It may come as a surprise to our American cousins, but we Canadians buy more convertibles per capita than Americans. In fact, Canadians love sports cars—especially Corvettes. Canadian enthusiasts have always been eager to purchase ’Vettes, most often “special” limited-edition models. The biggest problem over the decades has always been factory allotment.
A run of 2,000 specially equipped models might translate into 200 for all Canadian Chevrolet dealers, of which there are approximately 350, though numbers are dwindling. Many more Corvettes could probably find good homes, but supply is the problem.
The Corvette remains, as Karl Ludvigsen put it, “America’s Star-Spangled Sports Car,” and that was reinforced once again at the 2009 Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto this spring.
While most international auto shows around the world dabble in collector vehicle displays, Toronto has a tradition of featuring grandiose presentations of everything from Ferrari to Bugatti.
This year, the big theme was “Corvette: An American Legend,” sponsored by Castrol Canada and located in the outer foyer leading into the History Room, which housed the majority of the Corvettes at the Metro Convention Center. The ten-day event was hosted by the Corvette Club of Ontario, which was formed in 1962. The CCO was Canada’s first Corvette club and is also the largest. Of the 29 Corvettes on display, enthusiasts in the CCO supplied 14.
The display featured all models (each generation was represented by cars from the first and last years), all the Corvette Indy Pace Cars from 1978, 1986, 1998, and 2007, the Anniversary models commemorating the 40th and 50th years of Corvette production, and two of the prototypes highlighting the evolutionary changes along the way.
There were five vehicles on display from GM’s 200-vehicle Heritage Center in Sterling Heights, Michigan. In particular, the 1963 Mako Shark and 1969 Manta Ray were shown together for the first time outside GM.
Now more commonly referred to as the Mako Shark I, the Mako Shark was originally the 1961 XP-755 Shark concept from Bill Mitchell that was designed by Larry Shinoda with a double-bubble top complete with a periscope. By 1964, now bearing the name Mako Shark, this experimental vehicle had transformed into a full roadster and was powered by a supercharged 427. Other changes included a restyled, simulated wood dash and cast alloy lace wheels. The shark-like appearance was enhanced by its restyled snout, gills, and dark blue to fade-away white paint. Forty-five years later, it still stopped visitors in their tracks.
Inside the History Room, the 1969 Manta Ray sat front and center, surrounded by all the generations of Corvettes. The dramatic-looking Manta Ray evolved from a former show car—the Mako Shark II—with a modified front end, including a chin spoiler, cleaner, smoother flanks with less conspicuous sidepipes, the removal of the rear window louvers, and the addition of a sleeker extended tail.
The first-off-the-line (V5100001) 1997 C5 convertible, the 1986 C4 Pace Car coupe, and a 1953 Roadster were the other offerings supplied by GM Heritage.
Another highly visible Corvette was the personal 2006 Z06 owned by Canadian-born Corvette racer Ron Fellows, who lent his name to the special-edition model in 2007. Much of the equipment Chevy and Fellows added to this car found its way on to the 2007 Ron Fellows ALMS GT1 Champion Corvette Z06, which dominated the GT1-class in the ALMS. Fellows was on hand throughout the show to talk about Corvettes and to sign autographs.
A few years back in a press presentation about brand names, Bob Lutz observed that in the case of the Corvette, the Chevrolet association had virtually been lost. “People tend to think Corvette or ’Vette, rather than Chevrolet Corvette. It’s a case where the model is more recognizable than the brand.” His opinion was visibly illustrated at this Corvette display; there was no “Chevy” connection in any of the signage. Just another example of how this huge company has lost its way—when it can’t even capitalize on one of its few strengths to reinforce its brand.