It was only a few hour’s drive to Bowling Green, Kentucky, to visit the National Corvette Museum. From the outset of the planning of this road trip, I wanted to go to this museum, regardless if we bought a Corvette, or not.
Some of you may remember in 2015 when a huge sinkhole appeared, and sucked down 8 Corvettes into the bowels of the earth.
Naturally, we parked in the ‘Corvette only’ parking area (yes, it is A Thing) and went inside. Another reason to get inside, is to get away from the heat – it’s 35 degrees outside, and muggy as hell. In the main foyer is a half-dozen C7s, and they look superb. A couple of them are up for grabs via raffle tickets. The National Corvette Museum is totally non-profit, and has no funding from GM, so runs alone. They have raffles going all the time (for a new Corvette) to raise money. Tickets vary from $20, to $300 each – this is dependent on the number of tickets sold. For $100, you can buy a ticket that has total ticket sales of just 1500. I thought that was pretty good odds! There’s a catch – non-US residents have to take a cash prize of US$50K instead. I’d rather have a new Corvette.
Anyway, I pay my $12 to get in the museum, and straight away join into a Museum Tour group (no charge) with Wayne as the tour guide. This went on for just over an hour, and was the best way to find out all the info I needed to know. The museum itself is excellently done – one of the best car museums I’ve ever been to – and having someone on the inside give us the run down was a far better option.
Wayne gives the small group the guided tour, and although I struggle to understand his accent at times, it’s all good stuff and we don’t linger too long at any one point. I ask him what the main things people ask him are; two things he says, “have you got a C8 Corvette here, and where is the sinkhole?” He laughs as he says this, because according to the stats, after the sinkhole was repaired, patronage to the museum went up 50% – everyone wanted to see the sinkhole, or at least where the sinkhole was. You’ve got to hand it to museum management here; the sinkhole exhibition by itself is superbly done. There are interactive exhibits just about the sinkhole, videos, and more info than you could almost spend time reading about. Every car that went down the hole is covered off.
He goes on to tell us that only 3 of the 8 cars that fell in the hole were rebuilt – the rest were too far damaged. Internally, I am incredulous. Surely they can’t be that bad to be beyond repair. Then we see them, and they are totalled. Mother nature has dealt to the Corvettes big time, and you can see why they didn’t bother trying to rebuild them. Photos you see here do not do justice to the damage the cars sustained.
In the same area as the sinkhole was (it’s marked out with tape so you can visualise it) there’s cars on the edges which weren’t affected by the sinkhole at all – they just sat there while the others fell in. Quite incredible to read about, and even more so actually being there and looking at the site.
In this same area, there is a car I didn’t realise existed; a C4 Corvette with a V12 engine, that pumps out over 600HP. It’s six inches longer than the standard car (all for the engine) and apparently it runs. Looking under the bonnet, the conversion looks great, and almost factory.
There’s so much more to look at of course, and we follow Wayne about the exhibits. He shows us a C7 Corvette, a white convertible, sitting proud. How did the museum get this particular car? A guy won one of the Corvette raffles, and duly picks up his new Corvette. He buys another raffle ticket…you guessed it, he wins another Corvette. So he does an incredibly generous thing, and gifts it to the museum.
After far too long wondering about the museum, it’s time to head off to our next accommodation. Still 35 degrees outside, we grab a couple of photos and then hit the road. We’re headed to London for the night via the Cumberland Parkway, and on the way will pass by Somerset, Glasgow, Manchester and Edmonton. I see a pattern forming here.
Simply a driving day today, as we are heading towards Richmond, Virginia, to spend a few days with a friend. While in Richmond, I will replace the shocks, and also the centre console facia plate. I’m hoping to get a couple of other things done on the car too. We’ve already passed the 6,000km mark, so it may even be time for an oil change again soon.
Leaving London, Kentucky, our first stop was in the town of Corbin. You’ve likely never heard of Corbin, but I bet you know of its most famous resident. Colonel Sanders started KFC in this town, and we stopped at the museum (which is also an actual KFC) for a few photos and to read up about the man. Like many businesses, it was the interstate that killed his hopes for KFC, so I guess the interstate really was a blessing in disguise. As soon as the interstate opened up, business dropped right off (he had a motel and attached restaurant at the time), so Colonel Sanders sold up, and the rest is history, as he focused on his secret fried chicken recipe.
