Wednesday, August 6, 2014


Dateline: Bowling Green, KY.  Upon her retirement as a university secretary at CSU, Chico, Mom was presented with a two-week tour of Great Britain.  Off she and Dad flew, seeing sites and visiting places they likely would never see again.  Not Scotch drinkers – Dad, a practical man when he imbibed, embraced Jim Beam – they toured the historic Glenfiddich Distillery.  So enamored were they of the process that they somehow spirited a bottle of 12-year-old home on Pan Am.  Mom never touched the stuff and Dad still liked his Beam.  Vestiges of Glenfiddich may still remain somewhere in the house Mom has left for the grandkids to squabble over.

I’ve never considered myself a Chevy person.  

Not that Chevy’s aren’t terrific automobiles: I’d always eagerly watch the first episode of Route 66 just to see what next year’s Corvette would look like. 

But I never really wanted one.  We grew up with Fords and, later Toyotas.  I don’t consider myself a performance car guy, either.  Happy with a VW bug, a Mazda MPV, an Isuzu Trooper and now a Nissan Frontier and a Honda Civic, perhaps I inherited that “practical” gene from Dad.  So when the suggestion was proffered that while nearing the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky, we should stop into the Corvette factory, I thought, “What the heck.  It’ll only take an hour or two.”

Mere moments after I shucked down the seven bucks entry fee, my deep-seated attitude began to waiver.  After a short film, a young pre-education student from Western Kentucky U, ushered us into the factory admonishing us to refrain from picture taking and to stay within the yellow lines. 

Her play-by-play offered a concise description of that which we were observing: engines and drive trains being lowered into all-aluminum frames, painted bodies gently nestled into place, doors advancing toward those bodies in a preselected order to be installed by hand with hands that felt each grove for precise fit.  The young lady exposed how to determine whether the ‘Vette might be a fancy LR-5 (the color of the brake calipers) as opposed to an LR-1, neither being cheap, but one being a bit less costly.  Wheels and tires were added.  Seats dropped into place.  Windows installed and rolled up and down, up and down to ensure their proper function.

Musical cues sounded at various places along the line, tipping workers off to timing or a suspected problem, or – most of the time – the high degree of production success.  Workers don’t move from station to station except for in the room where the high performance engines are assembled.  In that unit, one employee follows the engine from parts to completion.

The whole operation seems a melding of technology and human touch.  Major assembly occurs by hand and is checked by hand.  And at the rate of a handful per hour, gorgeous finished products roll off the line to be inspected, driven in a wind tunnel, parked in a deluge to discover any leaks and finally wrapped in plastic to await delivery somewhere in the nation.

Nearby, the National Corvette Museum offers self guided tours for ten bucks. 

Housed inside is a collection of Corvettes dating back 60 years to the earliest version.  Stories of experimentation, design, racing, travails and successes are placed along the way.  Models I remember as new are on display – as new.  As are life-sized dioramas reminding viewers of days not so long past.

This is the place where, a couple of years back, water dissolved enough of the underlying limestone to create a sink hole in the worse imaginable place on the globe and eight irreplaceable vintage examples were swallowed.  A security camera caught the entire episode and not a single grown, male visitor passes this tape without either a gulp or a tear.

Buyers have the option of ordering a car from their dealer and picking it up from the museum.  Two were taking delivery at the time of our visit.  Another couple received the keys to a beautiful green convertible won in the month raffle.

In the span of two hours, my head was turned.  As my wife reaches retirement next June, and as our plans include doing a little road work – she’s not entirely comfortable on either the BMW or the Guzzi – a Corvette Sting Ray has risen to the top of the list of vehicles we wouldn’t mind touring in. 

Couple that with this:  Three days later, we are parking at the Shaker Village historic display outside of Lexington.  Up drives a couple with about ten years on us.  They park their ’14 ‘Vette in a slot.  Carefully they take the removable top weighing only sixteen pounds from the trunk and install it on the vehicle.  “Replaced my ’04 with this one last April.  The old one had 15,000 miles on it.  This one’s got 7,000 already,” the gentleman offered.  His wife added: “We have a Lincoln Town Car at home.  We never take in anywhere.”  Then he said: “Got 33.2 miles per gallon on the highway recently…”

My wife looked at me, dead in the eye.  Our Civic gets that on a good day.

Later this week, I’m going to trek up to Mom’s old house and see if I can find that old bottle of Glenfiddich.  With it, I’m going to sit down, crack it open and do a little thinkin’.

About a red one.



Info on Corvette factory tours:
Info on the National Corvette Museum:

Note:  I realize that this tour is really a marketing ploy by GM, but it’s a darned good one.  The product is the source of fantasy for many children my age and younger, but the motoring press suggests that the price point makes it a fantasy within reach.  I’m glad I spent my two-plus hours this way and recommend the effort. 

© 2014
Church of the Open Road Press

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