Sinkhole swallows priceless Corvettes

A massive sinkhole in western Kentucky opened up early Wednesday morning below the National Corvette Museum, swallowing eight rare and historic Chevrolet Corvettes that were on display to the public.

No one was hurt in the incident, which was recorded at 5:44 a.m. by motion sensors at the museum in Bowling Green, just miles from the General Motors plant that builds new Corvettes. Six of the cars had been donated to the museum by enthusiasts, while two were on long-term loan from GM.

“It’s just kind of a sad day in the Corvette mecca of the world,” said Wendell Strode, executive director of the museum, which is home to roughly 80 Corvettes in total and attracts about 150,000 visitors a year.


PHOTOS: Giant sinkhole swallows priceless Corvettes

The sinkhole measured about 40 feet across and 25 to 30 feet deep, the museum said in a statement, citing local fire department personnel on the scene. The museum is closed for the day as engineers assess the safety and stability of the ground and other structures on the property.

The eight Corvettes were among 25 to 30 cars on display in the Skydome, a cone-shaped building on the museum’s property that measures 140 feet in diameter and features a 100-foot-high glass ceiling. The remaining cars in the Skydome have all been removed, Strode said.

It’s too early to tell the extent of damage the sinkhole caused the vehicles, but Strode wasn’t feeling optimistic. “It’s not looking good,” he said. “There were a lot of tears this morning as [employees] were having to deal with what’s in there.”

PHOTOS: Seven generations of Corvettes

The six affected cars the museum owned were a black 1962 Corvette, a 1984 custom pace car from the IndyCar World Series, the 1 millionth Corvette and 1.5 millionth Corvette ever built, a 1993 Ruby Red 40th anniversary Corvette, and a 2001 Mallett Hammer Z06 Corvette.

The museum is in the process of reaching out to the people who donated the cars.

“They were all very special cars to those individuals,” Strode said, the weight of Wednesday’s loss evident in his voice. “Each had a unique story and each had a unique place in their hearts.”

“This is going to be devastating to them,” he added.

Also damaged were two cars GM had lent the museum: a one-off design concept of a 1993 ZR-1 Spyder -- a model that was never built, and the original 2009 ZR1 “Blue Devil” show car.

Both of GM’s Corvettes probably were worth more than $1 million apiece, according to Chevrolet spokesman Monte Doran. But they weren’t vehicles an owner might drive (the 1993 Corvette was for static display only).

“They were both one-off, highly collectible cars,” Doran said. “Great museum pieces, but these weren’t cars you could use as daily drivers.” The status of the two donor cars is “hard to gauge at this point,” Doran said.

Yet Chevrolet was thankful no one was injured in the incident and the company had every intention of doing whatever it could to help the National Corvette Museum get back on its feet, Doran added.

The museum will spend the next several days assessing the effect of the sinkhole on the rest of the facility’s grounds with the help of civil and structural engineers, as well as staff from nearby Western Kentucky University, Strode said. It will make the decision on what to do with the Skydome after that.

“This is something we will overcome,” Strode said. “Corvette is America’s sports car and its museum will continue to be America’s sports car museum. We’ll come back stronger than ever.”