Exploring the Curious Cult of the Corvette

It was an oppressively hot day in White Plains, and Guy Zani Jr. was driving one of his Corvettes with the roof down. ''I'm a little low now,'' he said. ''I've only got six Corvettes. Usually, I've got eight or ten. This one's a 1957. Some great-looking car, right?''

Streets and cars became a blur. Mr. Zani kept up his Corvette monologue. ''I have to warn you, I'm not normal,'' he said, not without pride. ''I'm really gone on this car. It's hard for me to explain it. After you've owned one for a while, you get what I call the fever. When I'm behind the wheel of a Corvette, I feel like a new me.''

Mr. Zani got into Corvettes early. In 1958, when he was 15, a Corvette used to be parked across the street from his grandfather's garage. When nobody was looking, Mr. Zani would climb into it, shut his eyes and dream that he was piloting it at 300 miles an hour. The best night of the week was when the television series ''Route 66'' came on, because he could watch Martin Milner and George Maharis barrel down the highway in a shiny Corvette.

A chatty, weathered-looking man with a tidy beard, Mr. Zani today owns his grandfather's garage. Over the years, he has bought and restored dozens of Corvettes. He can talk Corvettes about seven or eight hours longer than most people are willing to listen. Whenever he learns of an old Corvette for sale, he will hop into one of his Corvettes and roar off for a look. One time, acting on a tip, he drove three hours and found a Thunderbird. He was depressed all night.

Mr. Zani belongs to a peculiar, possessed, mysterious cult. He is a certifiable Corvette nut.

The Chevrolet division of General Motors, which makes the Corvette, does not object to these eccentricities. Year after year, it sells about $1 billion worth of Corvettes.

There are hundreds of thousands of people like Guy Zani, who, defying normalcy, are obsessed by Corvettes. Some people love Jaguars and others think nothing equals a vintage Plymouth Duster, but in the hierarchy of car freaks none ranks above the Corvette nut. Vette Vues, a monthly magazine devoted to the Corvette, attempted to summarize the phenomenon: ''The Corvette carries a very strange, almost unexplainable mystique; one that can turn perfectly rational, sane, mature human beings into incoherent, delirious blabbering idiots!'' There are people like Les Bieri, a former nuclear engineer whose idea of retirement is to dismantle and reassemble the 17 Corvettes he keeps near his home in Poquoson, Va. ''I have dedicated my life to my Corvettes,'' he said. There is a man in Illinois who keeps two Corvettes in his playroom. The doors have been removed and he uses the cars as large armchairs.

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Source: N.R. Kleinfield - NY Times (first published 7/19/1987)

Submitted by Phil Ellison