The crossed rally flags are gone now, and it hasn't been called a Sting Ray in years. Convertibles disappeared for about a decade before coming back, as did the sloped ``fastback' roof. Aside from fiberglass bodies, the sleek 1990 model made in Bowling Green, Ky., has nothing in common with its rounded, Detroit-made, 1953 counterpart, America's first domestic sports car.
Even so, the Corvette remains an American cultural icon, an enduring symbol in a year when Chevrolet has introduced a version that sells for prices usually associated with European luxury cars.``The car has captured the imagination of America,' says Paul Zazarine, editor of Corvette Fever, America's largest Corvette magazine. ``I think that that love affair with the car has been, and will always be, part of our culture.'
Zazarine points to the Corvette's ubiquitous presence in movies, advertisements and music videos. To that list could be added several TV shows, movies and songs built around Corvettes: the 1960s television show ``Route 66,' in which two young men in a Corvette convertible explore the open road in Jack Kerouac's wake; the 1978 film ``Corvette Summer'; and two hit singles from 1963 and 1983. In the Beach Boys' ``Shut Down,' the car stands as a symbol of male virility in a race against a Dodge. In ``Little Red Corvette,' Prince casts the car as an untouchable symbol of sexual passion.
``The car is really a top-down, windows-down, wind-in-your-hair type vehicle,' Zazarine says.
Local enthusiasts will cool their 'Vettes Sunday at the Davidson County Fairgrounds in Lexington. The Corvette show, sponsored by the non-profit, Guilford County-based Classic Glass Corvette Association, will raise money for the American Children's Home in Lexington. It's expected to attract about 150 Corvettes.
Randy Hammitt, 34, is a charter member and past president of the Classic Glass club and edits its newsletter, ``The News Flash.' Since the association was founded in 1979, it has grown to about 45 members, who own Corvettes ranging from 1956 to the latest models. Another local group is the Corvette Club of Winston-Salem.
Hammitt was 18 when he got his first Corvette; today he owns three.
``I can't remember not having one, but that was the days of the $1,000 Corvette,' he says.
There are several national Corvette associations that sponsor sales and shows around the country, attesting to the car's burgeoning popularity. They include the National Corvette Restorers Society, the National Council of Corvette Clubs, and the National Corvette Owners Association, which has grown to include about 11,000 members in the 15 years since its inception.
Another indicator of the Corvette's broad-based appeal is the proliferation of Corvette magazines on newsstands: Corvette Fever, Vette, Keepin' Track of Vettes and Corvette World. A couple of mail-only publications are also available.
Corvette Fever, which adds about 1,000 new subscribers monthly, now sells 57,000 issues a month after beginning a year ago with a circulation of only 8,500. ``That gives you an idea of how fast we have grown,' Zazarine says.
In an era of peak popularity for Corvettes, the most popular models are those known by enthusiasts as ``mid-years': 1963-67. That era represents the shortest run of a particular Corvette body style, one of five basic styles manufactured in the car's 37-year history.
``It brings back memories people never had,' says Jim Jones, general manager of North State Chevrolet-Geo in downtown Greensboro and a certified Corvette specialist. ``It's the car they wish they had had when they were 18 or 20. We find the year represents the youth of the people who now have the money to buy.'
Hammitt, who owns models from '69, '70 and '84, includes himself when he notes the appeal beginning to shift up to cars made after 1967.
``The up-and-coming car now is the '68 to '72,' he says. ``That's where the money seems to be.'
But while tastes may be changing, Larry Morgan of Pleasant Garden is perfectly content with his two mid-years.
His sunfire yellow '67 is a ``driver,' but his rally red '65 stays locked up in a specially built garage near Morgan's house. When Morgan and his wife move, they will probably take the garage with them.
``We're talking about building a new house,' Betty Morgan says. ``What we need is about a 10-bay garage with a little A-frame apartment on the top for us to live in.'
Though Corvette trophies crowd the basement of the Morgans' home, Larry Morgan seldom shows his cars anymore. Morgan, 47, is a technician for AT&T, but the business card he hands out at Corvette shows and sales says nothing about that; it says ``Corvette Enthusiast' beneath a picture of a mid-year fastback.
``I guess I'll have one till I die, unless I have to sell out, or for health reasons,' he says.
Morgan bought his first 'Vette - a used '59 - after leaving the U.S. Navy in 1964, and he has owned more than 10 in the years since. He's not quite sure what he finds so appealing about the car.
``I don't know,' he says, scuffing a loafer against his concrete driveway. ``I kinda lost interest in 'em for awhile. I don't know why, but a couple of years ago I got interested again.'
Morgan's return wouldn't have surprised Jim Jones at North State. ``We've got some customers who have bought Corvettes from us for years,' he says.
Chevrolet's latest attempt at improving on an icon is the ZR1, a collector's Corvette with 50 percent more horsepower than the standard model. With a top speed of 190 mph, it sells for the price of a small house.