By JEFF WOLFE
Some let life pass them by. Most try to navigate it the best way they know how. Others jump in and go for a ride.
A little more than 100 area residents have chosen to ride through life in a vehicle they say offers dependability, security and good memories.
They own Corvettes.
The County Corvette Association will share some of its cars and memories at the 23rd Annual Corvette Show from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. May 6 at Thomas Chevrolet, located on Baltimore Pike in Middletown, and admission is free.
“Every young fella’ that’s about to start driving, that’s their goal, to drive a Corvette,” said local Corvette collector and enthusiast Al Berman, of Concord Township. “It’s a good thing to strive for.”
The Chevrolet-manufactured cars also, in some ways, represent the America dream. It went from barely surviving in its early years, to becoming one of the, if not the, most identifiable vehicles on the road.
“It’s the original American sports car,” said Al Schwacke, a Glen Mills resident who owns six Corvettes. “A great deal of effort was put into the design and is one of the cars you would consider world class in terms of design. For the number of cars they have produced, they have put an abnormal effort into making these cars the very best.”
While even mild car enthusiasts enjoy looking at the Corvette, the owners say they are even more enjoyable when behind the wheel.
“They are great driving cars,” Schwacke said. “I can get 29 miles to the gallon on a trip. That’s close to a Kia. They are pretty amazing cars. They are No. 1 in terms of population enjoyment.”
The first 300 Corvettes were made in 1953 and the car went into general production in 1954 when 3,600 were made, but 1,000 of them were unsold.
The vehicle was far from a hit and General Motors considered stopping production of it. But noted sports car racer Zora Arkus-Duntov had been in on the project since the beginning and decided he would not let the Corvette die an easy death. He convinced General Motors to make changes to the car and to improve sales efforts surrounding the car.
“One of the very interesting things, is that if General Motors had not owned the Corvette, it would have ceased to exist,” Schwacke said. “When General Motors produced the car, it was outsold by the Thunderbird by 10 to 1. But because of Duntov, he immediately focused this car on being a winner in terms of racing and selling the concept of a fast sports car.”
Just how fast a Corvette can go depends on several factors. Schwacke competes in classic road races around the country with his 1955 Corvette.
“We race Watkins Glen, Road Atlanta, Sebring, Millville and other places,” Schwacke said. “We race against the Ferraris and Porsches and we do pretty well. I can max out at about 140 mph and that’s pretty fast. It’s a pretty old car to be able to go 140.”
Schwacke admits he keeps his 1955 Corvette in racing trim, so not all of the ’Vettes that age can go that fast. Though, when it comes to going fast, one of Corvette’s newest options in the ZR1. It costs more than $100,000 and can reach speeds of up to 205 mph with its 638 horsepower.
Part of the purchase price includes a two-day trip to a racetrack in either Las Vegas or Arizona to learn how to drive it. Berman is fortunate enough to have one of the ZR1s, but isn’t interested in testing the 205 mph capacity, even on the race track.
“I’ve gotten up to the 110 or 120 mph range,” Berman said. “Other people want to see what the cars can do. Some tracks will only let you go so far. But that’s truly where you want to be doing it.”
Schwacke, as one might guess with his racing background, likes to feel the horsepower.
“Millville (in South Jersey) has a member-guest day and you can pay $150 to run on that track all day,” Schwacke said. “Some of the guys will do that and some don’t want to abuse their cars. My opinion is they were made to abuse. Why else would they give you all of that horsepower?”
But Corvette is not simply about appearance and power. It’s also about memories, both of which Berman and Schwacke have.
“We still have our first Corvette that we bought in 1965,” Schwacke said. “It’s always been a family affair. Both kids were brought home from the hospital in it and before Ralph Nader got involved, we used to get two Scottie dogs, a baby and young child in that Corvette.”
However, even the most enthusiastic Corvette owners know it’s not made to be a family car with the modern versions able to hold just two passengers. So, Berman wasn’t able to keep the first one he bought in 1962.
“It was brand new,” Berman said. “Then as the years went by, when nobody was really collecting vehicles in those days on the scale they are today, and as happened with a lot of folks, I got married and a family came long.”
However, once Berman’s children were grown and gone, his passion for the Corvette remained.
“It was 1987 when I got fired up again,” Berman said. “My kids were in college and on their way. And as happens with a lot of folks, they can pick up where they left off.”
And Berman also found an identical match to his first Corvette.
“It became a nostalgia purchase for me,” he said. “After all the years, I found one exactly like what I had. The colors, the transmission and engine, the whole package.”
Corvette production, called the C series, is divided into specific years. The C-1 was from 1953-62; the C-2 from 1963-67; the C-3 from 1968-82; the C-4 from 1984-96; the C-5 from 1997-2004; and the C-6 from 2006 until 2013. There was no Corvette produced in 1983. However, the new C-7 series will coincide with the 60th anniversary in 2014.
And that’s important for those fortunate enough to collect.
“For many of those anniversaries, a special edition is produced to commemorate the anniversary,” Berman said.
Longtime collectors like Schwacke and Berman say the evolution of the car has been special, too.
“It has just been spectacular,” Schwacke said. “Even though they are not really very practical cars because you can only get two people in them and they have some very expensive maintenance items, I don’t know where you get a better car for the money. And they are just going to get better.”
Schwacke believes Corvette owners are some of the better drivers on the road. That’s at least partly because they don’t want their valuable automobiles involved in an accident.
“They really love their cars and really take care of them,” Schwacke said. “And they take care of them when they drive them. These people aren’t crazy on the roads and they are not taking chances and are not putting themselves in any type of trouble.”
Schwacke is one of the few members in the Corvette club who uses one of his as regular transportation.
“The majority of our members probably put less than 5,000 miles a year on their cars,” he said. “There are exceptions like me. I use my ’08 for daily transportation. I will take it to the train station and take it wherever I go … but mainly, these are special-event cars. People don’t even like to take them out to dinner because they don’t want to get a door ding.”
Berman has driven some of his Corvettes all over the country, but admits he doesn’t drive them cross-country. He puts the one he takes on a trailer.
“I’ve been on road tours and there is no better feeling then to be in your car, knowing you can do the curvy roads and knowing you will be safe,” he said.
For Berman, stopping at the plant where the Corvette is made in Bowling Green, Ky., is also a good feeling.
“That’s something that anybody can go see,” he said. “But for a Corvette owner, it’s kind of like going back home when you see the car being made.”
And, he said, it’s impossible to find a better sports car than the ZR1.
“It’s now a world-class car,” he said. “It took them all these years to get there. The ZR1 is right in the ranks with the Ferraris and Porches. It’s a real feat.”
What: County Corvette Association 23rd Annual Corvette Show.
Where: Thomas Chevrolet,
Baltimore Pike, Middletown.
When: 10 a.m.-3 p.m., May 6