MEDIA WATCH: Corvette declared American icon upon reaching 50th birthday

In late June, General Motors' Chevrolet division celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Corvette with a birthday party in Nashville, TN, the nearest big city to Bowling Green, KY, home to the lone Corvette factory. Reports say the event, which featured Corvette models from every production year, merchandising, and a ZZ Top concert, attracted as many as 50,000 people, many of whom caravanned to the event in their own Corvettes.

In late June, General Motors' Chevrolet division celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Corvette with a birthday party in Nashville, TN, the nearest big city to Bowling Green, KY, home to the lone Corvette factory. Reports say the event, which featured Corvette models from every production year, merchandising, and a ZZ Top concert, attracted as many as 50,000 people, many of whom caravanned to the event in their own Corvettes.

Like Harley-Davidson and Ford Motor Company, both of which celebrate their 100th anniversaries this year, the Corvette's 50th birthday has pushed America's favorite sports car into the national media spotlight for a spirited round of praise deeming the vehicle an American icon - right up there with baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie. Reporting on the Corvette was a swirling menagerie of images and ideas combining individualism, patriotism, fun, rebellion, cruising for girls, and a love of driving on the open highway. As The Detroit News (June 19) explained, "On the occasion of the Corvette's 50th anniversary, the word "icon" is frequently tossed around to describe the car's place in automotive history as an enduring symbol." In the sample of coverage analyzed by Media Watch, three out of four reports identified the Vette as an icon. Much of the coverage tried to find what it is about the Corvette that elicits an emotional attachment. Four common answers arose: its distinctive fiberglass design and head-turning curves, its muscle-car performance, its fast and furious speed, and its value/ affordability compared to other sports cars. Of the four, the design and performance were cited most often. Media reports depicted the Corvette as having an intensely loyal and passionate following of enthusiasts. A social psychology professor at the University of Houston told The Houston Chronicle (June 29), "There's no car anywhere that brings together the lifestyle and feeling of camaraderie. Whether you're struggling to own your first Corvette or you own 50 of them, Corvette folks just bond." NBC's Saturday Today show (June 28) remarked how the Nashville celebration was "religion for folks who are into the Corvette thing." Hard-core enthusiasts saw the event as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity they wouldn't dare miss. Many accounts described enthusiasts who had tattooed the image of the Corvette onto their bodies, owned multiple Corvettes, or otherwise appeared to devote a sizable amount of their time and money to their Vette obsessions. As the history of the Corvette was recounted, a number of reports brought up the interesting factoid that the sports car suffered from quality glitches and poor sales in its first few years, and was almost discontinued. Although most of the reporting focused on the past, about one-third of the stories gave some advance publicity to the sixth generation of the Corvette, the 2005 model, which will be unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show this January. And the Nashville celebrations also brought attention to the fact that Corvette has marked its golden anniversary by releasing a 2003 anniversary edition. GM and Chevrolet have undoubtedly benefited from all of the attention and exposure given to the hallowed car. At the same time, judging by the glowing press, they've given Corvette fans an occasion they won't soon forget.
  • Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found at www.carma.com.

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