Corvette: The Rise of a Sports Car by Mark Eaton
For many people, a car is just a tool to get them around which is a pity because not only is it a very expensive tool [most people would probably rate their car as the second most expensive thing they own after a house], but this very complicated piece of, quite frankly, amazing engineering gives them the potential of freedom [despite today’s traffic volumes] that nothing else can, both of which seems to be lost on them.
Kevin Warrington asks, in his excellent Amberley blog entry on the Triumph 2000, “Is a simple form of transport a reflection of one’s personality?” I would contest the “simple” notation but agree that it often is a reflection of one’s personality although in some cases, it may be a partly hidden personality too. Perhaps a reflection of what one might not be able, or want, to display most of the time?
Many of the owners of America’s sports car, the Chevrolet Corvette, that I know are quite quiet and unassuming people although, in the main, the cars are anything but! One friend of mine is a model of English civility, but in his garage lurks, quite simply, a monster of a car; a 1969 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray with a seven litre engine, triple twin-choke carburettors and drainpipe sized exhausts that exit the engine bay behind the front wheels, travel along the outside of the car under the doors and open, with very little silencing, in front of the rear wheels. The overall effect is a car that can do a very good impression of a low flying Second World War fighter plane in the noise stakes when it wants to. The fact that, when it was manufactured, it was one of the fastest accelerating cars in the world and can still severely embarrass much more modern machinery only adds to the mystique. Averaging around 9mpg is much more of the Sixties than of 2017 but there is a cost to everything, nostalgia included. Why does such a man own such a car? Because he loves it – purely and simply! It fires his imagination and his senses and a simple trip becomes an occasion.
Interest in classic cars has never been higher. Unfortunately, some people see them as nothing more that investments or, perhaps more fairly, works of art that have huge investment potential. Witness the sale of a 1962 Ferrari 250GTO in November last year for $56.4m [£47m]. A lovely car, but come on…. Meanwhile, back in the real world, classics [i.e. those over 30 years old officially] and newer versions of a marque that dates back before that can spark both interest and memories. Also perhaps, it stimulates a desire, sometimes a very strong desire, to own something similar.
The Corvette has a sixty-four year history to date and, with a very few exceptions, will not command seven figure price tags. They do, however, provide a lot of character, charisma and, indeed, car for the money whatever age and whichever of the seven generations you might like or want to own. In the UK, they are very rare [there are about three times as many Ferraris and twice as many Lamborghinis registered in the UK as Corvettes], yet running them is relatively inexpensive compared to many of the grand marques.
So, perhaps something that looks and often sounds outrageous? Something so out of the ordinary. An opportunity, if not to slip the surly bonds of Earth, then to at least open the throttles once in a while and head for the horizon in a car that just makes you feel good.
In Corvette: The Rise of a Sports Car, I summarise the long history of the car and ask “what is a sports car?” Why would anyone want to own such a thing; a car that is low not only physically but in what many see as the main point of a car – practicality – and why did a small group of Americans working for the world’s then largest corporation in a country that had nothing like it after the Second World War, think they should try to persuade the “powers that be” to build one? The trials and tribulations of corporate “issues” [something many of us are familiar with], the highs and lows, the successes and the problems, indeed the pain and the passion are all there.
“It’s just a car” is a phrase I have heard many times in general life, despairing as I do so. It is NOT something you would have heard [or will hear] amongst the men and women at Chevrolet who have designed, engineered, manufactured and kept this particular dream alive for so long. Nor amongst the people who own them around the world.
Imagine if you can, the sound of the large and powerful V8 engine burbling beautifully at idle, growling in the mid-range and roaring with revs, the smell of hot oil, the feel of the wheel in your hands, the acceleration pushing you into your seat, the roadholding allowing you to safely corner at exhilarating speeds and the strong brakes reining in the power when necessary. Perhaps with your most favourite person in the world sitting alongside, both with huge smiles on your faces! Often many of the people you drive by will be smiling too – not something you can usually say of sports cars these days.
If any vehicle can stir the emotions, it is this most charismatic of cars in one or more of its seven generations to date. Are you truthfully able to entirely resist that?
Mark Eaton's new book Corvette: The Rise of a Sports Car is available for purchase now.