C5 1st Birthday Party, Sponsored by the C5 Registry.
Ken Cartmill 

March 27th - March 29th  marked the celebration of the first birthday of the C5.  To honor this occasion, the C5 Registry, along with others, sponsored a Birthday party at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green.  Not being one to miss such an occasion, plans were promptly made in December to attend this momentous occasion.  As the date neared, anticipation grew, just the thought of C5's from all over the country was enough to keep one awake at night.

Much to the dismay of my co-workers, and significant other, my Father and I loaded up the C5 ('98 White coupe) and began the pilgrimage to Bowling Green for the birthday party.  It became clear who understands Corvettes and who doesn't, those that envied the trip understand what a Corvette is, those that said "It is just a car" obviously don't.  We were off for what we hoped would be a fun weekend... We were wrong.

The weekend turned out to be the most awesome automobile experience I have ever had.  Yes, this was more fun than when we picked up the car at the Museum.  Dan and Jake put together one of the most exciting and fun weekends one could imagine.  Everything went very smoothly with registration and all of the seminars.  And what seminars they were!!  We got to hear, and even talk with John Cafaro, the designer of the C5 on Friday, he even signed our car for us.   Saturday we got to hear Dave Hill talk about the challenges that the C5 faced, and still faces.  He too was on hand autographing cars and talking with owners.   Finally, on Sunday we got to hear and talk to Jim Minneker about the famed Corvette engine.  He too signed cars and answered questions.

Friday began for us with registration and a seminar with John Cafaro on the design of the C5.  He brought many slides and described the beginnings of the design process and what the design group does.  Afterward he came to "Cafaro Hill" and posed for pictures and talked one on one to owners.   He signed many Corvettes there too.  John is a very down to earth person.   He even got to see his very own Corvette being assembled at the factory.

After this, we attended a special dinner held by the registry for John. This was an excellent evening and a great time to meet people from all over.  I even found a new club to join!  After dinner it was time to check out a little nightlife in Bowling Green and get some sleep (Yes Dan we did sleep some even though you told us not to.).  Everywhere you looked, there were C5's of all colors.   This would become the norm for the weekend.

Saturday morning began with a seminar with Dave Hill explaining the challenges he and his team faced in building the new Vette, as well as the future challenges that Team Corvette faces.  He spent a good bit of time answering questions from owners and even announced two new colors for the upcoming year.

After this seminar, there was one on active handling and its origin.  Very few people realize how long GM has been working on the active suspension / Active handling concept.  The C5 with its stiff backbone and sophisticated electronics became the perfect platform to unveil active handling.   Little did we know how dramatic this innovation would prove to be.  We were to soon find out however.

To emphasize Chevrolet/GM's participation, they provided active handling Vettes for members to drive.  I would like to thank all of the engineers for their time and patience with us.  They let us drive the cars as often as we wanted and would happily answer any questions we asked.  Most of all, they made sure everyone got involved, from the timid drivers who would not push the cars to the limit, to taking member's kids for rides through the courses.  A big Thank You to all.  This was one of the best events of the weekend in that we could really see what GM has added to the Corvette. 

Active handling is nothing short of awesome.  No matter what you threw at the car, it would react accordingly and safely.  This does not mean that you can drive past the limit, it just means that the limit has been extended significantly.  Abrupt avoidance maneuvers at 70+ MPH cause the car to slip a little, but the control remains stable.  Imagine trying to dodge a small animal or other obstruction in the road at highway speeds. Most cars would spin and slide out of control, not with Active Handling. Don't try this at home or you may find yourself in a ditch, or upside down, unless you have an active handling Vette.

