General Motors had a problem with their St. Louis assembly plant back in 1980. Production of America’s only true sports car, the Chevrolet Corvette, was booming and they needed more room. Unfortunately, there weren’t any expansion possibilities where they were located on Union Blvd. so GM executives began contemplating a move.
Meanwhile, the city of Bowling Green, Kentucky caught wind of the bow tie company’s predicament and were sure they had the solution. Having just inherited a 1 million square feet abandoned air conditioning plant from Chrysler, the city council offered GM a lease deal on the building that they couldn’t refuse and the rest is history. Corvette production began in Bowling Green, Kentucky on June 1, 1981 and continues there to this day.
Further solidifying Bowling Green as the official home of Corvette was the opening of the National Corvette Museum in September of 1994… just 1/4 mile from the assembly plant. Today, the National Corvette Museum serves as a hub for all things Corvette and attracts nearly a quarter of a million enthusiasts each year from all over the wold. Fortunately for me, I live close enough that I get to visit the museum 2 or 3 times a year. And let me tell you, if you have a passion for Corvette’s like I do, you must make the trip no matter how far away you live.
The National Corvette Museum takes you on a tour of the history of America’s only true sports car. You’ll find yourself engulfed in historical information that dates back to the 1954 Worlds Fair, where Corvette was first introduced to the public. You’ll learn about the influential men and women whose perseverance (sometimes even against the will of GM) launched and maintained the model they were so passionate about… the Chevrolet Corvette.
Of course, Corvette’s history could not be told without highlighting men like Harley Earl, Bill Mitchell and “The Father of the Corvette” Zora Duntov who is responsible for taking Corvette from a docile roadster to a serious sports car that would challenge Porsche, Ferrari, and Maserati. You can even take a look at Zora’s personal 1974 Corvette.
Part of the museum is dedicated to the nostalgic era of Corvette, including the 1950s, 60s and 70s models. A reproduction full-service Mobil gas station highlights the simplicity of generations gone by when life was simpler and Corvette was beginning it’s domination of the sports car world.
Another area gives you a peek into the world of Corvette research and development. There are even a few one-of-a-kind concept cars that you won’t see anywhere else… like the 1968 Astro-Vette which was used to study aerodynamics and would eventually see it’s chrome-less front and rear bumpers in production later in the mid 1970s.
The Indy Concept Car below was used in 1986 to develop advanced technology for systems and components that would also find their way into production models in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Another interesting thing about this car is it’s mid-engine design. This car could still be influencing production models we are yet to see!
The National Corvette Museum is also home to the Corvette Hall of Fame which was established in 1998 to confer official recognition upon the most influential individuals in the history of the Corvette and honor their achievements.
Racing is a big part of Corvette’s history and The National Corvette Museum pays homage with a significant display of historical Corvette race cars like the one below. This ZR-1 Corvette with a stock 1990 engine made history on March 1 & 2, 1990 by setting three world records plus seven FIA International Class records during the trials at Fort Stockton, TX.
A line of Corvette Pace cars circles the indoor Sky Dome to demonstrate Corvette’s rich history in pacing some of the biggest races in North America… including the Indianapolis 500 which Corvette has paced a record 13 times over the years.
As you’ve most likely heard, The National Corvette Museum made worldwide news in 2015 when a natural sink hole opened up under the Sky Dome and damaged 8 classic Corvettes. (Google it if you don’t know what I’m talking about. Fortunately the museum was not open at the time and nobody was hurt.) The new “sink-hole” display was just opened this year and documents the entire event for visitors with a reenactment, a display of the 8 cars that were damaged, and the completely restored and rebuilt 1-millionth Corvette that was part of the “great eight” involved in the carnage.
Of course everything I’ve talked about to this point is great, but the real treat of visiting the National Corvette Museum is the cars you get to see! Depending on when you visit, rare and classic Corvette’s await you. Display cars change often but on my last visit, a few week ago, I was able to see a 1957 Corvette SuperSport that was built to participate in international races, Grand Sport and Collector Edition 1996 models, a 1969 Riverside Gold 427 survivor with 36,000 original miles, and the one and ONLY 1983 Corvette.
Grabbing a quick bite to eat is no problem while you visit The National Corvette Museum. Enjoy a salad or burger at the “on-site” Corvette Cafe (at a very fair price I might add) and get back to the good stuff as quick as you can! You’ll also want to stop in the Corvette Museum Library & Archives office to pick up a copy of your cars build sheet (back to 1981) or complete your research on any particular year or Corvette model. They know their stuff!
And finally… you must drop by the Corvette Store (or as I like to call it… the money pit) before you leave. This place is Corvette heaven and offers everything you can imagine Corvette including cool shits, hats, models, puzzles, cleaning products… and more, and more, and more! It’s a Corvette enthusiast shopping spree just waiting to happen.
Can you tell that I love this place yet? I could go on… but let me just stop here and tell you that if you are a Corvette enthusiast like me, you HAVE to visit Bowling Green and The National Corvette Museum. Put it on your bucket list. Make the extra effort to get there and find out why I have re-named it “My Happy Place!”