Corvettes shine at Atlantic Nationals

Moncton club celebrates the mystique of a car that has become an icon of pop culture

BY ALAN COCHRANE
TIMES & TRANSCRIPT

From its birth more than 50 years ago as a powerful and stylish racing machine to today's incarnation as a luxurious roadster complete with onboard computers, the Chevrolet Corvette has long been a fixture of North American pop culture -- instantly recognizable and admired by all who have a passion for art on wheels.

"Its amazing how much interest there is in the Corvette. No matter where you go, it seems to get everybody's attention," says Bob Surette of Shediac, a longtime Corvette owner and current president of the Greater Moncton Corvette Club. "There's something about it. Everybody smiles when they see it, and when you drive into a parking lot, people swarm around it."

The Greater Moncton Corvette Club currently has about 70 members, many of whom will have their rides shined up for display at Centennial Park next weekend as part of the Atlantic Nationals auto festival. The Atlantic Nationals will be held in Metro Moncton July 10-13 with a variety of events, cruises, entertainment and lots of opportunities for the public to see and learn more about classic cars, antique cars, restored cars, hot rods and custom built vehicles.

Surette says the Corvette club's display during the Atlantic Nationals will be a show within a show, similar to what they do at the Radical Speed Sport auto show each spring. The club regularly holds cruises group trips to auto shows around the Maritimes and parts of the United States. At a recent gathering in Fredericton, more than 100 Vettes from six different clubs showed up. The Moncton club has also raised thousands of dollars for charity, with its charity of choice being the Autism Society of New Brunswick.

The Greater Moncton Corvette Club was started in 1991 and has grown thanks to a comprehensive website that keeps members connected. The annual membership fee is $25 and Surette says he has received many inquiries through the website from people all over New Brunswick.

The first Corvettes rolled off the assembly line in 1953. They were designed to be powerful racing machines modeled after European sports cars with a name borrowed from the speedy submarine-hunting ships used by the British navy during the Second World War. They were greeted with lukewarm response and Chevrolet considered cancelling the line at least twice, but reconsidered after watching the success Ford was having with the Thunderbird and Mustang. The Corvette body style has changed many times over the years, but retained the fiberglass body and distinct body shape. Most Corvette fans can tell you the year of a car with a quick glance. Surette says the 1967 model remains a favourite for most Corvette fans, with good ones valued at over $300,000. The value has inspired some people to swap parts to create a 1967 from other model years.

"The 1967 is still the most highly sought-after year and there are a lot of fakes out there. There's only a few people who can recognize a real fake."

Over the years, the Corvette has become a favourite ride of movie stars, professional athletes, rock stars and other celebrities. They have been featured in many TV shows and movies, including the forgettable 1978 flick Corvette Summer starring Mark (Luke Skywalker) Hamill, and the subject of songs, like Prince's Little Red Corvette.

Corvettes have also been linked to pop culture tragedy. For example, Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen was driving one when he crashed in England and lost his arm.

Surette says the Internet and various swap meets provide Corvette owners with a wide variety of aftermarket accessories and original parts for restoration. But restoration is a big question, since it could cost about $80,000 to rebuild and restore a car that could never fetch that much on the open market.

Today's Corvettes sell for about $70,000 off the showroom floor. They are luxurious and have a quiet purr to the engine, unlike the low and rumbling growl of their counterparts from years gone by. They are equipped with onboard computers that monitor all its functions.

"If you have a tire that has low pressure or something else the car doesn't like, it will tell you."

And in these days where the price of gas is approaching $1.40 per litre, the newer cars are actually quite efficient compared to the gas-guzzling V8 engines of the past.

Surette says his new Vette will take him from Moncton to Boston on about $70 worth of gas at today's prices, while Corvettes from the 1974 vintage would have to stop three times to fill up.

"But the high gas prices do change the activities that we do. When we go on a trip we have to justify the weather and the price of fuel and some people may decide that it just isn't worth it. But if it's a trip to Bowling Green, Kentucky (home of the Corvette assembly plant and museum), that's a big trip and we will go regardless. But we're still getting better mileage than some of these gas-guzzling SUVs that people are driving to get their groceries."

The Atlantic Nationals is expected to draw more than 1,700 cars and thousands of people into Metro Moncton next weekend. Main Street will be closed off on Friday for the all-day cruise-in. Organizers say vendors and sponsors are planning large exhibits and tents to show their products.

This year's special guest is Chip Foose, one of the best-known custom car and hot rod designers in the United States.

Centennial Park will be open to the public at 8 a.m. on Saturday, July 12. Admission will be $8 per person, children 10 and under accompanied by an adult will be admitted free. The Kar Korral and swap meet will be located at the rear of the park. The model boat regatta will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. The model car exhibit will be in the Rotary Lodge on Saturday and Sunday with the awards presentation on Sunday at 3 p.m.

For more information on the Atlantic Nationals car festival in Metro Moncton July 10-13, visit the website at www.atlanticnationals.com.