Corvette as Canvas or Artifact?

In the last few weeks I’ve witnessed the extremes of the classic Corvette continuum.

My first encounter was in St. Charles, Ill., a northwest suburb of Chicago, at Bloomington Gold, considered the ultimate pilgrimage among many Corvette owners. The annual gathering honors Corvettes maintained as closely as possible to the condition in which they left not just the showroom, but the assembly plant itself, whether the car was one of the 300 first Corvettes crafted in 1953 in Flint, Mich., those produced from 1954 to 1981 at St. Louis, Mo., or those built since June 1981 at Bowling Green, Ky.

Judges at Bloomington Gold are such sticklers for originality that their ranks often include ex-workers from those assembly lines, who wield clipboards alongside Corvette preservation and restoration experts.

The show’s organizers have expanded their annual gathering in the last three years, offering another day for other classics to be considered for certified “Survivor” status. Among those scrutinized this year were a 1966 Ferrari 275 GTB that made the trip from Cambridge, Mass., and a 1954 Chevrolet Bel Air driven 800 miles from Tulsa, Okla., by its original owner.

On the other side of this continuum, there are Corvette enthusiasts for whom originality springs from an owner’s creative impulse. While there may not be room for such cars at Bloomington Gold, they were welcomed here this last weekend, in the western suburbs of Detroit, at Corvettes at the Summit, a Corvettes-only show set on the hills surrounding a pond in Canton’s Heritage Park.

While most of the 150 or so Corvettes here have been maintained very close to showroom condition, for the last three years one of the highlights of the gathering has been the presence of the TrendSettas, a Corvette car club from Flint — the same Flint that produced that inaugural run of 300 Corvettes.

“They come from the factory with potential, and then you customize,” said Phillip Johnson, a TrendSettas member, explaining the club’s philosophy.

While the TrendSettas retain factory-specification powertrains, they often cover the engine components, engine bay and even the underside of the hood with chrome and mirrored surfaces. This, in addition to grafting on all manner of nonfactory body panel extensions, bolting on enlarged wheels, mounting doors on butterfly hinges, covering the interiors with exotic leathers, installing custom audio systems and adding paint and stripes not found in the standard Corvette catalog.

The final products may have appeared brash, even heretical, relative to the factory-faithful cars at the park, yet they also illustrated that Corvette worship knows no bounds.