Bloomington Gold 2013 Great Hall: Special Corvettes, People and History
The Bloomington Gold 2013 Great Hall was featured in Vette Vues Magazine‘s October 2013 issue. The cars, people, and history. Special thanks to Bill Locke who organizes the Great Hall/Special Collections every year and Jack Doke who photoed the event for us.
The cars inducted into the 2013 Great Hall were chosen because of the performance highlights they represented, i.e. 1957 Fuel Injection, 1961 Gulf Racer, 1962 327 CID, 1963 Grand Sport, 1965 First Big Block, 1967 L88 Daytona Racer, 1987 Escort Series Racer, Callaway Corvette, C5 Z06 and the C6 ZR1.
We will start with a very brief look at the history of Corvette’s performance in those early days. Our intent is not to cover all the important performance changes, which would take a book, only to highlight those around this year’s Great Hall inductees.
As you all know, the first Corvette was in 1953. The new sports car certainly had its muddles. Among the newborns’ troubles, it could only do zero to 60 mph in 11.5 seconds, pretty pathetic. Nevertheless, by 1955, the progression into a true sports car came when they introduced the 265 cubic-inch small-block V8. This generated 195 horsepower. By the end of the model year, 3-speed manual transmission was also made available. The Corvette sports car could now get to 60 in 8.5 seconds.
By ’56, the new chrome teeth Corvette was making a name. Zora Arkus-Duntov, John Fitch, and Betty Skelton took Corvettes to Daytona Beach and showed America what the Corvette could do. Fitch’s ’56 went 145.5 mph, and Betty ran 137.8. Duntov had the fastest time in the modified class with a 147.300-mph run.
Now the 1956 SR-2 Sebring Racer was making headlines. This year’s Great Hall inductee, Dr. Dick Thompson, won the SCCA Class C-Production racing title.
Duntov was obsessed with giving the Corvette speed and better handling and was determined to turn the Corvettes into true sports cars with high-performance engines. As early as December 1953, he had declared in a Chevrolet memo titled “Thoughts of youth, Hot-Rodders, and Chevrolet”…his vision for Chevrolet and Corvette was to develop high-performance vehicles and forever linked himself to that effort.
By 1957, you could get a four-speed manual transmission. The engine grew to 283 cubic inches. You could get dual-quad carbs, but best of all you could get the Rochester mechanical fuel injection. The new Corvette could go 0-60 in 5.7 seconds and had top speeds of over 130. By ’57, Dr. Thompson won the GT class at Sebring and the SCCA championship…driving a Corvette.
Bill Mitchell, Corvette Designer, is responsible for creating or influencing the design of over 72.5 million GM automobiles. By 1958, Harley Earl retired and Bill Mitchell took over as Vice President of GM’s Styling division. Mitchell was involved in the early prototype “skunk works” that yielded the original Corvette. Bill Mitchell, together with Larry Shinoda, designed the 1963-67 Corvette Stingray. During his time at GM, he built over 50 custom cars. Many of them were production models, that he customized with special paint and interior trim for himself and his wife. He also built one-offs for racing or show purposes. Some of them were Corvettes: 1958 XP-700 “Phantom” Corvette, 1959 Stingray Racer, 1961 XP-755 Shark (later renamed Mako Shark I), 1965 Mako Shark II (later restyled as the 1969 Manta Ray), 1969 Corvette Aero Coupe, and the 1976 Corvette Mulsanne.
The fuel-injected 275 could put out 315 hp by 1960.
The substantial news for ’62 was the immense engine. The new 327 engine in the 1962 Corvette could make 360 horsepower, a performance highlight. Corvette’s enthusiasm was high!
The newly designed ’63 brought with it the legendary “ZO6” race pack option. And of course, you cannot forget the ’63 Grand Sports!
By 1965, the Corvette could enjoy 425 HP with the 396 big-block. Motor Trend tested a fuel-injected engine with a Muncie four-speed transmission and got zero-60 in 5.8 seconds. The mean “L78” 396 put out 425 hp.
