To say Paul Barth is a fan of the Corvette Pace Car would be like sayingGeneral Motors did a good thing by green-lighting the '53.
Both areunderstatements of hyperbolic proportions. This Louisville, Kentucky,resident and Corvette collector extraordinaire has one of every replicaproduced since the plastic fantastic premiered on track at the 1978Indianapolis 500. But what's a man to do when GM decides that there willbe no '04 Pace Car reproductions? The answer, in this case, was simplein concept if nothing else: Get the Indianapolis 500 Hall of Fame Museumto authorize one.
Paul, who works as the fire chief of the McMahan FireProtection District, has always lived for this side of the hobby. Itonly takes one look at Paul's collection to see that he means businesswhen it comes to his passion for the Indy cars. From his '78 with 2,200miles on the clock, to his '86 that was one of two cars on display atthe 1986 World's Fair in Vancouver, Canada, to his '95, '98, and '03with just over 300 miles combined, Paul has an impressive collectionthat turns the heads of those who see it. So, to insure everyone has achance to view them, Paul has charitably donated several of his cars forthe viewing pleasure of all who visit the National Corvette Museum. Oneneeds to look no further than the NCM Skydome to see his memorabilia andselected rides among several other special Corvettes on display. Withthis sort of dedication to his favorite pastime, you can bet Paul wasdisappointed when GM decided there would be no '04 Pace Car replicassold to the general public. Not willing to give up the good fight, Paulset to work to ensure his garage would not be without one.
When it cametime to race, GM and the Indy 500 Hall of Fame Museum had three actualPace Cars built. In addition, there were 29 Corvette Festival cars thatwere equipped and decaled exactly like the Pace Car, with the exceptionof the blue paint on the lower and rear. These Festival cars were usedat the Indianapolis 500 then rebadged for use at the Brickyard 400. AsPaul told us, "Out of the 29 cars, only 14 were available for sale tothe general public. GM has retained 15 of them." Of the three originals,one went to Indy winner Buddy Rice, one to the Museum, and GM retainedthe third.
Moving like an F1 racer through the straightaways, Paularranged for purchase of a Festival Car. Once the respective tracks hadfinished with them, it was the No. 3, used by the George family, thatPaul would claim as his own. Of course, the Hulsman-George family is theprimary group involved with the Indianapolis 500, and it was Paul's carthat was used by Nancy George. Jokingly referred to as his "high milesVette," the '04 C5 rolled into Paul's life with just a hair over 1,600miles showing. But this is not where the story ends.
Over the nextseveral weeks, Paul talked with the guru of all things Pace Car, HowardKirchenbauer. Howard spends his days at the Indy 500 and Brickyard 400handling the Pace Cars for both races and is the driving force behindwhat some of us enjoy most about the event--the display cars themselves.Howard recognized Paul's plight and began doing some legwork for theanxious owner. You see, while it may be possible to decal any car tolook like the real thing, to be authentic, Paul needed the decal setfrom the Michigan manufacturer. Due to copy-right laws, the producersrequested written permission from the Hall of Fame Museum to give the'04 what it needed.
It was during all of this paper chasing that Paulsent his Vette to be refinished to match the original look. So, whileHoward burned the midnight oil, Jason's Body Shop of Indianapolissprayed some late-night paint. One month later, on September 21, 2004,Paul received permission to have the much-needed decals printed, a dayPaul remembers clearly. "The decal set came in two parts. The first partwas a decal that was placed on the car to paint the unusual blue designdown the sides and across the back. The decal was removed after paintingand the actual stickers that you see on the car today were installed."It was Howard who took special care in the final step. After placingPaul's car alongside the Museum-owned Vette, Howard applied the decalsat the Indianapolis 500 Hall of Fame Museum to ensure they matched theoriginal exactly. And so it was, on December 7th, that the car wasdelivered to Paul as an early Christmas present. As he told us, "To myknowledge, this is the only '04 Pace Car replica authorized by theIndianapolis 500 Hall of Fame Museum known to exist." What better way tocelebrate all things Corvette and the Indianapolis 500 than with theonly authorized replica of the Indy Pace Car? A very Merry Christmasindeed.
Off To the NCM
Having remained in touch with Paul Barth since first meeting him at the2003 Pace Car Reunion, Team VETTE has kept a keen ear tuned to theevents leading up to the creation of the Official '04 Pace Car replica.With the shooting season for car features limited in some areas morethan others, VETTE caught up with Paul during the spring thaw. It wassome time before this that the "Only '04 Owner" had made the decision totemporarily lend his new toy to the National Corvette Museum fordisplay. So, on the Monday following the '04's arrival to the NCM, VETTEmet with Paul and Wendell Strode for the momentous event. With the keyshanded off to the NCM's Executive Director, the Corvette was now underthe care of the Museum and its staff, which had relocated its Pace Carsspecifically for the new display. VETTE was there for the day the '04joined the rest of its family inside the NCM Skydome. If you would liketo see the display for yourself, log on towww.corvettemuseum.com/webcam/index.shtml to take advantage of theNCM's live web cams. Enjoy.
Paul Barth would like to send special thanks to Howard Kirchenbauer.Howard was instrumental in assuring Paul's car received an official nodfrom the Hall of Fame Museum. Team VETTE would also like to thankWendell Strode for taking time out of his busy schedule to be available;Larry Grinstead who was our "Official '04" driver for the day while Paulfinished paperwork; and Paul Barth for his dedication to the sport andits preservation.