We're Feeling the Need for Speed...
This morning it was a bit strange having to set an alarm for only the second time since we arrived in Campbellsville about a month ago. But, it wasn’t to get up to go to work, rather it was to get out and explore Kentucky! When we woke up, we called to see if there were any openings for a tour at the National Corvette Museum & Plant in Bowling Green, KY. We lucked out and got the last two spots for a 1:00 PM tour. They offer tours every 15 minutes between 8:30 AM - 1:45 PM Monday - Friday. Just a reminder if you are booking a tour, that the plant/museum is in the central time zone. That gained us an hour of fun in Bowling Green as our campground is in the eastern time zone. We were kind of hoping to visit either Mammoth Cave or the Lost River Cave while in Bowling Green, but the timing didn’t work out this time. We've got a few more weeks to hopefully make that happen!
When we arrived, we picked up our tickets at the Museum which is about 1/2 a mile from the plant. You are required to be at the plant 30 minutes before your tour start time. They also have these non-negotiable rules: only closed toe & heel shoes, no cameras, no purses, no bags or containers, no cell phones, tablets, or any type of electronics. Make sure to keep these items in your car as there are no lockers or places to store these items.
There are lots of arrows near the entrance of the plant to let you know where to go. Upon entering, we were greeted by a lady that checked us in and gave us tickets for a 12:45 tour start time. We sat through a safety video in the waiting room (lots of seats) and started our tour promptly at 12:45 PM. The tour started with a bit of Corvette history and a rundown on the facility. In 1981, GM moved the production of the Corvette from St. Louis to Bowling Green. The lease on the building is $1/year for the next 64 years - what a steal! The plant is approximately 1 million square feet which is like having 17 football fields under one roof. Incredibly large, but must not be quite big enough as they are currently building a new 500,000 square foott paint shop onsite.
Our tour guide showed us a board with samples of all the colors available for the 2017 Corvette which we were able to see on actual Corvettes moving down the line once we stepped inside the assembly plant. They assemble around 150 Corvettes/day and were really pushing it they day of our tour with 168 that would come off the line throughout the day. One thing we learned that we did not know was that all of the Corvettes have been paid for in full before they are built. So if you see a new Corvette sitting at a dealership, they have chosen the options they think are most popular and have paid for the car in full. In essence, they are re-selling the car. I mean what Chevy dealer doesn’t want to have one of “America’s Sports Cars” sitting on their lot - probably worth the investment. What a shame if it doesn’t sell and the owner has to drive it around.
Because they are paid for in advance, that gives the owner that chance to option their ‘Vette out with a multitude of options & upgrades. There are approximately 1,400 different combinations of options to choose from which sounds like a nightmare for those of us that have a tough time making decisions. Wink Wink - that’s me!
Once you purchase the car, you can choose to participate in the assembly process from building the engine with your name on it ($5000 option for Corvette Z06 buyers) or if that sounds a bit steep you can start the engine for the first time, receive its birth certificate, or smoke the tires as you drive it off the assembly line for a measly $1000. If you are already forking over that kind of cash for the vehicle, why not throw over a couple more grand. YOLO, right?
We were pleasantly surprised with how up close and personal we got with the Corvettes going down the line. We could have reached out and touched them at several points on the tour. I only had to slap Russ’ hand a few times - Bad Russ Bad, No Touchy Touchy! The cars move along the assembly line at a speed just under a tenth of a mile per hour. They are in constant motion except during breaks & lunch. Because of this everyone takes their breaks at the same time. They turn off the lights above the assembly line during these breaks which saves them $5000/month on the electricity bill. Crazy, right? That must be one heck of an electric bill - ouch! Each employee does just one job on the line whether it is installing the driver’s seat, checking the space between the trim pieces, installing the hatch, matching one corner of the body to the chassis, installing wheels, etc. Russ and I agreed that it would be cool to do for just about 1 day. It sounds fun to install 168 driver’s seats in a day, but then you think about the fact that you will do it again on Tuesday and on Wednesday and on Thursday - you get the point! Being in the warehouse did give us some flashbacks of our jobs at the Amazon facility - the sights and sounds of a factory are all similar.
It is important to note that all the parts and pieces that are being put on the Corvettes as they progress down the line are already fabricated and painted which is why it is called the Corvette Assembly Plant. They are putting all the ready-to-go pieces and parts on the cars. This is another reason why they are able to allow factory tours and the employees aren’t required to wear much safety gear. Also, the employees aren’t handling anything of much weight. For example, the seats are picked up and put in place by a robotic arm and are then attached by the worker. Since so many options are available, the seats, wheels, and other customized parts are delivered in the order they are to be placed on the vehicles coming down the line. It was cool to see the first time the Corvette held its on weight when it was set down after its tires were installed. As it traversed the miles and miles through the plant, it had yet to ‘stand’ on its own. Shortly after, they start the engine for the first time and drive it off the assembly line. This is the first time the suspension has been engaged, so they run it over a serious of bumps to get it going. Its like the idea of spanking a baby’s bum to get him/her to take its first breath. I’m not a huge car person, but it was pretty exciting to see those cars start up and drive off the line. It sure looked like a fun job - maybe our next workamping job?
After finishing up our plant tour, we headed back over to the National Corvette Museum. Corvette enthusiasts would really appreciate the different years & styles of ‘Vettes all under one roof. They are doing a great job of preserving American sports car history. Many of you probably remember seeing video footage of the sinkhole which swallowed eight Corvettes at the museum in February 2014. Luckily no one was in the building when it happened, but the security cameras were rolling and providing some great footage of the incident making it a international headline story. This 2 year old exhibit provides photos and facts of each car that became a victim to the sinkhole. After the journey through the Corvette Cave we were lead into the Skydome where all eight of the cars involved in the sinkhole were on display. The cars all covered in dirt & still mangled provided an even more concrete image of what most had happened that day. Along with the “Sinkhole Corvettes” the Skydome was lined with anniversary and special edition cars.
The last exhibit before entering the gift shop was a special display of fourteen cars that are no longer being produced by GM or rolling off assembly lines. This exhibit was titled “Gone, But Not Forgotten” and was a temporary exhibit which can be viewed through January 6, 2017 before being replaced with another unique display. You can check out the National Corvette Museum website to see what exhibits will be featured during different times of the year.
If you are ever in the area, the National Corvette Museum & Plant is definitely worth the visit. Car lover or not, the plant tour was very insightful and informative. You can purchase the museum ticket for $10 or the combination museum/plant tour ticket for $16. Combine your trip with a visit to Mammoth Cave National Park and get the antithesis of both the ancient and modern worlds.