The 'Vette Set: 60 Years of the Corvette

The Chevrolet Corvette turns 60 this year, but it’s never veered into a mid-life crisis. We explore its history, and take a few off-ramps to meet everyone from Corvette connoisseurs to race-car drivers.


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1953 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible

 

THEN AND NOW

When we think of six decades of living, we might conjure up images of a few wrinkles and a slower step. Not so with the zippy ’Vette, which turns 60 this year. It’s still sleek and smooth and has never once become “slower” during its aging. If anything, the Corvette has undergone continual renewal.

The ’Vette came into the world in 1953 as a convertible and was displayed as a Dream Car at GM’s Motorama in New York. Only 300 were built during its inaugural year — all of them awash in the fresh “Polo White” hue, with a luxe red interior. Exclusively offered as a convertible for its first 10 years, the Corvette’s sporty, wind-in-your-hair, top-down aura evoked America’s free-spiritedness.

Since its birth, the Corvette, like America, has grown — and not by baby steps. Those familiar with its evolution often speak of the days of exposed headlamps. Then there was the 1960 Sting Ray package, the cross-flagged emblem, the addition of a supercharged V-8, hood vents and the removal thereof, the industry-first T-Top (removable roof panels), pop-up headlamps, the blue-metallic paint of the initial Grand Sport, the gold 1969 convertible … the list goes on.

1957 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible Coupe (left), 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray (right).

 

“And there are all kinds of Corvette lovers, from the performance-minded owners to the non-performance people who simply like to tour in them,” says retired GM engineer and Corvette race-car driver Danny Kellermeyer of Ortonville-based D.J. Race Enterprise. “And there are the guys who want to take the exhaust off and put an aftermarket exhaust system in. Another guy just wants to put the hood down, listen to his radio, enjoy the ease of an automatic transmission, sit back, and cruise.”

Clearly, Vette fanatics can’t be pigeonholed into any one type of driver.

One of those fans is Bob Skelton, who celebrated his 60th birthday to coincide with the Corvette’s. “I knew the Corvette was turning 60, and so was I,” says Skelton of Oakland Township. “To celebrate, I bought my first ’Vette — a 2013 Crystal Red C6. When I saw the special 60th hood ornament, I said, ‘This is kismet; it’s the right time to buy.’ ”

Race fans, too, like to watch the sleek vehicle hit the pavement. At this past summer’s resurrected Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, Michigan’s only driver, Jeff Nowicki of Birmingham, raced a ’Vette in the Chevrolet GRAND AM Rolex Series’ 200 as part of the Michael Baughman Racing Team (Team MBR).  

Sponsored by George Matick Chevrolet, a Redford Township-based dealership with 20 or more Corvettes on display indoors at any given time, Team MBR garnered lots of attention during pre-race paddock visits.

1968 Chevrolet Corvette Coupe

 

“People were excited that we were a local sponsor, sponsoring a local driver who’s driving an American legend,” recalls Matick dealership owner Karl Zimmermann of Bloomfield Township. “Since then, we’ve partnered with Danny Kellermeyer and his Corvette racing opportunities,” Zimmermann adds. “As we’re celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Corvette, this is a most exciting time for the brand and for racing. The Corvette is an absolute iconic sports car.”  

Each of the Corvette’s six generations over six decades (C1-C6) has been met with a trunkful of enthusiasm among aficionados. However, the upcoming C-7 generation may be the most talked-about platform yet.

“I’ve been following the C-7 as much as one can,” says Corvette owner Allen Brown of Clinton Township, a few weeks before this month’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit. “We’ve seen spy photos, pictures of the car covered up. You can’t tell what it looks like, but there are renderings out there and C-7 engine specs,” Brown adds. “So far, that’s about all they’ve leaked. [You can see a bit more at chevrolet.com/one13thirteen.html.] If you’re a Corvette enthusiast, you’ll want to see what this Corvette looks like up close. You’ll get that chance at the Auto Show — that’s what I plan to do.”

 

IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT

Corvette Connoisseur: Allen Brown of Clinton Township

Craving Corvettes: “Corvettes have always been in the back of my mind,” says Brown, a 60-something retired audiology and optical specialist.  “But when I was young, I didn’t have the money to buy one. As I got older, I started looking in the direction of a nice American sports car, as I’ve never owned a foreign car in my life.”

First Corvette: A 1992 turquoise number that Brown bought in 1998 after a friend suggested he check one out that was for sale in a bank parking lot on Garfield and 16 Mile roads. “I got ribbed a bit,” Brown says. “People made fun of it, thought it was a color for girls. But I loved that turquoise, which went well with the white leather interior and black dash. I don’t like black cars. I want something that stands out.”   

Next Purchase: A 1999 convertible in a metallic pewter color with 12,000 miles on it, purchased at Buff Whelan Chevrolet in Sterling Heights in 2004. “I always look for low miles,” says Brown, who kept it about three years.  

First New-Car Purchase:  In 2008, he bought a new C-6 in Victory Red from a dealer no longer in business.

