Focusing on Icon, Not Econ

Corvette Fans Relive Glory Days as GM Braces for Bankruptcy

By Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 1, 2009

You might call them deliberately oblivious to reality. You might call them overly optimistic. To the hundreds of Washington area Corvette enthusiasts strolling through the parking lot of Sport Chevrolet in Silver Spring yesterday, the idea of a General Motors bankruptcy was an afterthought -- a simple conversation piece during a celebration of an American icon.

"It doesn't matter. It's the car," Fermon "Vince" Venson, 63, said while polishing his 2005 machine-silver Corvette. "Corvette lovers, you'll find they don't care about anything else."

Engines roared as red, yellow and blue sports cars glistened in the sunlight at the Corvette Club of America's 36th annual car show yesterday, unintentionally scheduled to fall just 24 hours before GM was expected to file for bankruptcy. Conscientious owners with such license plates as "SUPRCAR," "58DREAM" or simply "OURS" hurried to polish their hoods and get ready to be judged. Parents who brought their kids and owners who did not recalled younger days, when they wanted nothing more than to grow up and drive a Corvette.

"Dreams of our youth," said Don Ellenberger, 70, of Manassas, standing behind his bright yellow Z06. "When you were in high school, you always wanted a fast car but could never afford it. I guess it's the realization of a longtime dream."

Don Haller, the Corvette Club of America's president, said those at the show were obviously saddened by American automakers' recent financial troubles, but that did not lessen their enthusiasm to bring out their new -- and old -- wheels.

"That's all covered in the boardroom," Haller said of a potential GM bankruptcy. "This here is about people."

Patricia Reynolds, 46, of Silver Spring said checking out the 2010 Camaro offered her "a little escape from reality." The show, she said, was a throwback to better times in the American auto industry and an homage to cars that when you "step on the gas, they actually go."

"It highlights the time when we were the top automaker," she said.

Even GM bondholder Danny Dambrauskas, 65, of Laurel was more eager to talk about his Z06 -- which he jokingly referred to as his "bad habit" -- than the state of the company he could soon own stock in. He said a GM bankruptcy would be "really good" because it would give the company more leverage to negotiate with unions. In any case, he said, he is optimistic about the company's future.

"Somebody will always come up with something," he said. "I think everything's going to turn out all right."

GM representatives were on hand to show off the future of their business: two fuel cell cars that run on hydrogen. The Chevrolet Equinoxes, which consume no oil and make virtually no noise, stood in stark contrast to the rough-and-tumble Corvettes on display. As of noon, about a dozen people had given them a test drive.

"It kind of shows that there's always going to be a place for petroleum, but there's also a place and a venue for this," said Monica Murphy, a GM rep who was offering test drives of the Equinox. "This is the future here."