Meet Mr. Bloomington Gold; Guy Larsen

Note: This story was first published in the ??? issue of Vette Vues Magazine. All photos from the Guy Larsen Collection: The Corvette success story is one of empirical accomplishments built on previous accomplishments. Joe Pike was Chevrolet’s National Sales Promotion Manager in the early days of Corvette and clearly saw the vision. Joe once said, “… the Corvette is more than a car; it is a lifestyle.” When Joe and his team launched “Corvette News” in 1957, they had no idea what the Corvette lifestyle would become.

Many years later in an interview with then-Corvette Chief Engineer, Dave Hill, Hill said something similar, “… We’re not talking about transportation here; we’re talking about a product that changes someone’s lifestyle, and that causes us (Dave’s design team) to be enthusiastic about our duty.” It is easy to forget such statements, but the sentiment has echoed since the mid-’50s.

Were it not for that sentiment, that ephemeral heart connection to Corvette, there’s be no Vette Vues Magazine or any of the other Corvette print publications over the years, no National Corvette Museum, no Corvette clubs, no NCRS, and no big Corvette shows; such as Bloomington Gold. It is not an overstatement to say that the foundation of the Corvette hobby, as we know and enjoy it, is Love.

Guy Larson Gets Bit By the Corvette Bug!

Recently we had a conversation with Guy Larsen, the current owner, and CEO of Bloomington Gold. What started out as a regional Corvette parts swap meet in 1973, quickly became a force of nature that added a depth of credibility to mostly-original Corvettes. When the event started, it wasn’t called “Bloomington Gold”, it was simply “Corvette Corral”, and was held in Bloomington, Illinois.

To put this into perspective, in our interview with Guy, he said, “People lament that the Swap Meet part of Bloomington Gold isn’t what it used to be. Well, of course not. Back then, if a Corvette owner was looking for missing parts, he had to hunt and scratch around at swap meets because it was the only way to find parts. Everything changed when the internet and eBay started and Corvette parts started to become available online.”

For those that are relatively new to the hobby; imagine traveling hundreds of miles to pick through parts at swap meets a few times a year, to finish your restoration project. Yes, the “hunt” was part of the fun, but it sure made restorations much slower than today.

A Novel Idea! Your Corvette Competing with Itself!

By 1978 the Corvette Swap Meet, in Bloomington, Illinois became something much more than a swap meet. Enter David Burroughs. David came up with a novel “competition” idea. Typically in any competition, there are “winners and losers”. Burroughs’ novel idea was; What if there was a Corvette competition among mostly-original Corvettes where there were no “winners” or “losers”; where every Corvette and its owner could achieve the top award, or no one might achieve the award, depending on the originality of the car.

We’re not talking about “participation trophies” here. David created a system of competition based on the car’s originality and completeness, as compared to the day the car rolled off the assembly line; no better, no worse, no different; just authentic.

Basically, it is this; the day every Corvette is born, regardless of how the car was optioned, the car is at “100 percent”. From the perspective of originality, the car will never be better.

This is brilliant because it makes the “owner” in competition with the car’s original condition, not the other cars on the judging field. This completely removes the uniqueness of particular special editions, special options, performance engines, suspensions, packages, creature comforts, and such.

In other words; say there’s a 1963 Sting Ray coupe with the base 250-hp 327 with a Powerglide, and few options, if the car is complete and appears authentic compared to original production; the owner could achieve a Gold Certification®; whereas a 1963 Z06 Corvette that has been modified or altered, would not.

The Bloomington Gold System of Judging

How does this happen and what are the standards? Burroughs created Bloomington Gold’s three-tier system of judging a Corvette’s completeness; Bloomington Gold, Bloomington Silver, and Bloomington Bronze. “Gold” Corvettes are judged to be 95 to 100 percent complete, “Silver” Corvettes are judged to be 90 to 94 percent complete, and “Bronze” Corvettes are judged to be 85 to 89 percent complete.

How are Corvettes judged and by whom? Judges specialize in all generations of Corvettes and need to have a more than ordinary knowledge of every model of every year they specialize in, as well as knowing what options were available when. They also need to be fully versed in how Corvettes, in their given time period, were manufactured; what were the assembly processes; where casting part numbers are located; how to read part numbers; how were cars painted and finished; and being able to recognize the fit and finish of period-correct parts.

Within those parameters, there are four areas of judging; exterior, interior, chassis, and engine. And within the generations, there are specialist judges for each of the four categories. Each judge within the four areas of judging must know his area of specialty “in their head”, and not from reference books. Obviously, Bloomington Gold judges are not your casual Corvette enthusiast.

A Bloomington Gold Certification® is unlike any inspection that regular cars ever experience, and the judges are properly trained on how to interact with owners. For example, a judge will not say to an owner, “This part and that part, and the other, are all wrong.” Instead, they might say, “These are parts that we would not typically expect to see on a 19?? Corvette, or “This part typically had a different finish in production,” or “These components were typically configured differently than on your Corvette”. The overriding objective of the judging process is to not offend the owner but to help educate the owner and help him/her achieve a Gold Certification®.

Those serious about getting their car closer to 100 percent can use the judging process as a guide to what they need to change to get as close to 100 percent as possible. This brilliant system of judging component-by-component, is a competition between the car, versus original production, and not the car against other cars. There are no “losers” in the Bloomington experience.

