Scot Keller can tell you in precise detail about the moment he was smitten, even though it was 50 years ago.
“I remember like it was yesterday. I fell in love with it immediately,” the chief curator for LeMay-America’s Car Museum said.
“It” was a new 1963 split window Corvette, black with red leather interior. It was parked in his father’s best friend’s garage.
For Keller, it’s been a long unrequited love affair since then – he’s never owned a Corvette. But now he has a front row seat to the next best thing.
On Friday, the museum will kick off its celebration of the Chevrolet-produced, high-performance sports car when it opens “60 Years of Vette.” The show features 21 examples of the pricey, fiberglass-bodied car in a show on its main gallery floor. The exhibit runs through the end of the year.
The Corvette has always seemed like a car one stoplight ahead of its time. With its curving body lines, low-slung profile and deep-voiced engine, it surely gives traffic cops itchy fingers, even when it’s parked. Nevermind that it’s almost old enough to collect Social Security.
“It’s uniquely American in its design,” Keller said.
First conceived by Harley Earl, the head of GM design, it later added engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov to its roster. Arkus-Duntov added the V8 engine in 1954. “Zora gave it its soul,” Keller said.
The Vette show at ACM is breaking new ground for the museum that celebrated its first anniversary in June. First, it’s a shorter show (four months) than its until-now yearlong exhibits.
“As we get more experience with the museum, we’re seeing how we need both long- and short-term exhibits,” Keller said.
Second, it marks the first time the museum broadcast a “cars wanted” query to the public. The show uses cars on loan from Corvette owners in Washington and Oregon.
“The response was overwhelming,” Keller said.
The museum culled the list of hundreds of respondents down to 21. The owners had to agree to give up their cars for four months, but were excited to share them with the public, he said.
This weekend only, ACM will have three of the most important concept cars in the Corvette’s lineage on display: a 1959 Stingray Racer, a 1961 Mako Shark, and a 1965 Manta Ray. The cars are on loan from the GM Heritage Center in Michigan and are making a three-day stop on their way to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in Monterey, Calif.
Examples from all six series of the Corvette, from 1953-2013, will be on display for the full run of the show at ACM. Both convertibles and hardtops will be represented.
Some of the cars are restored so meticulously they look new. Others have an original patina of age on them.
Nearly 1.6 million Corvettes have been sold over six decades. Aficionados are eagerly awaiting the 2014 Corvette Stingray, the first to bear that moniker since 1967.
“People are extremely passionate about the brand. It’s truly America’s sports car,” Keller said.
Ford Mustang fans may take exception to that statement but they won’t have to wait long to make a counter argument. A show marking that car’s 50 years on the market will be organized at ACM in 2014.
60 Years OF VETTE
When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily
Where: LeMay-America’s Car Museum, 2702 E. D St., Tacoma
Admission: $14; $12 students, seniors, military; $8 ages 5-12; free for those younger than 5
Information: 253-779-8490, lemaymuseum.orgCraig Sailor: 253-597-8541 email@example.com