It was interesting that when he sold the motel and restaurant, he had enough money to pay his debts and his taxes – and that’s it. He only had his pension of $105 a month to kick-off Kentucky Fried Chicken. It shows you the determination and commitment of the man who had almost no money, as well as the success of the product of course.
After Corbin, we stayed on a dual-lane carriageway for a lot of miles, with cruise control set at 55mp/h. It was far slower than the interstate, and far more interesting. The road was great – so much smoother than the interstate, and the scenery was excellent as well.
We were planning to get to Roanoke in Virginia tonight, but after our stops it’s getting a bit late so we stop short and instead stay in Salem, still in Virginia.
It was funny with our drive today, due to the roads we were on we went from Kentucky to Tennessee, to Virginia, then back into Tennessee, then back into Virginia. At least we didn’t lose any time today, crossing over time zones.
Another driving day, and early on we get to Bedford, Virginia to gas up the car. I think this must be our cheapest fill-up yet, at $2.57 a gallon for the top grade premium – that works out to NZ$1.08 a litre. Unleaded is a whole lot cheaper, but the Corvette wouldn’t like it.
For lunch, we call into another random small town – this one is Appomattox. It’s 36 degrees outside the car, so after a quick walk along the main street (it doesn’t take long), we head into a diner called Granny Bees, and it’s full of locals eating, so we know it should be good. My wife orders a grilled cheese sandwich ($2.10) and I get a cheeseburger ($3.55). They are both great, and my burger is fresh and hot. We’re saving space for desert, so I get a double chocolate pie, while my wife gets a lemon chess pie (yes, lemon chess pie. It’s a Thing, apparently). Both of those are excellent too, and all their pies are home-made.
While ordering, we get the familiar, “where y’all from?”. They don’t get many New Zealanders in Appomattox, although reading up on the history of the town, this town was pretty important in the Civil War. This is the site of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Union General Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865, essentially ending the American Civil War., and there’s a museum that’s apparently a very worthwhile visit. We don’t have time today, but both decide this is a town we’ll be coming back to another trip.
We travelled only 350km today, but as usual it’s taken us all day with stops for fuel, coffee, toilet, and looking through small towns.
Tomorrow I plan to replace the shocks in the Corvette myself, as well as a few other tasks – the shocks are number 1 on the list. But, when we get to our friend’s place in Richmond, Virginia, I check out the tool situation. It’s not too good, and also – and most importantly – they don’t have the bottle jack that they thought they did. I’m not keen to replace shocks using the car’s scissor jack, so in the morning we’ll call our friend’s local garage they use, and see if they can squeeze the car in.
On that, I’ve been emailing local garages in Richmond since weeks ago, trying to book the car in to get the shocks replaced. A garage with the right tools can do this job so much quicker than I can. But I get no response – so I email again, and again – no response. Yeah, I should have just called them on the phone, but really I wanted it on email so I could be specific about what I wanted done. Although I’m replacing the shocks, I definitely want to keep the old, original ones and the actuators that are mounted on top of them, so I can get them rebuilt at home one day, and put them back on the car. We’ve found this same scenario with other US companies replying over email – many of them simply don’t. Frustrating!
We put an early morning phone call into Allen Tire Inc to see if they can get the Corvette in today, and yes, they can. Excellent. I’m going to leave the car there, as they don’t know when they’ll actually start working on it. They seem pretty confident that they’ll get the shocks done, as I ask about an oil change. The oil is still sort of clean, but since the car has been pretty much sitting around for years, I’d rather do an oil and filter change now and be done with it. I’ve got a feeling the filter will be filled up with gunk since it was changed in LA.
No problem they say, and I go with Mobil 1 synthetic. “If you have time,” I say, “I’d like to get the front discs skimmed.” After the explanation that I mean rotors, they apparently don’t skim rotors anymore, instead simply replacing them. Faster and easier. How much are the new rotors? $80 each. I can’t argue with that, so tell them to go ahead and order them if they have time to arrive today.
