This issue's cover story is devoted to the , long known as America's sports car. is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Corvette this year and next with a variety of activities, and we're recognizing it here with our coverage of the future Corvette, our road test of the 50th Anniversary model, and a history of the significant .
I'm old enough to recall the introduction of the original in 1953, and how we all were quite taken with that handsome roadster's styling. Okay, so it had only the Blue Flame 6-cylinder engine and 2-speed Powerglide transmission — it looked terrific. By 1957, the had become a real stunner, and for the next few years it seemed to get better and better, both in styling and in performance. There were highs and lows over the succeeding decades, but during it all, the love of Corvettes ran like a river through the hearts of a lot of young Americans.
Twenty-seven years ago, I had the opportunity to drive a new Corvette back to the West Coast from Detroit. In those days, General Motors did a week-long press preview in early summer to show off all the new-model cars and trucks that would go on sale in the fall. That week was a challenge to your stamina and your interest level, since a good number of the cars were not of the sort we routinely covered in Road & Track. And it was always of interest to see which cars would be repainted and rebadged overnight to make the transition from one GM division to another. But mostly it was a great occasion for getting an enormous amount of information in a short time period.
Once the presentations were concluded each morning, the swarm of automotive journalists would then be taken out to Black Lake, a huge asphalt area in the middle of the GM proving ground. There, all the new models would be parked and available for driving. If the weather wasn't too hot and sticky, it was fun to be a part of this annual ritual.
As I finished the week, the plan was hatched to have me drive a new Corvette back to California, which I thought was a great idea. It would save me yet another flight and give me yet another chance to drive cross-country. I had crossed the U.S. by car seven times by the time I was 13 years old, so it was nothing new, but doing it as the driver instead of as the youngest of three brothers in the back seat of a Buick was an entirely different matter.
My only reservation — admittedly minor — was whether I could get my luggage into the car. See, I've never learned to travel light and having packed for a week's round of daytime casual clothes and dinner dress-up outfits meant two large bags had to fit into the Corvette. Well, one went into the space behind the seats and the other was my traveling companion, occupying the right-hand seat all the way to California.
I showed up at the Milford proving ground on the morning of my departure, only to discover that a little work was being done to the Corvette — it was a pre-production car that needed some extra heat shielding added around the exhaust system. After an hour and a half, the car was brought to the gate, the necessary paperwork was examined so that I could leave the proving ground with the car, and I was off.
This was a 1976 model, bright red exterior and a lovely tan leather interior. My first day on the road took me west through Michigan, the northern tip of Indiana and into Illinois, where I spent the night with some old friends in Rockford. The next day, I headed south to pick up Interstate 80, then turned west and headed toward Des Moines, Iowa, and on to Omaha, Grand Island and finally North Platte, Nebraska. I pulled into a Holiday Inn and phoned the office to check in, and ended up talking with Feature Editor Mike Knepper, who told me he had once lived and worked in North Platte, doing something for the Fish and Game Department. I looked at the town with new respect while I drove around looking for a place to eat dinner.
I got an early start the next morning (my dad always began each road trip with the announcement that we would do a hundred miles before breakfast!) and shortly after leaving North Platte, I took the left fork onto I-76 heading southwest toward Denver. I enjoyed a spectacular summer's day drive through the Rocky Mountains on I-70 west, drinking in the splendor of massive peaks, rambling forests and scenic vistas. Later in the day I stopped in Grand Junction, Colorado, where I bought a 5X Beaver Bailey cowboy hat to celebrate my journey. I kept on plugging away into the evening, ending the day in Cedar City, Utah, on I-15, which made the last day into Newport Beach a fairly easy drive.
All the way along the roughly 2300-mile trip, I was astonished at how much attention the Corvette drew. It was, certainly, a beautiful car, but I guess I thought most Americans had become accustomed to Corvettes. But at almost every fuel stop and meal break, someone strolled by, looking longingly at the Vette, and commented, "What a beautiful car..." All these years later, I can still see the lust in their eyes and the desire in their hearts to set off across the U.S. in America's favorite sports car.