C5 Registry Member Reports On The Plant, Tornadoes, and the 1999 C5

April 16, 1998 Thursday


I recently joined the registry, maybe you remember me as the guy who replaced his NSX with a new C5 6-speed?  Anyway, I wanted to relay a couple of things from my trip this past week to Bowling Green.

Well, the bad news is that my black coupe was caught outside in the hailstorm that blew through (with tornadoes!), and where I was we saw up to tennis ball sized hail.  I'm happy to say that my car had only the most minor damage, the driver side headlight cover has a slight, 2-inch ripple in it, possibly a crack underneath but on the surface it only looks like a very shallow crease.  All the glass and lenses were fine, and the paint wasn't even scratched.  I was impressed, and I think it shows the high quality of the car.  Fortunately, the plant received only marble sized hail and the two or three hundred Corvettes sitting outside were completely undamaged.  Car lots a few miles to the South were not so lucky, where we saw what must have been millions of dollars worth of pummeled sheet-metal and busted glass.

The good news is I got a private tour of the plant from a friend who works there.   I saw a few interesting things.   The first is that he took me outside to actually sit in a pilot '99 that was built with the new HUD.  It is great!   Seemed much more optically correct than the similar units that Pontiac has used for a while.  The blue fluorescent display appears to float a few feet in front of the car, and the height is electrically adjusted with a rocker switch (as reported, all the controls are on the now empty left panel of the instrument pod, and look good.)  The brightness can be adjusted continuously down to completely off with a small slider, and another button toggles the right-side bar graph to show fuel, water temp, and oil pressure as I recall.  Of course the speedo is digital and a bar graph arcs around it from left to right to show revs.  Best of all, the dash is not ruined by the inclusion of the HUD.  It is a completely recessed window at the base of the dash behind the instrument pod, less than 3x4 inches I would say.  In fact, I noticed later in the museum that one of the prototype cars (on display) used in the development of the C5 has probably the exact same little window, suggesting to me that they planned the car to have it all along, but I guess couldn't swing it until this coming model year.  Oh well, something to look forward to next time.

I also got to look over the new fixed roof coupe, which looks exactly like you'd expect a hardtop for the convertible to look.  Not as sleek as the coupe, in my opinion, but still a nice car.  The trunk lid is the same as the convertible, but the space underneath also passes through to the passenger compartment.  The cloth seats are OK, black with a bit of a multi-colored pattern in them, and the manual climate controls look as cheap as ever.  Well, I guess it's a good thing that it's not as cool as the car we all paid a lot more money for, but I bet it really increases sales!  The standard wheels on the car look pretty nice, I may even like them better than the regular C5.   Still 5-spoked but with narrower spokes and nice sculpting.  I'll bet the fixed top and smaller cargo area make the car a bit quieter, too, as the hatchback cannot help but be a little boomy acoustically, and a bit loud with rear suspension noise in my opinion.

The other discovery I found off in a corner was a shipment of torch red sport seats!   They were labeled something like "Torch Red Pilot Telescopic Memory".   This is the color interior I wanted for my car but of course was not available!   It is not quite the vivid red of Corvette years past, being a bit closer to the salmon color of the Boxster's red interior.  They really looked luscious, and I would bet money this will be an option at some point in '99.  Oh well, something ELSE to look forward to!

I also heard that the new engines only have one fuel line (those stainless lines curving into the head), although I don't know why.  I did not see any of the new colors in evidence, and strangely enough the pilot coupe I saw was the current Nassau blue.

Since they also build European cars concurrent with domestic cars, I saw a number of those with the magnesium wheels.  Although these wheels are nicer and more expensive looking, it appears that they have to use some rather hideous outside, stick-on weights on them after balancing.  One wheel I saw had a good 4 inch strip of these weights, which was very noticeable and ugly.  I would not be a happy customer at all with that situation.  I hope this can be improved before these wheels become a domestic option.

As you probably know already, I can tell you that the pace and feel of the plant lately is very good, and there is evidence of care and pride in this wonderful car.  The only robots I saw were doing some of the heavy welding, and the only others I know of are in the (off-limits) paint area. Everything else, and even some of the welding is all done by people!  The line moves pretty slow and a new Corvette is born about every 4 or 5 minutes (I got to start one on the line for the first time-- started right up!), although it takes about 4 days total I heard to go from start to finish.  I saw the line stopped once to fix a problem where the body and chassis are first mated together, which appears to be one of the hardest jobs there for the line workers, and one of the more fascinating ones to watch.  A rear suspension piece was not going into its slot properly, and a supervisor was called over who knew how to muscle it into place and that's what he did.  The line resumed probably less than a minute later.  The Corvettes really look like jewels coming off the assembly line, which shows how clean the plant is considering they took 4 days being built.  All cars are final inspected, leak tested, rattle tested, and drive tested (run on a big dyno up to about 70mph.)

I've read that GM's internal audits still rate the Bowling Green facility as one of their lowest quality plants, and I don't know by what measures. All I can say is based on my own car and what I saw there during my stay, they are doing a good job and producing a fine product that the workers there and all of us can be proud of.  I left with an even stronger appreciation for my C5, and I'm absolutely engrossed now in reading "All Corvettes are Red", the book by James Shefter about its development within the ups and downs of General Motors--highly recommended.

That is all I have for you......C5Ya! Anonymous

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