By on February 21, 2014

corvettemuseum1

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?

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58 Comments on “Editorial: Cars In A Hole...”


  • avatar

    If you build it, they will come.

    There’s plenty of museums where collectors donate vehicles of all significance or non-significance, usually because the donations are in amazing condition.

    I, for one, will flock to such museums to oggle at whatever they deem as display worthy. Because I enjoy it, damnit.

  • avatar
    mkirk

    I was once told that owning an old Vette was like tossing money into a sinkhole in the driveway, but this is ridiculous.

    • 0 avatar
      PeterMerlin

      You’re right: My Mother purchased a brand-new black dual-4-barrel-carburetor-automatic transmission 1956 Corvette at the very end of the model year at a very low price because no one else wanted the AT. It was in fact trouble and expense from the beginning: The roof leaked, water came in from the front wheels and the engine needed frequent attention. Some time in the early sixties a fuel line broke and the engine caught fire! Repairs were made at no cost to her. Through all of this the Chevrolet people were very concerned to find out and fix what was wrong with their new sports car, even sending a factory representative from Detroit to give help. But it was one-thing-after-another-going-wrong for many years. Driving in rain was dangerous and in the North New Jersey winter snow all but impossible. Truly a beautiful automobile but….

  • avatar

    And that’s what makes your local Cars N Coffee are so great – inspect, compare, listen. Museums are okay, but seeing them out in the wild is way better.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    The same could be said of a lot of historical sites and museums. Too many are “artifacts” only in the sense that “history happened to this place/thing.” We learn absolutely nothing from visiting so-and-so’s birthplace, or looking at such-and-such document or doo-dad sitting in a display case.

    Things like the millionth Corvette make sense in a GM office lobby, not a museum. I wholeheartedly agree that it makes no sense to take up valuable display space, when that space could be better spent explaining what makes the Corvette, as a vehicle, special.

    It all comes down to having a skilled curator and exhibit designer. Static recitations of minutiae on a sign are no substitute for a detailed explanation of what makes a particular exhibit an experience instead of just a static chunk of stuff. Forward-looking museums are doing a great job with touchscreen displays, smartphone apps, etc. While no substitute for a well-trained docent, they can do a lot to bridge the gap.

    What makes it hard to do this is because oftentimes curators KNOW the objects they are curating so well that THEY spot the “specialness” or a particular item without being told (okay, nothing can make an otherwise utterly-standard 1M Corvette interesting, unless it also happens to be the only one on display exhibiting some particular functional or stylistic trait), and it takes real skill to both notice this tendency and to convey the uniqueness to the uninitiated without boring them to tears.

    • 0 avatar
      fredtal

      I agree, museums no matter the subject are for learning. A bunch of Corvettes isn’t all that interesting to me, but then I’m not a big fan of Corevettes.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      This. A good explanation! Well done.

    • 0 avatar
      teasers

      I’m surprised GM didn’t make the 1M or the 1.5M corvette something special. Maybe even some kind of paint job and special emblems as a throw back to the original. If nothing else it’s great publicity that would be a story for a while.

      I just can’t do car museums. So often, they pander to car people. They have a 1969 Z28 car people salivate over seeing, but fail to explain any significance of the car to someone who isn’t in love with that car, but leave out cars with any actual interesting historical/teaching value.

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      It is not just car museums; railroad museums and flight museums struggle with this as well.

      There is a two-fold problem with operating priceless artifacts:

      1. While being operated, the artifact is also being consumed. Parts are being worn out, and will eventually need replacing. If taken to the extreme (like the heavy overhauls required of steam locomotives and aircraft), one might question how much the artifact coming out of the overall is the original artifact; and how much is replica or replacement.

      2. It puts the artifact at risk. The Age of Flight Museum in Galveston operates it’s collection of rare World War II planes, and recently lost it’s F4U Corsair during one of the paid rides they give; killing both the pilot and guests as well as destroying the aircraft. This also points out the added liability in operating artifacts.

      One compromise has been to save the truely historically significant examples, while operating others with a less historical pedigree. It could be argued that all of the cars in the Corvette Museum ARE historically significant; they would need a seperate, less historically significant collection to give visitors rides in.

      Some railroad and I think flight museums go halfway by offering simulations; either you sit in the original artifact and video screens, audio, and maybe some means of moving and shaking the device to simulate motion. Or, they may have an actual simulator you sit in, which simulates the experience. I think in the case of cars that may not be too bad a compromise; most folks visiting museums can drive, you do not put the actual artifact at risk, and depending on how well the simulation is done; it can give you 9/10s of the experience of driving the real thing.

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        I wish the USS Midway would give “rides” on A-6 Intruders off the steam catapult and back around for a tailhook landing. They do have a cool simulator where you can ride along on the first night of the Persian Gulf War.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          Awesome idea, if only…

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            As I was in the Army, I never got to fly in anything super cool. C-130s, Chinooks, and Blackhawks are all cool, but Navy planes are pretty much all super cool, because landing on giant ship.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            My father served as a Chinook gunner in Vietnam. Evidently they had a more colorful name for it.

