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Corvette Crush: Passion: remains true for all-American sports car

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    Corvette Crush: Passion: remains true for all-American sports car

    Corvette Crush: Passion: remains true for all-American sports car

    By Doug Cook, The Daily Courier
    Saturday, September 20, 2008

    PRESCOTT, AZ - When Joe Pennacchio found out that a rare 1956 tuxedo-black Corvette Roadster was for sale over the Internet this past year, he wasted no time chasing down his dream car.

    Although the vehicle was resting safely in a collector's garage halfway across the country for the past five years, the Prescott resident flew from Arizona to Pennsylvania the day after he found out about the car's availability and snagged it.

    Saturday at the second annual Prescott Vette Sette Car Show, a gathering designed for Corvette enthusiasts from northern Arizona and beyond to share their models with the public, Pennacchio proudly displayed his two-door convertible 'Vette with a classic wraparound windshield on a closed-off section of Cortez Street.

    "I used to own one of these when I was growing up," said Pennacchio, 66. "When this car came up, I liked what I saw, and I called the guy."

    Chevrolet produced only 3,467 of the '56 model. Pennacchio's was the 284th one - built on Feb. 28, 1956, with the first-design motor.

    General Motors constructed the first Corvette in 1953, making 2008 the 55th anniversary of the all-American sports car.

    "I bought this car painted the way it is, but because it was sitting so long, a lot of the stuff wasn't working," said Pennacchio, one of 138 members in the local Prescott Vette Sette Car Club.

    Pennacchio reworked the car's motor, redid its beige leather interior, put on a new top and repainted the side cove - which was white, unlike the original.

    Pennacchio said he eventually wants to repaint the entire vehicle in its original Arctic blue hue.

    Today, everything is operable on the sleek, streamlined car that has a unique power-operated top, two circular lamps, a vintage 13-tooth polished chrome grille and whitewall tires.

    The '56 model, which goes from 0 to 60 mph in 7.3 seconds with a top speed of between 121 and 135 mph, holds the distinction as the first Corvette in which the manual transmission, 225 horsepower V8 engine was standard equipment along with rollup windows and the power top. It was also the first racing Corvette.

    Since he bought the Roadster, Pennacchio has done his best to restore it to its original feel.

    "I'm working to get this car inspected by the National Corvette Owners Association in hopes of winning the Top Flight Award - the highest award based on a grade," said Pennacchio, originally from Boston.

    In 1955, production on the Corvette almost died only two years into its existence. But after Chevrolet hired Zora Duntoff - who made cams for big motors in racing vehicles - to build a racing Corvette, the line took off, complete with its unique fiberglass body.

    "I'm bringing my car back to the way it came out of the shop," said Pennacchio, who does not have a racing cam. "You can't buy any of these parts, because a lot of them they don't make anymore. So you either restore them or do without."

    On Saturday, Pennacchio's model was one of 164 Corvettes from the early 1950s to the present day that lined both sides of Cortez and Goodwin streets on the Courthouse Plaza.

    The inaugural show in 2007 had 140 entries, with a large contingent from Phoenix and Tucson.

    This year, Corvette club members in Arizona and Nevada were the main participants.

    "We used to have a show up in Williams, but the logistics of doing that got to be kind of hairy," said Dennis Stringer, chairman of this year's Prescott Vette Sette show. "We decided that we really wanted to do one here because you're in a historic city on the square."

    Vehicle owners entered their cars into a contest, with first-, second- and third-place winners in each of the Corvette's six generational classes - C1 through C6 - receiving a plaque. In addition, awards were handed out for Best of Show, which the public voted on, and for the finest looking stock and custom 'Vettes.

    The Corvette line is still going strong in 2008. This year, GM is producing 45,000 Corvettes, about 5,000 less than a year ago, and their 400 to 550 hp engines average an economical 30 miles per gallon.

    In 1953, Chevy manufactured just 300 of the first edition, all of which were mostly hand built. The '53 model is so rare that one in good condition is worth about $300,000.

    "The interest in the Corvette is that you can get the feel of having a fast sports car without having to go out and pay Lamborghini and Ferrari prices for it," Stringer said. "You can get a nice new Corvette for about $55,000 versus going out and getting a nice new Lamborghini for $230,000."

    Added David Weinroth, the club's 68-year-old publicity chairman who owns a 2006 convertible and a 1967 coupe, "It's the American sports car. Visually and performance-wise, it's a love affair."

    During the five-hour show, Corvette vendors were on hand selling memorabilia, such as hats and T-shirts, to the crowd.

    All proceeds from the non-profit club's show benefit one specific charity. Stepping Stones Agencies of Prescott Valley, which supports women and children who are victims of domestic violence, was this year's recipient.

    Contact the reporter at dcook@prescottaz.com
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