National Corvette Museum

The Corvette earned its place in history as the first American sports car. That rich legacy is showcased today in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Vintage white Corvette on display at National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky (photo courtesy of National Corvette Museum)

The National Corvette Museum is more than just a car collection. While the Bowling Green, Kentucky, attraction has plenty of the powerful and highly sought-after automobiles on display, complementing that shining array of vehicles is a decades-long story of American automotive and pop culture.

The style and speed of European sports cars impressed American troops in Europe after World War II, but the United States had nothing to compare. General Motors accepted the challenge and, in 1953, built 300 spiffy-looking Corvettes. In salesman’s talk, they were “Polo White with a Sportsman Red interior and a Blue Flame Six engine.”

While they were a pretty piece of machinery to behold, they lacked the zip and handling drivers wanted. The addition of a roaring V-8 engine solved that, and some of today’s eighth-generation Corvettes can rocket from 0 to 60 mph in 2.6 seconds.

The spacious museum highlights Corvette’s designers, engineers, racers and innovators in several settings. Some are tableaus of small-town America — scenes outside a soda shop or in the bays of a Mobil service station, for instance. The biggest showroom is the Sky Dome, where more than a dozen historically notable Corvettes ring a circular space while an action-packed video and soundtrack plays behind them. That video and other exhibits demonstrate how Corvettes permeate American culture, with references to Elvis Presley, Prince, the “Route 66” TV series, Jimi Hendrix, Hot Wheels and Barbie.

Upon entering the museum, visitors may have the chance to see beaming Corvette buyers take possession of pristine vehicles that came from the assembly plant about a mile away. Although the Kentucky factory is not the only place where Corvettes have ever been made, it is the one that has been producing them since 1981. Almost 2,500 people a year share that experience with museum visitors before driving off the lot in their shiny new ride.

Outside the museum, the neighboring NCM Motorsports Park offers on-track experiences, either as a passenger or a driver. 350 Corvette Dr., Bowling Green, Kentucky 42101, 270/781-7973,