Guest post by Mitchell Bergslien
Growing up, my dad always took me to local (and not so local) muscle-car shows, which only grew my love and appreciation for American muscle cars —where they came from, why they were important and the heritage that they represented.
When muscle cars were hot, it was a simpler time — it was all about who had the biggest V8 and things like the “radio delete” option, checked off to save weight for your quarter-mile time. One of the most important vehicles, I think, that represents heritage, speed, V8s and pure Detroit Muscle is the Chevrolet Corvette.
As a General Motors intern this summer and muscle-car lover, I (and fellow interns) was given the amazing opportunity to visit the GM Heritage Center in Sterling Heights, Mich. Walking in, the first car you see is a perfect-condition 1956 Chevy pickup, beautiful in black with black wheels and chrome hubcaps — the epitome of what every Chevy truck guy would love to own.
That truck was just the tip of the iceberg in the GM North American Heritage Collection. In addition to a facility full of 600 concept vehicles, rare and classic muscle cars, and experimental vehicles, a very cool part of the museum features archives that contain records of every GM car and truck going back forever.
A visitor could look up, for example, the marketing campaign for the original Corvette from 1953, which is amazing compared to the modern-day marketing for the current C7 Corvette. (Ok, it was cool for me, anyway, considering that I am a marketing major/intern at GM's world headquarters in Detroit this summer.)
After touring all of that, we were invited to the museum’s warehouse. It was GM muscle-car heaven — a dream come true for me to see all these cars in perfect condition, and with such great heritage.
You could see anything from a 1957 Bel-Air or 1996 Chevrolet Impala SS to a 1970 Nova SS or a 1939 Buick Roadmaster. There is a full line of Chevy and GMC trucks from the first Chevy Suburban and 1902 Cadillac. The progression of cars is amazing — it’s exciting to see how far we’ve come.
Here's the rear view of the beautiful pair, got to love that split window styling! They don’t make them like that anymore.
By far the coolest section was the Corvette line-up, including a perfect Sebring Silver 1963 split-window 327 4-speed with a black interior. Prominently on display next to her is the 1963 convertible 327 4-speed, fashioned in tuxedo black with a gorgeous red interior.
Those two were my personal favorites — the split window was the coolest thing that Chevy ever designed! Of course, the holy-grail Corvette would have to be the 327 fuel injection, 360 horsepower engine, but beggars can’t be choosers. Still, it’s a beautiful car to look at and it is in good hands! I’m so glad that these cars are preserved and kept as a piece of Chevy history.
Two Mako Shark Corvette concepts – painted with the fade from dark blue to light gray just like the Mako Shark itself.
Right next to those two beauties sat a pair of 1973 C3 Corvettes, one in classic white and the other in pace car spec. It was really cool to see the progression of the Corvette in just 10 years. The biggest surprise is the amount of horsepower coming out of those engines.
In 1963, the 327 made more than 300 horsepower. Fast forward to 1973 through the gas/oil crisis, a Chevy small block 350 can’t even make 200 horsepower. As cool as the 1973 Stingray looked, it just didn’t have the performance to match it.
The next generation C6 Corvette was much farther ahead in 2006 — a beautiful car painted in the classic Lemans blue with a black interior. Today’s Corvettes share similar qualities with their older generations, but are still very different, long, low and lean with a big engine.
A C3 interior. Even in today’s C7 you can now get an all-red leather interior, but with much more gadgets and technology.
The most important feature shared was the four circular taillights. Corvette has stayed true to those taillights throughout the years. While other things have changed, including the exterior styling, the interiors and even the Corvette badge, one thing that stayed for a long time was the four round taillights ... until the big change with the C7 generation.
This particular C6 had the 400 horsepower LS2 6.0L V8. One thing I don’t like that all the manufacturers did was switch to liters instead of cubic inches. “Cubic inches” just sounds way cooler than liters, but that’s just me.
Either way, the new Corvette engines are monsters and if they had put this kind of power into a classic ’63 Corvette, it would be beauty-meets-the-beast and it would definitely own the street.
On top of all the cool production Corvettes, the museum features a handful of experimental and concept Corvettes that were really cool to see. One that stuck out in particular was the 1961 Mako Shark Corvette. Inspired by the Mako Shark itself, this looker has the 427 V8 and is even painted like a shark — dark blue on top fading down to a grayish white on the bottom. And of course, it features huge side exhaust pipes.
C6 Corvette when they were first introduced in 2005. Oh how far they have come with the styling! For better or worse?
Having the opportunity to experience GM’s entire heritage and to see how far the company has come was just amazing. The progression of cars is fantastic and technology is great, but it’s important to know from where you came.
I would love to go again and would encourage anyone who has the opportunity to go!
A prototype Corvette, no motor in this, just a cool concept body that would be amazing if they ever put into production!
Access to the GM Heritage Center is limited to GM internal groups and external organizations seeking a unique and exclusive venue that was designed to create an ideal setting for a variety of events. Information about reserving the venue for a special event, meeting, or group tour can be found here.
Mitchell Bergslien, of Oswego, Ill., is a marketing major at Northern Illinois University who is spending the summer in Detroit as a GM marketing intern working in Dealer Network Planning and Investments.
Posted July 31, 2015