I’ve known about the famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask!) ‘Gatherings’ for several years, even before I bought my ZR-1 and it has always been my intention to make the trip at one point or another. 2009 was a possibility but I wasn’t sure I’d want to go two years in a row and so we postponed until this year. This also coincided with the twentieth anniversary of the ZR-1’s ‘birth’ which made it even more special.
The drive down was through some terrible weather, rainstorms beat around our ears all the way and the Dragon looked almost as bad as when he’d been delivered to us in the middle of winter – despite having done an extremely thorough detailing job over the weeks before setting out.
The Gathering always has lots going on and the anniversary version no less so. There were presentations, Q & A sessions and the opportunity to meet some of the most famous people in the history of the Corvette and in-particular the ZR-1. It made choosing what to sign up for very hard – simply not enough hours in the day.
Our first event was a guided trip through the Kentucky back-roads by no other than Jim ‘Jingles’ Ingle himself. Jim was one of the original drivers at the ZR-1 press launches and entertained the crowd with his tire shredding ‘grenade’ exercises. Not only that, but Jim was in charge of the test drive and quality check program that GM put the ZR-1s through.
Jim’s quiet exterior is at complete odds with what he can do behind the wheel. On the first leg of the journey there were a few grumbles about ‘not going fast enough’ – but with a dozen or so ZR-1s travelling in convoy we were a rather conspicuous group! On the second leg, Jim turned his 2010 ZR1 up a notch to power through the gorgeous and challenging Kentucky roads, which quickly silenced everyone. Certainly no-one was complaining at the speed at our second stop!
The trip itself was a delightful romp through the countryside to the Z06/ZR1 chassis assembly plant where we were treated to a guided tour of the amazing Dana plant. The painstaking attention to detail and the technology that goes into putting together the aluminium chassis is remarkable. I tried to persuade the Plant Manager that they out to put together an aluminium chassis for the C4 ZR-1, but unfortunately he seemed to think I was joking!
The next highlight of our trip was the special barbecue hosted by Jim Van Dorn at his Automasters shop just across from the museum. JVD is the man who put together the Corvette Pirate Racing team in the 90s and effectively served as the test-bed for what became the official Corvette racing team. Not only that but JVD’s outfit was one of only three teams to officially race the ZR-1.
Due to the late return of the Jingles Tour, we ended up getting to the barbecue late as well. This didn’t seem too significant until we queried the whereabouts of our specially ordered veggie-burgers. JVD takes regular burgers and cuts them into Chevy bowtie shape before barbecuing them to perfection. We’d requested veggie-burgers and arranged with Jim to have them there.
After a detailed investigation by the FBI, Secret Service and Sherlock Holmes it became clear that the burgers had been eaten by those nasty meat-eater types. Jim was appalled at this and more annoyed than we were!
At the barbecue Jim showed a video detailing the ZR-1 anniversary run, an amazing feat that still is unrivaled by any production car, what made it an even more incredible event was that in the audience were Dave McLellan, Tommy Morrison, John Heinricy, Stu Hayner, Jim Minneker and Hib Halverson the key men who were involved in the development of the ZR-1 and the record attempt.
After the video finished, all the people involved took part in an ‘after-hours’ discussion on the attempt and the car, led by Dave McLellan. In that they revealed a lot of fascinating new details about the car’s unique development, the battles with GM corporate to get the car out and insights into what had been planned for future development.
When the discussion stopped Jim held an auction in aid of soldiers on duty in Iraq and again the ‘celebs’ led the way, showing entertaining skills (Jim Minneker and Tommy Morrison could probably do a stand-up routine if they ever wanted to!) as auctioneers. I managed to snag an LT5 cam-cover and took it around to all the guests for their autographs – a ‘trophy’ that is now the pride of my ZR-1 memorabilia collection.
With more discussions and talks and side events than you could imagine it was impossible to see everything. I focused on the technical presentations and the talks with the former GM people gaining a huge amount of information and insight into the car’s development. Sadly that meant I missed seeing John Heinricy resoundingly taking first in the autocross event, but with so much going on how do you choose?
One of the best moments was taking around my copy of ‘Heart of the beast’ and getting each of the celebrities to sign their part of the book. It’s hard to believe that these people would spare so much of their own time to talk to an enthusiast like myself and yet they made me (and everyone) feel like old friends. At the Gathering dinner Dave McLellan actually asked everyone there to sign a commemorative poster for him as a memento! It truly brought home the community feeling associated with the Corvette and the ZR-1 specifically.
The museum itself is amazing. The number and rarity of the cars on display is incredible. From details of the early designs and designers all the way up to the latest and greatest, the presentation is world-class. Cars that belonged to Harley Earl, Zora Duntov and Ed Cole nestle in-between displays of modern C6Rs and concept cars. In reality you probably have to go around a few times for everything to sink in properly.
For the Gathering a number of cars had been brought in specially to form a display in the Main Hall, this included Tommy Morrison’s race Corvettes, “Queenie” a prototype ZR-1 from 1988 that was crushed only to later rise from the grave, not to mention the world record running ZR-1s.
As we were reluctantly loading the car to return home we spotted a gold coloured ZR-1 sliding up beside us. To our amazement it turned out to be Tommy Morrison himself who had been staying at the same hotel, unknown to us. I paid complement to Tommy’s one-of-a-kind custom ZR-1 which has some incredible unique details and he returned the same about our car. The thing was you could genuinely feel that he meant it.
Going down I wasn’t sure if I would want to go twice in a row. Coming back I was sure I would!