Corvette Owner or Corvette Enthusiast
by Jimmy Clemmer
Which one are you? If you need to think about this question very long to answer, then you’re probably the first, a Corvette Owner. If you didn’t hesitate, then it’s likely that you are the second, a Corvette Enthusiast. Let’s take a look and see if there’s a difference. I’ll share some history of my own that relates to the topic as you will soon see. By the end of this, you too can determine if you are an owner or enthusiast. The intent is not to change you, because after all, we are who we are and no one should change…certainly not for the car they drive anyway. So as you read on, think about the question, “Corvette Owner or Corvette Enthusiast, which one are you?”
The year was 1978 and I had just turned 15 years old. My Mom and Dad had decided to take my sister and I to Kings Dominion for a day of fun. It was the usual family outing in the summer with the scorching heat and large crowds. The only reason that particular day sticks in my mind was the display they had just inside the main entry to the park. As we handed over our tickets and entered through the turnstiles, there it was. No, not the scaled down model of the Eiffel Tower or the latest roller coaster to make it’s home at Kings Dominion, it was a 1978 Chevrolet Corvette Indianapolis Pace Car. Oh how the sight of such a magnificent piece of machine would tug at the heart of a 15 year old. I was less than 6 months from a “learners permit” and less than a year from getting my drivers license. By this time, cars were starting to be on my mind. The Corvette was on display to commemorate its presence as the 1978 Indianapolis 500 Pace Car. With it’s high rising fender flairs, red pin striped aluminum wheels, black and silver paint scheme, silver leather interior, and the Indy 500 logos and decals, it was the most beautiful site I’ve ever seen. Of course my Mom took a picture of my Dad and I in front of the car. That picture still exists, somewhere in a box in one of her closets. It’s funny how I don’t remember many specific things about my time as a 15 year old, but that day will stick with me forever.
In 1984, I was only one year out of college and started my first full time job. I was welcomed into the “real” world of 8:00 am to 5:00 pm and realized very quickly that school is “not so bad” after all. With that first real job, came a real paycheck and with that comes the urge to buy things. We all have them, a little money on the hip and a little extra in the bank and we’re ready to go shopping. For some, it might mean a trip to the mall and for others it could mean something bigger like a house or a boat. For me it was easy, I headed down to the local Chevy Dealer to buy my first “new” car. A small loan from the bank (it didn’t seem so small at the time), signing a few papers, and I was the proud new owner of my first Corvette. Of course it wasn’t “really” a Corvette, but to me it was darn close. I couldn’t have been happier with my new 1984 Z28 Camaro. O.K., maybe a Corvette would have made me just a little bit happier but I couldn’t exactly afford the payments or the insurance on a car like that. So yes, I did have to settle and the Z28 Camaro had to do.
When it All Began
Let’s fast-forward 22 years. I have now moved from the beautiful Shenandoah Valley to Virginia Beach, Virginia. I have a good job, own a home and enjoy life to the fullest. There was just one thing missing. Ever since the days of cruising around Lexington with my friends in my ’84 Z28, I had always dreamed of someday owning a Corvette. The year was 1996 and I had recently sold my latest car, a 1995 Ford Thunderbird. I remember looking through the Chevy lot and still thinking it must be a dream to own a Corvette. I actually did take a test drive and do a walk-through with a GMAC finance department, only to have my hopes dashed by a salesman with a “quick” tongue and interest rates on a 1996 Coupe that neared double digits. Now I’ve had it, Chevrolet has irritated me for the last time (or so I thought). I softened the blow from my “un-named” Chevy Dealer by picking up the Virginian Pilot and searching through the Cars For Sale ads. I really wanted a newer C4 with low mileage and “bang”, there it was. “For Sale, 1995 Corvette Coupe, Automatic, Low Miles, Bright Aqua Metallic, and a Chesapeake phone number”. I made the call and was on my way, Dock Landing Road, here I come! I could hardly contain my enthusiasm down 64 east and through Bowers Hill. Upon arrival at the Corvette owner’s residence, I don’t think my truck had even come to a complete stop before I slammed it in “Park” and jumped out the door. The owner came out to his driveway to greet me as the car was already backed out of the garage. What an exciting time this would be. The car was beautiful. I took about six laps around it before the owner popped the hood. I spent the next few minutes admiring the cleanliness of the engine compartment and the next thing I know, the owner is handing me the keys. “Test Drive?” he asked. In seconds I was buckled in, seat and mirrors adjusted and heading off down the street. I think that’s when it hit me? I was hooked. This was going to be “mine”.
Upon return to his house, we worked out the financial details to both of our liking. They say if both parties are happy with a sale, then it’s a good deal. So in this case, I think the owner was happy and the “new owner” was thrilled. We met later that week at his bank and I took possession of my 1995 Corvette Coupe. This time, it really IS a Corvette!
