Corvette celebrates its 60th anniversary

The parking lot, a great blacktop expanse adjacent to the Detroit River riverwalk, was stunning. Brightly colored jewels — all about the same size — were soaking up the mid-day sunshine June 30.

It was a celebration of the 60th anniversary of what has become an American sports car icon: the Chevrolet Corvette. On June 30, 1953, a Polo White 1953 two-seater with straight six and two-speed Powerglide automatic left the GM line in Flint.

True, production and public enthusiasm for the European-style car sputtered the first few years (1955 production was some 700). But eventually, with the switch to a Chevy V-8 plus plenty of competition from Ford, sales caught hold. Corvette number 1.5 million was assembled in 2009.

Chevrolet says the Corvette is the world’s longest-running, continuously produced passenger car. The third 1953 Corvette sold at auction in 2006 for $1.06 million, Chevrolet reports. It originally would have cost $3,498.

That million-dollar ’53 was not at the 60th celebration. But Herman Zarkis’s rare and beautiful 1956 Vette was.

Zarkis, a Sterling Heights, Mich. resident, found the remains of a 1956 Corvette “in a junkyard” some 48 years ago and paid — a lot at that time — $550 for the nine-year-old car that had no engine or transmission.

Since then Zarkis, who now is retired from the aerospace industry, has rebuilt a 450-horsepower 350-inch engine for the car and brought it to like-new condition.

The Vette’s Hugger Orange color is borrowed from the 1968 Camaro, Zarkis said. And he took a split bumper from a younger model, had it re-chromed and attached it to the rear of his Corvette where it looked right at home

“I did my own body and engine work,” he said. “The car now has a 4.11 Positraction differential, Muncie four-speed close-ratio transmission and Dart aluminum heads.”

Zarkis suggested there might be 800 of the ’56 Corvettes still around.

He was sitting with longtime friend and colleague Ernest Dowty, who transformed his 1973 Corvette into a turbo-charged 500-horsepower road monster.

Its factory Burnt Orange Metallic exterior and T-roof speak to the 1970s. Dowty said he has owned the car since 1979 — just before he married and became a family man. That paint color was particular to 1973, said Douty, who did his own body and engine work, including the addition of a Turbo 400 transmission.

Pat Bean referred to her dressed-for-racing black 1964 Corvette Grand Sport as “a clone.”

It’s a tribute car in honor of the five Cobra killers GM staff quietly built some 50 years ago.

“They were too powerful for the street,” said Bean, of Milford, Mich., who with her husband Steve has owned the car since 1998.

The Beans took the ’64 Corvette to Jeff Leech of Mid America Industries in Milan, Ill.

“We had it re-bodied with a whole new front end and new back end,” said Steve Bean. “There will be three of the original five ’64 Corvettes in the vintage races at Monterey in August.”

The Beans have ordered the latest Corvette, a 2014 Stingray, and hope to take delivery in October.

The June 30 anniversary show was slated to run until 4 p.m., but by 2 p.m. ladies and gentlemen were starting their engines and leaving to cruise the grand prix raceway on nearby Belle Isle. After all, Corvettes are made to run, not stand still.