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ON THE ROAD

'Vette Aficionados Make Trek to Their Own Mecca

October 06, 1994|LEONARD REED | Leonard Reed is a Times staff writer

VENTURA — The look of the thing is singular, indelibly etched in place by the TV show "Route 66" and the weight of some near-religious '60s belief that it would deliver us from banal. The Corvette. America's only sports car. The 'Vette, if you truly understand.

There are 40 or so people in these parts who especially do.

They own 'Vettes and belong to the Ventura County Corvette Club, which does what most social clubs do: raise money for charities and hold fun activities for the membership. Fun activities here means that members celebrate and commiserate and otherwise swap stories, tools and sweat on matters relating to fuel injectors, suspension, the torsional rigidity of fiberglass bodies, torque-to-horsepower ratios and all manner of 'Vette minutiae. Fetishes are like that.

Just when it risks becoming nerdy, though, the club goes and does something dramatic. Ten of its members in five of its cars one Saturday met at Morris Chevrolet in Fillmore and, with 6 a.m. dew still on the hoods, pulled out in single file onto the 126 eastbound. Whooshing and arcing and accelerating through wet lemon orchards, these drivers were heading to the source, setting out on a pilgrimage that would land them at Mecca by today: The Corvette assembly plant and museum in Bowling Green, Ky.

There they will see life-size mannequins of call-me-cool George Maharis, I'm-the-sane-one Martin Milner and a real 1961 'Vette in a re-created "Route 66" scene. But that's not all.

The museum building, in homage to the car for which it is a memorial, has a free-form sculptural shape. Through winding rooms, it contains 50 'Vettes of every vintage, among them the '57 SS, the popular Sting Ray, the '63 split window coupe, the '78 Indianapolis pace car and the '92 'Vette that was the one millionth to roll off the production line.

On its 33-acre grounds are displays that cite the Corvette's development in racing and its design development from a gas-chugging behemoth, whose suspension was so stiff as to shake fillings loose, to the current Concorde-like cruiser whose 350-cubic-inch engine, in sixth gear at 75 m.p.h., barely is awake and consumes but one gallon of gas for every 26 miles.

The Ventura contingent also will see the $600 brick they bought that helped build the museum. And, before departing Friday, they will stop at the museum's 3,000-square-foot gift shop to ensure the purchase of Corvette icons. A decal here, a hat there: everywhere something Corvette.

It may all seem so over the top--grown adults driving 4,000 round trip miles to see the history of what they're driving. But consider that on the museum's opening day one month ago, 4,000 Corvettes jammed into Bowling Green and more than 80,000 pilgrims paid to see the preserved American dream machines.

Corvette people are like that: fierce in their conviction that the Corvette, like the Harley-Davidson motorcycle, is a classic, a piece of machinery that couldn't have occurred anywhere else.

Karen Turse of Camarillo was driving her '77 coupe for this trek, with Abe Strozenberg of Simi Valley as a passenger (Abe's older-vintage 'Vette stayed home, because "it would need a gas station following it," he noted). Taking turns on lead position in the caravan were Sandy and Leonard Cardosa of Ventura in their '87 coupe, Phil and C. J. McPhetridge of Ventura in their '88 35th anniversary edition coupe, John and Dorothy Mimms of Oak View in their '90 coupe and Bill and Nora Berger of Camarillo in their '91 coupe.

They had lunch in Needles on Saturday, hours after leaving Fillmore. Then it was daily destinations of Tucumcari, N.M.; McAlester, Okla.; Queen Wilhelmina, Ark.; Nashville, Tenn., and Bowling Green. Friday, commencing a southern route home, they'll hit Jackson, Miss.; Fort Worth, Tex.; Brownwood, Tex.; Carlsbad, N.M.; El Paso, Tex.; Benson, Ariz.; Phoenix; Palm Springs, and Ventura.

Sandy Cardosa, who once drove a '61 Triumph TR-3, thought up this trip. She loves not only the Corvette's mystique but also its deep reserves of power. Of the Miata she test-drove not long ago, she said: "Oh, four-cylinder engines just don't cut it."

In the Corvette reality, few can turn back. That's what got this trip off the ground in the first place. Seeing where the dream is bolted together, coupled with a love of the open road, was enough for these people to sit behind the wheel for most of their vacations.

As Sandy Cardosa puts it, "this trip is, well, great fun, because you just get in the car and drive."

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