CM's production editor David Taylor sees America's sports supercar being built
If you are paying a visit to the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky in the US, then it makes sense to combine your visit with a tour of the Chevrolet Corvette assembly plant, owned by General Motors, situated right next door to the museum.
The Corvette has been built in Bowling Green since 1981, when production moved from St Louis in Missouri, where it had been based since 1954; the initial 1953 run of Corvettes were assembled in Flint, Michigan. Kentucky is now the only place in the world Corvettes are made, currently in their seventh generation and once again badged as Stingrays.
In one of those endlessly confusing historical name-changes, the second-generation Corvettes were badged as ‘Sting Ray’ from 1963; this was amended to ‘Stingray’ for the third-generation cars from 1969-1976, before being officially dropped until 2015, although aficionados still continued to refer to any Corvette as a Stingray in the interim. Current cars also feature a small moulded stingray ornament.
Escorted tours of the assembly plant take place throughout the working day, under very strict conditions to ensure safety at all times, including not taking any photographs within the plant. You must stick to the clearly signposted tour path and be wary of engineers transporting machinery and equipment through the plant. You are also forbidden to touch any of the partly-built cars on the assembly line – the only people allowed to handle any of the parts or bodyshells prior to delivery to the new owner are official GM staff members. As each car rolls off the production line it is fired up by an engineer, who then drives it out of the factory at speed for further testing
As with most high-end sports cars, Corvettes are only built to order these days – just 34,240 were produced throughout the whole of 2015 – so each car that rolls off the production line features paintwork and spec unique to its future owner. However, since March 2015, GM has been offering buyers the chance to really stamp their own mark on their Stingray. For a $5000 (£3300) premium on top of the car purchase price, you can opt to build the V8 engine for your car yourself. For this, you are invited into the assembly plant, where there is a special laboratory on the side of the production line. This is where the engines are built and you become part of the team putting together one of the LT1 6.2-litre V8s (or an LT4 aluminium unit if you’re buying a Corvette Z06). Once completed, your own personal engine will be dropped into your car and then tested for delivery. You even get your own ‘signature’ plaque on the engine, showing that you built it yourself.
Even if you can’t afford the $55,000 (£36,800) for a base spec Stingray, you can arrange tours of the assembly plant through the National Corvette Museum, which is located right next door to the factory. The museum includes displays of priceless Corvettes from the very first production car in 1953, including the only surviving example of the 1983 model year and other rarities such as Roy Orbison’s personal Corvette.
Corvette Assembly Plant, 600 Corvette Drive, Bowling Green, Kentucky, 42101, USA
PHOTO GALLERY (CLICK TO VIEW)
All photos courtesy of General Motors