            Every time I fly I picture our plane landing an aircraft carrier. Awesome yet difficult from what I have read.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            Chinook gunner in ‘Nam doesn’t sound like a picnic. I’ve heard $hithook among other things.

          • 0 avatar
            Felis Concolor

            Group trips to a carrier via C-130 would be a real hoot for the passengers, and after they are given a tour of the ship, the thrill of the STOL could be augmented with a thoroughly unnecessary JATO pack boost.

            “Look ma, no hook!”

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            Sign me up!

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            @bball

            You’ve nailed it.

            @Felis

            I like it!

        • 0 avatar
          el scotto

          bball40dtw and Felis,
          you can Youtube some vids of a C-130 landing on a carrier. The regular hauling mail, spares, and Joes plane is the C-2. I’ve had a couple of full-deck take offs in C-2′s. It is interesting.

      • 0 avatar
        Firestorm 500

        That was actually the Lone Star Flight Museum in Galveston. The aircraft was a TF_51, a two-seat version of the P-51 Mustang.

        It crashed with a veteran pilot and an English paying passenger.

      • 0 avatar
        67dodgeman

        I took my family to Moody Gardens (sits right beside the Lone Star Flight Museum) last year. As we parked the car, they had a B17 sitting just 200 yards away on the other side of a chain link fence, all four engines running. They were revving the engines one by one and then all four, I guess doing a tune-up or something. The ten minutes I stood there listening to those engines was better than the entire day at the aquarium. Later we saw several antique war birds flying around. Best part of the day. I’d actually prefer a museum where you could wander around in the rebuild shop behind the tourist attraction, watching them restore the flying models.

      • 0 avatar
        Grundle

        A few things.

        That sinkhole actually ate the 200,000 dollar corvette simulator.

        Also, corvettes are within the price range and operational capacity of most people who would really want one. So they are not quite in the same world as antique airplanes and trains.

  • avatar
    racer-esq.

    I predict that this viral hole will only cause Corvette fever to spread.

  • avatar
    Morea

    The Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum in Philadelphia has monthly Driving Demonstration Days. Well worth the visit. Schedule for 2014 here:

    http://simeonemuseum.org/events/driving-demonstaion-and-racing-legends-days

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      I second this one – nice collection, and they drive the cars!

      Jay Leno is a big hero of mine for the fact that he drives all his cars. So many collectors just tuck them away from the light of day.

  • avatar

    Every museum needs its own racetrack or closed course, so the cars can get out once in a while. This is what makes the Goodwood Festival so cool–it’s no museum, but you’ll see all kinds of historical automotive history out and running.

    You can look at cars like a ’29 Blower Bentley, ’32 Ford Coupe with a flathead V8, Jaguars with the inline 6, small block Chevys, etc. But you can’t appreciate them unless you see them in action.

    I have an unnatural fixation on the Jaguar XJS, which is largely due to seeing Tom Walkinshaw throw one around Bathurst on TV. And I like the Mustang GT 390 because I saw Bullitt at an impressionable age. Neither car would be half as cool to me if I didn’t hear it.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Much more enjoyable read, Winston. Good job! :)

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    There’s an auto detailer near my home, and during the warmer months I have to stop about once every third time I pass on my way to run errands. They handle lots of interesting cars, old and new, and they cleverly park them in front of the shop when done. The ability to stroll around 360° , get close, even stick your head in an open window makes all the difference. It helps, as well, to know that these cars get driven around at least a little.

  • avatar
    PonchoIndian

    National Automobile Museum in Reno NV.

    Best museum I’ve ever been to, and take advantage of their free guided tour. Many significant vehicles there and the guides are volunteer “car guys” who have great stories about each an every car. The only surviving paper mache bodied car was pretty cool to hear about.

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    We have a fairly big car show every year around here (fairly big in the sense that it takes up a decent sized chunk of the town…though it’s a small town) and I find that I like it more than I would any museum because the majority of cars are driven to the show, and some of them are even daily drivers (there’s a Model A with a 270 Red Ram Hemi that some local crazy guy drives year round, for example).

    Museums, in my opinion, should stick to the rare and unique. I’d love to go to a car museum that had, I dunno, a DeLorean, an AMC Gremlin, and a VW Squareback.

  • avatar
    Flybrian

    In the same vein as automobiles, take a look at Kermit Weeks’ Fantasy of Flight for a ‘museum’ done RIGHT.

    You can translate alot of their activities to the world of Corvettes without much additional cost.

  • avatar
    cargogh

    It gets my vote over the Creation Museum.

  • avatar
    chuckrs

    Shame about the cars. Fortunate that nobody was wandering around when the floor collapsed.
    Happened near Tampa last year and the body of man inside a house that fell in a sinkhole was never found.

