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Bloomington Corvette Show - Digging For Gold

We examine the past, present, and future of a premier Corvette event

Walt Thurn Dec 11, 2012
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The first Bloomington Gold Corvette show was held in 1973 in Bloomington, Illinois, and the event enjoyed impressive growth in subsequent years. In 1978, David Burroughs, an active member of the Bloomington organization, unveiled the Gold Certification award. In order to capture this distinction, a car must receive a minimum of 95 points (out of 100) based on its authenticity. Each car is judged as to its accuracy compared with the condition it was in the day it left the factory.

In 1984 the show became known as Bloomington Gold Corvettes USA. Six years later it introduced the Survivor category, which recognizes Corvettes that are "worn in, but not worn out." These cars must remain at least 50 percent unrestored, unfinished, or unaltered. A year later, in 1991, the Benchmark award was unveiled. To qualify for Benchmark status, a Corvette must be unrestored, attain Gold Certification, and meet all of the Survivor criteria.

By 1993 Bloomington Gold had outgrown its old county-fairground location, so it moved to a new site in Springfield, Illinois. Also that year Burroughs retired from the event staff to pursue other activities. In late 1997 Dana Mecum (of Mecum Auctions) and his family became the show's new owners. Mecum returned the show to Bloomington in 1998, and it remained there until 2001.

In 2002 the show moved once again, this time to the Pheasant Run Golf Resort in St. Charles, Illinois. This 18-hole golf course proved the perfect venue for hosting the hundreds of Corvettes that swarmed the show each year.

Thanks to the involvement of the Mecum family, the Mecum Corvette Auction became a major part of the event, attracting some of the country's most significant collector Corvettes. David Burroughs returned as the event's CEO in 2003, and oversaw continued growth in the years that followed.

More change came to Bloomington Gold late last year, when the Mecums sold the show to Guy Larsen. Larsen subsequently announced that 2012 would be the event's final year at Pheasant Run, and that it would relocate to the grounds of the University of Illinois in Champaign for 2013. Larsen believes the openness of the new site will enable the organizers to schedule more driving-based events. Sounds like a good idea to us.

The valedictory nature of this year's show did nothing to dampen enthusiasm, as attendees filled the golf course with Corvettes and packed the vendor display areas. While the Mecum Auction was reduced from its traditional two days to one, 143 Corvettes still crossed the block. The Great Hall (see sidebar) and all of the Gold Certifications were in full swing throughout the weekend. These events drew large crowds, chiefly because they offered an unparalleled opportunity to get an up-close look at some of the country's highest-quality Corvettes. When the judging was completed, 85 cars received Gold Certification, 42 were awarded Survivor status, and 18 were granted the more difficult Benchmark Certification.

Bloomington Gold vendors filled a large building and the adjoining parking lot, displaying their diverse wares for shoppers. It was a great place to locate that hard-to-find part for your Corvette. Next to the vendor area was the Gold Mine, dedicated to for-sale Corvettes.

Chevrolet brought a nice selection of '13 Corvettes for people to inspect, and Corvette Plant Engineer Tom Hill held several seminars during the weekend to explain the changes to the latest edition.

We're looking forward to visiting this classic Corvette show at its new location next year. It is scheduled to run June 27-30, and, as in years past, it promises to be a golden opportunity for Corvette aficionados of all stripes.

The 2012 Great Hall Inductees

The Great Hall program was developed by Bloomington Gold CEO David Burroughs in 2010, as a way of recognizing the people and Corvettes that have had a positive impact on the hobby. The program will end in 2015, at which point 50 people and 50 cars will have been honored.

The People

John Amgwert ::: Founding director of the National Corvette Restorers Society

Jerry Burton ::: Former editor of Corvette Quarterly magazine and author of the book titled Zora

Richard Buxbaum ::: Specializes in rare, low-mileage collector Corvettes

John Fitch ::: World-class Corvette driver; managed the first factory Corvette racing team

Jerry Kohn ::: Founder of Corvette Central, a Corvette-parts and -accessories company

Kevin Mackay ::: Owner of Corvette Repair, which raised the bar for Corvette restorations

Dave McLellan ::: Corvette's second chief engineer; succeeded Zora Arkus-Duntov

Jerome Shinkay ::: Known as an expert for ultra-high-quality, investment-grade Corvettes

Corvette Expo ::: Corvette Expo in Knoxville, Tennessee, was one of the first events to showcase the Corvette.

