At the age of 16, inspired by a classmate, Bill Matthews resolved that one day he too would drive a Corvette.
“I rode to St. Aloysius with a friend that was fortunate enough to own a ’58 Vette,” said Matthews, now 69 and the besotted owner of two Corvettes with a third possibly on the way. “It was so cool that I knew I just had to have one.”
After he suffered a near-fatal brain aneurysm in 1995, his wife urged him to revisit his dream.
So these days, Matthews has a 1977 black Corvette that features a red stinger hood from 1966. He also has a 2000 Navy Blue Metallic Corvette with a black Corvette top. He’s probably not done.
“Once you start getting these things, you start looking for a better one,” he said.
Designed by Harley Earl of General Motors, the Corvette debuted in 1953. The name was inspired by a line of small warships used in World War II. Manufactured in Bowling Green, Kentucky, the latest Corvette to hit the market is the 2014 Stingray Coupe.
On a recent Saturday, nearly 300 sleek Corvettes with shiny rims roared into the parking garage of the Hilton Riverside Hotel in a convoy traveling from southeast Texas. Wearing an LSU baseball cap, Matthews bellowed a hearty greeting to each driver.
A kaleidoscope of vibrant colors rolled past him, factory paint jobs with names like Laguna Blue, Velocity Yellow, Crystal Red and Arctic White. Drivers cranked down their windows and waved as they revved their engines.
After slipping into a reserved parking space, the motorists strolled into the Hilton, where they were welcomed by the club’s reception committee. The entire fleet stayed in New Orleans for a night before departing for Dauphin Island, Alabama, on Sunday morning.
“Tonight they’ll enjoy themselves in the city,” promised a jovial Felix Famularo, president of the Crescent City Corvette Club. He owns a 2000 LeMans Pace Car Corvette, red and white, with a band of black and white checkers along its side. “We’ll show them what to do, where to eat, and essentially keep them out of trouble.”
Following a stop in the Florida panhandle, the growing convoy would cruise toward Bowling Green, Kentucky, home of the National Corvette Museum, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary.
By the end of the week, the Gulf States Region Caravan would be joined by other caravans in a national convergence of glossy Chevrolet Corvettes that takes place every five years.
More than 10,000 Corvettes were expected in Bowling Green, Kentucky, by week’s end; the 2009 caravan consisted of 20,000 Corvettes in top-notch condition.
“As your caravan comes in, there will be other Corvette owners out there, cheering you as you come through and waving flags,” Matthews said. “You feel like: I’m the best Corvette owner in the world!”
“The event in Kentucky is a sight to see,” said Famularo.
Though the Corvette drivers who arrived at the Hilton Riverside Hotel on Saturday evening had been driving for several hours, they were in good spirits.
Donning shirts and hats emblazoned with Corvette signage, men and women greeted each other with tight hugs and enthusiastic handshakes.
Almost everyone was eager to unpack and explore the city. Jacqueline Mae Goldberg, a member of the Crescent City Corvette Club who owns a 2010 red Corvette convertible, believes that the event will inject an ample amount of money into the local economy.
Although the Corvette owners were in a city that loves to celebrate, their revelry was based on a shared appreciation for a snazzy sports car. But what makes the Vette such a special commodity?
“It’s a sports car that can compete with any car in the world — all of the Ferraris, and the Porsches, and the Lamborghinis,” said Matthews. “It’s an above-average car that the average guy can own.”
The 2014 coupe starts at $53,000; convertibles start at $58,000.
But the joy of owning a Corvette goes further, extending to the comraderie of events like the Gulf States Region Caravan and the Kentucky-based celebration.
“The club I belong to — the Crescent City Corvette Club — it’s like family,” Matthews said. “If you are sick or you have a problem, they are there to help. Not just because you have a car, but because you are family.”