  • avatar
    bball40dtw

    I always liked going the The Henry Ford Museum as a kid. It has so much more than just cars though. Giant locomotives, airplanes, and Sikorsky’s prototype helicopter among other attractions make for a even more well rounded museum. Many of the cars in the museum have great historical value as well (JFKs Continental limo). It may be one of the best museums in the country.

    I also think that aviation museums are better than car museums. The Air Force Museum in Dayton, the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson, and the USS Midway Museum in San Diego are all awesome. My wife even liked the tour of the Midway.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      I grew up near the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. Spent a lot of time at both places. The museum had the Sports Cars in Review show during the winter with all kinds of exotics. Greenfield Village had Model T and locomotive rides.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I went to the Corvette Museum in July but I’m such an enthusiast for all things motorized that I acted as my wife’s tour guide and filled in much of the historical details that these kinds of museums want to gloss over because the “true believers” don’t want to hear about the warts and blemishes.

    We were lucky because on the day we were there they were adding a pair of C7 Calloway Corvettes to the display (in that very dome that the sinkhole appeared in) and we got to hear and feel the rumble and roar. I think my wife had a vehicular orgasm.

  • avatar
    redmondjp

    A bit OT, but if you’re going to build a commercial building (or heck, a new driveway at your own home), have an inspector there to make darn sure that they use some rebar in the slab!!! That alone would have most likely prevented any cars from actually dropping into the hole.

    I agree with the other sentiments above regarding car museums – I got my fill of them in my 20s and don’t have any desire to see most of them (with a few exceptions, such as the ACD Museum).

    We have a local Saturday-morning cars-n-coffee in the mall parking lot a mile away from my house. It’s low-key, you never know what’s going to show up, and it’s a great way to connect with the car OWNERS which is much more enjoyable than just staring at a car.

  • avatar
    WolfgangGullich

    I was relieved that out of the 8 unfortuante individuals that plunged into the depths, only 1 was actually significant…the Hammer.

    Other than that, yeah it sucks, but they weren’t historically important.

  • avatar
    ChiefPontiaxe

    Once the sinkhole corvettes are restored, I am curious as to whether the provenance of having been devoured by a sinkhole would add to the value of these cars? I can almost picture Barrett-Jackson or Mecum hyping the auction for one of the “sinkhole corvettes.”

  • avatar
    Ron B.

    If you are ever in New Zealand,visit the Museum of transport and technology in Auckland. It has Live days where engines are run and things shown working . As kid I loved going there when they would fire up the lancaster bomber!

  • avatar
    LALoser

    NZ is great. I was in Onehunga for two years while we set up a plant in Mangere. While I was there One Tree Hill went to No Tree Hill.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    As an enthusiast of winged and wheeled things, it’s tough. I love to touch, hear and see history coming alive. But part of me wants it not to end up in a ball of crumpled steel or aluminum either. Preserve so my kids kids can see it or run that risk of losing it forever? Such a dilemma.

  • avatar
    raresleeper

    Meh. Carpet Queens.

    I enjoy a nice clean, limited production run Corvette just as much as the next enthusiast…

    …only if they are still driven and enjoyed on occasion.

    And while I cringe at the thought of there potentially being a cherry ’63 split window in that pile of fiberglass… all hope’s not lost.

    There’s more out there.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I completely agree. As far as some of the accomplished cars go, I could see why they’d keep them caged up and off-limits if parts were impossible to come by. But these guys have the resources to drive the cars *and* keep them in fresh condition at the same time, by re-fabricating certain parts and sourcing the others directly from GM.

  • avatar

    I have only a couple of things to say in response. The Cord E-1 prototype at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum and the Bugatti Royale at the Henry Ford Museum.

  • avatar
    Sobro

    Not far from the sunken cars, Jeff Lane of the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville does it right. No velvet ropes, most cars are in driving condition, and sometime patrons get to drive them. I just wish I could look under the hoods when I visit.

    “We were driving in the third annual Rally for the Lane—a fundraiser for the Nashville, Tenn., non-profit Lane Motor Museum. The museum prepared 44 cars to choose from, ranging from a 1938 BMW 320 to a 2008 Fiat 500—just a sampling of its eclectic collection of more than 330 vehicles. Paying $450 to $850 granted entrants car keys for the day, a light breakfast, full southern lunch, T-shirt, poster, and a one-year museum membership for each of up to four per car.”

    Read more: http://www.autoweek.com/article/20121016/carnews01/121019891#ixzz2u4assVEd

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    +1,000,000 to the Lane Museum in Nashville. It’s the least museum like museum I’ve ever been to. Mostly European and Asian imports, some are the only example of their kind in the US. Worthy of a trip to Nashville for any car lover, especially imports.

  • avatar
    jdmcomp

    Seems to me that this is just the continuing collapse of GM in total. Nothing new, just, as usual with GM, late to the table.


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