The annual Back To The Bricks car festival in Flint, Michigan took place a couple of weeks ago, and continues to produce a treasure trove of fascinating and unique cars, along with the usual fan favorites. Over the past several years, this event has brought several hundred thousand people to the downtown area for the big show at the end of the week, which usually happens on the third Saturday of August. There is such a large showing of Corvettes (both new and old) that in recent years, they have been given their own subsection on the north end of downtown. All 315 of the very first, 1953 Corvettes were built in Flint, and with the Vehicle City also being the birthplace of General Motors, there remains a great deal of affection here for America’s Sports Car.
I made the mistake of skipping 2016’s show, opting instead to attend downtown’s electronic dance music (EDM) festival, Drop Fest, that happens two weeks prior to B2B. Don’t get me wrong… Drop Fest was a cool experience and cultural happening (and I love Detroit house music), but I simply love cars more than I love EDM. I love all kinds of dance music, though, and as a kid who grew up watching “Soul Train” on Saturdays, I also have a strong affinity for disco and dance-oriented Urban Contemporary music from the era spanning from the mid-’70s through the mid-’80s. Without further ado, I present to you the literal manifestation of the “Discovette”.
I don’t remember what age I was when I had first heard this era of C3 referred to as such, but it was a nickname that really needed no explanation as it clicked with me immediately. With the design and performance of the third-generation Corvette having started out as a more serious (if gimmicky) high performance car, by the late ’70s it was just a bit softer than it had been just ten years earlier. I still love ’em.
The silver-flecked metallic paint on our featured car glistened in the Michigan summer sun. This Corvette is a rolling disco ball. It is Studio 54 on wheels. It almost gives me a (Love) Hangover just looking at it. Believe it or not, by the early ’80s, Flint had a decent nightlife scene, which I found impressive given our blue collar ethos and beer-drankin’, Rust-Belted lack of sophistication. In addition to The Light, the discotheque in the basement of the Dort Mall with its underlit dance floor (and backroom hot tub), there was also the Mikatam Lounge in nearby Genesee, Michigan. The latter reportedly had a packed dance floor on most weekends through the late ’80s, and also often featured choice, second-tier live acts. Their infamous 10-for-1 mystery shot specials left no questions unanswered as to Genesee County’s ability to hold its liquor.
Perhaps the most celebrated club of all was The Copa, located in downtown Flint, one block from the now recently-restored Capitol Theater. Nominally a club geared toward the GLBTQ community, The Copa was the cool, vibrant, edgy place to be – bringing people from all walks of life, ethnicities, social strata, and from all parts of Michigan to drink, dance, and party in its multi-storied, balconied main area. Housed in a ’30s-era building that had once been home to a regional department store (The Vogue), it featured classy artwork, a world-class light show, an all-welcoming attitude and mix of people, and some of the best DJs and music in Michigan. Owner Bill Cain was also a respected figure in the community. Alas, Mr. Cain passed away in ’91, the club closed just four years later, and the building was demolished in ’08 after sitting vacant for years and left to languish.
Back in those heady times, though, what better car to arrive to valet park at Michigan’s own version of Studio than this car? This Corvette is immediately identifiable as a ’79** against the similar ’78 because of the cross-flag emblems and also because it includes the spoiler available for ’78 only on the Indy Pace Car replicas. Seventy-nine could be considered the year that pure disco, in the most mainstream understanding of this music form, was having its last hurrah. While Donna Summer was still riding high on the charts with her “Bad Girls” double-LP and its multitude of hits, disco outings released later that year by vocal powerhouses Aretha Franklin (“La Diva”; may the Queen Of Soul rest in peace) and Cheryl Lynn (“In Love”), as well as others, tanked hard. The Bee Gees pretty much couldn’t get arrested on the Billboard Hot 100 after ’79.
As with the ’79 Camaro I had profiled last December, this model year would also be the all-time high water mark for Corvette production, with about 53,800 units sold. The base engine, a 195-hp Chevy 350, could still get out of its own way in this 3,400-pound car. The L-82 was optional, yielding an additional thirty horses. This particular car is a bit more high profile than I would be comfortable driving, even on a semi-regular basis, as I would assume its paint job might seem to be to police cars what a red cape would be to a charging bull in Barcelona. Maybe this car is just as much “The Glamorous Life”-era Sheila E. as it is Gloria Gaynor, but it was a treat to see this very literal example of a Discovette sparkling in the sun at the super-festive, annual car-party in my hometown.
Downtown Flint, Michigan.
Saturday, August 15, 2015.
** Addendum: Commenter Vetteman has positively identified this as a ’78 model by the emblem up front and the chrome surround of the rear glass.