We all know the stereotype: Middle-aged guy has a midlife crisis, seeks relief by sinking some of his hard-earned savings into a flashy ride.
If one accepts the stereotype, then C n' V Corvette Sales in north Tempe isn't just an auto showroom - it's a veritable Walgreens of automotive self-medication. Late model, early model, it doesn't matter. If you want to purchase a vintage or not-quite-vintage Corvette, this place has you covered like Mutual of Omaha.
"We have anywhere from 90 to 120 cars on the lot at one time," sales associate Phil Schlemmer says. "As far as classic Corvettes go, we're the biggest around."
Granted, every breed of car - from the spiciest Ferrari to the grottiest Gremlin - has its devotees. But not every car has an international fan base that can sustain an operation such as C n' V, a three-acre compound located on a drab stretch of McClintock Drive that would draw nary a glance from passers-by if not for its singular devotion to the shapely metal brutes inside.
Founded in 1982 by car enthusiast Pete Ciadella, the company sustains its inventory by buying its cars used, snapping up vintage, unrestored Corvettes like a dachshund sniffing out truffles. Then begins the restoration process - six months on average for a "body-on" job, and up to a year when the body has to be divorced from the chassis. The C n' V showroom is bumper-to-bumper with these reconditioned beauties, including a powder-blue 1959 stunner that's currently elder statesman of the bunch.
And though roughly 90 percent of the company's customers are between 40 and 75, estimates Schlemmer, the American male midlife-crisis stereotype doesn't always hold.
"Some of our customers are younger, some are from Europe and Australia," he says. "We ship cars overseas all the time. They never even test-drive 'em."
One thing Corvette owners seem to have in abundance, besides spare change, are anecdotes. While paying a visit to the shop to have his mauve, 1998 soft-top serviced, Tempe retiree William Wiles reminisces about the 1958 Corvette convertible that his father drove one summer while the family Impala was in the shop.
"I was 15 years old, and I told myself, 'Someday, I'm gonna get me one of them babies,' " Wiles recollects, adding that he loves the car's comfort and surprising V-8 fuel efficiency (25 mph on the highway, by some estimations).
Rollie Trayte, director of membership for the 105-member Scottsdale Corvette Club, similarly waxes nostalgic over the 1967 Stingray that a buddy let him drive in college. Unlike Wiles, Trayte didn't wait until the kids had grown up and left home to scratch his 'Vette itch.
"After college, I took the Trans Am that my father bought me for graduation and traded it in," he snickers. "Boy, he wasn't too happy with me after that."
There's also something to be said for the attainability of the Corvette. Typically, a new Corvette - with the exception of specialty models like the new ZR1 revival - retails for 25 percent to 35 percent less than a comparably equipped Dodge Viper, and isn't even in the same price-tag solar system as elite European sports cars. She's the buxom, temptingly cheap bombshell that baby boomer boys used to ogle from the back of their parents' station wagons, knowing it was just a matter of time.
"You get a lot of bang for your buck," Trayte says concisely.
Of course, the affordability of the Corvette also has an unsavory flip side - what Trayte diplomatically calls "Chevrolet's quality control issues."
Schlemmer draws a comparison between the Corvette cult and Harley-Davidson owners: "The Harley isn't the best bike in the world, but it has special qualities that people love."
Schlemmer also adds that any vintage Corvette purchased up to the 1982 model - the last year of the C3 body design - will appreciate in value. And here the rest of us are, pinning our retirements to flighty 401(k) investments.
The Corvette's current investment horizon raises an interesting question for C n' V: Will tomorrow's car collectors - the kids who grew watching Tom Selleck rip up Oahu in a Ferrari 308 - have the same nostalgic fondness for Corvettes as today's collectors? Will they snap up refurbished models in 2028 like the boomers do today?
Trayte thinks so.
"Both my sons have driven mine, and they love it," says the Corvette cultist, who has owned nine of the cars.
"It's a muscle car. If you like European sports cars, you might think it's just a beast and unrefined, but to each his own."