New Vette unveiled at annual bash

Corvette lovers converge for weekend of events

By JENNA MINK, The Daily News, jmink@bgdailynews.com
Saturday, April 25, 2009 12:05 AM CDT

John Finlay enjoys zooming down the road in his Corvette. Even in a faraway area, someone will ultimately wave or compliment his car.

But the Columbus, Ohio, resident isn’t only attracted to the car’s sleek exterior. It’s about the car’s build, its quality, its history and the camaraderie of thousands who take part in what Finlay calls “Corvettedom.”

Click here for more photos from the C5/C6 Bash.

“We absolutely love Corvette everything,” he said. “We live this kind of stuff.”

While somber news continues to surround General Motors, hundreds of people flocked to Bowling Green this weekend to celebrate the Corvette during the 12th annual C5/C6 Bash at the National Corvette Museum. The event lasts through Sunday and ends with a “Margaritaville” banquet at the Sloan Convention Center.

Despite a recession and an automobile industry crisis, Corvette enthusiasts showed faith in their favorite car. Nearly 900 participants pre-registered for the event, and visitor traffic seemed to increase compared to previous years, said Wendell Strode, executive director of the National Corvette Museum.

“I think it certainly shows the Corvette, as an American sports car, has a really strong following,” he said. “It’s like coming back to almost a family reunion.”

A swarm of people packed the museum dome as the 2010 Corvette Grand Sport was unveiled. When officials uncovered the car, a dozen cameras lifted into the air.

Gary Bentle was in the midst of the crowd.

“When I was 16 years old, a friend of ours had a 1971 Corvette,” he said. “He let me drive it, and I’ve been hooked ever since.”

Now, Bentle owns a 2007 Corvette and a 2000 model - which was delivered on New Year’s Day of 2000.

“I call it the Millennium Corvette,” he said. “The day people thought the world was going to end, that’s when we picked up the new car.”

And, even in the midst of scary times for the auto industry, Bentle has not lost confidence in the Corvette brand.

“The Corvette is such a popular car,” he said. “It will remain a popular car no matter what.”

Outside, Corvettes snaked through the museum parking lot. Tom and Sandy Burrows of Dixon, Ill., sauntered through the lines of displayed cars. The couple own two Corvettes, and all of their vehicles are American-made.

And while the Burrows are committed to U.S. vehicles, the auto crisis hits close to home - Sandy Burrows works for an automotive supply company, which has laid off about 10 percent of its work force, she said.

“It’s kind of sad,” she said. “I don’t think people understand the supply chain to the industry.”

Tom Burrows said he fell in love with Corvettes because they are unique and can reach high speeds. Also, contrary to many beliefs, the Corvette is an economical car, he said.

“We drove down from Minneapolis and we averaged 28 miles a gallon,” he said.

In fact, many people praised the car’s fuel mileage.

“People think they’re gas guzzlers,” said Michael Kirby, who traveled to the event from Nashville. “I can get 20, 22 miles a gallon.”

And as far as the economic crisis is concerned, “you really wouldn’t know (there’s a recession) if you see the people here and the cars in the parking lot,” he said.

People scattered throughout the museum, stopping at booths to purchase Corvette merchandise, inspecting Corvette apparel and artwork and admiring the museum’s Corvette display.

“I think the Corvette will hold its own,” Kirby said, “because it’s got such a following. I think people will buy a Corvette or hang onto their Corvette.”

Kirby developed an interest for the Corvette when he started making model Corvettes as a child.

“It’s always been the car I’ve always wanted,” he said. “Finally, I got old enough to get one. It’s kind of a fantasy, I guess.”