Every year in late summer, the small Swiss town of Aarau becomes the center of the European Corvette universe. Even before you reach the event, there are telltale signs to let you know you're on the right track: a few C1s cruising together on the highway, a C3 stopped at a gas station, a yellow-and-carbon ZR1 navigating a roundabout--all on their way to the 23rd Annual Super Corvette Sunday. The SCS is the place to be for any Corvette owner or aficionado in Europe. Last year's event was no exception, with plenty of cars, clubs, music, shops, and judged cars shows to keep any Vette lover occupied. Initially, it's easy to be overwhelmed. With a three-story building and a parking lot crammed with Corvettes, one could easily spend an entire day wandering the event site without seeing everything.
Introducing myself to the staff, I meet Oliver Fankhauser and other officials from the Swiss Corvette Club International (SCCI), which organizes the show. They direct me to the third floor, where I discover what the biggest Corvette meeting in Europe looks like. Attendees come mainly from Switzerland, but others have traveled from France, Italy, Belgium, Germany, and England. Some cars have even arrived from Eastern Europe, including a ZR1 whose owner has made the 1,150-mile trip from Romania.
The second surprise is the number of cars. A total of 606 Corvettes made it to Aarau, from a '53 C1 to a brand-new ZR1 that's just arrived from Kentucky. Cars are parked side by side with no specific order, so you can see a Sting Ray next to a C4 or an exquisite C1 along with a lifted four-wheel-drive midyear. Owners chat in German and English and sometimes French, commenting on each other's cars and inviting visitors to open doors and hoods. Most of the Corvettes are still in original condition, some in need of a repaint, but all cherished by their loving owners.
The show field also provided visitors with an opportunity to take a 20-mile scenic ride in a Corvette for 15 dollars (U.S.). Many enjoyed the rare and valuable C1, but most of the younger congregants preferred the modern power and handling of the C6.
Keeping the Heartbeat AliveEvery year, members of the Swiss Heartbeat Gold Association share their passion and knowledge with the Corvette owners who attend the SCS. Association judges assess cars that are 50 and 25 years old, so the '61 and '86 models were eligible in 2011.
The system is simple: Every car starts with 1,000 points, and points are deleted for each item that falls short of factory-original condition. Leather color, VIN code, radio functionality, paint details, chrome condition, and numerous other details undergo the scrutiny of the judges. Drop to fewer than 640 points, and you can say goodbye to the Swiss Heartbeat Gold award.
"Owners in Europe have difficulties finding spare parts for an old '61 like this one," said head judge Arthur Winhofer of one of the Corvettes submitted for judging. "Just getting the right tires is nearly impossible--those white-and-black tires are not allowed on the road here.
"It's a difficult [process], but it's a way to preserve some cars in amazing condition. Some owners are sad because they don't get [640 points] with a nice car, and they can't come back next year after repairs or restoration. We have no [award quota]; if none of them gets the award, it doesn't matter.
"Two '86s will get the award this year, but not the '61 C1 behind me. The side chromes are missing and were replaced by a mere line painted black, the seat leather is a red that wasn't for sale in 1961. It's really close, but different." Plaques are given on Sunday afternoon in the presence of the judges and public. A man who identified himself only as "Bruno" from Matzingen, Switzerland, got 755 points and was awarded the plaque for his '86 convertible.
"This award, it's an honor that pays tribute to the love and passion given to a car that I've owned since 1999," he said during a quick speech in his native German. "Corvette is everything to me--more than a car, it's a way of life."
If you're in Europe this summer, be sure to visit the 24th Super Corvette Sunday on August 26.