As more and more sports car buyers discover the best-kept secret in the industry—namely, the world-class performance capability of the new mid-engine Corvette, a handful take delivery at their Chevy dealer and opt for a factory tour to seal the deal. Bowling Green Assembly (BGA) is the birthplace of every ‘Vette produced since 1981, and if you’re keeping count, it adds up to over 1.1 million of them.
Performance enthusiasts report that touring the BGA is a near-religious experience. Chevy does it right, offering a true insider peek at what goes into building a Corvette. The facility measures 1.7 million square ft and is on 212 acres in, you guessed it, Bowling Green, Kentucky. The fully unionized shop also includes the entire engine assembly plant.
Chevy spent almost a billion dollars building the plant and currently employs over 1,300 staff, all dedicated to producing the Corvette Stingray in all its iterations. Within the walls of the Bowling Green Assembly, every square millimeter of every Corvette is crafted, assembled, and painted. If you’re splurging on a new Corvette Stingray, a VIP tour is a must. Here’s what to expect.
Inside the BGA Facility
Though the Corvette began its life cycle on the outskirts of St. Louis, Bowling Green, Kentucky, has been its home base since 1981. Chevy converted the existing building, formerly a Chrysler air conditioning component plant, in just 14 months, adding space and reconfiguring to accommodate soup-to-nuts Corvette assembly. At the time, the plant represented the latest in assembly technology, backed by a skilled staff of union automotive professionals.
According to MotorTrend, renovations included adding 7 million lbs of steel and enough wiring to span 800 miles. All in, the new factory floor was equal to 22 football fields. Though the facility featured thoroughly modern assembly line technology, Chevy spent $436 million in 2016 to expand the floor by another 44,000 square ft and paved the way for the new C8 generation.
The BGA facility paved the way for the assembly line to evolve to include more robots and ergonomically-friendly workstations for workers. Unlike the old St. Louis factory, the BGA’s factory space is air-conditioned, contributing significantly to employee morale. Recent updates include exchanging fluorescent lights for LED fixtures and beefing up waste handling and disposal to current environmental standards.
Throughout the factory, extreme care is taken for dust control to ensure a clean factory floor and prevent carryover to critical portions of the facility, including the Paint Shop. Each section pertains to a specific part of the Corvette. Sections include Trim, Cockpit, Chassis, Engine, Suspension/Transmission, and more. The final stretch encompasses multiple inspections, numbering in the hundreds, to ensure a good fit and finish. There’s even an inspection stage to detect and diagnose rattles.
Assembling a Corvette Stingray
The new generation C4 Corvette began rolling off the assembly line in the mid-80s with a first-ever unibody steel frame and molded plastic body panels, which replaced the cumbersome fiberglass versions found on earlier generation ‘Vettes. This change facilitated easier, more efficient assembly. Chevy saved on manufacturing costs and continued employing well over 1,000 locals.
The 2016 renovation included the addition of multiple vertical displacement lifts or VDLs. The VDL system carries Corvettes to each individual workstation in a complex airlift process, saving time and human effort. Since demand continues to spike for the newest C8 mid-engine Corvette, efficiencies like the addition of VDLs help keep the assembly line moving.
Interestingly, it takes longer to assemble a convertible Corvette than a coupe. For that reason, assembly is staggered, so the line never performs assembly on back-to-back convertibles. Since most Corvette orders are custom, containing hard-to-source features, Chevy doesn’t keep a large inventory of components on hand. Instead, parts are held by suppliers and delivered directly to the line as needed.
Once the Corvette is fully assembled, the plant puts it through a series of quality checks that begin with alignment. It’s driven over an alignment pit and subjected to 30 individual inspections. From there, it moves to an 8,000-point Dynamic Vehicle Test, then a water test to check for any seal issues. Five additional test cycles happen after that, including CARE, or Customer Acceptance, Review, and Evaluation.
Painting a Corvette Stingray
Considering the BGA’s in-house paint facility encompasses 800,000 square ft, it’s fair to say the systems, spaces, robots, and tradespeople involved in the Corvette’s assembly are both expansive and state-of-the-art. Chevy added the Paint Shop in 2017, home to approximately 51 robots and over 240 dedicated employees.
All employees entering the Paint Shop facility must undergo crater testing, a process that can detect contaminants, like dirt, dust, and even personal hygiene products, that might compromise the paint application process. Staff don special blue suits and hair nets, then proceed through an air shower to rid themselves of any residual dust. Small imperfections can appear glaringly obvious on a newly painted car, which is why such strict dust control measures are necessary.
For 2022, Chevy offers the Corvette in twelve different exterior colors. It takes three floors, and multiple vertical displacement lifts to apply the proprietary paint to a newly minted Corvette, and no other Chevy vehicles will share it. Next time you see a Corvette at a stop sign or in a parking lot, take a minute to notice the quality of the exterior paint. Chevy’s process of wet sanding and baking on paint gives it a rich depth of color not seen on most vehicle exteriors.
Technology and Tradition Combine
The BGA represents a marriage of tradition and forward-thinking automotive assembly. Chevy’s state-of-the-art facility is more than just an assembly plant, especially to excited C8 Corvette buyers—it’s a birthplace. Through multiple complex systems and processes, the Corvette you buy at your local dealer comes to life.
Understanding the care that goes into each component and each step of the assembly process helps buyers own the story of their Corvettes in a highly personalized way. Adding the $995 option to take delivery at the adjacent Corvette Museum takes it a step further, allowing friends and family to get in on the excitement and memorialize the event in grand style.
The event, called Option R8C, includes the buyer and three of their closest friends or family, who are warmly greeted upon arrival by staff with custom signage and given a VIP museum tour. Buyers are wowed at the sight of their Corvette on full display, then treated to a bumper-to-bumper orientation. A gold plaque affixed to the driver’s door jam is also included.
The pomp and circumstance matter to today’s C8 Corvette buyer. Perhaps more than any other vehicle of its kind, the Corvette is an emotional purchase. Buyers adopt a lifestyle, not just a new car. The museum collects testimonials from happy participants, in which some report that their delivery was “the greatest experience in my life so far” and “a high point in our lives.” If a C8 Corvette is in your future, commemorating your investment at the Corvette Museum may seem a bit hokey, but why not embrace the whole experience? After all, you’ll get a cool gold plaque.