BOWLING GREEN ANYONE?
By John Parmelee
Once upon a time I had a dream. That dream was to own a newer Corvette. I wanted a daily driver. My first thought was to find one that would have a higher resale value. Maybe a 93 40th Anniversary. Then in late 1996 I started reading about the new 5th generation Corvette (C5). What caught my interest were all the improvements they made. The trunk space and the ease of getting in and out were the one's of interest to me (Thats important for us old folks). In January of 1997 I went over to Prestonwood Mall in Dallas to a bookstore where Tom Schliter was selling and autographing his book "All Corvettes are Red". GM lent Tom a 1997 Corvette to drive around the country while he was selling his book. At that time dealers did not have any, so that was the first 97 I saw. About then I decided it was to be a C5. But the question was how was I going to be able to do this? All I had to do was wait a couple of years when the price of a used 97 came down. Well 1998 came and what price drop. Used 97s were close to invoice. Their popularity has kept the resale prices up. I might as well get a new one. Oh well, I said, Suck it up and do it. Its only money. So where does one start?
My first stop was a local dealer in Richardson in August 98. Wow. Would you believe $3,000 to $5,000 above sticker? No way. A friend of mine at work told me about the C5 Registry. Fortunately I joined, and soon started receiving all sorts of information. I sent in a request for information on any good deals on new C5s. Got some leads on some high volume dealers in Georgia, Florida, Louisiana. Maxi-Price in Georgia would go $2,000 off sticker. The one in Louisiana would go $1,700. By September the local dealers were at sticker.
After all this checking around, I decided to stick with a local dealer. Frank Parra Chevrolet is the sponsor of Corvette Legends of Texas, which is a local club I belong to. On October 15, 1998 I called the dealer and placed an order for a 1999 for $1,500 under sticker. I was told that the car should be here by mid December. My order was entered into the ordering system on October 22nd.
In December I called to check on my order and my salesman told me that my order got messed up, something about the new GM Ordering system. I got a new order number and my Target Production Week (TPW) was 2/8. I had been in contact Harvey Gluck about both order numbers. He was not able to tell me anything until an order becomes scheduled. Under the old system cars were scheduled about three weeks prior to the build week. So thats what I was expecting from the new system. Wrong again.
As the time got closer to 2/8 I got more anxious. If the timing was right, I was going to Bowling Green to watch my car be built. On 2/5 my salesman called and told me that my TPW was changed to 2/15. Gee, some of the C5R members were getting there TPWs moved up and mine gets moved back. Will this thing ever get built? Then it happened, on 2/15 I got an email from Harvey that said to call him. When I called he gave me my sequence number (21665). Finally it was scheduled. I received my VIN# 21713 on 2/19.
Ok, now I can figure out when it will be built. Harvey was posting the starting sequence number every Monday morning. This gave me the number C5s being built per week. Based on my sequence number I knew my TPW would change to 2/22. It did. They were working 9 hour days five days a week. This amounted to about 140 cars per day. So I figured that mine would start on 2/25 at 9am and come of the line at 9am on Friday 2/26.
I think my bags were packed the day I got my sequence number. Before I left Dallas I called Sonny Kilgo at the plant to see if they were still on schedule. They were and so I left on Wednesday the 24th and went on the first tour Thursday morning. The assembly plant has two tours per day, starting at 9am and 1pm. Just before the tour started I talked to our tour guide, told her that my car was being built today and gave her my sequence number. On the first stop of the tour the tour guide and I walked over to the Trim Area to check to see what sequence number (they call it job number at the plant) they were working on. The last three digits of the sequence number are hand written on the front frame crossmember. I looked down and there was 665. Thats me. After my heart calmed down I was able to catch up with the tour. The time was 9:15am.
I took the 1pm tour and did not see my car. There are many bends in the line that the tour does not get to see. After the tour I called Sonny just to say hi. He came down from his office to meet me. I got a badge and we walked out on the line to find my car. We found it and it was about to be hooked up to the drive train. It was now starting to look like a car. He told me to call him Friday about 6:30am and he would tell me when to come out to the plant. I called at 6:30 and got some bad news. He had talked to his boss and he no longer had permission to take guests out on the line. GM had just cracked down on employees taking friends, guests, etc out on the line. It seems like there were so many guys like us doing this that it had become a productivity issue. I was really disappointed because I knew that my car would come off before the first tour started. He suggested that I come out anyway. I had nothing to lose.
I arrived at 7:30am and hung out at the security desk. A security supervisor came up and we started to talk. I told him my sad story. He walked off and came back in a few minutes and told the guard behind the desk to give me a badge. Things were looking up. He took me over to a UAW office and introduced me to a couple of guys who said they would take care of me. They told me however that the line was down. He suggested we walk out there anyway to find out where my car was. It was about 24 cars from "First Start". So we went back in the office and waited about 30 minutes. The line started and after 20 minutes we went back out to the "First Start" station. This station is on the regular tour and a volunteer gets to start a car.
When we got to the "First Start" station my car was two cars away. When my car arrived, "Ernie" waved at me and I went over and got in MY C5 and started it. Ernie had me turn the steering wheel all the way to the right , then all the way to the left. He had a computer hooked up and the screen said "Test passed". After I got out, Ernie presented me with a certificate stating that I had assisted in the production of a new Corvette. My car continued on through a few more stations and came off the line about 9am. It left Bowling Green by truck on the 4th of March and arrived in Dallas the next day. I picked it up my C5 on the 6th.
Well, needless to say, my trip was worth while. All of this would not have been possible without the help of the C5 Registry. A special thanks to Harvey and Sonny. A little luck helps as well. During my stay I went over to the Corvette museum and visited with some of the staff. What a great bunch of folks.
A side note to you NCRS members. While on the first tour Thursday I ran into a gentleman from the UK. I noticed he had on a NCRS shirt. We talked most of the tour. He has a Corvette shop in England and was over here on business. He also writes books about Corvette's. I ran into him again in the Museum. He pointed out one of his books. I bought it and had him autograph it. His name was Tom Falconer.
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