The British Classic Corvette Club UK (CCCUK) is special among one-make clubs in this country. It isn't just that ours is the club for the best sports car ever built, or that it has existed for 25 years, or even that it was one of the first old-world car clubs to have a significant presence online. If you own a British sports car, you have a choice of clubs for your marque because at some long, forgotten committee meeting there was an almighty row, which led to the aggrieved members going off like angry children to start their own rival club. While it's had its share of lively meetings, the CCCUK has survived its first quarter century intact, maybe because Corvette owners are among the nicest people you'll ever meet.
Ten enthusiasts who assembled at the Heston Services on the M4 motorway in west London started the CCCUK one wet Saturday afternoon in September 1979. Yours truly was one of them, along with John Sansbury, who we elected secretary because he had organized the meeting, has recently rejoined the club and 25 years later is secretary once again. Our first major rally was at the National Motor Museum in the grounds of the 14th century Beaulieu Abbey on the English South Coast. Because it is a national club, a more central location had to be found; after various locations as far north as the Donnington Park circuit, the club has settled on Knebworth House some 40 miles north of London. This easily accommodates more than 200 Corvettes on a weekend late in June. For the club's 20th anniversary, it became a two-day meet, with workshops and tech sessions on Saturday followed by concours judging, driving tests, and serious socializing on Sunday.
This side of the Atlantic, towing a car on a trailer means it has mechanical trouble, so there are hardly any trailer queens. All cars are driven to Knebworth, some in high-speed convoys from each region. For the last two years, cars have been assembled on the show ground by region rather than by year group to emphasize the importance of the local monthly meets. This has worked really well, introducing new or less active members to their local groups. Judging is more informal than Bloomington or NCRS, but a CCCUK Gold Award is a real mark of achievement. The People's Choice award, voted for by attendees on the day, is the most coveted award of all.
The driving test is a smaller version of the American autocross, on a grass surface, which turns to dust or mud depending on the weather. This favors '63-'67 convertibles whose driving position and shape make them the easiest models to place in the cones, but there are still surprise winners.
The UK chapter of the NCRS (National Corvette Restorers Society) was started by the indefatigable Trevor Rogers in 1998 with a grand opening at Danesfield House, which attracted many American guests, several of whom have been back to our annual September events. The UK chapter is by no means a competitor to the CCCUK, as almost all NCRS-UK members belong to the larger club as well. I was pressed into the position of judging chairman soon after that initial meeting. At past meets we've been honored by visits from distinguished authors Noland Adams and the late Jim Schefter, thanks to extensive sponsorship from Corvette Central, Eckler's, Zip Products, and Corvette Mike.
The chapter has always tried to attract participation from France and Belgium, and these countries are less than two hours away via the Channel Tunnel from our base at a golfing hotel deep in the Kent countryside. The weekend starts with a judging school on Friday night followed by a welcome dinner. There is flight judging of up to six cars the next day followed by a banquet on Saturday night, which includes awards and a charity auction.
It is a popular misconception that NCRS members don't drive their cars, and having witnessed the arrival of the Florida NCRS caravan at the Monterey National Convention in 2002, I am still in awe of members who can drive more than 2,000 miles in straight-axle cars with no air conditioning in midsummer. By driving their cars to the event, members earn mileage points that can compensate for non-original but essential features such as radial tires. Our Sunday 100-mile Road Tour is nothing by comparison, but is still the perfect way to finish the weekend, with coffee and lunch stops in the picturesque historic villages of the Weald of Kent.
Last year I judged a '55 Corvette V-8, which had been shipped to Morocco when new, and had never been restored or modified. I took it on the road tour, having never driven one on the road before. Despite the ancient tires, which are at their worst on British roundabouts, this car was a superb drive, keeping up on the country roads with all the other newer Corvettes that ranged from '61 to '00. Everyone wanted to sit in the passenger seat and all were impressed with the superb ride and lack of rattles and squeaks, easy to achieve when the doors don't have any glass or window regulators in them! But best of all was the reaction of other members on seeing the car in motion. It was interesting how many said they had never realized before what a beautiful car the earliest Corvette was and how their eyes were drawn to it as they drove. Most '53-'55 Corvettes live a static and protected life in museums or heated garages and sadly, few are driven. But on the road, cresting a rise or dappled with sunlight through tree-lined bends, that original and bold styling takes on a life of its own.
The NCRS-UK also organizes a two-day Chuck Berge Winter Workshop each March when we have the benefit of this distinguished "black hat" judge's experience. Chuck has supported us with twice-yearly visits for seven years and it was due to his encouragement that the UK Chapter was awarded Top Flight status in 2004.