Corvette fans celebrate the classic auto

By Scott Richardson

ST. CHARLES -- El Paso native David Burroughs still remembers the night he saw his first Corvette. It was love at first sight. Never mind the fact he was way too young to drive.

"As a 13-year-old looking at that thing, it was stunning," said Burroughs. "I saw one on the street driving down under some street lights. You're used to seeing Buicks and Chryslers and all of a sudden you see a design and style that was completely unheard of in small-town Illinois."

The experience fueled a life-long love affair between man and the two-seater known as "America's sports car." Today, Burroughs is CEO of the Bloomington-based Bloomington Gold, which is billed as the oldest and most innovative continuously running Corvette show in the country. Once a major event in the Twin Cities, the 35th annual Bloomington Gold will be held June 26 - 29 at Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles.

Burroughs wanted to buy his first Corvette at age 16, but his dad wouldn't let him. His father, a farmer who was a Chrysler man, let his son get a "gorgeous" Oldsmobile Starfire instead.

Undeterred, Burroughs' bought his first 'Vette in 1971, a 1969 beauty he still owns. As proof that looks are deceiving, you'd guess the car has about 5,000 miles on the odometer from its condition. In reality, the numbers read closer to 100,000.

Burroughs has owned about a dozen 'Vettes over the years. Though that may seem like a lot, Burroughs said the number "is not that many" to Corvette enthusiasts. Burroughs insists he's more into quality than quantity. Evidence the three extremely rare Corvette L88s race cars he owned at one time. One was driven just 12 miles and still sported the dealer sticker in the window.

Chevrolet designed the L88s with big engines and as light as could be. Most had no heaters. None had radios. Capable of exceeding 200 mph, they were designed as road racers able to make fast stops and quick turns. His three cars were among just 20 built in 1967 when Chevrolet built the first ones to compete at places like Daytona. The company made 80 L88s the next year and 116 the year after that for a total of 216 in the model's only three production years.

When Burroughs sold his trio, the prices were record-setting. His last L88 changed hands in 2002. Today, each one would sell for an estimated $1 million to $2 million.

More than 50 of the surviving L88s will be featured at Bloomington Gold.

"It's the largest L88 collection ever assembled," Burroughs said.

Kevin Mackay of Corvette Repair, Inc., in Valley Stream, N.Y., is bringing a dozen of the L88s to the show. He personally owns five. One is known as the Band-Aid L88 because it was raced by two men who were both named Bob Johnson. Johnson & Johnson, get it? One of the two racers, who is now in his 80s, will be at the show.

"I basically had these cars for years. I had a vision, I was able to find them and keep them," Mackay said. "I've been blessed."

Like Burroughs, Mackay vividly recalls the time he saw his first Corvette. He was 6 or 7 years old. Looking back, he knows it was a 1958 model. The chrome stripes it featured were only used that year.

"That's the coolest car," he remembers telling his dad.

"That's a Corvette," his dad said.

Never good in school but great with his hands, Mackay moved from fixing bikes to fixing go-carts to fixing Chevrolets, including Corvettes. He launched his own Corvette restoration business in the early 1980s. He met Burroughs soon thereafter when Mackay brought a Corvette to compete in his first Bloomington Gold, which was held in Bloomington in 1985.

Burroughs helped him learn the rules for the competition, which Burroughs designed as a new format for car competitions. Rather than measure cars against other cars, each one could attain a Gold Certification if its condition was within 95 to 100 percent of the way it was when it rolled off the assembly line. Mackay's car earned the honor.

Mackay now is a judge at the show, which began in Bloomington in 1973. After a long run in the Twin Cities, the show moved to Springfield, back to Bloomington and then to St. Charles in 2002.

Burroughs credits the Corvette's long-lasting appeal to several factors. In 1953, the car was Chevrolet's quick response to a need to compete with the European sports cars, like the MG that GIs returning from fighting the Germans were buying. At first, the made-in-the-USA fiberglass car suffered from a motor that was too small. A Russian engineer named Zora Duntov added a 560-horsepower motor in 1955, His counterpart, Bill Mitchell, redesigned the car's look about the same time.

Twenty years later, Burroughs and others already saw a collector's market emerging because Corvettes were consistent, Burroughs said. The car's loyal following could count on very similar cars year after year while other sporty models, like the Thunderbird, went through several remakes from sporting two seats to four or going from small cars to large.

"The baby boomers grew up knowing what the Corvette was all about," Burroughs said. "You can't erase that huge legacy of what the brand stood for. Today, it's still number one. It has styling and high speed with the reliability of dragging it to your local Chevrolet dealer to have it worked on. You can't do it with a Ferrara, a Lamborghini or Porsche. It's bargain priced compared to those cars, and it will stand above almost anything else..."

Added Mackay: "It's like the N.Y. Yankees, apple pie and hotdogs. The Corvette is the only true American sports car."