What is it that makes a Corvette enthusiast? Many can point to a particular instance that fired their passion for America's Sports Car. It may have been a relative's solid-axle, or a ride in a neighbor's mid-year. But then again, it doesn't always take a singular instance. Automobiles are part of the cultural milieu, their significance much greater than that of a mere means of transportation. And there can be no doubt that Corvettes stand out as bright spots in that cultural landscape.
April Zavela of San Bernardino, California, is a prime example of the effects of this influence. As children, April and her younger brother would count the number of Corvettes they saw on their way to the beach. She also had a pretty good collection of Hot Wheels(tm) replicas. It was enough-the words "Vette" and "Stingray" had a special magic for young April, and she was determined to one day have the real thing.
Despite a cadre of naysayers who tried to tell her that she'd never get a Corvette, April eventually found herself in the showroom at Rotolo Chevrolet in Fontana, California, checking out an immaculate '82 Collector Edition. It was love at first sight, for several reasons. The car had belonged to Mrs. Rotolo, who reluctantly gave it up in favor of a new 40th Anniversary version. That the car had been meticulously cared for was obvious to April; to her, it looked like "it hadn't been touched." But that evaluation on the '82's physical condition was only part of the instant attraction. In fact, April remembers her response as "Oh my!" It was a visceral, deep-seated passion that had been seeded years before, on those trips to the beach and by blister-packed miniatures that were eagerly torn open and played with for hours. There was one other thing-the Shark body style, the one that flashed into April's mind when her thoughts turned to things Corvette.
It's a natural connection for millions. After all, the Stingray/Shark body style carried the Corvette banner for 15 years, and chances are that anyone who came of age between 1968 and 1982 has no problem picturing that profile. Nineteen-eighty-two was the last hurrah for the longest running Corvette body style, and for a mechanical platform that got its start in the '63 Sting Ray. All '82s came with the 200hp "cross fire" computer-controlled, fuel-injected powerplant and the new 700-R4 automatic overdrive transmission. Although 25,407 Corvettes were built for 1982, the 6,759 Collector Edition versions were created specifically to commemorate this ending. The car's most distinguishing features are in plain view. The Code 59 Silver Beige paint was unique to this model, as were the hood and body decals and accent pinstriping. Alloy wheels that recalled '67's optional bolt-ons were part of the package, and special emblems further identified these Corvettes as something special.
The interior also got special treatment, with a silver-beige leather interior and door trim, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and horn button (complete with a matching Collector Edition emblem) and upgraded carpet.
Also unique to this model, and a first on any Corvette, was the lifting-glass "hatchback" feature. It made for a fitting monument to the end of an era.
For April Zavela, it all just served to seal the deal. She knew what she was looking at, and that it was in great shape-she also knew that she had to have it. Her seriousness was evident enough to gain her the rarely granted privilege of a test drive. If April hadn't been hooked already, that drive did the trick. She recalls it vividly: "I felt like I was in the Batmobile, with that long nose, and it was just, go, baby, go!" It did take a few rounds of negotiation, but a deal was struck, and a dream fulfilled.
You might think that a rare beauty like this would be a natural on the show car circuit-and it is, but not in the way you'd think. Having spent parts of her childhood in Texas, along Route 66, April remembers the old drive-ins, diners, and motels that gave the thoroughfare its unique character. Because of those memories, and also because it's the biggest event of its type in the area, April always makes a yearly trip to the Route 66 Rendezvous in San Bernardino (see page 40). Her Collector Edition even sports license plates reading "66ETUOR" (that's "ROUTE66," backwards, for those of you who don't have a mirror handy). And she did recently take the car's first trophy at a show in nearby Claremont, California (the judges had a hard time believing the interior was original). Most of the shows that April attends, however, are of another nature altogether, and that's where she earned her nickname, "The Vette Lady."
As a registered nurse, giving to others is a big part of April's life, so it's only natural that her '82 would get in on the act. She took the Collector Edition to a charity show to benefit the Ronald McDonald House, an organization that allows gravely ill children who are being treated at a hospital to be with their parents. There she met a youngster who was fascinated with the '82, and April was only too happy to let the little one sit behind the wheel. The beaming smile on his face was satisfaction enough, but when April later learned that the child was terminally ill, she knew that giving to others through sharing her pride and joy was going to be important to her. She hasn't missed a Ronald McDonald House event since, and her presence and generosity with her time and Corvette earned her the title, "The Vette Lady."
The Collector Edition has also seen its share of parade duties, escorting several local and state politicians and even a television star-Justin Berfield from Malcolm in the Middle-at a recent "Stars & Cars" event. Berfield, who is just a year shy of getting his driver's license, picked the '82 because he thought it was the coolest car there. April in turn promised him that he can drive her car after he gets that license. Now that's a good deal, and at least one member of a younger generation will probably see a Shark when he thinks of Corvettes.
As for The Vette Lady, her philosophy when it comes to the many offers she's received for her Collector Edition is pretty simple: "The money thing is nothing-I can get more money." What's irreplaceable is the fun she has with her rare piece of Corvette history, and the joy she gets from seeing others enjoy it. With April Zavela and others like her on the scene, the Shark-style Corvette will undoubtedly remain in the forefront of car culture, creating another generation of Corvette enthusiasts who will eventually enjoy and share their own Corvette dreams-come-true.