Later in the day the car is almost ready to pick up. There’s a hold-up though; they swapped out the right-hand rotor no problem, but when they opened up the box for the left-hand one, it was the wrong part. They talked to the supplier, and got another one sent. Wrong one again. Got another one sent. Wrong one again. When I turned up, they were waiting on box 4 to arrive, and see if it was the right part – and it was. The shocks have been switched out, and I have the old ones and the actuators so I can get the shocks rebuilt sometime and reinstalled. The oil and filter have been changed, with Mobil 1 put in. So all three jobs were done, and we’re ready for another 3,000km or so of driving before our trip ends.
On chatting to Brian and Jimmy at Allen Tire Inc, you can see these are ‘real’ car guys. They are into drag racing, and go on to tell me about Drag Week, which recently was held. For Drag Week, you bring your drag car along, take it down the strip, then drive it (yes, on the road) to another drag strip, and do it all over again. Then it’s off to another drag strip. So the cars have to be somewhat legal (apparently the law is fairly lenient during Drag Week), but I can imagine the noise and heat on the open road in these cars, let alone the fuel they would suck through. Jimmy goes on to say an Aussie team bought a Chev Chevelle in Virginia just for Drag Week, and then spent three months getting it ready. They’ve had Kiwis through as well – and it sounds like a blast. Now, I just need to organise a sponsor to send me there, buy a car and do Drag Week…
On the way back, the brakes feel a whole lot smoother, and stopping at the traffic lights is a whole heap better. I can’t tell any difference with the shocks yet, but we’ll wait until a bumpy road (won’t take long to find one of those!) and also a nice, windy road, to see the difference.
Tomorrow, it’s on to Philadelphia.
A simple drive to Philadelphia today, so no real stress. We did notice the temperature dropping steadily as we headed north, it was 26 when we left Richmond, and 9 when we got into the central city of Philly later in the evening.
We got to our hotel first, then dumped our bags and headed straight into the city for a ‘Grim Philly’ ghost tour. We love these sorts of funky tours, where you learn about the seedier side of a city. But the ghastly side of Philly came out as we headed to town…the traffic. Horrendous does not even get close, as we slowly edged our way to town. “We’ll make it, we’ll make it,” was replaced with “I think we’ll make it,” and then “we won’t make it,”. We were hoping to stop for dinner on the way, but we had to flag that, not enough time with the huge traffic jams. Once we were almost to our destination, we took a wrong turn and somehow ended up on Ben Franklin Bridge, and then crossed into New Jersey! No idea how that happened, but no stress we thought, just go back over the bridge and into Pennsylvania. But first, we had to pay the $5 toll fee to be able to get out of New Jersey. Joy.
But we did make it just in time, parked the car up and got to our ghost tour. It was an excellent tour, with about 20 or so people joining in. Philly has a deep, sordid past, and our tour guide was animated and engaging. There’s tales of prostitutes, beavers, and so much more that I can’t say here. It is an R18 tour, after all, and well worth the $25 fee.
On the way back the traffic at 1030 at night was almost as bad as it was when we arrived in town at 4pm. Not good!
Today was my first time back in jeans since leaving New Zealand. Although it was freezing last night at our ghost tour, I braved it out. Not so today, there’s a bite in the air and jeans it is. We head to the city, the traffic is a bit better than it was last night, but up rears another Philly bug-bear: the roads. I’ve been mentioning how bad the roads are across the USA, but Philadelphia takes the prize for the worst roads. They are incredible. There’s parts where the whole car is launched up in the air, and then plummets back down again. Huge potholes, that absolutely hammer the car. There does seem to be road works going on here and there, but it’s a reason I can’t wait to get out of this town.
This morning we’ve got another walking tour, this one a bit more child-friendly, with just as many people as last night. But again, our guide is a good one, and takes us on a two-hour walk through old city Philly, pointing out key places and giving us some great insights into the founding of the USA. There’s almost no cross-over from last night’s tour, and again we’re so glad we did this instead of just walking around the city looking at a map.
