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National Corvette Museum: The hole story

As the video begins, a surrealistic scene emerges. A large, dimly lit room. Grainy images of three cars in the center of the screen—a white convertible, an orange coupe and a blue coupe. Six seconds soundlessly tick off the clock. Nothing moves. Wait! The floor supporting the cars shudders, then stops. Nine more seconds silently pass by. Again, nothing moves. Suddenly, the floor under the rear of the white convertible and the orange coupe simply falls away and disappears. The two cars totter on the precipice. Five seconds…ten seconds pass, the cars hanging on for dear life—to no avail. Without warning the floor and both cars completely disappear into what is now a visible sinkhole. Before the dust can settle, a large chunk of concrete on the side collapses into the hole in the direction of the fallen cars. The video ends.

2009 ZR1 prototype "Blue Devil" is removed from the sinkhole.
2009 ZR1 prototype "Blue Devil" is removed from the sinkhole.
National Corvette Museum
Corvettes at the bottom of the sinkhole
National Corvette Museum

Mother Nature Strikes

A scene from a bad sci-fi movie? A MacGyver rerun? No. This scene was taken by a security camera and gives us a first-hand look at Mother Nature playing a not-to-funny sinkhole prank on the National Corvette Museum (NCM). In all, eight very rare and very valuable Corvettes had the floor pulled out from under them and tumbled down into the sinkhole.

The good news is that it happened in the middle of the night when no one was in the museum and there were no injuries. Maybe Mother Nature isn’t too cruel after all.

An Early Wake-up Call

Someone once said that, “No phone call in the middle of the night is ever good news.” That certainly was the case for Executive Director Wendell Strode and the NCM staff when they received a call from their security company at 5:44 a.m. on February 12, 2014 and were informed that the motion detectors in the museum were going off. Upon arrival at the museum, they discovered a sinkhole 40 feet across and 25-30 feet deep in the Skydome where eight Corvettes had been the day before.

The eight Corvettes swallowed by the sinkhole include:

  • 1993 ZR-1 Spyder
  • 2009 ZR1 Prototype “Blue Devil”
  • 1962 Black Corvette
  • 1984 PPG Pace Car
  • 1992 White One Millionth Corvette
  • 1993 Ruby Red 40th Anniversary Corvette
  • 2001 Mallett Hammer Z06 Corvette
  • 2009 White 1.5 Millionth Corvette

The Skydome is a defining architectural and exhibition feature of the museum. The large, yellow conical structure with the bright red spire protruding from the top houses a special exhibit area and is the home for the Corvette Hall of Fame.

Quick Response from the Corvette Community

When the magnitude of the problem became evident, the NCM leadership wasted no time in assembling a team of construction and geological experts and by the next afternoon the team held a press conference to announce their plans to evaluate and stabilize the building so the cars could be removed. The plans going forward include securing the sinkhole and the surrounding areas so that, even if a future sinkhole appears nearby, it will not affect the museum.

General Motors also stepped up to the plate and volunteered to oversee the restoration of the damaged Corvettes. The restorations will be conducted at the Mechanical Assembly facility at GM Design and will be overseen by Ed Welburn, vice president of GM Global Design.

The National Corvette Museum is independently owned and is supported solely by charitable donations from enthusiasts. An online donation site has been established for those who wish to lend assistance. Should you like to make a contribution, please see this page of the NCM website.

NCM Team to the Rescue

By early March, the Skydome was determined to be safe enough to bring in the cranes and get on with the retrieval of the cars. The first to see the light of day was the 2009 “Blue Devil” ZR1 prototype, the blue coupe in the video. After falling 30 feet into a debris-filled sinkhole, the ZR1 started right up after retrieval and was driven to its new display area—Corvettes are tough!

Lady luck finally smiled on the NCM and four other cars have now been rescued, some ahead of schedule. Of the five cars now retrieved—the “Blue Devil”, 1962 Black Corvette, 1984 PPG Pace Car, 1992 One Millionth Corvette, and 1993 Fortieth Anniversary Coupe—the PPG Pace Car, the orange car in the video, appears to have suffered the most damage. Apparently, it bore the brunt of the collapse of the large chunk of concrete near the end of the video.

The three cars still in the sinkhole—1993 ZR-1 Spyder, 2001 Mallet Hammer Z06, and the 1.5 Millionth Corvette—were the first to fall into the sinkhole and, at this writing, are still buried in the debris. Their retrieval will require some more stabilization in the sinkhole and some careful excavation to minimize any further damage. The NCM is estimating late April for the recovery of these cars.

National Corvette Museum Remains Open

Throughout the trauma, the NCM has remained open to receive visitors with only the Skydome being off limits for safety reasons. In a classic case of turning lemons into lemonade, the NCM has installed windows and TV viewing screens by which visitors may see what is going on in the Skydome. They also have a live web cam that you can view here.

The cars removed from the sinkhole will have their own special display area and will be displayed in their “as recovered” condition through August 3, 2014. The special display area will also include information on the sinkhole incident, geological details about the area, videos and photos.

Executive Director Wendell Strode is confident that the process will be complete in time for the National Corvette Museum’s Twentieth Anniversary Celebration August 27-30 and the Grand Opening of the NCM Motorsports Park. “We appreciate all of the support and interest from Corvette and auto enthusiasts around the world,” he said. “We still have a long road ahead, lots or repairs to make, but we are confident we will come out better than ever.”

Mother Nature dealt the NCM a sucker punch with the sinkhole, but given the intensity and speed with which the entire National Corvette Museum staff and the Corvette community have fought back, you can bet that the twentieth anniversary will be some celebration!

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©March 2014 by Bruce Troxell