Sometime during that first few weeks of cruising around in my new car I came to the realization that this was like no other car on the face of the earth. I started using words like “passion” when I described the way I felt about my vette. It was then that I realized for the first time that there is something different about being a Corvette owner. I had quickly become an “enthusiast”. I wanted to see and learn every thing I could about the car, the history, the legacy, etc. I wanted to see it all. It was not an ordinary car and I was not an ordinary owner. I was obsessed!
I always passed by his house on the way home. It was usually about 5:30 in the afternoon and I would be making my way home from work. As I turned the corner on to Elbow Road and neared my neighborhood, I would pass by Dean’s house. He would always be sitting out in his driveway under the shade of a large oak tree. With his lawn chair and newspaper, it was a pretty consistent site to see him lounging and reading. The sound of my 95 vette would usually mean that Dean would lower his paper and peek out over the top of his glasses to see who was passing by. His arm would rise high in the air with a simple wave not unlike the wave of any fellow Corvette owner. Yes, Dean would sit in his drive with his newspaper but just in the background was his Polo Green C4. Always clean and shiny as any proud owner would have, Dean was the typical Corvette enthusiast. After several weeks of this, I couldn’t resist and decided to stop in and introduce myself to Dean and his wife Dorothy. Yes it was to say hello and get to know him, but I really wanted to get a close-up look at his vette and allow him to see mine as well. We traded some stories and shared a few laughs when Dean finally asked if I had ever heard of the Beachcombers Corvette Club? Of course I had heard of it but had never given much thought about joining. A club? Why would anyone in their 30’s want to join a club? Aren’t clubs for school aged kids? Dean invited me to join them for their upcoming business meeting and I agreed to give it a try. I attended that first meeting to find folks from all “walks of life” There were people in attendance both young and old. There were people who liked car shows and those who liked racing. There were folks who liked talking about Corvettes and those who just liked driving them. There were owners with “new” cars and people with “old” restored ones. It didn’t take me long to realize…this was “my kind of crowd”. I’m joining a Club!
As Kylie would say, “More Cars Dad”
The 1995 Coupe was only the start for me. Over the past eleven years, I’ve owned five Corvettes in all. Along with the 1995 Bright Aqua Metallic Coupe, I’ve also owned a 1994 Black Rose Coupe, a 1999 White C5 Coupe, and my current daily driver, a 2000 Pewter Coupe. I’ve enjoyed every one of them in their own way but none have given me more pleasure than the one I’ll always remember…my 1978 Silver Anniversary Coupe.
I had owned the 95 and then the 99 for a few years before taking the plunge and purchasing the 78. I guess I was just like many other Corvette enthusiast who get the urge to buy one of the “old” ones and fix it up. I came across this one parked in a garage in Great Bridge. It was offered “For Sale” in the newspaper and it sounded like the perfect starting point for someone who wanted to do a restoration. It had 13,800 miles, which was very low for a 78. The owner had purchased it nearly 13 years before and it had sat in his garage “untouched” the entire time. I know what you’re probably thinking, a low miles 78 that’s been stored in a garage all this time, it must be nearly perfect. Well yes and no. The overall appearance was good and it clearly reflected little use for the age of the car. But after the deal was done and it came to rest in “my” garage, I quickly discovered that “time” was not kind to my “new baby.” Every time I decided to take it around the neighborhood for a quick spin, upon return to the garage, it would show signs of a different fluid seeping from it’s underside. It seemed as though every seal in the car from front to back was worn out, so the “speedy dry” and sheets of cardboard became normal accessories to the 78 parking spot.
I spent nearly 20 months doing a frame-on restoration that included everything from drive-train to braking system. I removed, restored and/or replaced practically every component of the car from top to bottom. My checkbook had more entries for 78 parts and work than I even want to remember. Once it was “sound” mechanically, then I turned to the cosmetic stuff. New interior parts included carpet, leather and door panels. Once all of the outside emblems and moldings were removed, a local body shop took care of the two-tone silver anniversary paint scheme and the five layers of clear-coat. A few more months on jack-stands installing new exhaust and finishing the black satin underbody brought it to a near finish. I remember the day I patiently drilled out the excess paint from the small holes in the hood to replace the 25th Anniversary Emblem. About 20 months earlier I had made a vow that this would be the last and final piece to be put on. As I pressed the emblem into place to seat it in the adhesive, a huge sense of accomplishment came over me. Finally, after 20 months of blood, sweat, a few tears and an empty bank account, she was finally complete.
For a little more than 5 years, I would drive the 78 just enough to keep the seals lubricated. She rarely saw rain except for the few times at a local car show when the usual afternoon thunderstorms swept through. Of course, it was only a matter of time after arriving home that she would get a thorough wash from top to bottom including the undercarriage. My wife Sheila affectionately named her “Queenie”, which was short for “Garage Queen” because of the amount of time she spent in our garage under a car cover. I was fortunate enough to have many memorable conversations with folks throughout Hampton Roads when “Queenie” took to the streets. Although she was not in the same class as the NCRS cars, she was certainly an eye catcher at the local car shows and the Saturday evening Cruise-In at Jenros.
