Overall, 2014 was a big year for the Corvette. The all-new C7 hit the streets and was so good that it did what no other modern ‘Vette has done; namely impress both non-Corvette fans and the European press. But 2014 wasn’t all sunshine for “America’s Favorite Sports Car;” that February, a 40 foot sinkhole swallowed eight vintage cars at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The bizarre accident created national headlines, and security camera footage has earned over eight million views on YouTube.
Among the cars was an original 1962 convertible, a one-of-a-kind 1984 Chevrolet-PPG pace car, the 2009, 1.5 Millionth car, 2009 “Blue Devil” ZR-1 prototype, and a white 1992 convertible, the one millionth Corvette built. Seeking to lend a hand, General Motors offered to restore the car, and now nearly two years later, the ’92 is one of the few sinkhole cars to get a new lease on life.
On the surface, it seems like a wrecked ’92 LT1 convertible is hardly worth saving. Hagerty puts their average value at just over $11,000, and even the nicest examples fail to change hands for more than $30,000. But GM didn’t send the sinkhole car to just any body shop for a new fiberglass panels, new upholstery, and fresh paint for a few grand. The millionth Corvette is a one of a kind artifact, and as such, it’s probably the only $40,000 (when new) 1992 model in the world to receive such a high quality restoration. But outside of GM brass, and only the most die-hard of Corvette fans knew exactly why this car was so important until after the accident.
The one millionth Corvette rolled off of Chevy’s Bowling Green assembly line to great fanfare on July 2, 1992. It was a white over red convertible, just like the first ever ‘Vette, which rolled off the same line 39 years before. But it wasn’t just the numerical accomplishment that made the car special. Under the body panels, red leather upholstery, and everywhere else, the car was signed by every member of the Bowling Green assembly line. And when the car rolled out of that plant to cameras and fanfare 23 years ago, it was a singular representation of the hard work that went into the hundreds of thousands of Corvettes that came before it, and the hundreds of thousands that would come after.
Because of this, GM replaced as few of the original parts as possible. The car was treated like a historical artifact, and was truly, painstakingly restored, not just rebuilt. The car was turned over to a team of around 30 technicians at GM Design’s Mechanical Assembly and Fabrication shops, who worked to bring every existing part of the car back to the way it was in 1992. They straightened the front sub-frame and windshield header, reconditioned the wheels, patched and re-dyed the interior, and replaced the hood and lower side panels. But preserving those signatures became the key issue of the restoration. They were so important, in fact, that astonishingly, only two panels with signatures ended up needing to be completely replaced. To keep the car complete, team scanned those signatures from the damaged parts, then transferred them onto the new ones. The reconditioned car will be sent back to the museum with the original pieces in tow, to be displayed alongside it in a special exhibit.
In all, the GM team put over 1,200 man hours in four months bringing the convertible back from the dead, and the result is likely the most comprehensively restored C4 Corvette in the world. But the millionth ‘Vette is much more than a high-profile restoration project, it almost seems like GM’s love letter to its iconic sports car. While the Big Three are currently in labor talks with the U.A.W., and tensions are running high, this car brought both the GM and the unions (the restoration team were from locals 160 and 1869) together to preserve an artifact that celebrates the company as much as it does the men and women who build its cars. If that’s not a feel good story, we don’t know what is.
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