The 427-cubic-inch versions of the big-block V8 came on in 1966.
However, the most magnificent greatness of the Corvette came with the ’67 “L88” 427, which used aluminum cylinder heads and an intimidating 12.5:1 compression ratio making more than 500 hp with a huge four-barrel carburetor. Obviously, the intent was for racing. Only 20 L88s were ever built. (Our cover 1967 L88 Corvette recently sold for $3.2 Million at the Dallas Mecum Auction! You can read about it in this issue.)
By now, Corvettes were extremely popular and Corvette racing certainly had its following. Names like Dr. Dick Thompson, John Fitch, Bob Grossman, Jim Jeffords, Dick Guldstrand, Bruce Geisler, Bob Bondurant, Gary Pickens, Roger Penske, Don Yenko, and the list goes on and on; all had a part in making the Corvette hobby what it is today.
We’ll fast-forward to 1972.
Many Corvette enthusiasts loved their Corvettes and wanted to keep them. However, their cars were in great need of repair and parts of which were very hard to come by.
Clubs had sprung up as early as 1957 and were quickly organized all over the country. Little “Corvette communities” were getting together.
People began making parts for their own Corvettes and soon for their friends. Al Knoch Interiors is one such company. Al was already doing upholstery in the late ’50s with his first Corvette seats that he did for a friend, a 1960 turquoise interior, in the basement of his home.
James Prather, a Corvette enthusiast and California Corvette club member in his own right, realized the need for Corvette owners to find these parts. So, he started Vette Vues Magazine in 1972. He started it out as a classified magazine, (no articles) for the Corvette Enthusiasts.
By now little mom and pop companies were forming, and people began restoring these Corvettes.
A year later, the Bloomington Gold event started, in Bloomington Illinois (which is located 50 miles northwest of Champaign). I might note that Bloomington Gold is the longest running national Corvette event.
Bloomington Gold played a major role in presenting a place for the first Corvette swap meet. Vendors came to sell the reproduction parts, and the hobby was off and running.
Mike Yager was one of this year’s inductees and one of these first vendors. At that time, he was only 24. Mike Yager borrowed $500 and began selling out of the trunk of a borrowed car at weekend swap meets, selling T-shirts and owner’s manuals. By 1976, Mike Yager’s company then named Mid America Enterprises, produced its first two-page black-and-white mail order flyer, and as they say the rest is history.
Another milestone in the Corvette collector car hobby, was when a group of Corvette enthusiasts in Angola, Indiana, started the National Corvette Restorers Society in 1974.
The values of the aging Corvettes began to rise, as more and more Corvette buffs wanted the older Vettes that had played a part in their early lives.
Mike Antonick came out with his book, Corvette! The Sensuous Americas in 1976. In 1978, he published, Corvette! America’s Only, to celebrate the Corvette’s twenty-fifth anniversary. In September 1978, his well-known fact guide called The Corvette Black Book, was issued and is still in most Corvette enthusiasts’ libraries and updated each year. We might note that he has written several books since then, which are now out of print.
Chip Miller, Collector, and Corvette enthusiast was among this year’s inductees. Bloomington writes, “Although Miller was a co-founder of Carlisle, that has no bearing on his Great Hall induction. Miller was inducted solely on his personal contributions to the Corvette Phenomenon.” Everyone loved Chip. He was consistently warm and friendly. Known for his cheerful smiling face, he made even the newest Corvette enthusiast feel like they had been his friend forever. He would talk to everyone, regardless of their Corvette knowledge. He would talk to the newest in the hobby, as equals to the highly knowledgeable ‘long-timers’. He made everyone feel welcome to the hobby!
“Along with Bill Mock, Bill Locke, and David Burroughs, Chip Miller helped create Bloomington Gold Certification.”
Now only six years later, in 1978, the Gold Certification® was launched. The SURVIVOR® for unrestored Corvettes subsequently followed it.
