The Stingrays! Picture credit: designboom.com
The USA Corvette culture is singularly unique; an almost lyrical blending of unashamed machismo and bravura … with quite unashamed tenderness and an ambiance of behavioral opulence and love!
David Wesley Tonkin
Back in “the old country” … that’s South Africa, I was fortunate to own and drive several extraordinary cars; there were the individualistically temperamental, flamboyant and passionate, breath-stealing Alfa Romeos, a menacing and frankly bullying Ford Cortina GT and various Tectonically predictable yet head and heart-pounding BMW’s. Ah! The memories are still vivid!
We try to never discuss my thankfully abbreviated ownership of a 1975 Austin Cambridge … I can only describe the driving experience as trying to steer a ginormous slushy plastic bag filled with cream corn. No … I did not buy the thing; it was a well-intentioned gift from a relative after being transport-less when the aforementioned Ford Cortina GT spewed hot flying metal across a wide area when the engine finally went “kaboom” in protest against many questionable tuning and dubious and unequivocally dangerous enhancements to the vehicle’s potential and penchant for snarling speed.
Soon after arriving in the USA (Bloomfield Hills, Michigan actually) in late 1983 I witnessed a delightful phenomenon … the early spring of 1984 was my first experience of the blooming of the Corvettes!
Up went the one side of the double garage doors and the Corvette that had been in custom cover snug hibernation was wheeled out; I sometimes imagined that you could hear a muted John Philip Souza brass instrument fanfare. The driveways of our, and neighboring sub-divisions were a-bloom with Corvettes of every hue and shape. There were almost embarrassingly intimate sessions where the cars were lovingly washed, followed by gentle, slow and rhythmic massage (actually polishing!). It evermore seemed like it would be gauche to interject yourself into these moments.
Also very notable was that when you stood on Slam-Bam (College football nickname … Go Wolverines!) Watson’s driveway he would point across the road at the Corvette in Bud Schmidt’s driveway and give you a concise and chronological run-through of every single thing Bud had done to enhance the power of the shimmering beauty he was presently massaging. Phenomenal? No, Bud could do the same for Slam-Bam’s glossy black 1964 Stingray. Vich vass hallwayz fun mit Bud’s Minny-ezota hacksent! Later on I figured-out that he really sounded a lot like the famous Sergeant Schultz character the late British actor John Banner played so marvelously on ‘Hogan’s Hero’s’.
I also soon learned that the local Corvette buffs had a singular and I believe strict code on how to behave around other sports car genres and their acolytes. They were always condescendingly polite to the Lotus, MG, Austin-Healey, Triumph TR2 and TR3 and Jaguar E-Type people. I soon realized that they sort of sneered at Ferrari owners; one of them once said, it might have been Slam-Bam, that “that bunch” were usually advertising people, restaurant owners and dentists! I am still trying to figure out the correlation between those noble professions and the cars! When it came to cars from the rest of the ECC (Bud once shuddered when I inadvertently used the word ‘Porsche’) they just pretended that they were not there. The tolerance for sports cars of Japanese lineage only came much later … this was Detroit Michigan in the 1980’s for heaven’s sake!
Before you unjustly accuse me of being immoderately besotted with the Corvette culture, I will hasten to point out and wholeheartedly admit that there were some (albeit a small minority of), as my British friend John points out, “some frightfully odd and peculiar fellows” driving Corvettes. You have seen them … the guy whose comb-over trails in the slipstream like the silk scarf -affecting pilots of Baron Manfred von Richthofen’s Jagdgeschwader 1 (the famous Flying Circus) during WWI. Then there are the intrepid, garishly floral shirted corpulent blokes with the massive Serengeti shades and the Giant Corona-sized cigar.
Tally ho! Let us move onwards and upwards from the early days of my Corvette culture collage to the present day …
At the recent 2013 New York Auto Show Dan Akerson’s (CEO and Chairman) team unveiled GM’s new charismatic child. There was a muted roar; that particular sort of blare generated when a crowd’s anticipation is met headlong by revelation … in this case the revelation was of the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray.
There were spontaneous and instantaneous comments encompassing a wide spectrum of people. The preponderance of the commentaries were positive; words of applause and rapture. Sadly, I did not get the input of either Slam-Bam or Bud!
Then, much to my surprise, there were fairly formidable criticisms about the quintessential American sports car that I had never heard before. “This thing is a betrayal … they have given up the Corvette’s unique style and are trying to make it look like one of those European sports cars!”, said a friend and Corvette owner.
Of course there were going to be people who do not like this evolution to a curvilinear new look. That is why we have words like ‘traditional’ and the accompanying ‘traditionalist’ in our dictionaries.
Yes, the new C7 generation Corvette Stingray is substantively atypical of recent previous generations; the C4 (1983) through to the C6’s (2005 to 2013) … however, just look at a bold and innovative changes that have occurred each time between the C1 (1953- 1962) to the C2 where the name ‘Stingray’ first emerged (1963 – 1967). Each model has been unique and soon or eventually become a treasure.
Yes again! The C7’s would look quite at home on the road between Villefranche and Monte Carlo. Yes, it has the sleekness, brutality and sophistication of the red cars with the prancing horse emblem from Maranello in neighboring Italy. I will courageously venture so far as to say that is worthy of comparison to the cars named after South American felines from Tata Motors.
Right! Enough discussion now; it is time to be bold and express an opinion!
At a base level … European royalty are marrying more and more ‘commoners’ lately. My cynical British friend says that it is because they are fearful that their offspring are beginning to look more and more like their polo ponies; so they need to introduce strong new bloodlines!
My opinion is substantially supportive to that of my friend … the shapely new 2014 Corvette Stingray is a bolstering of the bloodline; the marques’ essential DNA. It adds a fresh new style and perhaps an additional smidgen of sophistication and certainly a new dimension to the ‘family’.
My advice if you have the urge to splurge; go ahead; do not hesitate … buy one!
You will own another vivid exemplar of the Corvette’s evolution to enriching the legacy of an American icon. Not forgetting the indelible addition to the Corvette mystique and culture!
An additional reward and a colossal affirmation of your buying decision will be when you park it in the lineup on a bright sunny day at the Shady Glade Village Corvette Club’s 43rd annual bacchanalia in bucolic Covered Bridge County and you overhear the strolling pundits say. “I hope they don’t fool with the design of this C7 … this one is a real beauty, and maintains the Corvette tradition!” You lean back in your lawn chair, smile somewhere between smug and bemused, sigh … and take another gulp from your micro-brew beer of choice … American micro-beer mind you! You are not just witnessing the burgeoning growth of Corvette culture … you are at the core of it!