A trip to Corvettes at Carlisle a dozen years ago planted the seed for the recent donation of an immaculate 1996 Grand Sport to the National Corvette Museum.
Long-time Corvette enthusiasts Larry and Carol Watkins had taken their Admiral Blue (with white stripe and red hash marks) ’96 to the Carlisle show in 2008, where two young guys talked to them about the car. “One of them was pretty knowledgeable,” Larry recalls. “At the end of the conversation he said, ‘thank you for bringing the car out and sharing it with everyone.'”
That comment left an impression on Larry and he says the thought of gifting it to the NCM probably began with that conversation with that pair of young enthusiasts.
“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,” Larry says. “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 donate the car in 2021, the 25th anniversary of the Grand Sport, but when they decided to move to a retirement community this year, they realized they wouldn’t have room for it in their new garage and didn’t want it sitting out in the weather so they speeded up the donation a year.
“We had talked to Connie Russell in 2016 and again a few months back who referred us to Betty Hardison,” Larry says. “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.”
This story actually begins in 2005 when Larry decided he wanted to find a collectible car, “something somewhat affordable,” and the 1996 Grand Sport had always appealed to him. John “Hutch” Hutchinson of the Grand Sport Registry pointed them to Roger’s Corvette Center in Florida, where fortunately they just happened to have two or three samples. “It was unusual that they had that many as only 1,000 were made,” Larry says. “You just don’t see them on the road.”
At first, Larry and Carol were going to check out the car themselves in Florida but heard about an inspection service that could do the job for them for a small fee.
“It turned out the guy who did the inspection had been a show judge, and previously raced cars,” Larry says. “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 Watkinses made the deal and had the car shipped home. Three years later, it earned a celebrity choice car show award at Corvettes at Carlisle, where the two young men chatted them up about their Grand Sport.
Larry got bit by the Corvette bug as a teen growing up in the late 1950s and told himself he was going to own one someday. That day finally arrived shortly after graduating from college in 1968 when he ordered a new 1969 Stingray that he used as a daily driver.
Less than two years later, he met Carol, and they were soon married. “We decided it might be nice to have furniture, so we sold the Corvette and started a family,” Larry says.
After raising their family, they decided to get back into the Corvette world first with a very nice ’92, followed by an ’01, a 2013 60th Anniversary Grand Sport, and finally a 2017 Grand Sport they still own.
Ironically, their youngest daughter and her husband, a retired undercover cop, tracked down the ’69 seven years ago, so it’s back in the family – but not as a daily driver this time.
The ’96 Grand Sport, which has the rare red/black interior and the Z51 performance package, has just 5,400 miles and has been always been stored in a climate-controlled garage.
They were sad to see their “baby” leave the stable but say they’re looking forward to seeing it at the Museum this fall.
“Thank you to Larry and Carol for their generous donation to the Museum’s collection!” an NCM spokesman said.
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