GM collapse hasn't cooled local Corvette fans' ardor

By Kevin Clerici
Ventura County Star
Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Ventura, CA - General Motors’ collapse Monday into bankruptcy protection may mark a historic low point for the company, but late-model Corvette enthusiast Andy Green said it likely won’t dampen his performance-automobile business. And it certainly won’t erode his unwavering devotion to all things Corvette.

“It’s a sad day, sure, but I don’t think the bankruptcy is going to affect me one bit,” said Green, owner of A&A Corvette Performance in Oxnard, which designs and installs custom supercharger systems and performance parts. “Who cares what GM does? No one really likes GM anyway. They just love the cars.”

Green said he will leave it to the pundits to grouse over the necessity of the government’s $50 billion bailout. For the foreseeable future, he’ll remain “lost in my little Corvette world.”

That would include working on a 2008 ZO6 Corvette belonging to NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick of Hendrick Motorsports and Hendrick Automotive Group, one of the largest automotive chains in the U.S.

“Frankly, I was thinking about buying GM stock today,” Green said, scrambling for a silver lining. “It certainly won’t get any cheaper.”

While President Barack Obama insists the automaker that emerges from bankruptcy will look dramatically different from the current GM, car enthusiasts say a cherry-red 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray or 1958 Corvette roadster will remain just as beautiful — and likely just as easy to restore.

For years, those who work on older muscle and sports cars have scooped up parts from specialized or after-market firms, said Steven Strope, owner of the street machine fabrication shop Pure Vision in Simi Valley.

“The original manufacturer is no longer needed,” said Strope, whose shop has picked up three Hot Rod Magazine Top Ten Cars of the Year awards and has been featured on the TLC reality series, “Rides.”

Strope, who has designed toy cars for Mattel’s Hot Wheels brand, said it was sad to see an American icon dethroned, and he has concerns about the U.S. government having a majority ownership stake in the new company. But the yearlong waiting list for his shop’s services likely won’t shrink, and he’s convinced a smaller GM won’t diminish car lovers’ enthusiasm or ability to fix up their toys.

“The muscle-car industry and hobby is on one hand weakened because of the emotional attachment” to GM, he said. “On the other hand, it’s strengthened. Because for the companies in competition with General Motors, there is now one less shark in the water trying to sell a fender for someone’s Chevrolet Chevelle.”

Dick Anguiano, parts manager at Paradise Chevrolet in Ventura, said GM stopped building parts for older models some time ago. “I don’t see it being any harder or easier,” he said of life after GM’s downsizing. And he doesn’t anticipate any drop-off among fans. “Anyone who is an enthusiast now is still going to be an enthusiast tomorrow.”

Ron Widdel, 72, of Westlake Village is a member of the Red Line Corvettes, a Ventura County-based car club founded in 1990 that averages about 145 members and 110 Corvettes. For Widdel, the “Vette” is one of the sweetest cars ever constructed and he’s owned as many as six.

GM has long stood as America’s symbol of post-war prosperity, but even a fan like Widdel had come to terms with its looming downfall.

“I think they should have done it (bankruptcy) before, personally,” he said. “I think this will get them out of a lot of the problems they have had.”

Chevy and Corvette enthusiasts, he figured, will still flood car shows, brunch runs, parades, wine-tasting runs, family picnics, parties and national Corvette caravans.

“I will still drive around with pride,” he said, regarding his lone remaining Corvette, a black 2007 convertible. “I believe in American cars. That feeling won’t change because of today.”