“It took me a couple of years to come to the conclusion to do what’s right for the car,” said Claudia Stodghill of Tallahassee, FL. Claudia’s brother, Bob Doerr (of Gahanna, Ohio), had left his beloved 1979 Red Corvette to her about 25 years ago, and since then the car has been lovingly kept in a climate controlled garage, complete with carpet much like a bedroom.
“It didn’t seem fair to the car, it was like it was sitting in a tomb when I know what the car is capable of,” said Claudia. “It’s a sweet driver. To me it needed a better life.”
Since Bob’s passing from brain cancer, Claudia has protected the car. “To me, the car is an extension of him, so it’s a happy thing, then it turns sad. I have protected that car all these years like I did him when he was ill.”
Claudia and Bob, though 10 years apart in age, were close growing up. “I grew up with the fun of these Corvettes and it was an absolute thrill. Bob would say ‘it’s just a Chevy’ and grin. So I got to drive all these cars and enjoy them. I can tell what each model year feels like both to drive it or be a passenger. I even know the smell of each, new and as it gets older.”
Bob served in Vietnam and was a mailman, even delivering mail in his first Corvette – a 1965 Nassau Blue Convertible. He bought old, used cars, including an Edsel, and would fix them up. Claudia said Bob was the guy everyone would come to when they had car questions, and that he would gladly help them out. “He did it for the love of the car. I think he was married to his cars,” Claudia laughed. “I told the ladies that the cars come first, but if you get involved with the car hobby you’ll have so much fun. And don’t worry, he won’t forget you.”
Bob had owned over 15 Corvettes over the years, and though he never named them – Claudia did – with the 1979 earning the nickname ‘Big Red.’ “It is bigger than you first think, and it has a big presence. There are reds and reds – and this is an absolutely gorgeous red.”
Over the years Claudia had offers on the car, but said more often than not the person either didn’t have the money, or didn’t seem like they would treat the car as it should be treated. So she hung on to the car and drove it sparingly.
The decision to donate the ’79 to the Museum was not made lightly. “I was walking one of our four German Shepherds, and I just looked up and said ‘Bob, I need help with this. I’m not coming to a satisfactory conclusion.’ Then instantly an idea came to mind. I thought that it belonged in a car museum. So I got online and started looking, finding the National Corvette Museum. I had heard of it and thought – ‘oh my gosh it’s perfect.’ I knew after seeing it online that Big Red would be taken care of. I could see by the way the cars were roped off that people can get close to see the cars, but not too close to be all up on them. I said ‘Hot dog, Big Red, you’re going to have a whole new chapter to your life in beautiful Bowling Green, Kentucky.’”
Claudia ran her idea by her husband, Allan, and friends Debbie and Shirley. Everyone agreed it was a fitting idea. Museum Development Officer Gary Cockriel picked up the car in March and brought it to its new home in the Museum. “I felt this mental telepathy with the car,” said Claudia. “I knew when it arrived. I knew when people went over the car.”
‘Big Red’ is now on display in the Museum’s Exhibit Hall. “The days riding in Corvettes with Bob was just a terrific time in my life,” said Claudia. “To me, it needed to be in a surrounded with people who love these cars.”