When GM proudly showed off the new Corvette ZR1 to the Classic Corvette Club UK back in 2008, it was love at first sight for Martin Lynch. Earlier this year, in spite of the difficulties of buying a Corvette in the United Kingdom, he took the plunge and purchased a new ZR1—and therein lies the tale.
It may come as a surprise to learn that if you were to visit any Chevrolet dealer in the UK, you would not see a single Corvette in the showrooms, nor be able to buy one or even have one repaired or serviced. In a country of some 62 million people, there is only one car dealer officially authorized to sell and service Corvettes—Bauer Millett in Manchester, way up in the north of England—and it is not even a Chevrolet dealer. There are only an additional four agents licensed to carry out Corvette warranty work, as well as service and repairs, three of which are former Saab dealers.
This is hardly a confidence-inspiring situation for potential customers, so it is fair to say that anyone who buys and runs a new Corvette in the UK must really love the model. There’s more: In addition to the paucity of dealers, customers must deal with sky-high pricing. In the United States, a C6 coupe starts at $49,600 (£33,066) and a convertible costs $54,600 (£36,400). In the UK, prices for these models start at £62,996 and £71,049, respectively, which is not far off double the price in the U.S.
It comes as no surprise, then, that Corvette sales have been weak in the UK—actually, they’ve been close to non-existent. Published figures show that just two new Corvettes were registered in 2010, and not a single one in 2011. There are, however, plenty of C6s being driven around the British Isles, the vast majority of which are grey-market imports brought over from the U.S.
The Corvette has a rather short history in the United Kingdom. Though it was sold in Europe beginning in 1984, the fourth-generation model was not sold in the UK. But the fifth-gen Corvette was smaller and lighter than its predecessor, more in keeping with British ideas of what a sports car should be, so GM decided to officially import it to the UK. Between 1997 and 2002, the C5 was marketed and sold through Vauxhall dealers in the UK (Opel dealers in Europe), but the expensive, high-performance Corvette did not sit comfortably alongside the econoboxes that are standard-fare on this side of the Atlantic, which hurt sales.
In 2003, GM contracted Kroymans Corporation to import and distribute the Corvette, as well as Cadillac and Hummer vehicles, in Europe. A large, privately owned Dutch company, Kroymans was already the official European importer/distributor for Ferrari, Aston Martin and other prestigious brands. In turn, Kroymans signed up the Pendragon Group to distribute Corvettes and Cadillacs in the UK through its Stratstone retailing division. At this point, the Corvette was no longer sold, or even badged, as a Chevrolet. In 2005, GM began selling Daewoo vehicles as Chevrolets in the UK and Europe—it had bought the South Korean carmaker in 2002—giving further impetus for making the Corvette a brand unto itself.
Both Kroymans and Pendragon spent a fortune on setting up dealerships, which were labeled Cadillac & Corvette Experience Centers. They were banking on the success of the forthcoming Cadillac BLS, a collaboration between Saab and Cadillac due to go on sale in 2006. Predictions of selling 25,000 Cadillacs a year in Europe were wildly optimistic; the BLS was a flop. In 2007, less than 3,000 were built, and production ceased altogether in the summer of 2009. Corvette sales were also extremely poor.