Rare Corvettes delight crowd at LeMay museum

Staff writerAugust 9, 2013 

To the most devout Corvette enthusiasts, the moment was almost religious in its impact.

Shortly after 10 a.m. Friday, attendants at the LeMay-America’s Car Museum whisked the ceremonial wraps off three legendary Corvettes – one-of-a-kind concept cars never before seen in the Northwest.

“These cars are American icons,” said Ron Marté of Federal Way, who stood at the head of a crowd of appreciative Corvette lovers, who were snapping photos and leaning in for closer looks.

“Driving a Corvette is almost as good as making love,” he said.

The three concept cars — the 1959 Stingray Racer, 1961 Mako Shark and 1969 Manta Ray — are only part of the “60 Years of Vette” show now on display at the Tacoma museum.

But the trio of historic vehicles, which laid the foundation for generations of Corvettes that followed, rarely make their way out of the GM Heritage Center in Michigan, and their appearance here will be a short one.

They’ll be on display at the museum only through Sunday; then they’ll be packed back into the truck and taken to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance for display Aug. 18.

The rest of the Corvette show will continue at the museum through December.

The show uses mostly cars owned by private collectors in the Northwest to chronicle the development of the sports car since its first appearance in 1953.

The Corvette’s 60 years in production make it the world’s longest-running continuously produced passenger car, according to the museum’s Scot Keller, who designed and organized the show.

“Corvette is America’s most iconic sports car,” Keller said. “It’s the epitome of design, power and technology wrapped in a beautiful package.”

The show does not include Corvette’s latest model, the 2014 Stingray, and that was a disappointment to some who attended the opening, hoping to see a preproduction version of the car.

“We tried to get it,” said museum President and CEO David Madeira, who introduced the show, “but it wasn’t possible.”

Only a handful of the new Stingrays have been released. Local Chevrolet dealers say they’ve been promised delivery by December.

The Corvette show is part of a continuing effort by the LeMay museum to keep its displays fresh with highly focused, short-term exhibitions, Keller said. The exhibit also capitalizes on the car’s huge popularity with enthusiast groups.

In a more free-form companion show, local Corvette owners filled the museum’s show field Friday with their vehicles.

Jeff Sabatini, features editor at Car and Driver magazine – and a Corvette owner himself – said he understood the attraction. In the family of sports cars, he said, the Corvette stands out for its audacity, which is enormously appealing to many American men.

“In every era, the Corvette identity revolved around being more over-the-top, with greater raw performance but not the polish and finesse of some of its competitors,” Sabatini said.

“The Corvette is kind of like the young, black-sheep member of the family,” he said, “the loudest, the most obnoxious, the baddest of the bunch – not without redeeming qualities but somewhat spoiled.”

And, he said, it’s always been a relatively accessible car.

“The Corvette has always been in some way a bargain,” he said. “They’ve always been expensive cars, but they’re kind of the cheapest way to get yourself into like a legitimate sports car.”

Rob Carson: 253-597-8693

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