Like a freshly minted sports car rolling off the assembly line, Bowling Green’s National Corvette Museum has that “new-car” smell and feel as it reopens Monday after being shut down by the coronavirus pandemic for nearly three months.
“It’s probably the cleanest museum you’ll ever find,” said Sean Preston, who is nearing his one-year anniversary as the museum’s chief executive officer. “It has new paint and new exhibits. It’s like another version of this museum.”
Preston said that makeover was possible because he was able to keep all the museum’s full-time staff employed during the social distancing mandates that forced closure of nearly all tourist attractions.
“The whole time we were closed to the public our essential staff was still working,” Preston said. “We observed social distancing but remained operational.”
The result, Preston said, is a museum that has been sanitized throughout, with new paint and new exhibits that he hopes will bring in visitors as the coronavirus restrictions are slowly lifted nationwide.
Preston is anxious to welcome paying customers to the museum, which will be open daily from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., but he pointed out that they shouldn’t expect it to be running at full throttle just yet. Like restaurants and other businesses, the museum will be operating at 33 percent of capacity while observing social distancing.
“We have 150,000 square feet (of floor space), so there’s plenty of room for social distancing,” he said. “I don’t anticipate ever having a waiting line.”
What Preston does expect is a good deal of interest in some new exhibits that were put in place during the shutdown.
One exhibit, called “The Vision Realized: 60 Years of Mid-Engine Corvette Design,” focuses on the decadeslong journey to get to the eighth-generation C8 Corvettes that the nearby General Motors Bowling Green Assembly Plant started producing this year.
“General Motors approached us about an exhibit they were developing, which focuses on the key vehicles that built the foundation for the 2020 Corvette Stingray,” said Derek Moore, the museum’s director of collections. “We are excited to be the first location to display the exhibit.”
The exhibit will include a C8 Corvette, along with GM artifacts and rare vehicles such as the experimental two-rotor Corvette known as XP-987 GT.
Also new is an upgraded Racing and Performance Gallery that will now be called the E. Pierce Marshall Memorial Performance Gallery.
An intriguing new attraction is the “Entombed Corvette” display in the Nostalgia Gallery of the museum. It showcases a 1954 Corvette that had been “cemented in history” for 27 years.
“The previous owners, who wish to remain anonymous, donated the car so that we could continue in the preservation of both the car and its amazing story,” Moore said.
The display is a recreation of the brick “tomb” the car was once housed in, including a small viewing window, two light bulbs and a single access hatch.
“This particular story is so unique people will really enjoy learning about it,” Moore said. “Of course, we’ve left one side of the tomb open so that visitors can see the car exactly how it was when it was removed.”
Moore said upgrades have been made to the display commemorating the 2014 sinkhole collapse that involved eight Corvettes.
“Technology advances over the past five years have allowed us to work with exhibit designers to really step up our game and provide an improved virtual reality of the actual collapse,” he said.
Preston hopes the new displays and the public’s hunger for travel as quarantining ends will add up to some museum ticket sales.
“I think this is going to be a busy place very soon,” he said.