Building America's Sports Car
Vette|March 2020
When nearly three decades of production ended at St. Louis, Corvette assembly went high-tech in rural Kentucky
Jim Smart

For nearly three decades, St. Louis was Corvette’s birthplace. Some 695,214 Corvettes were produced there between 1954 and 1981. The manufacture of Corvettes at St. Louis was never simple for General Motors. Ongoing labor tensions, plant conditions, increasing environmental legislation and quality issues haunted the Corvette for a long time.

In the 1970s, GM understood the Corvette needed to be produced in a state-of-the-art assembly plant with modern technology to keep the car competitive. GM also needed labour-friendly conditions it was never going to have in St. Louis. By the late 1970s, it was time for a fresh-face Corvette, along with vastly improved quality, fit and finish. It was announced in March 1979 that GM would close St. Louis and move Corvette production to a shuttered Chrysler air conditioning plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Bowling Green produced its first Corvette, a C3 1982 two-tone coupe, on June 1, 1981, during a two-month period when production overlapped with St. Louis. St. Louis would buck and build its last Corvette on July 31, 1981. Job 1 Bowling Green was proof positive GM knew how to move quickly and produce a good product in short order. Because there were a lot of development issues surrounding the all-new C4 Corvette scheduled for production at Bowling Green, production of these cars was pushed back to June 1, 1983 where they would be produced and sold as 1984 models.

Although it has long been written no 1983 Corvettes were ever produced, GM built 14 prototypes and 43 pilot 1983 Corvette units strictly for testing purposes. None were ever sold to the public. The only surviving 1983 Corvette is on display in the National Corvette Museum in Kentucky. How this car survives is a remarkable story. The original game plan was for each of the ’83 Corvettes to be destroyed. A crusher was brought to Bowling Green to crush all of the 1983 cars. Ralph Montileone, Quality Manager at the Bowling Green plant in 1983, was responsible for ensuring all of these Corvettes were destroyed. Word on the street is that it began to rain and Montileone didn’t want his new cowboy boots saturated with mud. He suspended crushing activities for the day, with one car left. The next day, when he went outside, the crusher was gone. He drove the car around the back of the plant where it was parked, put under a cover and forgotten. Years later, Plant Manager Paul Schnoes discovered the forgotten car buried underneath a dusty car cover.

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