Inside the National Corvette Museum: Part 1 – The Tour

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Callaway C4 Corvette at National Corvette Museum

We’ve recently returned from a visit to the National Corvette Museum. Here’s what we saw.

We just got back from a 7000 mile cross-country road trip. We weren’t driving a Corvette, so we’ll spare you the details, but due to our mutual love and respect for America’s sports car, our road trip would not have been complete without a stop to the National Corvette Museum. If you’re travelling through the midwest and you skip this museum, you’re doing it wrong. We also owe a big thanks to NCM’s own Derek Moore for taking time out from his day to give us a personal tour around the place. He was a great tour guide. He even let us poke around in the museum’s maintenance bays and the storage areas for cars not currently on display (more on that in a future installment).

It was a nasty dreary day in Bowling Green, KY when we arrived to the NCM, and we were glad for the respite from the rain. When the big red sign of the NCM arises out of the mist along the side of the highway, our excitement reaches critical mass.

National Corvette Museum Tower

Upon entering the museum, there are a dozen or so brand new Corvettes waiting to meet their new owners. When you order a brand new car from your local Chevy dealer, you can choose to have the car delivered across the street to the museum for a special pickup experience, and maybe a few laps on the race track. Derek had wanted to get us over to the track to check that out for a while, but due to the weather nothing was running. There’s a Corvette gift shop off to the right, and a cafe down at the end of the main drag seen below.

National Corvette Museum

It’s worth noting here that the museum is only $13 for general admission, which is an absolute bargain considering everything you get to see. Once inside the museum proper you start from the very beginning of Corvette history and work your way through up to today. There is a small display dedicated to Zora Arkus-Duntov, including his personalized C3 Corvette, and his cremated corporeal remains. Did you know he used to race Porsches?

The next stop on the tour is comprised of C1 generation Corvettes, both pre and post-facelift. These are displayed in an era-appropriate recreation of a Mobil filling station. There are many life-sized dioramas of cars around the museum. This one is definitely our favorite.

The C2 generation cars are displayed in a 1960s Chevrolet dealership showcase. Each of the cars shown there looked absolutely showroom fresh, so perhaps it was appropriate. Immediately adjacent was Roy Orbison’s personal big block car. Along the opposite wall, C3 Corvette production had just “started” with a showcase of the original production line before it moved to Bowling Green.

The next room is a display of motorsports-oriented Corvettes. SCCA champions, Le Mans racers, and more. There was a C4 Corvette that ran flat out for 24 hours at an oval circuit to set a new average speed record. We were absolutely in awe of Duntov’s famed Corvette SS race car sat over against the far wall. The museum had also set up a Nurburgring display featuring the C6 ZR1 that set a new record all those years ago (7:19.63 back in 2012), possibly in preparation for a new ZR1 and a new N-ring record?

Possibly the most exciting room of all of them, however, was this collection of prototypes and studies. There’s the “Cormero”, a mule built in a 4th Gen F-body chassis in preparation for the “new” C5 Corvette. We were quite pleased to see the 1986 Corvette Indy mid-engine concept, and it remains quite difficult to believe that such a forward-thinking design was created in the mid-1980s.

When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. When geology gives you a sinkhole, you make the best of a bad situation and put it all on display for the world to come and see. The Corvette Cave In claimed 8 cars. Two of those have been restored and a third one is in-process. The museum has built an exhibit specifically to showcase the sinkhole debacle. They’ve collected social media and news clippings from the time of the cave in, and built an interactive display of what happened and where each of the cars ended up when it was all said and done. There’s even a small room that recreates some of what it was like to be in the hole at the time of the cave in. It’s a little strange, but you can even look through a window down into the hole now that it’s been repaired.

The remainder of the spire room featured a few really special Corvettes. There was a grouping of Corvette pace cars, a showcase of rare colors of various generations, and a display featuring one Corvette of each chassis. Three Guldstrand Corvettes were displayed, as well as the lone remaining 1983 C4, and the “Dempster Corvette“.

NCM was moving new cars in and around the final room as the Callaway exhibit had come to a close and the new “Horsepower Heroes” exhibit began. Some of the Callaway cars remained in this room, while a few great Lingenfelters were added, as well as three of the four Greenwood Daytona Turbos. Right up front is the very first Greenwood, the very first Callaway Corvette, and the very first Lingenfelter (Technically, the Lingenfelter car was assembled from Lingenfelter parts by a customer before Lingenfelter started building complete cars, so maybe it’s serial number negative one?).

We had a spectacular time visiting the National Corvette Museum, and encourage each of you to take the time to visit it and see all of these great cars for yourself. It’s worth a special trip just to see the destroyed-beyond-repair cars of the sinkhole in person.

Bradley Brownell is a regular contributor to Corvette Forum and 6SpeedOnline, among other auto sites.

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