National Corvette Museum: Bowling Green, Kentucky
In Bowling Green, Kentucky, visitors can explore the National Corvette museum. History of the Corvette -past, present and future. Take a factory tour to see this classic Chevrolet sports car being built.
Servicemen stationed in Europe during World War II found the nifty and sporty British MG quite appealing. After the war only a few wealthy Americans could own one, but General Motors took notice of the popularity of this new style. They reasoned that a sports car tailored to American driving conditions and comforts would sell well. It would also boost the stodgy image of Chevrolet.
In 1953 General Motors introduced the Chevrolet Corvette, the first American made sports car. Available only in white with red interior, it sported a $3,490 suggested retail price. In its Jan. 4, 1954 issue, Life Magazine reported, "Owners will like its lightness and ease of repair: if the tough plastic is punctured in an accident it can usually be patched like new with a blowtorch for a couple of dollars."
In its first two years of operation, Corvette was not an unqualified success. Sports car enthuasists did not like automatic transmission and were shocked to find only detachable windows that couldn't be rolled down. Ford broke the market wide open with the introduction of the Thunderbird. Debates accelerated then (and now) over which vehicle was the most powerful. In 1955, Thunderbirds outsold Corvettes by a 23 to 1 ratio. there were few changes and limited promotion of the Corvette between 1956 and 1962.
In the early 1960s new leadership had an incredibly successful idea. Stingray! The American public loved 1963-1967 Stingrays because they were fast machines that looked supersonic even when parked. They remain the most collectible Corvettes today.
In 1974, Corvette's 25th year of production, there was another dramatic change. The fastback roofline, a wide expanse of glass wrapped around the car's sides, added a feeling of more interior space and gave the ‘Vette a fresh appearance.
The biggest Corvette news of the 1980s was the transfer of production from an old facility in St. Louis, Missouri to a state-of-the-art plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Because of this move, no 1983 Corvettes were made, and few cars have been more eagerly anticipated than the 1984 Corvette. GM met the challenge with technical sophistication and true style. In 1986 the convertible returned after a 10 year absence. The one millionth Corvette, a white convertible with red interior to match the first car produced in 1953, was made in July, 1992.
The growth of Corvette's popularity led to the formation of about 700 national and international clubs for Corvette enthusiasts. A non-profit foundation representing most of these clubs opened the National Corvette Museum in 1994. It is located next to the General Motors Corvette Assembly in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Those traveling I-65 between Nashville, Tennessee and Louisville, Kentucky notice its circular shape topped by a yellow cone roof. Inside, dynamic exhibits tell the Corvette story - past, present and future.
Watching a Corvette being made is a fascinating addition to a museum tour. Located less than a mile from the National Corvette Museum, the million square foot General Motors Corvette Assembly Plant turns out about 96 Corvettes each working day. During the free one-hour tours, which begin at 9:00 am and 1:00 pm (CST) on most working days, visitors can watch this classic car being built. No parts are made here, but the Corvette is assembled, step-by-step, from frame and body to engine and drive train. There is also a simulated test drive of each vehicle where computers report on the function of every part.
The factory tour is all on one floor with no steps, so it's accessible to wheelchairs and baby strollers. There is a long walk from the parking area to the building, but people with special needs can be dropped off at the main door. The tour is noisy at times, but tour guides use microphones so everyone can hear. Comfortable shoes are a must for walking on the factory's concrete floors. Cameras are not allowed in the factory.
General Motors Corvette Assembly Plant tours are not available during tooling changes and vacation periods, so it is advisable to check ahead before traveling long distances for a tour. Reservations are required for groups of ten or more.