NCCC ::: Founded in 1959, the National Council of Corvette Clubs now has 17,000 members and 270 clubs dedicated to Corvette owners.

The Cars

'53 Corvette Serial Number 3 ::: Completed on July 1st, 1953, it is the earliest known Corvette in existence.

'56 SR Corvette ::: John Fitch and Walt Hansgen won their class at the 1956 12 Hours of Sebring in this car.

CERV I ::: This was Zora Duntov's first "Chevrolet Experimental Research Vehicle."

'59 Stingray Racer ::: Bill Mitchell bought the second Corvette SS chassis for $1 and commissioned designer Larry Shinoda to develop the beautiful Stingray body. Dr. Dick Thompson drove this car to the 1960 SCCA National Championship.

'61 Mako Shark ::: This show car was used to test the interest in the '63 Stingray design.

'67 Survivor ::: The Survivor award began in 1989 as a way of honoring unrestored Corvettes. This year a 2,999-original-mile '67 model was displayed to showcase the Survivor category.

'67 Le Mans Racer ::: This is the only C2 Corvette to race at Le Mans, where it was driven by Don Yenko, Bob Bondurant, and Dick Guldstrand in 1967. It led the GT class for 12 hours before retiring.

'69 L88 Race Car ::: This iconic C3 was campaigned by the John Greenwood racing team.

'70 Corvette LT-1 ::: The LT-1 was the last high-performance V-8 built by Chevrolet for nearly two decades.

'90 Corvette ZR-1 ::: The "King of the Hill" project began in 1985, under the direction of Corvette Chief Engineer Dave McLellan. It was billed as the first "world class" Corvette.

CERV I Honored

One of the most coveted Corvettes in the Mid America Motorworks My Garage museum was inducted into the Bloomington Gold Great Hall this year. Only 50 Corvettes will receive this recognition, and it is fitting that the CERV I (Chevrolet Experimental Research Vehicle) is one of them.

Zora Arkus-Duntov, the so-called "father of the Corvette," began building this car in 1959 and used it for testing the following year. It was unveiled to the public at the 1960 Riverside Grand Prix, where it was driven by racing greats Sterling Moss and Dan Gurney.

In 1964 Duntov introduced the all-wheel-drive CERV II to use in his next-generation test program. After testing was completed on both cars, GM donated them to the Briggs Cunningham Museum in 1972.

CERV I changed hands a number of times before being purchased by MAM owner Mike Yager on June 26, 1996. We spoke with Yager at the Bloomington show about the car's significance.

VETTE magazine: How did you find this car?

Mike Yager: Tom Christmann and I were looking at a ProTeam [Corvette Sales] flyer, and we saw the CERV I for sale for $225,000. It took a lot of soul searching for me to…pay that much money for a car, but I decided to buy it.

VM: What influenced your decision?

MY: Part of my decision to buy this car was when I asked myself, How could a car as significant as this to Chevrolet's history be for sale? In addition this was Zora's favorite test vehicle, and the logbook shows this car was fitted with seven test engines. The engine in the car now is a 377-cubic-inch Grand Sport test engine. It really became an easy decision to purchase it.

VM: How did the car get into private hands originally?

MY: [Miles] Collier bought the Cunningham museum in 1987 when it closed. He immediately put both cars up for sale at the Monterey Classic Car Auction. Chevrolet put an injunction against the sale. It took three years and a lot of money to settle the case, and the verdict was sealed, but the cars received a clear title.

VM: The car is in excellent condition. Did you restore it?

MY: No, shortly after I bought it, I received a phone call from [GM PR director] Ralph Kramer about having GM restore the car. I accepted his offer, and he put me in touch with [GM Performance head] John Moss. John asked me to bring it to Detroit, and his team refurbished it for me. He paid for the restoration with his [Specialty Equipment Market Association show] budget. John took it to SEMA shortly after the restoration, and it was a big hit with the crowd.

VM: Who owns CERV II?

MY: Harry Yeaggy owns the CERV II, and it is part of his extensive collection in Ohio.

VM: What does it mean to Mid America Motorworks to have CERV I join the Great Hall?

MY: I have owned this car for 16 years, and to get it selected as one of the top 50 Corvettes ever built is a huge honor for me and Mid America.

VM: What is it like to sit in this car?

MY: It is about as close to Corvette heritage as you can get. This is the car Zora sat in and drove his heart out in, and now it is in my museum! It doesn't get much better than that.



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