Corvette Lovers Lament GM's Rocky Ride

by Tovia Smith
National Public Radio
All Things Considered, June 3, 2009

As it begins to restructure, General Motors says it has "100 percent confidence" in its Corvette line, and it will continue to make the iconic sports car that has seduced drivers for more than five decades.

But many so-called "Vette heads" are deeply pained that the maker of their beloved macho cars has been brought to its knees.

"It hurts," says Terri Partridge, president of Massachusetts' South Shore Corvette Club. "You hate to see it happen."

Partridge is one of dozens of club members joined by their passion and lust for their Vettes.

"I fell in love years ago, basically as a kid," says club member Steve Boyajian. "And when you get older, you finally say, 'You know, I think it's time. Before I die, I want to own a Corvette.' "

Boyajian is the kind of guy who helped propel GM into the giant it was for decades, selling cars and dreams to drivers of all ages.

"It's the feeling you get when you are driving it," says Partridge, who just celebrated his 70th birthday. "You never get old driving this thing!" His corvette has massive blue flames painted onto the white background, and his license plate reads "HOT 1."

These are guys with way more invested in their cars than the sticker price.

John Zofchak souped up his first Corvette with everything from a custom paint job and vertical-lift doors, to transmission work, body work, brake work, shock work and suspension work. "I always do a little customizing to the car, so I am a little part of the car as well," he says.

Indeed, who wouldn't want to see themselves in the iconic American hot rod?

The Corvette was always the car that couldn't be beat the epitome of pride and power.

"No question about it: It all comes from power," Boyajian says. "When you step on that thing, that thing can respond, and smoke the tires, and shoot out of that hole. Oh yeah, that's definitely something!"

"My car is so powerful," cracks Zofchak, pointing to his 638-horsepower ZR1, "it requires my girlfriend to wear a sports bra."

No wonder so many of these guys are having a hard time seeing the once-dominant GM, the creator of the ultimate American muscle car, now on its knees.

"We can't let General Motors go," Boyajian says. "That's letting America go, if you let General Motors go. I mean, it's a way of life."

"It's an American icon," adds Paul Lesogor. "It's, like, unbelievable to think that we'd lose them. It's crazy. It just doesn't seem right."

Most of these folks believe that GM will recover. But many worry that what saves the company might also spoil its appeal. Zofchak says he would be sad to see more cars that might sway drivers' minds but not their hearts.

"You're going to see a lot more smaller cars, more efficient cars being built," he says. "Is it what people want? No. But it's what they're going to be able to afford."

If people end up driving cars that are practical but that don't inspire passion, Zofchak laments, "a car is going to be nothing more than a piece of transportation.

"Maybe that's all it should be," he adds. "Who knows?"

It all leaves members of this Corvette club wondering what kind of car clubs their kids will join. As one put it, GM has become more like the Japanese carmakers. But 30 years from now, he says, "who's going to want to collect Toyota Scions?"