A Bloomington Gold “Top Flight Award” Counts!

Today, the cost to have your Corvette judged is $650, and compared to the cost of some of the parts, especially for the C1 to C3 cars, is a bargain. Regardless of what level an owner’s car achieves, they go home with a Certification and a shopping list of things to do to improve their car. An over-restored car can lose points because it never looked that good from the factory!

After working to achieve Bloomington’s stature, it is understandable that owners are reluctant to drive their cars regularly. A Bloomington Gold Certification, as long as the car wasn’t modified after certification, can add ten-to-twenty percent to a car’s resale value, depending on the pedigree of the car.

Guy Larsen is a true “Corvette guy” just like the rest of us. Guy got the Corvette Virus as a kid and after a “believer’s ride” in a very cool uncle’s Corvette, that was IT! Guy knew he had to have a Corvette in his life and started saving up while driving a $50 beater in college. Shortly after Guy graduated college with a degree in economics he bought his first Vette, a 1974 Coupe. It wasn’t a collectible Corvette, but it was a Corvette!

The Bloomington Gold Judging System

Like most of us, Guy started to attend car shows and since he lived in Illinois, he started attending the Bloomington Gold Show. “My Corvette wasn’t the caliper of the cars I saw being judged, but I enjoyed the shows and kept going back. After a few years, I asked a judge, “What do I need to do to become a judge?” I was told, “We have more judges than we need.” Then a C4 judge told me, “not now, but I’ll be in touch.” So, I just volunteered to help out, you know, assistant kinds of tasks, including coffee runs. But I was able to be up close to what the judges do. I even had an interview, a product knowledge test, and was told, “maybe someday”. Then one day I got a call informing me that a judge couldn’t make it. I was told, “If you are ready, you’re a judge.” So, I kind of backed into it.”

When an owner decides to enter the Bloomington Certification process, he receives Data Sheets to fill out that includes the car’s VIN Number, a photo of the casting date on the engine, and a photo of the Trim Tag. On the day of judging, each team of four judges (exterior, interior, engine, and chassis) is allowed 36 minutes each to inspect the car and only 10 cars per class are judged in a single day.

Judges also perform an Operations Check to make sure that everything functions on the car; horn, lights, accessories, etc. Everything has a work as it did on Day One.

Then there is the Stamp and Tag Team. These guys are tough. VIN Numbers, Engine Stamps, and Trim Tags must be authentic, and accurate; and if anything isn’t, the car is disqualified. The Trim and Tag Team has over 20,000 images of tags and stamps to reference if needed. Team members have been studying and researching this kind of data for many years, and they know all the subtleties and nuances of tags, and stamps, and can identify a deviation very quickly.

Bloomington Gold’s Many Homes

Unlike Corvettes at Carlisle which has been at the Carlisle Fairgrounds since its beginning, Bloomington Gold has had many homes. The event started in 1973 at the Bloomington Fairgrounds, in Bloomington, Illinois. Then from 1995 to 1998, the shows were held in Springfield, Illinois at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. The show moved back to Bloomington, Illinois in 1999, then in 2001 moved to St. Charles, Illinois, and stayed until 2012. The 2014 and 2014 shows were in Champagne, Illinois, and beginning in 2015 were held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

By 2015 Corvettes had paced the Indy 500 an astounding thirteen times (18 times total from 1978 to 2021!), so what a great place to have Bloomington Gold Corvettes Event. Three-time Indy 500 winner, Mauri Rose was the development engineer for the chassis of the 1953 Corvette, a design that put the Corvette on the international sports car competition map! Indy 500 and Corvette are like America, baseball, and apple pie! In 2020 Bloomington Gold moved to the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana. And in 2022 Bloomington Gold’s 50th Event will return to its roots, in Bloomington, Illinois! Enthusiasm for the Return to Bloomington has been CRAZY!

Meet the Bloomington Gold Owners Over the Years

Ownership of Bloomington Gold has changed hands three times. The original Corvette Corral and what then became the Bloomington Gold Corvette show was founded by a group of six avid Corvette hobbyists. In 1998, Dana Mecum bought the annual show and ran it until Guy Larsen bought the event in 2012. Larsen runs the shows, and functions as their Chairman of Judging.

Arguably, one of the biggest developments in the Corvette community has been the rise of the RestoMod. How does that work within the framework of Bloomington Gold? Obviously, RestoMods are the antithesis of Survivor® Corvettes, but judging uses the same four categories; exterior, interior, engine, and chassis/suspension with Gold, Silver, and Bronze awards.

Instead of the car being judged on originality, the criteria for judging is, “how much the components were modified from the original build”. Bloomington Gold founders never imagined RestoMods and it’s a wonderful example of how the Corvette community has grown. Yes, the Corvette hobby has morphed and changed in ways Joe Pike never dreamed of in the early days of the creation of the Corvette culture.

Guy’s Vettes

As for Guy Larson and his personal Corvettes, his original 1974 Corvette is long gone, but Guy has owned a 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, a 2010 ZR1, a C7 Z06, as well as his classic, 1969 Black Blue 435 Corvette.

Yes, with the stunning success of the C8 Corvette and the growing interest in Corvettes, Bloomington Gold will be with us for a very long time! – Scott