Corvette museum shows their history -- and lets you pick up a new one

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Set the GPS in your car for Florida and it will route you right down I-75, through Toledo and Cincinnati, Chattanooga and Atlanta on your way to the Sunshine State’s tourist attractions. But allow us to suggest an alternate route, or at least a detour well worth taking.

Consider I-69 and 65 through Indianapolis and Louisville on toward Nashville. Sure, it’s not quite so direct a route, but it does take you directly to the National Corvette Museum (and just across the road is the assembly plant where Chevrolet has been building America’s sports car since 1981).

The National Corvette Museum opened in 1994, nearly a decade after the idea of establishing a library and archive was offered at the annual meeting of the National Corvette Restorers Society. The idea was simply to have a place to preserve and to share technical bulletins and other Corvette-related documents that were important to those restoring classic Corvettes.

But then one restorer said he’d donate his own historic Corvette for display at such a facility and library evolved into museum. A fund-raising effort was launched,  an architect hired, and now there are 115,000 square feet of Corvette-related displays in a building topped by the bright yellow and conically shaped “Skydome” roof that’s pierced by a 12-story red spire.

The museum sits on a 60-acre campus and includes the library and archives that sparked the idea, as well as a conference center, diner-style cafe and a gift shop. There’s also a museum delivery center where you can pickup the Corvette you purchased through your favorite Chevrolet dealership (be sure to tell the dealer you want option R8C and special shipping code 184590).

But you don’t have to be a Corvette owner to enjoy a visit to this museum.

The cafe, delivery center, library and gift shop are arrayed along an historically styled downtown Main Street, and with various Corvettes parked along the curbs. You can stroll along the street before you reach the portal to the museum and its displays.

Just past the admissions desk is the “Gateway,” an area that introduces visitors — with displays and a movie — to the Corvette and its early history.

From there you enter the “Nostalgia Area” with displays on the General Motors Motorama show where the Corvette was unveiled as a concept car, an old-time barber shop (with a vintage Corvette parked out front), an old Mobil service station, a Chevrolet  dealership showroom, a display about the old assembly plant in St. Louis, and an extensive tribute to Zora Arkus-Duntov, the engineer who turned the Corvette concept into an American automotive icon.

Adjacent to the Nostalgia Area is the new “KidZone,” where children get their hands on various displays, including an junior assembly line.

Next comes the “Performance Area” with dioramas about Corvette’s racing history (and there’s a pit crew challenge and driving simulators for grown-ups to test their hands-on skills).

The “Design & Engineering Area” looks at Corvette design and engineering and includes displays such as a rolling chassis without its body panels and another that shows how well the Corvette survives a crash test.

The “Enthusiast Area” focuses on the Corvette enthusiast and his or her lifestyle and leads into the “Skydome & Hall of Fame,” where the cars and Corvette stars are housed beneath the bright yellow cone roof that stretches nearly 100 feet above your head. Corvette owners and wannabes will feel like they’re in heaven beneath the tall yellow coned ceiling.

Next on the tour is the “Exhibition Hall,” an area that sometimes features significant non-automotive displays. For example, when we visited the display was entitled “September 11: A Global Moment.” Beginning November 1 and running through the end of the year, the Exhibition Hall will showcase “Country Music Stars and Cars.”

From January 26-May 5, 2013, the traveling exhibit “Moneyville,” designed to build math skills and promote economic literacy,” visits the museum. From May 10-mid-September, 2013, 14 historic Corvette racing cars and their competitors will be on display in the hall.

Speaking of Corvette racing, funds are being raised now to construct a National Corvette Museum Motorsports Park with a 2.94-mile test track just across the Interstate from the museum campus.

Also planned for various dates in 2013 and ’14 are displays of motorcycles, of cars formerly but no longer produced by General Motors, and of hot rods and street rods.

For National Corvette Museum details (including a special children’s birthday party package), visit the www.corvettemuseum.org website.

The museum is open from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. (Central time) daily except for New Year’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas eve and day. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, $5 for children ages 6-16, or $25 for a family household. There are discounts for groups of 15 or more and there is no charge for people in active military duty.

Bowling Green also is home to Western Kentucky University and the Bowling Green Hot Rods minor league baseball team.

Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall is a Phoenix-based freelance writer. You can reach him at ledsall@cox.net.