On 12th February 2014, eight rare Corvettes tumbled into a sink-hole that opened up beneath the National Corvette Museum in the US.
After a painstaking restoration process that lasted more than four months and racked up over 1,200 man-hours, one of those cars – a white 1992 convertible that was also the one millionth Corvette ever made – has been returned to its previous condition.
“We felt it was important to restore this extremely significant car in Corvette’s long, storied history,” said Mark Reuss, General Motors executive vice president, Global Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain. “When we disassembled it, we found that each employee involved in building it had signed a part of the car, which was fantastic and moving to see. It brought the history to life, and reinforced the importance of the project.”
“As the one and only 1 millionth Corvette, its preservation was important to us as the designers of the vehicle – and as Corvette enthusiasts,” said Ed Welburn, vice president of GM Global Design. “The damage was significant in many ways; however we have one of the most highly skilled speciality shops and team of people in the industry, so they were fully prepared to take on the challenge.”
Although some parts were replaced, such as the hood, front fascia, the lower panels between the front wheels and doors, and a number of ancillary components under the hood, the replacements came from a vehicle of the same vintage and colour, ensuring authenticity of the parts and materials involved with the restoration.
The windshield header – badly crushed in the fall – amazingly could still be saved by the team.
“The header restoration was a wonderful surprise for what everyone assumed would be the toughest aspect of the restoration,” said Bolognino. “With access to the original specifications, we got it spot-on – and even the new windshield glass dropped in perfectly.”
Only two signed components could not be saved. The signatures they carried were scanned and reproduced as adhesive transfers, before being applied to the replacement parts.
One component, signed by Bowling Green Assembly employee Angela Lamb, was too badly damaged to be saved or have the signature scanned, so Chevrolet worked with the museum to have Lamb sign the replacement part.
Where parts could be saved, they were painstakingly repaired and restored. The front sub-frame, for instance, sustained damage in the fall into the sink-hole, but was straightened and preserved. The wheels were reconditioned but had their original tyres refitted, and while the pad on the instrument panel was badly scratched, the soft cover was carefully removed and replaced, thereby preserving the signature beneath it.
The red leather seats, carrying their unique “1,000,000th Corvette” embroidery, were restored with repair patches in matching hide where necessary.
Remarkably, the 5.7-litre LT1 engine and transmission were found to be free from damage and could be retained complete with the other drive-train components.
When the Corvette rolled off the assembly line 23 years ago, it wore a unique “1,000,000th” windshield banner. Incredibly, the original computer graphic file used for the original was still available, and so an identical copy could be created.
This “millionth” Corvette is the second Corvette damaged in the sink-hole incident to be restored by the team. The first was a 2009 Corvette ZR1 prototype dubbed the Blue Devil, which thankfully sustained much lighter damage. A third car, a 1962 model, will also be restored.
The five other damaged cars, however, will remain in their current state to preserve their historical significance, and as a record of the incident.