Has the "Golden Age" of the Corvette been going on since the changeover from C4 to C5, in your opinion? If so, there's one collector whose garage houses some fine examples of the later-model Corvettes. But these are there for one very important reason: They came out of his plant.
Wil Cooksey was plant manager at General Motors' Bowling Green Assembly Plant in Kentucky from February of 1993 until March of 2008. Before then, as he worked his way up the ladder at GM, he was a Corvette man--one who shared his passion with family and friends via GM's employee-discount program. "I was buying as many as two Corvettes a year when it was not disadvantageous in terms of the tax situation," he recalls from his home near Bowling Green. "That's because I was buying them, and letting my friends buy them from me, when I first started working for GM back in 1972."
If there ever is a reunion of all the Corvettes that Wil Cooksey bought from GM, and then sold over the years, it would take a huge show field to hold them all. That's because by his count he's had nearly five hundred. "There's four hundred and twenty-seven of `em in the U.S., and the other 78 went overseas," he says with a laugh.
But now it's the C4 and later Corvettes that are the focus of Wil's collection, starting with a certain dark-red '93 coupe. "The 40th Anniversary has a special significance to me," Wil recalls. "I had been doing my job as the production manager in the Fairfax (Kansas) Assembly Plant, and I'd already put in my order for that car to be shipped to Kansas. What happened was, I got interviewed for the job in Bowling Green before my car was put on the truck. When I got the notice that I was going to get that `dream job,' (plant manager at Bowling Green Assembly), I immediately got in touch with the Bowling Green Assembly Plant people and told them, `Don't ship my Corvette--put it in my company-car spot because I'm the new plant manager."
The move to Bowling Green was not just a promotion into Wil's dream job, but a reunion of Corvette devotees. "That was like a homecoming because I had worked with the bunch here at Bowling Green back in St. Louis," he says of the Bowling Green Assembly and Corvette Team members he'd met up with during Corvette's transition to BGA from St. Louis Assembly. "I still remembered them, and they knew me--as a matter of fact, whenever I was having a new Corvette built, I'd drop by sometimes, take a look at it and pat `em on the back, saying `Great job, guys!' They were always interested in the fact that I was a Corvette enthusiast, and these guys were still building Corvettes for me even though I'd been transferred to (Fairfax) Kansas. Even when I was in Doraville (Georgia), I kept doing the same thing--I kept giving them orders, and buying Corvettes from them."
The C5s hold a special place for Wil, not only in his garage, but also in this Corvette man's heart. "That was the most innovative, most outstanding year when we launched that product," he says of the time before the all-new '97 Corvette went into production. "I think there's a lot of greatness in the fifth generation, especially coming from the fourth generation." He adds, "I made certain that I was deeply involved in every phase of the C5, from its inception. I had teams traveling back and forth to Michigan, sitting in meetings--I had people working in the shops, telling them, `No, you don't need to do this, because you can't guarantee a quality job.' We were all quite engaged, and so I'm very proud of the fifth-generation Corvette, of what we were able to achieve over the fourth, so I said, I got to have C5s, because I know what went into them."
One of Wil's C5s has "a little something" more than a good selection of factory options--a 2001 that's equipped with nitrous oxide injection. He also has a 2003 50th Anniversary convertible, as well.