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Corvette History: St. Louis and the C3 and the C4 … and Bowling Green

In The Interim

Brian Brennan Jul 9, 2018
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During my lifetime I have moved on several occasions and each time I promised the good Lord that I would never move again. Given my measly experience with moving I cannot begin to fathom what it must have been like for Chevrolet, more specifically Corvette, to move from St. Louis, Missouri, to Bowling Green, Kentucky; a driving distance of approximately 280 miles. However, the move is more about the complexity of literally moving an automotive manufacturing plant.

In the interim, it should be noted that the last Corvette made in St. Louis was a white 1981 coupe (VIN 31611; July 31, 1981; It took 22 hours to build a Corvette at St. Louis so the car technically rolled off the assembly line on August 1, 1981). This also marked the end of an era … say goodbye to the C3. First brought to the public’s eye in 1968, the C3 had a tremendous run through 1982. (We all know what happened in 1983!) Interestingly, the 1982 Corvette (C3) was the last of an era, but the first Corvette to be built in the new BG plant. In reality, the BG plant was up and running during the last two months that St. Louis was in operation. The first Corvette rolled off the BG assembly line June 1, 1981.

Can you even begin to imagine the sleepless nights around the corporate offices as an entire brand (including assembly line) was moved from the center of the industrial north to the heartland of blue grass and the vast horse ranches of the south? I can hear it now, “Hey ya’ll, I’m the moving van driver from Kentucky and I am here to move your stuff!” Along with hardware there were also the people to think about. Many of the workers from the St. Louis plant had spent years there and they, too, had an affinity for the car and their jobs. It is reported that upwards of 1,500 workers made the move to Kentucky.

Corvette Vintage Photo 002 2/2

I suppose it was only fitting that a new generation of Corvette should come out of the new plant. The C4 was most definitely that as it represented the latest in forward thinking in terms of style, aerodynamic design and exceptional handling. Of course, none of the auto manufacturers had figured out the emissions versus horsepower thingy. It would be another decade before cars, and especially the Corvette, would feature emissions-friendly powerplants that not only produced horsepower but also began to give a glimpse of the future and those spectacular miles per gallon readings. (A quick fact about the 1982 Corvette: According to the good folks at Corvette Black Book: A manual tranny wasn’t available in ’82 making it and the ’53 and ’54 Corvettes as the only ones that didn’t offer a manual transmission. These were automatic only cars.)

One significant difference between the C3 and the C4 came in the form of body prep for paint. And it was the inability of the St. Louis plant to meet the latest EPA doctrine that began the wheels turning at Chevrolet to move the manufacturing plant. (Did you know that the original BG plant was a facility once owned by Chrysler to make air-conditioning components and was purchased by General Motors in 1978?) The 1984 (C4) Corvette was designed so that the “pain in the butt” fiberglass seams on the exposed body panels were eliminated. This then eliminated factory finishing. These seams were now under the rub molding, which ran around the body.

For those of you that haven’t made a pilgrimage to the Corvette manufacturing plant or to the National Corvette Museum or to the NCM Motorsports Park (across the freeway from the museum and plant) … you have to put it on your bucket list. For those of you that haven’t moved … well, resist the temptation for as long as you can!

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