Jim Roberts made the trek south to Knoxville and Corvette Expo again this year. His first trip was 21 years ago.
"I used to come to sell Corvettes," he says. "But right now I'm coming to buy. We need cars. We're starting a classic car and indoor-mall-type deal in Kalamazoo, and we're looking for Corvettes, street rods, musclecars, that kind of stuff."
On our arrival, we flagged down Byron Cooper as he buzzed by on a tiny motorcycle. In his fifties, Cooper exuded promoter's charisma. He and his brother, Ronny, started Corvette Expo in 1977. Now, Byron's gray sideburns looped around his chin to form a beard.
In the early years, the Expo was limited to Corvettes. Byron explained how it evolved. "This show's always leaned heavily toward selling cars," he says, "and a lot of the guys would have two Corvettes and a Camaro. 'So why can't I bring my Camaro?' [they would ask]. We thought, Well, why can't you?"
One car on the grounds caught our immediate attention. It was a '69 Motion Corvette with the complete Baldwin Motion body kit designed by founder Joel Rosen. We learned this wild, big-block coupe was going through the auction the next day. The owner was John Shaw, a dealer from Greenville, South Carolina. He had all the enthusiasm of a hobbyist with one Corvette. For more on this car, see page 44 of this issue.
We passed the day shooting pictures of cars and touring the grounds. Saturday was the big day. That morning, we picked up the local paper to see a dramatic, wide-angle photo of the Motion Corvette consuming most of the top half of the business pages cover. The story, written to make general-interest readers salivate, was typical. The writer, Roger Harris, told of a '64 Sting Ray, owned by Terry Michaelis (president of Pro Team Corvette Sales in Napoleon, Ohio), which "could fetch $75,000 or more at the annual Corvette Expo and Muscle Car Show and Auction at Chilohowee Park." Dana Mecum, whose company auctions cars of many different makes and models, gave us his thoughts on the Corvette market: "It's strong and I think [it's] the best market out there."
Big money for collectibles makes headlines. Saturday morning, we wandered by the cars waiting to be auctioned. The buyers were far from novices. Most spoke like dealers or experienced Corvette people.
Close to the auction tent was another tent labeled "Show Tent." The Jacobs Building was under renovation, so the tent had to suffice. Car entries, likewise, were cut back to 40, a fraction of what they would be normally. Rows of Corvettes were mixed with an assortment of other cars on the grounds. Every Corvette and "metal" car was for sale. That's what this Expo is all about.
A '57 went up for auction. The fuel injection was off the engine and in the trunk. This one sold for $53,000. Apparently, a dealer bought it.
A '72 gold coupe was announced as a Bloomington Gold Survivor with 19,000 original miles. It sold for $19,000.
A '67 was next, but the auctioneer failed to mention the model year. "A 327ci/350-horse ... numbers-matching, black leather, four-speed, runs great," he calls out. The green convertible brought $44,000.
The top price paid for a Corvette was $93,500 for a '67 435hp convertible. A '64 coupe, a fuelie, was notable at $65,000. It was an older restoration, scoring Bloomington Gold in 1991.
For anyone who attended Corvette Expo 2004 in Knoxville, the evidence was overwhelming that Dana Mecum's words were correct. The Corvette market is thriving.