May 26 • 11:36 PM

Spotlight on American icon

Thousands flock to Scholz Auto Fest to celebrate Chevy Corvette

The ‘Route 66’ license plate on Lohn and Lavonne Burgess’ 1957 Corvette says it all. The Attica couple drove the classic sports car across the route from end to end. The couple’s car was among hundreds of Corvettes featured in Sunday’s Scholz Auto Fest in Capac. photo by Catherine Minolli.

October 01, 2008
Though it cost more than the average yearly wage in the United States, $3,513 could get you a brand new Corvette.

The year was 1953—gasoline cost about 18 cents a gallon and the average price of a home was $8,450. And the median annual income was about $313 less than the price tag on the very first American made "sports car."

Still, some 183 car buffs got their hands on GM's new Corvette, a vehicle that was initially designed as a concept car for the Motorama exhibit at the 1953 New York Auto Show.

It drew so much interest from the public that GM decided to put the project into production that June—and the first models rolled off the assembly line in Flint on June 30, 1953.

About 300 were built that year, but sales were less than stellar for a couple of reasons. While the design and body—fiberglass—were considered radical and edgy, the rest of the car was put together from parts off the shelf, so to speak. According to historians, the first Corvettes were basically "a regular 1952 Chevrolet sedan" sheathed in a snazzy new skin.

And for true sports car fans, the Corvette didn't even remotely compete with the foreign models—Jags and MGs and Triumphs. It was clocked by Motor Trend as meandering from zero to 60 in 11.5 seconds. However, the writers touted the car's handling abilities, especially around tight turns at fairly high speeds. It's also been said the 1953 model was offered in "any color you wanted—as long as it was Polo White with a red interior."

Since then, however, the Corvette has come a long way in automotive history, taking a prominent place in the sports car market and world of collectors. From the highly popular Sting Ray (1963-1967) to the super speedy ZR-1 and Z06 models (1990-present), Corvettes catch the eye and capture the imagination of just about everyone on the road.

But that's almost as far as it can go for the average consumer these days. Today's Corvette Coupe starts at $47,895; the cheapest convertible can be had for $52,550. Anyone interested in a Z06 can pick one up for a mere $73,255, which is a relative steal compared to the ZR1 bare bones ticket price of $103,300.

Still, speed freaks would argue they're worth every penny. These days the Corvette leaps from zero to 60 in a mere 4.2 seconds—shot of adrenaline, no extra charge.

So imagine the astounding dollar value of the classic American machines that cruised through Capac on Sunday for Carl Scholz' annual Auto Fest. The celebrated Corvette was the featured vehicle of this year's show, and plenty were on hand for car enthusiasts to drool over..

Gleaming in the intermittent sunshine in a 'Corvette corral' near the baseball fields, row upon row of the classic American sports cars sat with hoods wide open.

Among those was the 1957 turquoise and white beauty owned by John and LaVonne Burgess of Attica.

They've had the collectible for the past ten years, but unlike others who hang onto prized classic vehicles, the Burgesses drive their Corvette.

"We've done the whole Route 66 thing from beginning to end," LaVonne says, pointing to a flag on the car's antenna that details the route.

"We had to take three maps with us because Route 66 isn't called 'Route 66' everywhere like it used to be."

Cruising down the road in the classic automobile—the first year the Corvette was offered with a fuel injection engine—is like a little celebration, the Burgesses say, no matter where you are.

"You feel like you're in a parade," LaVonne grins. "Everyone waves at you all the time."

For Lewiston, Michigan resident Barry Rabe, it's the doubletakes he gets that he enjoys every time he's behind the wheel of his modified 1991 gleaming red Corvette.

Purchased six years ago as a 50th birthday present to himself, the super-sharp sports car has 130,000 miles on it.

Special ground effects, wheels and tires and its rear wing earned it a first place trophy in the modified class at last month's show at the GM Tech Center.

"It's a blast to drive," Rabe says.

Fifty-year-old Ed Brennan of Sarnia also thinks its a blast to drive a Corvette.

The white 1966 model big block with air conditioning (rare for that year) is the 17th Corvette he's owned.

"It's like a bug," he says of his Corvette fever.

Rick and Sue Medellin of Lapeer caught the "bug" about 23 years ago when they purchased their 1965 big block Stingray.

"It sat in mothballs for about five years, but then my husband embarked on a 15 year restoration project," Sue says.

The rich color of their paintstakingly restored Stingray is another unique feature of the car.

"The color is called 'Milano maroon,' and it's unusual for that year. It's rare to see in the '67s, and extremely rare for '65," Rick explains.

The Medellins, who consider themselves car buffs, enjoy taking the car out for shows—except you'll rarely see Sue behind the wheel.

"It makes me too nervous...I'm not too good at stick shifts," she grins. "Besides, I have my own little baby—a Falcon convertible to play with."

Though the Corvette was the featured vehicle at this year's Scholz Auto Fest, some 1,500 unique and classic cars lined the grounds around Capac High School. As always, visitorrs meandered through the displays, remarking that Scholz' show is among the best that's offered.

"This is a great, super show," says Judy McDonald, who along with her husband Len visited from Oil Springs, Ontario. "It's one of the best, we wouldn't miss it. We look forward to it every year."

Scholz says he's pleased with the way the car show has progressed over the years.

"My goal was to make the show one of the bbiggest and best," he says of his 22 year endeavor.

Some 364 trophies valued at $9,300 were awarded, Scholz says, all donated by valued sponsors. Corvette owners took away clocks.

"I'm grateful for all the support," Scholz says.

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