by Glen Quagmire
Bowling Green Kentucky is a pleasant town, with friendly people, great food, and lots of good ol’ southern hospitality. However what makes Bowling Green even more exciting for car people is that it is Nirvana for anyone who has a passion for Corvettes. You see, Bowling Green is home to the National Corvette Museum which, by no small coincidence, is located right next to the General Motors plant where every Corvette has been built since 1981. So if you’re looking to spend a day or two learning all about the history and current technology of America’s first sports car, Bowling Green is the place for you.
After building the first 300 1953 Corvettes in Flint, Michigan, General Motors moved Corvette production to St. Louis, where it remained until June of 1981, when production was moved to its current location in Bowling Green. In the meantime, an independent non-profit foundation was established to build and maintain a world-class museum dedicated to the celebration of the Corvette for present and future generations. The result is two facilities that allow you to visit and understand the history and heritage of the Corvette, and also observe first-hand the assembly of today’s Corvettes from the thousands of components and sub-assemblies that together constitute what many believe represent the best sports car value in the world.
First built and opened in 1994, the National Corvette Museum now features more than 100,000 square feet of award-winning, architecturally-advanced display space on a 60-acre campus. On display are more than 70 Corvettes representing the entire span of production, plus many one-of-a-kind concept vehicles. Some are permanent, while others are on loan from private collections, keeping the display fresh and exciting.
Specific areas you should visit include:
•The 200-seat Chevrolet Theater which provides an introduction to the museum and the history of the Corvette.
•Nostalgia Alley, where realistic scenes portray the Corvette’s early history, including an old-time service station plus, often, a live mechanic on duty to greet visitors and answer questions.
•Route 66, which is a tribute to the television series starring George Maharis and Martin Milner and, of course, a Corvette like the one that was featured throughout the series.
•The Chevrolet Dealership Showroom, which replicates the early dealership experience.
•The Performance Area and the Design and Development Shop highlight Chevrolet’s motorsports and technology involvement and innovation.
Other special areas of interest include the Educational Resource Center, which includes extensive archives and technical and historical experts to answer questions, and the In-House Delivery Area where buyers of new Corvettes can actually take possession of their newly-built pride and joy. Several deliveries are done each day, and provide buyers and visitors alike a most exciting event in which to participate.
Many of the Museum’s displays are interactive and participatory, and a large retail store offers the opportunity to buy apparel, collectibles, and other souvenirs. There is a modest charge for the museum tour and there are family rates and discounts for children and seniors.
Of course the other venue you must visit in Bowling Green is the Corvette Assembly Plant, which is right next door. There some 700 skilled employees have assembled every Corvette since 1981, and in September, 2003 production of the sophisticated Cadillac XLR began at this same plant. The XLR and the Corvette are the only vehicles produced in this facility. So a tour is a very special and enlightening experience.
Your visit will be a walking tour of the massive assembly facility, covering a little over a mile and lasting about an hour and a half. During that time you’ll observe a host of assembly operations, including robotic welding of the substructure, chassis assembly, drivetrain installation, trim and upholstery, and the exciting first-mating of a Corvette’s body and chassis. Buyers of new Corvettes receive personal attention during their tour, and have been known to have the opportunity to actually sit in their nearly-complete Corvette and fire the engine in their car for the very first time. And you can watch the final steps of a Corvette birth as each car is driven off the assembly line on its maiden voyage.
The plant offers the very latest in vehicle assembly equipment and techniques, reflecting the high-tech nature of the cars being built there.
As you would expect, there are certain rules for the plant tours. Closed toe shoes (NO sandals) are a requirement for all visitors. No cameras, backpacks, purses, fanny packs or other containers may be brought into the plant except by special request (for medical reasons, etc.) Also, all electronic devices such as cell phones, camera phones, PDAs, or walkie-talkies are not allowed in the facility. These items must be left in your car. There are no holding facilities onsite for guests’ personal belongings.
Three levels of tours are available at the Bowling Green facility — public tours for individuals, private tours for groups, and buyers’ tours for those owners who want to watch their “baby” being born. There is a modest $5.00 per person charge for the tour. Normally there are three tours per day, and tours are offered only on weekdays which, after all, are when workers are on duty. Tour schedules can and do vary with plant schedules, so it is essential that you reserve your tour in advance. The plant has a very detailed and user-friendly web site with many more details and the opportunity to schedule your tour on-line. Be sure to take advantage of this system to avoid any possible disappointments by showing up without advance planning.
So if you’re looking for a “twin spin” of the two most interesting and exciting Corvette facilities in the world, put away your bowling shoes and head for Bowling Green.
National Corvette Museum
350 Corvette Drive
Bowling Green, KY 42101-9134
(800) 53VETTE (83883)
General Motors Bowling Green Assembly Plant
600 Corvette Drive
Bowling Green, KY 42101