MANATEE -- In their newly purchased, moss-green 1966 Corvette Sting Ray, Bradenton's Ed and Lynn Kuiken were the hit of Lance's Cruzin To The Hop Car Show Saturday at Hooters on 14th Street West, Bradenton.
Just a couple of months ago, the Kuikens, who live in Creekwood near State Road 70 and Interstate 75, spent roughly $50,000 for the 327-cubic inch, 330-horsepower, second-generation Corvette with handsome green leather bucket seats and four-speed stick shift from a seller in Leesburg.
The Kuikens paid almost the price of the seventh-generation $56,000 black, 460-horsepower, seven-speed stick shift 2014 Corvette Stingray that made its debut before nearly 300 enthusiastic fans Thursday at Cox Chevrolet on Cortez Road in Bradenton.
The new Corvette, with its one-word "Stingray" name, pays homage to the Kuikens' two-word "Sting Ray."
For Ed, a union carpenter for 45 years, and Lynn, who runs the front desk at Lakewood Ranch's Town Hall, their dream car had to be a "mid-year" issued sometime from 1963 to 1967.
Ed sold his Gambler bass boat to collect the funds.
"I had been waiting 40 years for this car," said Ed Kuikens, who said he has won awards with the car at every show he and Lynn have entered. "I grew up in Paterson, N.J., and saw 1961 and 1962 Corvettes, and my oldest brother had one. I liked the body style. I liked that the car can go fast."
"The engine and transmission numbers don't match so it's not all original, which is why it didn't cost more," Kuikens said. "I brought my Bradenton mechanic, Doug
Daane, to Leesburg with me to check it out. You can get these for $25,000 to $30,000, but you have to be careful and you have to have a great mechanic like Doug to protect you."
Kuiken said he wouldn't trade his '66 straight up for a 2014 Corvette, which sold within 24 hours of arriving Wednesday at Cox.
"No way!" he said, shaking his head. "I'll have this car forever."
For Kuiken and scores of others in Manatee and Sarasota, the Corvette lifestyle includes membership in the Gulf Coast Corvette Club or one of a handful of nearby clubs, monthly car shows, lifelong friendships, social events and parties.
But it's not only fun and camaraderie that drives Corvette owners to band together, said R.J. Munson, president of the Gulf Coast Corvette Club, whose 106 members come from Manatee and Sarasota. Corvette owners also have a mania for charity, Munson said.
The Gulf Coast Corvette Club, with the help of Bealls, will sponsor the 17th Annual Toys for Toys Car Show from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 7 in front of Bealls at the Creekwood Crossing shopping plaza.
"Our best year was four years ago when we received $27,000 worth of toys," said Munson.
The cost of registering a vehicle for the show is a new, unwrapped toy. People can register "any car they are proud of" in the event, Munson said.
"We have teams of shoppers who will take the money into Bealls and we just buy out their toys," Munson added. "We also have people just come up and give us toys. Our shoppers also pick out toys for 14- and 15-year-olds who often don't get toys and for preschoolers, who are also often left out."
Manatee car club charity
Munson, who owns 10 cars including a 1965 Ford Mustang fastback, said Corvette hasn't cornered the market on car club charity.
"Every car club in this area that I have been associated with is a charitable organization," Munson said. "I also belong to The Mustang Club of West Central Florida and we will have our 22nd Ponies Under the Palms car show on Main Street in Lakewood Ranch on Nov. 24, which feature more than 100 Mustangs and Shelbys to raise money for Tidewell Hospice and Southeastern Guide Dogs."
Alex Dunlap of Bradenton is president of the Manasota Mopar Club, whose members love Dodge cars and trucks. The Manasota Mopar Club is holding a Feeding Little Tummies charity event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 12 at 2700 First St. W., Bradenton, Dunlap said.
"I guess it's because a lot of us didn't have much growing up and we feel for kids now," Dunlap said. "Did you know there are an average of 1,700 homeless and hungry children right here in Manatee?"
The Manasota Mopar Club's motto is "Doin' Good in the Neighborhood," Dunlap added.
Bradenton's Jerry Worsham insists Manatee's VW owners also love charity.
"And there is a huge Mazda club," Munson said.
But there is a special historic connection between Manatee and the Corvette. Cox has been selling cars in Bradenton since the 1930s and the Corvette since it came out in 1953.
Ron Potts came to work at Cox Chevrolet going on 22 years ago as a Corvette specialist. Not every Chevrolet dealer has a Corvette specialist.
"There are only about 900 dealers nationwide who will get 2014 Corvettes and Cox is one of them," Potts said. "It's based partly on how many Corvettes you sold in prior years but also you are not supposed to get a Corvette unless you have a specialist."
Cox expects 32 new Corvettes in the next eight months, said dealership co-owner Kris Cox.
"The history of the Cox family and the history of Corvette and Bradenton are tied together," Potts said. "Every time a new generation of Corvette has rolled out, the family makes it a big event."
"Anyone who has lived in Manatee County a long time will say, 'My dad worked at Cox or a cousin worked at Cox or great grandfather or someone bought a car from Cox,' " Potts said. "When I came to work for them I said, 'I'm not looking for a job. I'm looking for a home.' They have made it a home. They're the best."
When the first 2014 Corvette came to Cox on a truck Wednesday, Cox called Munson of the Gulf Coast Corvette Club and asked if he could round up members to bring previous generation Corvettes to the unveiling.
"They got it together in 24 hours," Potts said of the introductory party, which featured the new Corvette coming out of the rear garage amid a fog of smoke.
"We have a great relationship with the Cox family," Munson said. "They help us with little things we need and we help them anyway we can."
The person who bought the first 2014 Corvette in Manatee County has a history of buying milestone Corvettes, Potts said.
"We'll leave his identity a secret, but he saw in the Bradenton Herald that the car had come and wanted the first one," Potts said.
Cox Chevrolet spent $2,500 each for Potts and Kris Cox to fly to Las Vegas for a day-and-a-half training session to learn to drive the new Corvette at Spring Mountain Motor Sports Ranch, Potts said. Potts said he will recommend the class to all new owners since the new Corvette is so fast, powerful and technologically intense.
"I would say my impression of the new Corvette is exciting," Potts said. "Ride, handling, technology, everything is better than ever before. The build tolerances, how things fit together, is a lot better and a lot tighter."
Chevrolet wanted the new Corvette to appeal to a younger audience to perpetuate the brand.
"I pre-sold a Corvette to a 35-year-old the other day," Potts said. "I think the new Corvette will do better with the under-40 crowd because of technology. It can store your contact list. It can retrieve your call list. There is a five-mode selector so you can dial in the suspension. You tune the car to your driving specifications."
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @RichardDymond.