GM halfway complete to restoring sinkhole Corvette

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Warren — "Stan Bryant," "Earl Hampton" and "Randy Winters" are just a few of the hundreds of names etched in history with the 1-millionth Chevrolet Corvette that General Motors Co. is working to preserve.

The names, although not immediately visible on the 1992 white convertible's exterior, are signatures of employees who had a hand in assembling the milestone vehicle, which was heavily damaged in February 2014 after plummeting into a sinkhole at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

The signatures are written on the interior of the doors and exterior panels, frame and nearly all other nooks of the sports car that the Detroit-based automaker has been working to restore since April.

"To us, that means something," said David Bolognino, director of GM Design Fabrication operations, pointing to the vehicle's damaged rear bumper cover with dozens of signatures inside. "We're going to spend probably three times as much time repairing this part as it would be to just throw another one on.

"This is not a collision job, this is a restoration job."

Restoration of the vehicle is about halfway complete at the company's Warren Tech Center in Metro Detroit. It is expected to be finished by Labor Day weekend, when the museum celebrates its 21st anniversary.

Bolognino said nearly all pieces of the car are expected to be restored, not replaced. However, a handful of pieces, including the front fascia panel that does not have any signatures, were too damaged to be restored.

GM Vice President of Global Design Ed Welburn said the automaker always wanted to keep as many original parts as possible, but after unearthing the signatures it became even more of a priority.

"I look at it and I think about how the car was assembled, and people signing it during the assembly process," he said during a media event Tuesday in Warren. "It's not like they just finished the car and signed the hood. They were signing it as it was being assembled. That's cool."

The vehicle did not have to be completely stripped down to its frame, which officials thought would have to happen when it was unearthed last year.

The car was insured and damage was assessed at about $30,000; that money was given to the museum.

"As far as time and money is concerned, we're going to do whatever it reasonably takes to get this done right," Bolognino said.

The 1-millionth Corvette, which was given by GM to the museum, was one of eight of the iconic sports cars that fell into the 30-foot deep sinkhole last year.

The automaker already restored a 2009 Corvette ZR1, nicknamed the "Blue Devil" that was on loan to the museum from GM. That car is in storage while the museum works to fill the sinkhole, a $3.2 million project expected to wrap up in July.

"We'll be glad to have the skydome reopened to the public and all eight of the sinkhole Corvettes on display as well as many other Corvettes," said Katie Frassinelli, museum marketing & communications manager

GM originally said it would try to restore all eight Corvettes that fell into the 45-foot wide and 60-foot long hole. But the museum later determined just three could be restored.