Corvette Clubbing: Brown belongs to G.M.C. Corvette Set, a 100-plus member Corvette club that meets monthly throughout the year at Leader Dogs for the Blind (their charity of choice) in Rochester Hills. The members hold a fundraiser for the Leader Dogs every June at Canterbury Village in Lake Orion, displaying their cars, running a silent auction, and more.  The club, which shares information on restoring, showing, and promoting ’Vettes, also holds its annual Christmas dinner at Canterbury Village.

The Sensation: “When driving, I feel like I own the road. I don’t speed. I relax and am comfortable. With the top down, it’s just me and the car, which feels great,” Brown says.

 

1976 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Coupe

 

Corvette Connoisseur: Jim Kimble of Livonia

Inspiration: “I’ve always been a sports-car junkie,” says Kimble, a sales specialist for Wolverine Packing Co. in the Eastern Market. “I bought Camaros back in the day, but then had kids, so had to get rid of them to be more sensible.”

First Corvette: In 2006, Kimble bought a C6 coupe in “Daytona Orange” from George Matick Chevrolet. “I’d been going to Matick for 15 years or so and always had my eye on the ’Vettes,” Kimble says. He kept it for three years and then traded it in for a 2009 Z06 black-on-black beauty.

On Value: “Dollar for dollar, you get the most sports car for what you pay for when you get a Corvette. And I’m a big American-made car guy.”

What Revs His Engine: “The Corvette has power, speed, classy lines, and looks.”

All in the Family: Kimble takes his 10-year-old son out on weekends to play golf. “We throw the clubs in the back and have a really nice time … of course, he loves the car.” Two older daughters and his wife also enjoy outings in Dad’s ride.    

1984 Chevrolet Corvette Coupe

 

Corvette Connoisseur: Bob Skelton of Oakland Township

Inspiration: Turning 60. “I loved everything about [TV show] Route 66 when I was a kid. When I turned 60, it pushed me over the line to buy, especially as the Corvette’s turning 60, too,” Skelton says. Skelton, who retired two years ago from Ernst & Young as a business development executive, and his wife, Amy, keep the ’Vette at a vacation home out West.

First Corvette: Purchased last August at Bill Fox Chevrolet in Rochester Hills. It’s a Crystal Red 2013 convertible with a beige ragtop and beige interior.

Man of Tradition: “Red is traditional. The color reflects the old Candy Apple Red color Corvette had at one time. Everyone asks me if it’s Candy Apple Red” Skelton says.

Soul Satisfying: “What draws me to the ’Vette is that it’s an American icon, designed and built in this country,” Skelton says. “It displays everything that’s good about America. As well, it’s a highly regarded sports car with respect to design and performance among enthusiasts globally. It has respect; everybody loves a ’Vette.”

Favorite Top-down Trip: California’s wine country.

1996 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible Coupe

 

Corvette Connoisseur: Claudia Turnquist of Commerce Township

Corvette History: Turnquist’s current ride is a 2013 Crystal Red 427. “We started with a 1989 C4 and found it to be uncomfortable when getting in and out of it,” recalls Turnquist, a guidance counselor at Stevenson Middle School in the Wayne/Westland Community School District. “We then purchased an early black C5 2000, which we loved very much.” She bought a 2005 Crystal Red C6 and then traded up to a Velocity Yellow C6 in 2008. In 2010, GM announced the Grand Sport Corvette and they again upgraded to a Velocity Yellow 2010 C6. “Then the Grand Sport became very popular, and we decided to upgrade to the final year of the C6” Turnquist says. Over the years, she has bought cars from George Matick Chevrolet in Redford Township (where she stores her current one during inclement-weather months) and Cauley Performance Automotive in West Bloomfield Township.

Red Rover: “I love our current Crystal Red color — red is my No. 1 pick for Corvettes and the only reason why I did drive a yellow one was because the red that year wasn’t in a shade that appealed to me,” Turnquist says.

A Favorite Drive: “We’ve enjoyed our 20-plus years riding in our Corvettes all over Michigan, including the GM Power Tour 2010-12,” says Turnquist, 62. “What other type of high horse-powered True American Sports Cars can you drive from Detroit to Frankenmuth getting between 24 and 28 miles per gallon?”

Ride and Glide: “My 2013 drives wonderfully. I don’t feel any bumps. It’s been redesigned over the years, so it’s really smooth now, compared to, say, the designs of the 1980s.”  

Getting Older and Better: “My husband, Edgell, owned his first Corvette, a 1962 model, prior to deploying to Vietnam in 1967,” Turnquist says. “Although it was the best car he ever owned, boy, when the C6 came out and we picked up our 2013 427, he changed his mind and said, ‘I’m glad I was able to experience this Corvette sports car — hats off to General Motors and Chevy.’”  

 

1997 Chevrolet Corvette Coupe

 

ON THE RACE TRACK: FROM GO-KARTS TO CORVETTES

Anyone who’s ever driven a go-kart is more than familiar with that thrill you feel zooming around a track. That rickety steering, the wind in your hair, the speed you control, and other drivers zipping close and nudging your tires, giving you an exhilarating scare or two.  