I decided to sell “Queenie” last summer because I knew that someone out there would have the same appreciation and respect for her that I had. There was proof in my suspicion when a gentleman spotted her at the Shriner’s Show and offered to pay full “asking” price to take her home. It was a happy day and a sad day when he picked up my 78 Silver Anniversary and drove off down the street. Of course I had a “hefty” check in my pocket, but this would never pay for the time that I had spent with “Queenie”. Sometimes I still miss her.
You Must Experience Carlisle (at least once)
For those of you who have made the annual journey to Carlisle, Pennsylvania in late summer, you have already had “The Experience”. For those of you who haven’t visited Carlisle yet…well you MUST go at least once. If you are a Corvette Owner, you’ll probably enjoy the trip and all the things to see. But if you’re a Corvette Enthusiast, you’ll love the Experience!
I remember my first trip to Carlisle and visiting the event that very first Friday. A group of us rolled into town bright and early and made our way to the fairgrounds. I was certain that we would be one of the first to arrive. After all, we had left the motel early and even skipped breakfast. Surely, we would get through the gate quickly and begin to make our way through the Corvette Event of the year. We were probably about a mile outside the main gate when we were stopped in traffic for the very first time. I was amazed at the number of cars making their way to the fairgrounds. It was “stop and go” the rest of the way but it didn’t really matter. The view was awesome because there were Corvettes EVERYWHERE!
When we finally made it to the gate, showed our credentials and entered the fairgrounds, I was completely overwhelmed. They directed me to park “on the hill” which is the highest point of the entire 82 acres. My car had barely come to rest in the grassy area before I jumped out to take in the view. That’s right…the entire 82 acres of Corvettes, Corvette parts, Corvette vendors, Corvette apparel, and anything else Corvette related as far as the eye could see. What a site! I spent most of the day on Friday and Saturday trying to take in as much as I could. I would return for a short time on Sunday morning to take in the last few moments of my Corvettes at Carlisle experience but I must admit, I was exhausted. Two and a half days, 82 acres, August heat and Corvettes everywhere, I felt like I had walked about a million miles.
This would be my first visit to Corvettes at Carlisle but was far from my last. I’ve only missed one year since that first trip and plan to attend many, many times in the future. It’s an awesome site to see and almost impossible to describe….so I would say to anyone who loves his or her Corvette, you must go at least once. I bet you’ll love “The Experience”.
What’s the Difference
So…if we look at the original question, “Corvette Owner or Corvette Enthusiast, which one are you?” Is there a difference? Can you tell from my “Corvette History”, which category I fall into? I asked fellow Beachcombers the same question and got many different responses. Some responded that we’re all Corvette Owners but only some are true “Enthusiast”. I liked one particular response when told that “owners” simply put gas in and drive it, while “Corvette Enthusiasts” will live, love and share all things “Corvette”.
Long time friend and fellow Beachcomber Member, Lynn Kennedy says this: “A Corvette owner is someone who has a Corvette, drives it, never gives the Corvette “wave” and knows nothing about the history of the car, the camaraderie it generates and doesn't know why anyone would join a Corvette Club”.
”A Corvette enthusiast can be spotted anywhere. They always wave to other Corvette owners, they know every inch of their car inside and out, and there is always something on their body or in their pocket that says “Corvette” on it. Their office, home, or mailbox is a cornucopia of goodies Corvette related. They know all about the various Corvette forums, Corvette websites, Corvette magazines, etc. and they plan for “Corvettes at Carlisle” a year in advance.”
Does Lynn’s description remind you of anyone? Let’s see, my garage is decorated with a Corvette flag, my wardrobe includes Corvette shirts and jackets, my poolroom is covered with Corvette models, signs, banners, pictures, and even a C5 neon light, and my office always includes my Corvette calendar. When Sheila and I got married last year, we even decorated the tables with Corvette photos at the reception dinner. (that’s just one of the many reasons that she’s a keeper)
I know that we could sit and talk forever about Corvette Enthusiast because that’s just what we do. I’ll just close with this, “my” final take on the whole question. I’ve had a passion for the “Great American Sports Car” for most of my life. Sheila introduced me to a friend of hers one day and said, “Corvettes…he’s ate up with them” as she smacked the bill of my C5 cap! I guess that puts it best. I could use words like love and passion and they would certainly describe both my marriage and my affection for the Corvette. The best word I can come up with is the same that was shared with me by many fellow club members, “Corvette”…it’s an “Experience”.
I’ll ask the question one last time. By now you should know the answer. “Corvette Owner” or “Corvette Enthusiast”, which one are you?