Couple Donate 1996 Grand Sport for Others to Enjoy
If you ask Larry and Carol Watkins how many Corvettes they’ve owned, there would be a little confusion as to whether 6 or 7 is the correct answer because one Corvette in their collection they’ve owned twice!
“Growing up as a teen in the late 50s, I became aware of cars as more than just a piece of transportation,” said Larry. “There were not many Corvettes in our area at the time, but there was an instant attraction. I told myself ‘someday I’m going to have one of those.’”
Larry graduated college in 1968 and shortly thereafter, ordered a 1969 Stingray. Within two years he met his wife and they decided to get married. At the time, the Corvette was his daily driver. “We decided it might be nice to have furniture, so we sold the Corvette and started a family.”
“After the kids were kind of grown, we started getting back into the Corvette hobby. My wife is a car person, too.” First it was a ’92, that was barely used, that the duo purchased. This was followed by an ’01 which they later sold to purchase a 2013 60th Anniversary Grand Sport. The 2013 was later sold and a 2017 Grand Sport was purchased, a car they still have today.
The couple’s youngest daughter and her husband started to express interest in the ’69. “He’s a retired undercover cop, so they were able to track it down and we bought it back seven years ago. It’s no longer a daily driver!”
Though Larry loved the cars that had come and gone, he was on the hunt for a model that would be more collectible.
“In 2005 we were looking around and wanted to find something somewhat affordable. The 1996 Grand Sport always had some appeal. When we started checking in to it, we were introduced to John ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson of the Grand Sport Registry.”
Hutch pointed them in the direction of Roger’s Corvette Center in Florida, who at the time, had 2-3 of the model they were interested in. “It was unusual that they had that many as only 1,000 were made. You just don’t see them on the road.”
The couple were prepared to fly to Florida to check out the car but learned of a service where a 3rd party will send a knowledgeable representative to inspect the car for them for a small fee. “It turned out the guy who did the inspection had been a show judge, and previously raced cars. He asked me if we were going to show the car, and I said ‘yeah – why?’ And he said that as a judge, he’d probably give the car a 97 or 98 out of 100.”
The deal was finalized, and the car shipped. Three years later, in 2008, the car attended Corvettes at Carlisle where it was selected as a celebrity choice car show award winner. “Two young guys came up and asked about the car. One of them was pretty knowledgeable. At the end of the conversation he said, ‘thank you for bringing the car out and sharing it with everyone.’ That left an impression on me. It is a unique car, but he wasn’t just asking about ours, he wanted to know more about Grand Sports. At the time the ’96 was the only year of the Grand Sport GM intended to make and the VINs were sequentially numbered. John Heinricy has 0001, ours is #931. As optioned, ours is one of six, so there are five others that look exactly like ours.”
That conversation at Carlisle planted a seed with Larry. “The thought of gifting it to the Museum probably began with that conversation. A number of years ago, we decided we were going to gift it but wouldn’t make a big deal out of it, we would put it in our will. A couple of years passed, and it was time to redo the documents. We realized then it probably made more sense to gift the car while we were still living for several reasons – one, having the knowledge that it’s there, and secondly, from a tax and financial standpoint it makes sense to do while alive rather than through our estate.”
The couple had originally planned to gift the Grand Sport in 2021, which would be the 25th Anniversary of the car. But with a move to a retirement community planned in the coming months there wasn’t enough garage space for all the cars. “We didn’t want the cars to be sitting outside, so we decided to get the donation underway and gift the car now. We had talked to Connie Russell in 2016 and again a few months back who referred us to Betty Hardison. When the coronavirus hit, things were not clear about transporting, but it turns out the same man who delivered our R8C optioned 2017 from the Museum would transport our 1996.”
The Watkins’ are the second owners of the car, which features a red/black interior and Z51 performance handling package. The car has 5,400 miles on it. During its residency in Pennsylvania, and previously in St. Louis, it was housed in a climate-controlled garage. Though the couple were emotional to see the car loaded and off to Bowling Green, they’re looking forward to visiting in the fall to see it in its new home.
Thank you to Larry and Carol for their generous donation to the Museum’s collection!