Bloomington Gold’s “Great Hall” Lives Up To Its Name…and Then Some!
by Bill Stephens
Okay, I’ll admit I’m not a completely unbiased or thoroughly objective individual as I sit down to write this. But, neither is anyone else who has any emotional attachment to the Corvette—which isn’t exactly a select group. Those who consider themselves suckers for Vettes far outnumber those who are not card-carrying Vette-aholics.
Here at the 40th edition of the Bloomington Gold Corvette USA extravaganza, I have been to the mountain, and in the Corvette lexicon, that’s the Great Hall.
Caption: The value, significance, and charisma of the Corvettes on display inside the Great Hall make me feel as if I should take my shoes off before I walk in. At least if I faint, First Aid is close by.
In an exhibition building here at the Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, Illinois, David Burroughs, the founder and “Father Figure” for Bloomington Gold and it’s world-renowned certification structure, and Bill Locke, a life-long Corvette devotee and Corvette historian, have assembled an extraordinary exhibit of some of the most famous, significant, and irreplaceable Corvettes ever built. If I had to come up with an analogy which would accurately frame the depth of Corvette history housed in the Great Hall and their collective monetary value, the Louvre in Paris is what immediately comes to mind.
Want examples? Please allow me.
How about the infamous Sting Ray Racer? Long thought to be the inspiration behind the second-generation Corvettes which debuted in 1963 as Corvette Sting Rays (the generation which has become the most desired within the collector car firmament), the Sting Ray Racer was based on the Q-Car concept from the late 1950’s, which as configured, never went into production.
The 1959 Sting Ray Racer was designed by the great GM styling genius Billy Mitchell with further assistance provided by another Detroit styling mega-star, Larry Shinoda. The influences from the Sting Ray Racer which shaped the profile of the 1963-1967 Corvettes are unmistakable. It was actually used as a daily driver by Mitchell after a brief stint as a racecar in which it won the SCCA National Championship in 1960 with Dr. Dick Thompson aboard. And might I say, it’s the only one in existence. Value? I can’t count that high.
The 1960 CERV 1 is parked nearby. Looking for all the world like an Indy 500 entry or even a vintage Formula 1 machine, the CERV 1 (Chevrolet Engineering Research Vehicle) was never intended to be a racecar (at least Chevrolet never admitted to it), but rather an engineering test bed for GM’s performance projects in the 1960’s. The “Father of the Corvette”, the late Zora Arkus-Duntov, conceived of the CERV-1 as he continued to bring the Corvette’s image and abilities to ever higher levels. It did run 206 miles-per-hour at GM’s Milford Proving Ground and helped to pioneer aluminum engine technology, but the single-seater never officially took a checkered flag.
Who has never seen the 1961 Mako Shark? There it was, sitting in the Great Hall with all the bearing and gravitas of a deadly predator, just as envisioned by Mitchell when he commissioned the innovative concept in 1960. Chevy was already pulling everything together for the C2 Corvette in three years and the Mako Shark was their way of whetting the appetites of the public and the media for what was to come. The exaggerated lines of the peaked fenders (derivatives of the Sting Ray Racer) and the shark-inspired multi-tone paint were a sensation on the show circuit and the Mako Shark, along with the Manta Ray in the late 1960’s, have become two of the most notorious Corvettes in history never to be built.
The breathtaking 1967 L88 Corvette in full race regalia is such a nostalgic bombshell in its red/white/blue paint and a restoration that could make a grown man weep. It’s the only 1963-1967 Corvette ever to race at the 24 Hours of Lemans and the fact that it’s a factory-built L88 racecar makes it worth stultifying money. So, too, the 1956 Sebring Racer displayed nearby, driven to a class win in the 1956 12 Hours of Sebring by John Fitch and Walt Hansgen. This is the car which provided the Corvette with its first infusion of racing provenance at a time when American automobiles were afterthoughts in international endurance racing.
But perhaps the car in the Great Hall which has been generating the most buzz is stationed right inside the main entrance. It’s an original, unrestored 1967 Corvette 427 coupe. With only 2996 miles on it. Which hasn’t been driven regularly since October of 1967 or at all since the mid-1980’s. Only three people have ever sat in the car and nobody has ever been in the passenger seat. Only a dozen people have seen it before this week and only eight had seen it until February of this year. The seat belts have never been out of the retractors, the jacket on the seat has never been removed, and it hasn’t been washed, cleaned, sat in, or touched since it was found. A survivor in the most extreme definition of the word.
The Great Hall is just that. It’s a full-blown “Oh Wow!” experience and right now I’m heading over there again. The mountain is waiting.
There’s an all-Corvette Mecum Auction here at Bloomington Gold tomorrow but it won’t be televised so I get to goof off. We’ll be back on Velocity on July 20-21 from Des Moines, Iowa and Corvettes will be among the several hundred consignments we’ll be featuring during our live telecasts both days. I should be well-rested by then.