2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray: Signed, Sealed, Delivered
October 9, 2013
When it comes to straws, we drew the long ones. While our colleagues Ron and Phil did the actual hard work of ordering up our 2014 Corvette Stingray long-termer from a local dealer, Photo Editor Kurt Niebuhr and I got the cake assignment to go fetch the car. The purchase price included the $990 dealer option for Museum Delivery, which would send our car from the plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky, to the main lobby of the National Corvette Museum on the other side of the highway. From there, you pick it up and drive it away.
Kurt and I would only need to bring the Stingray home in one piece. But with 2,200 miles between Bowling Green and home, that wasn't guaranteed.
We meet Ron Barton on our arrival at the museum Tuesday morning. A General Motors lifer who spent 33 years between the St. Louis and Bowling Green plants, Ron has spent the last 11 years at the museum sending people home in their new Vettes. Ron greets us with a confession: He doesn't know a lot about the new Corvette. The delivery program had fired up only the day before, after hibernating since last September, and the delivery folks were still learning about the seventh-generation car.
But it turns out, Ron knew plenty, right down to the choice of material for the seat frames and the only two parts to be carried over from the C6 (the targa roof latch and cabin air filter). We mill around our new Lime Rock Green Stingray, protected by a nylon belt perimeter. Another Lime Rock Green model sits right next to ours, and we quietly dismiss its chrome wheels and yellow calipers. Must be a Packers fan.
We follow Ron to his office to start the paperwork, producing our purchase contract, proof of insurance, temporary license tag, and driver's license. Ron makes some copies, hands us back our originals and a few minutes later we're waiting for a ride over to the assembly plant across the highway.
While waiting, we meet Katie, the museum's marketing director, who tells us some exciting news: To celebrate its 20th anniversary, the museum plans to open a full road course nearby by next Labor Day. As she's talking, a little girl runs by us and bumps into one of the nylon belt stanchions protecting the Corvette behind ours. Katie stifles a grimace as the little girl's Dad comes running up behind. The stanchion teeters a bit, but stays upright, and Katie breathes normal again.
"I always get nervous with the little ones in here," she says, quite reasonably. A scratched door panel would be a bummer all around.
Our shuttle arrives and we head over to the factory, a one-million-square-foot facility that Ron says Chrysler owned to make commercial air conditioners. GM took over the space in 1979 and later doubled the plant's size. It's largely an assembly plant, with parts like stamped panels, seats, engines, and wheels with mounted tires all delivered with impressive synchronization, but a full quarter of the facility is dedicated to paint. The plant employs about 1,000 workers and runs one shift from about 6 a.m. until 3 p.m.
It's strange to see line workers dressed in simple shorts and t-shirts, though. A supervisor says they haven't had a dress code for many years, beyond banning garments with rivets or loops to prevent scratching or mutilation. I like that employees can dress how they want, but I'm not sure how to feel when I see a big hairy dude in a cut-off T-shirt climbing around the interior in what could have been our car a week ago.
But it's hard not to feel an instant connection with the line workers. The supervisor and Atlanta Braves fan, who trades taunts with me about the upcoming division series with the Dodgers; the guy on the roof and hood section who asks which roof style we chose (painted, carbon fiber or transparent); the gentleman with the most seniority at the plant who could've retired years ago, but stays on because the plant is home, or at least a very close second, and because he's still very good at his job. Blue-collar Americans, stitching together one of the best sports cars from this country. I half-expect Bruce Springsteen to stride out from the foreman's office with a raised fist and electric guitar.
The walking tour is fascinating and lasts about two hours, and just as we're wondering if we'll see one, we see two. Convertibles. A Lime Rock Green model with tan top and a white model with black top creep along the line all but unnoticed. Unfortunately, we don't have our cameras or cell phones. GM requires you to leave them behind when you step on the floor.
Back at the museum, Ron walks us around the exhibits. This is Corvette geeking at its finest. All the generations, one-offs, race and tuner specials, Zora Arkus-Duntov's design mules and mid-engine fantasies, even the sole-surviving 1983 model year white C4 coupe that escaped a quality control purge that delayed the fourth-generation introduction until 1984.
Great stuff, of course, but our attention is starting to drift and we're frothing to get the keys. Not only are we ready to experience our new long-termer, but we're also on a schedule. It's an hour to Nashville and we've only got a few hours of light left for a photo shoot. Ron starts to show us some of the electronics, but we save him the trouble. We got the basics down weeks ago when a test car came through the office.
With that, Ron hops in the driver's seat. Liability requires the delivery specialist to drive the car off the floor and into the lot. That's fine with me, as the tight corner between the display area and the hallway leading out to the lot looks like a job for the experienced. A crowd of museum staff cluster around the car as Ron turns the wheel, the tires bark against the polished floor, and the Corvette inches toward the hallway. They all start clapping and leaning in the window to offer congratulations and wishes for a safe trip home.
Once outside, Ron snaps a few photos of us and takes the keys to our rental car (Enterprise offers a one-way service where they'll pick up the rental at the museum). After farewell handshakes, Ron disappears with our Yaris and we settle into our new long-termer, setting a route for Nashville in the nav system.
There's one final order of business before the highway, though: burning the mold release compound off the new tires.
Dan Frio, Automotive Editor