Seeing a bunch of Corvettes in a hole sucks. It got me thinking though, about how falling into a Kentucky sinkhole last week was probably the most exciting thing to happen to the cars on display at the National Corvette Museum in quite a while. That’s a damn shame.
Car museums, while often interesting, generally leave me cold. They can be great if you’re at an event with a presenter who really knows the cars and can bring the subject alive. But just strolling through, gaping at one static display after another is like going to the zoo to see the killer beasts of the jungle.
It’s such a superficial experience, just looking at this stuff, and even then, you’re not allowed to really go poking around. The velvet rope or plexiglas barrier keep you from getting too close. You usually can’t lean over, under or into the cars, let alone touch anything, and that’s where the real interesting stuff is. Oh, you might catch a glimpse of some safety wire here and a trick carburetor linkage there, but hearing and seeing this stuff in action is very, very rare.
Hearing the skull-crushing open exhaust of a full-on racing V8, and even better yet, getting to ride in one of these machines that have been ascribed such significance, is how new fans are made. You say kids these days don’t care about cars? Plop 11-year old junior in the passenger seat of something that sounds like an Essex-class flight deck during the battle of Tarawa and I guarantee you he’ll see God.
I’m not totally against museums, and I’m certainly a proponent of keeping history on a roll. Is it necessary, though, to hang on to the 1 millionth Corvette produced, just because they managed to make 1 million of them? It’s not an engineering prototype, it didn’t win any famous races, it was built and then put into storage. What an ignominious end for a sports car named after one of the speediest types of sailing ships – two things that are all about action. I have the same question about the 40th Anniversary Corvette that wound up in the pit, and the Pace Car, too. These cars seem only pseud0-significant. In fact, when you think about it, they seem like cynical attempts to create falsely-important special models by decree.
Now, actual race cars, engineering mules, vehicles where we can clearly see the head-scratching process laid bare and get an appreciation for how success and greatness were eventually achieved, those are cars we can learn a lot from. Having these cars around is a living testament to the clever work undertaken by talented engineers and designers. But how can you really get an appreciation for this stuff when it’s merely a caged animal? And who determines which cars are “significant” and which are not? Some of the most clever ideas can be found on some of the lowliest cars, stuff that wasn’t “worth” anything more than its scrap value.
This isn’t a knock on the Corvette Museum or any other car museum, it’s merely an unresolved internal monologue that probably bears some discussion as we continue to lose touch with the most visceral part of our automotive past. Should you care about museums dedicated to cars? Is it a tragedy? Would it be a better or worse end for one of these things to have its brains dashed out during a vintage racing event, instead?