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.
His 2007-vintage C6s have some interesting stories behind them, starting with the yellow one. Per Wil, when Millennium Yellow was added to the Vette's color selection, it wasn't phased-in as new colors had been before. "What I told the customers was, `We're going to pull ahead new colors, and put them up front, because that's what people want," Wil says of the decision to make that bright yellow available from the start of the model run. And, what of his Velocity Yellow '07? Wil says, "It was a manufacturing-validation vehicle, from very early in the production phase." Wil drove it to Corvette events and, seeing not only how it performed but also Corvette lovers' reactions to it, made up his mind to add a yellow one to his collection.
His black '07 Z06 is no less historically significant. "That car has the first set of chrome wheels that we produced," Wil says,. "I was sportin' `em, and showing everybody." And, just like with the reaction to the yellow Z06, Wil said to himself, "I've got to have this one."
Along with a flip-top Cadillac XLR that was also built at Bowling Green, Wil has one other Corvette in his collection. But this one isn't filled with the latest advances from GM Powertrain or the latest styling from GM Design. What it is filled with is a full-tube, race car chassis and big block V8 power to make it competitive in NHRA's Super Pro and Super Gas categories.
But Wil's 1/4-mile C4 Vette wasn't one that he'd been looking at. "Every time that I looked at a Corvette drag car, they all had firewalls moved backward, and every time there was not enough room for me," he says of the cars that barely--if at all--fit his six-foot-five-plus frame. "What I ended up doing is I had that car custom-made around me, just like you do a tailor-made suit." Brent Eubanks welded the custom-fit frame, while Lamar Walden built the engine and Wilson Competition assembled it into a turn-key race car. "They were looking into building full-body drag cars, and they decided that mine would be the first one that they'd do," Wil says. "They put a lot of wonderful detail in it, and it took a while to get it all done. They did a great job, as a show car and it runs great. I don't have any complaints about it. But at the end of my car's build, they said, `This is the first one--and the last one!'"
How quick is Wil's quarter-miler? "The best time on the car has been the low 9s," he says. "If I used the nitrous on it--I don't use it because I want to preserve my engine--you could probably put it in the high 8s. I figured if I can run in the mid-9s all day, I was happy!"
Does Wil have any advice for Corvette enthusiasts looking to turn their one-car devotion into a multi-Vette collection? "A lot of the love for Corvettes is often tied to some event in your life that you attach some significance to," he says. "When I came back from Vietnam in 1969--I left there that July--I'd been reading a lot of books and looking at a lot of cars. Theoretically, I could have stopped at the `69s if I wanted to." But he didn't, and he's got a very good reason. "What made me make my mind up (to focus on C4-later Vettes) was my contribution and my efforts in the Corvette Team and the awards, and things like that. What else can you really have drive you? All the quality awards that the fifth-generation Corvette got automatically makes it one of the most-celebrated generations of Corvettes."
And one that's at the heart of one Corvette man's collection.