Sinkhole Corvettes before and after the museum collapse

Sinkhole Corvettes before and after the museum collapse

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(CNN) -- One priceless car was crushed. Another, mashed; a third, pancaked. Now, Vette City faces a sinkhole summer.

A total of eight vehicles at Bowling Green, Kentucky's National Corvette Museum remain just as wrecked as they were when the earth swallowed them whole more than two months ago.

Workers fished the last car out of the monster sinkhole on April 9 and so far, not one coat of paint has been applied to any of the cars. Not one dent has been removed. Nothing.

Why? Museum officials were shocked by the damage.

"The last three or four cars that came out of the sinkhole ... we didn't expect them to come out looking quite that bad," said Dana Forrester, lead Corvette restoration member of the museum's board of directors.

Among the worst-damaged was a custom-made, one-of-a-kind speed demon that can zoom-zoom at more than 175 mph. ... Well, it could. The sinkhole reduced it to — as one museum official put it — "just a tire." The whole dirty mess has been enough to make any grease-smeared gear-head cry.

Next month, the museum's board of directors plans to meet with independent restorers and Chevrolet's parent company General Motors to consider new strategy on how to save the cars. "We'll listen to what they say about it, and then we'll make a decision as to which car gets restored and to what degree," Forrester told CNN on the phone.

Surprisingly, the museum may choose not to restore the worst-smashed cars at all.

And then there's another problem: what to do about that 40-foot-wide, 60-foot-deep sinkhole.

Thank goodness nobody got hurt when it desecrated the museum's cathedral-like Skydome in the early morning hours of February 12. The idea of a giant hole suddenly opening up inside a museum and stealing away with some of the crown jewels of the auto world grabbed global attention. Reports estimated the total value of the cars at more than $1 million. Passionate owners and fans still feel the pangs.

Even for folks who don't care about cars, the Corvette matters. It's historic. Experts call the Corvette the most collected car in America. We're talking about the "world's longest-running, continuously produced passenger car," according to General Motors. Since the 'Vette's 1953 debut, more than 1.5 million have rolled off Chevrolet assembly lines, creating jobs for generations of Americans. The sleek silhouette has transformed into a pop culture icon across TV, films and advertising.

Although GM announced back in February that it would "oversee" restoration of the Corvettes, more options are on the table now.

"Recent discussions have changed what the original thoughts were," said Forrester, who's also an officer of the National Corvette Restorers Society. Restoration of some of the cars "may not be possible," he said. Or for some of the cars, "it may be best" that an independent restorer other than GM do it.

The privately funded, not-for-profit museum is governed by the board of directors - but driven by its donors and 28,000 members. Don't think 'Vette-heads around the world aren't watching closely. They are. And they care about the details.

I think they should do it the right way and deliver a finished product like it wasn't damaged at all.
Frazer Bharucha, Long Island Corvette Owners Association
"I think they should do it the right way and deliver a finished product like it wasn't damaged at all," said longtime New York Corvette owner Frazer Bharucha, 47, of the Long Island Corvette Owners Association. "When it's all said and done, it should look the way it was when it first entered the museum."

To outsiders, restoring a Corvette "correctly" might seem -- well -- kind of anal. Attention to detail sometimes includes specific engine bolt heads, or original headlights, or even a $10,000 set of original tires. Will the sinkhole cars get that same level of treatment? "I don't believe they'll go that far," Forrester said.

GM's goal is "sensitive restoration," said its Corvette communications manager, Monte Doran. Doran is expected to take part in meetings with museum officials where he anticipates a "serious talk to see if they want us to restore all the cars."

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