Although the history of Corvettes at Carlisle doesn’t technically start until 1982, Chip Miller and Bill Miller started upon the journey in 1974 when they held the first event by Carlisle Productions. In 1981, Chip and Bill purchased the Carlisle Fairgrounds and in 1982, the inaugural Corvettes @ Carlisle took place. Since its inception, Corvettes at Carlisle has been the go-to destination for all thing’s Corvette. Millions of enthusiasts from the world over have flocked to Carlisle, Pennsylvania for the event. This is the largest Corvette event during the year and this year it was honored by being inducted into the Bloomington Gold Great Hall.
In 1987, Corvettes won more than half of the SCCA Pro Endurance Series races. From ’84 to ‘87 Corvettes were dominating the Showroom Stock, they had superior power, superior handling, and superior brakes. The decision was made to remove the Corvettes from the approved list of competitions. Not all was bad for Corvette, because in 1988, Canadian John Powell created the Corvette Challenge, and it had a $1,000,000 in prize money.
You can read more about the Bakeracing 1987 Escort Racer NO 4 Corvette HERE.
Chevrolet was looking forward to obtaining a higher-performance Corvette. Reeves Callaway and Callaway Engineering were completing a twin turbo program for Alfa Romeo. Callaway had a reputation for engineering excellence, so consequently
Corvette Chief Engineer Dave McLellan invited Reeves Callaway to participate in a limited production venture. The official agreement with Chevrolet was to build 500 Callaway Corvettes from 1987 to 1991, although there were actually 510 built. The Callaway Twin Turbo Corvette became known as Chevrolet option RPO B2K and was available through select Chevrolet dealers.
The European press drove a Callaway which later appeared on a German magazine cover. The Callaway was titled “Das Ist Der Hammer” meaning “The Hammer”. Callaway wondered what to call a really powerful one-off version and decided to call it the Sledgehammer. During a private test run by John Lingenfelter, the Sledgehammer reached 254.76 mph.
The Callaway Twin Turbo was a unique engineering and packaging accomplishment. The B2K option was an additional $25,895 and 125 were sold on the 1988 model. The 1988 Callaway power levels increased, and horsepower was now rated at 382 and torque rose to 565 lb-ft. The engines were reworked by Callaway at Old Lyme, Connecticut. The powertrain warranty was covered by Callaway for 12 months of 12,000 while the rest of the Corvette’s warranty was covered by Chevrolet.
Jim Perkins ran the Chevrolet brand for seven years. Part of his job was to rekindle the Chevy pride and who better than the Texan. Wearing his cowboy boots, he passed out Chevy Bowtie lapel pins featuring the word “Proud.” With his zeal and message, he touted Chevy’s made-in-U.S.A. pedigree. GM management had once again decided that the Corvette brand needed to end. Perkins spent a fair amount of his time fighting for Corvette’s place in the Chevy budgets. He not only saved the C4 Corvette but also sold the executives on the re-engineered C5 Corvette. In June of 1993, Jim Perkins, Chevrolet’s general manager, announced that management had approved the design and construction of the C5, and it was scheduled to debut in 1997. Perkins is also credited for fueling truck sales, pushed Chevy to five NASCAR championships and six Indy 500 wins. He strengthened Chevy’s role in product design and development.
The 2006 Corvette Z06 achieves 505 horsepower and delivers zero-60 in 3.4 seconds. It achieves a maximum speed of more than 190 mph on the track. It has the LS7 427-cubic-inch small block V8 engine…the same displacement as the legendary big-blocks of the late ’60s Corvettes, in a small-block format. There were 6,272 2006 ZO6s sold.
Bloomington Gold has changed hands and moved around Illinois a few times over the years. Recently, Guy Larson purchased the event from the Mecum family and under his direction, the event moved back to central Illinois. This year’s event took place June 28-30th at the University of Illinois Assembly Hall in Champaign, IL.
One thing that has never changed is the Bloomington event has always been known for its educational seminars, swap meets, Certification, SURVIVOR®, special museum-type displays, Corvette cruise, and the All Corvette auctions.
Next year’s event is June 27-29, 2014 at the University of Illinois Campus, Champaign, Illinois.