Danny Kellermeyer knows the go-kart thrill well. As a young boy growing up outside of Jackson, Kellermeyer begged his family to allow him to buy a go-kart. At 10, he was “finally allowed” to get one, as long as he didn’t race it. “My father would say, you can go to the races, but don’t race,” recalls Kellermeyer. The young boy, who didn’t exactly listen to Dad, eventually would come home with racing trophies that he had to hide in their hay barn.

Over time, the racing enthusiast won his father over, and the two and various friends would build go-kart tracks near their farm, race, and enjoy the excitement of the sport.

“When Dad got to watch me race, he started to think it was pretty cool,” he remembers. Kellermeyer also would watch the nearby stock-car races.

Today, Kellermeyer, a retired GM engineer, runs D.J. Race Enterprise out of Ortonville, building Corvettes and racing them at various events.

In Corvette’s 60th year, Kellermeyer reflects on how the stealthy vehicle has remained successful for six decades.

2005 Chevrolet Corvette Coupe

 

“It is the American sports car. It was a good thought and concept to begin with,” he notes, adding that Zora Arkus-Duntov was paramount in bringing the Corvette to its true potential. Arkus-Duntov joined General Motors in 1953 after seeing the Motorama Corvette on display in New York. He found the car to be visually stunning, but was disenchanted with what was beneath the hood. In 1953, Arkus-Duntov started at Chevrolet as an assistant staff engineer. “He wanted performance. With the current four-cylinder bug-eye sports cars out there at the time, you didn’t get ride quality or performance. So he made it wider and improved it, used a six-cylinder engine with three carbs.”     

Kellermeyer is as fervent about driving Corvettes as he is building them. “I could never race anything I didn’t build. I like the engineering process. I took tons of stuff apart as a kid.” As his father was a farmer, Kellermeyer often worked on a tractor (when not playing with his Gilbert Erector Set).

“When it came time to knock pistons out, we did it, whether we knew what we were doing or not.”

Kellermeyer attended GMI  (now called Kettering) in Flint and received a mechanical engineering degree (he drag-raced during his college days, too). His career at GM involved everything from working at Chevrolet’s central office in Detroit to training at Saginaw Transmission and A.C. Spark Plug in Flint. “As a field engineer, I learned how things were made and assembled and all about engineering changes, new products, new ways of doing things.”

Today, he lives in Ortonville in a charming 1838 farmhouse amid old classic barns, several acres, a stable of racing cars, tools galore, car haulers, and more. His wife, Michaelle, likes horsepower, too, including that of the horses she keeps on their property. She works with Kellermeyer in the racing arena, whether preparing cars for travel, assisting with promotions, or setting up speaking engagements.

2012 Corvette Coupe

 

When he got into road racing, Kellermeyer built his cars from a kit. Today he races two built from a kit. “GM sold us the frame. And I’d go from there. That made sense to me. If you were to take a factory car and strip it down, you’d find 30 pounds of sealer in it (which prevents water damage). We would have had to spend days peeling out the seam sealer, which also makes a car heavier.” Kellermeyer explains that there are many heavy bolts in a car and a factory might use the same type of bolt in, for instance, four spots.   

“But I’d make one shorter, for, say, a valve cover. I ask myself, can I make it more serviceable, the holes lighter? Without, of course, making it wreck.”  

Kellermeyer has enjoyed a nice past few years on the road-racing circuit — all in his Corvettes. He captured the 2010 and 2011 Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) Great Lakes STO National Championship as well as the Waterford Hills Road Racing (WHRRI) 2010, 2011 and 2012 STO championships. He has about 16 sponsors, including several Corvette-related ones (George Matick Chevrolet in Redford Township; Sawyer, Mich.-based Corvette Central; Ohio-based ACI — American Custom Industries, to name a few).

“His energy for the sport of racing and for Corvettes is contagious,” notes Molly Williams, general manager at Matick Chevy. Colleague John Peters concurs. “Danny breeds enthusiasm and passion.” Kellermeyer’s 2012 season of 22 races, resulted in 91-percent podium finishes. The podiums totaled 17 first-place victories and three second-place finishes.

Kellermeyer always invites show-goers to stop by his paddock and say hello. You can catch him locally this summer at Waterford Hills Road Racing Inc. (WHRRI) in Clarkston, where he races regularly. Just look for the man in the sunshine-yellow Corvette shirt who also races a bright-yellow ’Vette. “I fit right into the optimistic program,” he says with a laugh. “I guess that’s why yellow is my favorite color.”

Kellermeyer also runs classes at D.J. Race Enterprise. “I do one on alignment where I use a full vehicle frame with wheels on it, and you can watch the tires turn. He also participates in driver-awareness schools at WHRRI. “We go through track movements, etc.,” he says

But on race day, it’s all Kellermeyer. “Racing is one of the few sports you do yourself. When you get in the car, it’s all you. And you always want to knock that top guy off,” he says. “But he’s not your competitor, you are. And you have to give it 100 percent, not 99.9 percent.”

As for motivation, “It’s the pure excitement of building and racing Corvettes,” Kellermeyer says. “It’s the same feeling I got as a kid, whether with a cool bicycle I spotted in the hardware store or my first go-kart.”

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