Cape Kennedy Corvette Club celebrates 50 years of fast cars
Lyn Dowling, For FLORIDA TODAY Published 3:33 p.m. ET Nov. 21, 2017 | Updated 3:50 p.m. ET Nov. 21, 2017
(Photo: Cape Kennedy Corvette Club)
The name of the Cape Kennedy Corvette Club says so much about it.
Born at the height of the Space Race, two years before men first walked on the moon, Florida’s second-largest organization of its kind continues to bear the name Cape Kennedy Air Force Station had from 1963 to 1973.
Space and Corvettes had another special connection, as well: After triumphant astronauts returned from their early flights, they were paraded along beachside roads in Corvette convertibles. Chevrolet presented Alan Shepard with a white ’62 Corvette, and afterward, the astronauts leased cars through Melbourne Chevy dealer Jim Rathmann.
CKCC members recall those days well, some having been part of it, and they celebrated “America’s sports car” and the club’s golden anniversary in October with a three-day weekend that included everything from guest speakers and a gala to fun and games. Attendees included Brevard County Commissioner Jim Barfield and Chevrolet dealer Bob Dance, both of whom come from racing families; and former astronaut Bruce Melnick, a fellow auto enthusiast.
Next weekend, there will be what amounts to Corvettes with a cause too: the 17th annual toy run Dec. 2 from Eckler’s Corvette in Titusville to Port Canaveral, in which the streets, including S.R. 528, will be lined with Corvettes of all sorts, from all eras. It is emblematic.
“The Cape Kennedy Corvette Club started in 1967 with a group of guys in Cocoa Beach,” said Brenda Teixeira, a longtime resident of the city. “Four of the original seven astronauts were members.”
They were bona-fide fanciers.
When Alan Shepard arrived here in 1959 for training, he brought along his 1957 Corvette, the first of 10 he would own in his lifetime. Six of the original astronauts accepted Rathmann’s offer — John Glenn chose a station wagon instead — and Gus Grissom was so competitive at street racing that he had his last model, a 1967 convertible, specially modified to accept wider rear tires.
Apollo 12 astronauts Dick Gordon, Charles Conrad and Alan Bean ordered identically equipped, 390-hp 427 Stingray coupes in a color scheme designed by Bean, also a talented artist. Subsequent Apollo astronauts appeared in magazines and newspapers with their cars.
“In the 1960s, astronauts were the American heroes that every child idolized and every adult respected,” Corvette historian and former Corvette Quarterly editor Jerry Burton told Auto Week magazine in 2011. “That so many of them drove Corvettes really helped to establish Corvette as America's sports car.”
No surprise, then, that Corvettes should have become so popular on the Space Coast.
“The Corvette is the only true American sports car,” said Teixeira, who has owned many of them and now has a blue, 2014 convertible. “I’ve had Corvettes since I was in high school and my parents had Corvettes.”
Lloyce Campbell, a retired teacher at Merritt Island High School, has been a member of the CKCC for 43 years. She joined in 1972, but had been involved a year or two before that.
She got her first Corvette in 1975 and has owned them since.
“I like the way they look, I like the way they drive, and I enjoy racing them,” she said, and her record bears that out: In 1980, she was state champion in her class.
“It feels good, it’s fun to drive and it’s unique,” she said.
Regardless of what they currently own, Corvette fanciers are specific about the cars they like best. Campbell prefers the 2013, 60th anniversary model. Teixeira likes the classic, 1962 split-window, though, “I once had a fuelie,” (a fuel-injected model of the 1960s),” she said.
Regardless of what they like or own, Corvette owners are a generous group.
“We support Eastern Florida State College by providing scholarships and our annual car show raises funds for the National Kidney Foundation,” Teixeira said.
They'll show off their community outreach — as well as their cars — during this weekend's the Corvette Toy Run.
Held in conjunction with the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office and the Cape Canaveral Fire Department, it collects toys and donations for Brevard County families in need. More than 200 cars are expected to be involved in what Campbell called, “probably the best opportunity to see so many Corvettes at one time.”
Its members speak affectionately of their club’s connection to the astronauts, and work to keep it.
“Joe Crosby, who lives in Cocoa, has Neil Armstrong’s Corvette (a ’67 Sting Ray), and he has preserved it,” Teixeira said.
Space explorers are carried to Astronaut Hall of Fame inductions in Corvettes, and in 1993, Campbell participated in a major way.
“I drove John Glenn,” she said. “John Glenn rode to the Astronaut Hall of Fame in my Corvette. That is something you always remember.”
Corvette enthusiasts from across the Space Coast will gather on Dec. 2 for the 17th annual Corvette Toy Run. (Photo: FLORIDA TODAY file photo)
17th annual Corvette Toy Run
When: Noon Saturday, Dec. 2; departs at 2 p.m.
Where: Eckler's Corvette, 7980 Grissom Parkway, Titusville; ends at Port Canaveral
Who: Any Corvette owner
Social: Baja Chowder and Seafood, 626 Glenn Cheek Drive, Cape Canaveral
Info: www.ckcc.club or 321-452-6993
Also: The Cape Kennedy Corvette Club meets at 7 p.m. the second Thursday of each month at the Merritt Island Moose Lodge, 3150 N Courtenay Parkway.
Dowling is a Rockledge-based freelance writer.