We went on to our next stop, Eastern State Penitentiary. We’d planned to visit this old prison ages ago. It was opened in 1829, and was still operating right up to 1971 – that’s almost 150 years. Straight off: if you are going to Philly, put this place on your must visit list. It’s an audio tour (included in the price of $16), so very much like Alcatraz. For me, it was done better than Alcatraz, and there were places (cells) where local artists had put some of their work, that was related to the prisoners there. Without wanting to use too many clichés, it’s an amazing place to visit – and facts like they had indoor plumbing and heating before the White House stick in my mind. Go there if you are in Philly.
Time for dinner after walking around the old prison, so on local advice we headed to choose from either Pat’s King of Steaks, which has the enviable title of the place where Philly Cheese Steaks started. Right across the road from Pat’s is Geno’s Steaks, which has a great reputation for Philly Cheese Steak too. We’d decide when we got there, which took ages due to the traffic. I could not live in Philadelphia.
On arrival, we went with Geno’s, mainly because the queue at Pat’s was halfway around the building. We walked across the road to Geno’s, and I waited in the longish queue. Both ‘restaurants’ have no indoor seating – it’s all outside, and both places have rubbish laying around all over the place. I get the feeling they don’t do any cleaning up until the end of the night, as stuff is blowing around the streets. It’s a bit of a production line at Geno’s, as they take your order and whip up your Philly Cheese Steak in a flash. Both places are cash only, and the cynical side of me wonders how much income they actually declare to the tax department….
We sit outside in the coolish autumn air and eat our cheese steaks. It’s actually pretty good – messy, but tasty. My wife and I look at each other after having them, then look across to Pat’s King of Steaks. We can’t really review both places, unless we eat at both places? So we go across to Pat’s, where the queue has now gone down. There’s clear instructions before you get to the window to order, on how to order. If you want onions, you must sat ‘wit’, no onions is ‘wit-out’. Make sure you know what meat you want, and have your cash ready. I get a bit flustered at the window when it’s my turn to order, and the guy gets annoyed. He pretty much throws my Philly Cheese Steak down on the counter. I feel like I’ve been served by the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld.
And the winner? While Pat’s King of Steaks may have invented it, the award goes to Geno’s. Pat’s meat tastes like it’s been defrosted before being cooked, and is pretty watery. The table next to us agrees, so it’s not just us.
Pretty much another driving day, as we head towards New England. We’ve booked to stay in a smallish town this evening, Riverhead, New York. It’s on Long Island, but way east of Brooklyn and The Bronx, and it means a short 40-minute drive the next morning to catch the car ferry to New London, in Connecticut.
Not much to report for today, except that as we were passing through the small town of Lahaska, we spied signs that said, ‘Corvette Car Show’. How could we not? In thirty seconds, we arrived at the car show, and there were over 100 Corvettes on display. It was the 25th Annual Tri-State Corvette Show for the Tri State Corvette Club, that covers Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.
Some drivers were still cleaning engine bays with cotton wool buds, while most were just relaxing with their cars, waiting for the judges. There was a huge range of Corvettes, with a surprise feature of at least 35 C7 models, the latest version. Some very rare ones on display too, including the Callaway C4 twin-turbo, which I have never seen before. This one was one of just 16 convertible Callaways produced, and I can imagine it’s almost priceless. This is one rare car. The owner had the price list with the car, and while the car was under $30K brand new, the Callaway Twin Turbo option added another $28K to the price. As you can guess, they didn’t sell too many.
It was a great start to the day, and luckily they didn’t have any Corvette parts of memorabilia on sale, otherwise the car may have filled up just that bit more – not that we can fit anything else in it.
We cruised on Pennsylvania’s terrible roads some more, staying off the toll roads today, so it was more back roads than interstate. The Corvette ticked over 33,000 miles as we moved states into New Jersey, so that’s already nearly 9,000km we’ve done in the car. I had estimated we’d do 10,000km in our six-week road trip, but that’s going to be way low.
After lunch, we drove on and crossed into New York state, through some exciting traffic. If I thought drivers in the US were fast and crazy, New York drivers took this to another level, as they cut in front of us all the time, and indicators were apparently not working on any car.
Still, we made it to Riverhead, stressed but undamaged. Tomorrow it’s an early start to catch the ferry to a state we’ve never been to before: Connecticut.