Inside the National Corvette Museum: Part 2 – The Back Room

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National Corvette Museum Back Room

Corvette Forum shows you the side of the National Corvette Museum you never get to see.

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. This is the result.

In the middle of our tour, after the Nurburgring display and before the sinkhole exhibit, Derek guided us into the back room. There are windows allowing visitors to see into the shop area, but there is a section around the corner housing about a dozen Corvettes that aren’t on display in another section of the museum right now. During our visit to the workshop, a few of the Callaways on loan for last month’s special exhibition were receiving a final detail job before their owners came to retrieve them again.

In the prior installment, we showed you the last remaining complete 1983 Corvette that runs and drives. If you look in the background of the shop photos, you’ll see a red C4 that has been cut in half and hung on the wall. That is the other remaining 1983 Corvette, but it is not nearly as complete, and it would be awfully difficult to get it running and driving again. Apparently this half-cut used to hang above the entrance to the factory for a while before it was handed over to the museum.

More than the cars in the back room, however, we were absolutely blown away by all of the things. An old cutaway engine with clear valve covers was used to display how the “new” small block worked. There was a display of various prototype LT-5 DOHC engines from the original ZR1 project. The C5-R’s ground-pounding Katech-built engine was on display on a stand. Probably our favorite piece, however, was the transverse driveline setup for the 1970 mid-engine Corvette concept.

Most of the cars in the back room are relatively normal series production Corvettes, but there was one car that really stuck out to us. From the word go, this car didn’t look like any Corvette we’d ever seen. The front of the car ahead of the cowl was stretched a bit, and it was riding on a huge set of three-piece motorsport-inspired wheels. This car was parked up on top of a lift, so we didn’t get super up-close-and-personal with it, but we were able to poke around underneath and see some bits of it you wouldn’t normally see.

For you C4 enthusiasts, yes, this is the one-and-only ZR-12 design study. Intended primarily for marine installations, Ryan Falconer Industries was in the habit of building V12s on a small block Chevy architecture, basically an SBC & a half. While Dodge was building their V10 engine Viper, Chevrolet toyed with the idea of building a Viper-fighter with two additional cylinders. This car was built just to see if it was possible after all. The car was stretched a whopping 8 inches to make room for the extra four cylinders, and it was trotted out for the media to check out. In that test day at Firebird the car suffered from heat-related issues because of course it did.

Chevy never did end up building any for consumer use, primarily because the costs would have been astronomical. In 1990 a Corvette cost nearly thirty-two grand, and a ZR1 was almost 60 thousand. GM claims their math would have pushed the price of any kind of 12-cylinder car up at least another ten thousand dollars beyond that, which the market just wouldn’t have born. During the test, the car wore Viper-aping side-pipes and five-spoke flat-faced wheels. The fact that the car now has a different exhaust and wheel set means GM engineers probably kept fiddling with it long after that test day, even though it wasn’t ever shown again until it was in the museum.

We’ve only just returned home from our trip to the NCM, but we’re already looking forward to our next visit. What a great place.

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

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