Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Corvettes and American Heroes

I recently heard a father talking about his daughter having a school project where she had to name two American heroes’ and tell why they were a hero.  I began to reflect on what my answer would be and how I would tackle this project.  I’m not sure but I think my answer would have changed as I have gotten older and wiser.  If you Google American Heroes, here is a list of some of the top photos that come up; John Wayne, Babe Ruth, Neil Armstrong, and lots of photos of American soldiers…….I’d say those are spot on! 

A few years ago I remember reading an article about three American Astronauts and their love for speed.  The “Astrovette” story by John Nelson captured the story of Charles “Pete” Conrad Jr., Richard Gordon Jr., and Alan Bean. It was fitting that these men who lived their lives on the edge of speed as test pilots and military aviators would also share a passion for technology, performance, and fast cars.  Although the specific details are sketchy, General Motors (GM) and a local car dealership in Melbourne Florida made the decision to give Astronauts of the 1960’s an executive lease of a brand new Chevy Corvette for one year.  Many of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo Space Program astronauts could be seen speeding up and down the streets of the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, TX or the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida and the reserved parking spaces at JSC were commonly lined with various colors of Corvettes.  This opportunity was just a nice way of saying thanks to the men who risked their lives for our country and was a great promotion for GM, the Chevy Corvette, and the US Space Program. 
I’m sure it was quite a thrill for each of the guys to get to choose the color and type of Corvette they wanted, but there was one special group of three astronauts from the Apollo 12 crew who decided to order and drive matching cars.  Charles “Pete” Conrad Jr., Richard Gordon Jr., and Alan Bean drove matching Riverside Gold 1969 Corvette Stingrays and even had a couple of extra flares to set them apart.  Each of their cars wore specially painted black wings and red/white/blue logos on the front fender.  The special red, white, and blue emblems on the side of each car also had a unique label to set car apart.  Bean’s Corvette had “LMP” on his logo (Lunar Module Pilot), Conrad’s car had “CMD” (Commander), and Gordon’s car had “CMP” (Command Module Pilot).  They also had a photo shoot done with their beloved cars as a way to remember them and the December1969 issue of Life magazine even covered this story. 


Each of their 1969 coupes came equipped with a four speed manual transmission and 429 cubic inch /390 HP engine.
Due to complaints from the public, this lease program between the US astronauts and Chevrolet came to a close just a couple of years later.  The history and lore of these Corvettes and their whereabouts would continue to be chased for many years but I will let you do the research on, as Paul Harvey use to say; “The Rest of the Story

The US astronauts will always be my heroes because most of them had already served in our military before joining or being recruited by the US Space program.  They pushed the limits of speed and were also known to be a little bit of a rebel at times and I guess that’s what it took to have the guts and glory of flying into Space.  They gave every little boy and girl something to dream about and goals to strive for and that’s why they are still my heroes!
Joseph