The virtues of active handling became clear after running the slalom course many times.  (Thanks guys, I appreciate your patience and willingness to teach me a few new tricks).  With active handling on, you could go in at 45-50 mph and negotiate the cones without spinning or sliding the car.    Setting the car to Competition mode allowed you to use the back end a little and slide around the gates.  (Good thing the last one was wide, I took it sideways!).   I prefer the 6 speed for this exercise, Dad liked the automatic.  (He managed to slide the 6 speed off the track with competition mode on, I ate a couple of cones in the automatic, we'll call it a draw.)  To quote most drivers as they exited the car after performing maneuvers that would spin most other sports cars, "I gotta have this!" (Anyone looking for a '98 White coupe with Red interior?)

After spending the afternoon burning up gas, brakes and rubber with the GM guys, we went on the Road Tour through the Kentucky countryside.   Dad let me pilot the car for this trip (Thanks Dad).  After staging the 60 or so C5's at the factory (no two cars of the same color allowed to run together), and taking a few pictures, we set out.  The tour was exciting and beautiful.  Rural Kentucky is a perfect place to take a leisurely cruise, with a few blasts to make sure the horses under the hood are well exercised.  Looking back at the pack, we could see Corvettes stretched for as far as we could see.  Rolling hills provided a measure of fun, as well as some deserted curves and S turns.  Everyone on the tour seemed to have a good time, we even heard rumors about "flying" a Vette or two.  All I can say is that the mudguards have a few new scrapes on the bottom thanks to a well-timed blast over a hill.

Spending the day blasting around in a Vette can work up an appetite, fortunately Dan and Jake thought of this and had a dinner arranged for members at the Museum.  The planning for this event was excellent, as was the food.  The Skydome was the perfect setting for dinner.  On hand were GM designers who donated an Active Suspension ZR1 to the museum.  I was amazed when I realized the engineer I spent most of the afternoon running an active handling Vette through the slalom course was in charge of the active suspension/handling program at GM.  Having read about the active suspension ZR1 and seen pictures in Corvette Fever did not compare to hearing the designer and seeing the car before my eyes.

Earlier in the evening, a cast-in-life statue of Dave Hill was presented to the museum by the C5 registry.  This statue adds another chapter to Corvette history in immortalizing the man who stood by his convictions and would not settle for anything less.  The results of his hard work and dedication are the C5's we all cherish.  Not to mention, it is a great likeness.

So how do you complete an evening like this?   Simple...Drag Racing. That's right, line 'em up and run 'em.  Dan and Jake made provisions at the local track to have a C5 shootout.  Some of us arrived late, but still got to make a few passes with the "run what you brung" crowd.   Overall it was a great time.  Everywhere we went people were asking questions and looking at the cars with envy.  Other racers would even exchange place in line so we could run two Vettes at the same time.

Sunday morning brought more seminars, this time one from Jim Minneker about the Corvette powertrain.  Having built a few engines in my past, it was interesting to hear the advances and engineering put into the Vette at the factory.   Things like cross drilled crank, 6 bolt mains (Yes SIX bolt mains), and tuned induction system are enough to make even Tim the Tool Man grunt in awe.  He took the time to answer questions, and even explain some of the challenges that Corvette and GM face in the future.  Overall he confirmed what most engine tuners are finding, the LS1 is so "built" from the factory that there is not much the aftermarket can do to improve on it short of increasing the bore and stroke of the engine.  He did let it slip that the 6 Litre engine would provide interesting since it is basically the same block stroked out.

After the seminar it was time for the official event picture.  Visitors to the museum were treated to the sight of over 60 C5's lined up around the circle in front of the museum, as well as most of the members, along with Dave Hill and other Engineers spelling out C-5 with their bodies. 

From there, it was time to leave.  Yes unfortunately all good things must come to an end.  Overall the weekend was a blast!  Everyone was extremely nice, polite and meeting the engineers who created this legend we call C5 was an overwhelming experience.  Dan, Jake, and the staff at the NCM came together with sponsors such as Ecklers and GM to put together one heck of a birthday party.   Hats off to you guys, for making such a memorable weekend! And thanks again to the guys at GM who spent a weekend of their time with us, you made it a truly once-in-a-lifetime event.  One last question, how much is a Vette signed by Cafaro, Hill, and Minneker worth now??

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