In the wee hours of February 12, 2014, eight cars were taken from the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky. It was a bold and blatant theft, committed as multiple security cameras ran. Was the culprit an evil Corvette enthusiast who planned to lock up the cars for his sole enjoyment? A rival car company that wanted to study the design of America’s most iconic sports car?
Nope – it was Mother Nature. More precisely, it was a 40-foot-wide, 25-foot-deep sinkhole that opened up in the floor of the museum and swallowed the rare cars, among them an Indy 500 pace car, the millionth Corvette built, and a 40th anniversary Corvette. Two of the cars were on loan from General Motors; the other six belonged to the museum.
Bowling Green is located in an area where caves, underwater springs, and sinkholes are common. Mammoth Cave National Park, about 30 miles away, is home to the longest known cave system in the world. According to Jason Polk, a professor of geology and geography at Western Kentucky University, this type of sinkhole can be caused by caves that expand over time, until eventually the surface gives way.1
Interest in the museum has spiked since the accident, with visitors crowding in to see the sinkhole and the cars as they’re rescued. Debbie Eaton, the museum’s guest services manager, said, “There have been so many people who have come with the expressed purpose of seeing the sinkhole. Well, those people we get to introduce to the Corvette, and the Corvette people we get to introduce to the sinkhole.”2
To capitalize on this interest, the museum has set up a special exhibit where the damaged cars will be displayed until August.
As of mid-March, five of the eight Vettes have been hauled out of the sinkhole: the 2009 “Blue Devil” ZR1, on loan from General Motors; the 1993 40th Anniversary Corvette; the 1962 Corvette; the 1984 PPG Indy 500 pace car; and the 1992 Millionth-Built Corvette. The first car out of the sinkhole, the Blue Devil ZR1, actually started up after just a few tries. The 2001 Mallett Hammer Z06 Corvette, the 2009 1.5-millionth-built Corvette, and the 1993 ZR1 Spyder, also on loan from GM, are still awaiting rescue.
If you want to see these battle-scarred Corvettes before they’re restored, get yourself to the National Corvette Museum before August 3, 2014. That’s when the damaged cars will be shipped to Detroit for restoration. If you want to see the sinkhole, go as soon as you can; we’re assuming that the museum will begin repairs as soon as all the Vettes are safely back on solid ground.
1.USA Today, Watch Sinkhole Swallow 8 Corvettes at Museum, February 13, 2014
2. WBKO.com, Tourism Spikes at Corvette Museum after Sinkhole Swallows Eight Cars, March 16, 2014
Images courtesy of the National Corvette Museum