5s. Unfortunately, Chevy stopped offering it after 2001. Kristi briefly considered yellow (with black interior), but none of the other colors appealed to us. We were disappointed, and ready to call off the whole thing.
A few weeks later, we read an article about the 50th Anniversary Corvette. After poring over the article and photos for a week or so and discussing our options in depth, we decided to order twins: two 50th Anniversary Corvettes. Kristi would get the coupe and I'd get the convertible. Both came equipped with the six-speed manual transmission, AM/FM/CD stereo, 12-disc CD changer, and, of course, the full range of features included with the 50th Anniversary package.
We were getting excited, but had to make one more decision. Kristi was in Washington, D.C., I was in Germany, and our dealer was in Florida, so where should we take delivery? We ordered the new Corvettes together and wanted to see it through together. I reviewed the available options, and one stated, "R8C - NCM Delivery." I quickly realized it meant the National Corvette Museum across the street from the factory in Bowling Green, Kentucky. In conjunction with Chevrolet, the Museum offers buyers the option of taking delivery of their new Corvette during an unforgettable half day of activity. The option costs slightly more than the regular dealer-prep fee (which was waived by Maroone Chevrolet because we didn't take delivery with the dealership), and of course requires travel to Bowling Green. Additional details can be found on the Museum's Web site (www.corvettemuseum.com) or from your local dealer. We decided this was the answer. Based on the target production week for our cars, we set a delivery date for the R8C option and the deal was nearly finished.
Unfortunately, war was looming. The situation in Iraq was heating up and my squadron was put on standby to deploy. As the situation intensified, the likelihood of my being allowed time away from my unit for a Corvette vacation was steadily decreasing. At one point, deployment seemed imminent and I had to tell Kristi I would not be sharing in this long-awaited day. She insisted she didn't want to complete the NCM delivery alone, but I convinced her to go through with it. She asked her father, Tony, to accompany her if I was deployed.
Tony is a retired Air Force colonel and a Corvette enthusiast, currently driving a '99 Torch Red coupe (his fourth Corvette). Visiting the Museum had long been on his list of things to do, and he jumped at the opportunity.
Fortunately, I was able to be there for what turned out to be an incredible day. Tony still accompanied us for the delivery in case I was recalled to my unit during the time it would take to get the cars home.
On delivery day, I mistook Bowling Green's time zone (CST), and we arrived at the Museum over an hour early. We spent the extra time in the gift shop picking up lots of Corvette gadgets and accessories, ensuring our "babies" would have all the best toys. We began the extravaganza at noon. It would be nearly four hours before we saw our cars and almost six hours before we drove away from the Museum.
We were greeted at the entrance with signs welcoming us. There were announcements to everyone who visited that afternoon that we were there to pick up our new Corvettes. After checking in at the reception desk, our guides, Andy and Chad, began the day with a tour of the Corvette production facility. As we approached the entrance the plant's workers use, we saw our names displayed on the plant's marquee welcoming us as new Corvette owners.
Our personalized tour through the facility took two hours, as every production detail was explained. Andy seemed to know everything, answering each question we put to him. In comparison, the regular factory tour lasts about 40 minutes, is done in groups of about 20 people accompanied by a single guide, and stops at only a few select stations. Bowling Green is a modern production facility, employing the latest technology and the finest work force in the auto industry. Employee pride in the Corvette and American patriotism is evident; signs and stickers adorn lockers, desks, and walls throughout the plant.
After the tour, we returned to the Museum. It has a superb collection of Corvettes, tastefully and artfully displayed. Some are arranged in dioramas of the period they come from, while others are displayed in groups of cars. A favorite was a Mobil gas station diorama from the late '50s and various groups of unique Corvettes from throughout its 50-year history. Again, Andy had a story for every display and answers to all our questions.
Near the end of the Museum tour, we walked down a hallway decorated with Corvette art and pictures. It was lined with Corvettes and was described as the "Nursery," the holding point for all Corvettes waiting for their new owners to take delivery. Just past the Nursery we entered a large hall with about 20 more Corvettes on display. There, in the middle of the hall, roped off in their own display area, were two '03 50th Anniversary Corvettes-one coupe and one convertible-staring us right in the eyes. Those were our new Corvettes!
We approached the display, and could see additional signs with our names prominently displayed, announcing to the Museum's visitors that these Corvettes were being picked up by their new owners. We began to cry. It had been almost a year since Kristi and I first talked about getting C5s, and now we were standing in front of them. In all the emotion, Kristi commented she felt like she had just won the lottery. It was a great feeling.
I can't say enough about the Museum staff and their efforts. They showed tremendous flexibility and consideration of our military situation. Our sincere thanks go to the Museum's management, Gary Cockriel and Judy Yanko, for coordinating the event, and to Andy Roderick and Chad Carter, for their work as our tour guides. If you have the time and can afford the extra expense, select the "R8C" option for your new Corvette. There is no better way to begin the adventure of Corvette ownership.
But the fun wasn't over, as it was time to take our new Corvettes on their inaugural drive to Kristi's home in Alexandria, Virginia. We agreed that trundling down the Interstate all the way back wasn't the right way to do it. So, a few hours outside of Bowling Green, we got on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina.
The parkway is one of America's most scenic highways and is managed by the National Park Service. The road is a two-lane blacktop with a 45-mph speed limit that twists and winds its way for 400 miles through western North Carolina and Virginia. The views and scenery are spectacular. Fortunately, there are overlooks with small parking lots every few miles which allow drivers to safely pull off and take it all in. The Corvette's manual recommends that drivers vary the speed and remain below 55 mph during the break-in period (a very long 500 miles). The parkway gives you the perfect opportunity to do just that while enjoying the beauty of our great nation. Nothing can replace the feeling that surrounds you while enjoying the freedom of America's open roads.
We arrived at Kristi's house two days later, with almost 1,000 miles on our Corvettes. Tony has decided he'll get a C6 when they roll off the Corvette assembly line and says he'll definitely take delivery at the NCM. Kristi and I are already contemplating our 60th Anniversary Corvettes and another trip to the Museum.