Unto the next generation

When the Corvette was first conceived the idea was that it would be a lightweight, cheap (more or less…) car aimed at younger drivers unencumbered by the delights of mortgages, educational plans, pension plans or families. After all, who else would be interested in an impractical two-seat sports-car anyway?

Sadly, the relative price of the Corvette has risen dramatically in real term costs. When introduced in 1955 the base price was 84% of the average wage. As can be seen below, by the ’80s the base price had risen to almost 150% of the average wage and this trend has continued ever since.

Year Average Wage * Base Price %
1955 3,301.00 2,774.00 84.04%
1965 4,658.00 4,321.00 92.77%
1975 8,630.00 6,810.00 78.91%
1985 16,822.00 24,878.00 147.89%
1995 24,705.00 36,785.00 148.90%
2005 36,952.00 44,245.00 119.74%

*Wage data courtesy of the US Dept. of Social Security

That’s not to say that the later model Corvettes are poor value for money, the technology and power levels being achieved are incredibly impressive, especially when compared to other exotica such as Porsches and Ferraris. What it has done though, is made it much more difficult for the average guy in the street to buy one and, especially with rising insurance costs, it effectively puts them way beyond the budget of a lot of  (if not most) younger drivers.

The Corvette demographic is an aging one, sadly myself included, and seems to consist largely of people trying to recreate the misty golden days of their youth mixed with stockbrokers and other wealthier types hoping that they will be able to buy something that they can cash in on and see the kind of vastly inflationary prices seen recently on the early ‘vettes Younger drivers appear largely confined to children of existing owners who have received ‘hand me downs’.

So the question is – where are the next generation of Corvette owners going to come from?

Rather than worshipping the great ‘American sports car’ today’s younger drivers are far more likely to be seen cruising around, admiring, modifying and generally partying in products from the east. To this demographic a typical ‘vette owner is probably seen as either a wrinkly old fart who spends most of their time counting the number of rivets holding the car together while polishing their ‘vette two dozen times a day or possibly an orange skinned slightly greasy middle aged business exec with one too many divorces behind him looking to rekindle his youth inside a Corvette and between a co-eds thighs.

That’s not to say that all Corvette owners fall in to those categories, but that seems to be the perception among a lot of people. As someone who is fairly new to the ‘enthusiast’ side of vettedom after years of ‘lurking’ and dreaming I look around my ‘peers’ and have to wonder what the attraction would be for someone of today’s youth,. Even the most fledgling of interests would be likely dashed against the attitudes and displays put on.

The good old ‘show and shine’ is a good example of what I am talking about. A bunch of ‘vette owners get together, clean, polish and shine their cars, while other vette owners look on, everyone goes around patting each other on the back saying how wonderful everyone is and they give each other prizes for being the most what? Obsequiousness perhaps? Is this really the stuff that will set youthful dreams alight with dreams of joining the exalted ranks of car polishers?

When Corvette owners meet the younger generation, how do they respond? In a welcoming way, delighting them with tales of fun packed cruises, burning donuts in the car park? Doing a bit of high-revving action away from the lights? Hardly. At last years Wasaga Beach Corvette Cruize, the fun slalom event was cancelled due to lack of participants! 

In 1997 Chevrolet introduced a new ‘fixed roof coupe’ that was meant to be a stripped down ‘cheaper’ version of the ‘vette. A really great idea, sadly missing on the execution as it wasn’t really any cheaper than the regular coupe. When the idea of saving a few hundred dollars failed to bring floods of new owners to their doors they morphed this into the high-performance (and high-priced) Z06 – Hardly the kind of power and price breakthrough likely to get hordes of people beating a path to the collective doors of GM dealerships.

Where is the $20-30k ‘vette? You know – the stripped down one with maybe a hi-power quad cam V6? The engine doesn’t have to be a new viper-killer, just enough poke to make the vehicle fun while not so much as to make the insurance companies have a hissy-fit.

The younger generation wants the same thing they always have done, something that’s stylish, has a bit of street-cred but can still leave a bit of rubber on the ground to impress the girls. Okay so this thing isn’t going to light up any hardened vette owners eyes, but with the legacy of Corvette behind it, it might be enough to turn the tables a little on the general problems of the US manufacturers.

No, it’s not the kind of Corvette, I’d particularly like to drive either. Not now. If one had been available to me in my 20s on the other hand I would undoubtedly been heavily tempted – you mean a Corvette? One that I can afford? While I’m at school? Holy shit!

The other option is, of course, the long slide into increasing irrelevancy. And we know that GM et al. are past masters at that.

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