Chevrolet Corvette Turns 60
The Chevrolet Corvette has always been a perfect melding of design, performance and perhaps of America itself.
It has been a shining example of ambition in good years and weathered slow sales during recessions. It remains a larger-than-life vehicle, one that has been in continuous production for 60 years, longer than any other vehicle on the market.
That sense of history led the Corvette to center stage last weekend, as the LeMay: America’s Car Museum, located in Tacoma, Wash., hosted “60 Years Of ‘Vette", an anniversary celebration that brought a throng of enthusiasts together from around the country.
Three Corvette concept cars on loan from the GM Heritage Center in Warren, Mich., made their Pacific Northwest debuts. A 1959 Stingray Racer, pictured here, a 1961 Mako Shark and 1969 Manta Ray all made an appearance before heading to Pebble Beach for the Concours d’ Elegance.
Those three cars have left, but the remainder of the exhibit, which includes more than 20 Corvettes, remains on display through December. Click through for a peek at the exhibit, as well as a few other Corvettes in the LeMay collection:
Among its collection of more than 300 cars spread over four floors and 165,000 square feet, LeMay has placed about 20 Corvettes in a prominent exhibit, and worked closely with General Motors and private owners from the Pacific Northwest to create the gallery.
In fact, it is the museum’s first crowd-sourced exhibit. Museum officials spread the word they were looking for Corvettes, thinking they might find a car or two to augment the exhibit. They were overwhelmed with the enthusiastic response of Corvette owners, and instead needed to whittle the offers down to a manageable size.
But many Corvette owners and enthusiasts augmented the official exhibit by bringing their cars and parking them on the museum’s show field, which also plays home to the museum’s occasional summer movie drive-in nights.
LeMay is as much a history museum as car museum, telling the story of American history through an automotive theme.
Visitors will learn how NASCAR developed out of Prohibition in the American South, how cars became more ornate during the Great Depression, because businessmen wanted to show they still had money.
In terms of the Chevy Corvette, visitors will learn how the vehicle emerged as the brainchild of Harley Earl, who designed custom cars for Hollywood elite amid a backdrop of a thriving post-war America.
Cars from the first six generations of Corvettes are part of the exhibit, including the 1960 convertible above. Alas, the C7 unveiled in January, isn’t due to arrive in the Pacific Northwest until December.
The new C7, at once, carries Corvette into the future with a redesigned look that includes squarer headlights and evokes the past by carrying the Stingray name.
“The soul of our company is indeed in Corvette,” said Mark Reuss, GM’s chairman of North America, while introducing the latest model in January. “Since 1953, through good times and bad for this company, there was always the Corvette, demonstrating what it means to win.”
The LeMay museum recently celebrated its one-year anniversary. It opened last June, and culls a substantial portion of its collection from its namesake, the late Harold LeMay, a Tacoma businessman who collected more than 3,300 cars throughout his lifetime.
Only a fraction of his cars are exhibited at any given time, but the deep catalog helps curators keep the museum, which overlooks Commencement Bay in Tacoma, fresh and engaging for repeat visitors. LeMay’s first business was a wrecking yard, which is ironic, considering he felt compelled to preserve so many old cars.
The ’63 Grand Sport is a car whose legend has taken on a life of its own.
The Grand Sport was conceived as Chevrolet’s answer to the Shelby Cobra. Engineers produced a 550-horsepower behemoth that indeed put the Chevy brand on the racing map.
Trouble was, members of the Chevrolet board didn’t know about this secret project. When they learned of it, it was canceled. Five of the vehicles had already been produced. All five survive today in the hands of private owners. This one, pictured at the LeMay, is a recreation.
LeMay owns this 1963 Corvette, shown here near its service bay. It is an esteemed part of the collection.
The ’63 fuel-injected split-window coupe is considered by many to be the best Corvette ever made. In fact, Edmunds.com named it the best ever earlier this year.
It has “incredible” and “alluring design,” Edmunds wrote. “Its new chassis and suspension helped to solidify the Corvette as a true sports car, but the fact that it was simply a truly beautiful vehicle landed it at the top.”
Pete Bigelow is an associate editor at AOL Autos. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @PeterCBigelow.
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