Corvettes, Corvettes and More Corvettes
Franklin, KY - Events of Monday, October 17, 2016
The National Corvette Museum and the Corvette Assembly Plant are located across the road from each other in Bowling Green, Kentucky, which was 22 miles north of Dad's Bluegrass Campground where we were staying. Since we were stuck there anyway waiting for parts to fix the wheel bearing that had disintegrated, we decided we might as well take advantage of the sunny, 80º weather predicted for Monday and drive up to Bowling Green to take a tour of the Corvette Assembly Plant and to visit the Corvette Museum.
Admission to the museum is $10 for adults, and tours of the plant are also $10. Although the museum is independently operated by a non-profit organization, they have a very close relationship with the assembly plant so there is a combo ticket available for both locations for $16. Advance reservations are required for plant tours, so over the weekend we bought combo tickets online for the 11:00 tour on Monday. The photo below shows the main entrance to the plant. The entrance for tours is around back of the plant to the right.
They ask everyone to arrive for the tour half an hour early. One reason is the Bowling Green Corvette Assembly Plant is 1 million square feet so the parking area is a long distance from the tour entrance. The other reason is they have strict rules about not having cameras or cell phones so if you forget and bring one, they want you to have time to take it back to your car.
While we were waiting for the tour, they showed videos with information about the history of the Corvette and about various phases of the assembly process. The first Corvettes were built in Flint, Michigan. Shortly thereafter, production was moved to St. Louis and then to Bowling Green in 1981.
As we said, no cameras are allowed so we can't show you any photos, but we'll describe a few of the steps in the assembly. The tour is a one-mile walking tour that usually takes about 90 minutes, and it starts in the area where the windshield cowl/dashboard assembly meets up with the main chassis. Overhead, we could see a robot on the upper level loading freshly-welded chassis onto carriers that would then make their way down to the main level where we were. Robots and parts handlers assist workers at almost every step.
After workers bolt the windshield/cowl assembly to the chassis, it continues down the line. Rear fenders and the rear fascia are added next. Workers use little plastic gauges to make sure everything is lined up properly. Next, door assemblies descend from overhead and are mated to the chassis. Again, gauges are used to make the gaps between the door and fenders even. Every component that comes together is assigned to one particular car, so everything has to come together at the right time.
While other engines that are produced elsewhere are available in the Corvette, the top-of-the-line Z06 engine is built right there in bowling Green. Introduced in 2014, the Z06 is a supercharged, 6.2-liter, 650hp engine that will propel the car from zero to 60 in 3.3 seconds!
The engine/transmission is assembled to the chassis next followed by the front fenders and front fascia. After tires and wheels are added, the car is driven off the assembly line and goes to a station where all four wheels are aligned and the headlights are aimed. Next, it's on to the dynamometer where the car is driven at speeds of up to 75mph for two minutes during which time a computer runs over 80 tests. After the dynomometer test, the cars go into a water-test chamber where they are deluged with 12 gallons of water per minute to check for water leaks. The cars are then driven outside to a test course with various kinds of bumps for a squeak and rattle test. If any problems show up on any of the tests, they are corrected before the car moves on to the next test and before final shipment.
From the Corvette Assembly Plant, we drove across the road to the Corvette Museum. The museum was originally envisioned as a library and archive by the National Corvette Restorers Society in the 1980s, but the idea of a museum emerged as the result of an offer of a 1953 Corvette for display by one of the members. The museum opened in 1994.
The museum chronicles the production and evolution of the Corvette from its beginnings to today. The Corvette was first built to satisfy a growing desire for small, sporty cars like many soldiers had seen in Europe when they were serving there during WWII. Only 300 Corvettes were built in 1953, which was the first year of production. All 300 cars were white convertibles with 6-cylinder engines and fiberglass bodies.
More colors were added in 1954, but the 3,640 cars that were built that year sold slowly. A V-8 engine was added as a option for 1955, but GM limited production to only 700 units because of a large inventory of unsold 1954 models.
The Corvette got its first face lift in 1956, and it got another for the 1958 and 1959 model years that included quad headlights, a longer hood, new bumpers and a new interior.
In 1963, Chevrolet introduced the Sting Ray, which is considered the second generation of Corvette design. It included both a convertible model and a hardtop. The museum has examples of Corvettes from 1953 through present-day 7th-generation models.
Racing has always been a big part of Corvette mystique, and the museum has plenty of examples of cars driven in famous races and by famous drivers.
Styling is important for any car, but it is especially important for an enthusiast's car like the Corvette. The museum has a section devoted to styling.
The styling section has several examples of Corvette concept cars. Concept cars are used to test public acceptance of various design features, both mechanical and styling items, and to create buzz at car shows.
One of the things we and many other visitors find most interesting about the museum is the story about the cave-in that occurred on February 12, 2014. At 5:44 a.m., a large sink hole opened under the Skydome swallowing 8 cars. A video of the collapse caught by a security camera was all over the news back when it happened. The Skydome is the conical yellow section with red spire at the left of the photo of the outside of the museum near the top of the post. With Mammoth Cave and several smaller caves just up the road, Bowling Green is definitely in cave country. A previously unknown pocket under the museum gradually worked its way closer to the surface where the weight of the building and its contents eventually caused the surface layer to collapse.
The museum has a whole section on the cave-in including many photos and videos of the collapse and of the recovery operation.
The cars involved in the collapse are on display. Some have been restored, a couple remain to be restored, and some are totally beyond repair.
The 1 millionth Corvette, a 1992 white convertible, was involved in the cave-in and was restored. Unfortunately, it was determined so many parts of the 2009 1.5 millionth Corvette would have to be replaced that it couldn't be considered the same car so it was decided to leave it as-is.
After the cars were removed from the bottom of the pit, it took almost 4 million tons of concrete and crushed limestone to backfill the hole. Remote control Bobcats were used to spread and compact layers of fill. Micropiles (threaded rods) were installed down into the bedrock, and the new reinforced concrete floor that was installed in the Skydome was tied to the rods. Although 8 cars, some of them irreplaceable, were damaged, and some were damaged beyond repair, the collapse was actually a blessing in disguise because curiosity has caused museum admissions to skyrocket in the time since it happened.
The undamaged cars that were removed from the Skydome immediately after the cave-in have now been returned and except for the display of damaged cars and the outline of the sinkhole on the floor, the appearance of the Skydome has returned to normal. By the way, the pictures on the walls above the cars are members of the Corvette Hall of Fame, which are famous Corvette owners, racers and enthusiasts.
It was nice to take a break from our woes of our bearing failure and do some sightseeing. We enjoyed both the plant tour and the museum.
On Tuesday, our mechanic showed up with the parts. We'll tell you how the repair went in our next post.