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click to enlarge All of the memorabilia Yager collected before the garage was built in 1994 is hung on the walls.

Corvette Crazy

A love of Corvettes turned an agricultural greenhouse into a garage for one-of-a-kind models.

by Phil Berg

Mike Yager was bitten hard by the Corvette bug. He was 12 years old and he saw a new 1962 Corvette parked at a Pillsbury plant near the Interstate 44 in Missouri, on a return trip to his Newton, Illinois, hometown. “From that point on, I was bit by the Corvette bug,” says Yager, who now runs nearby the largest after-market Corvette parts seller in the U.S.

But making his living today from peddling classic Corvette interiors, drivelines and bodies, as well as loads of clothing and badges, out of a 300-page catalog store based on a more than 140-acre facility in rural Illinois is not the thing that most interests us about Yager. It’s the unique museum/garage he built in 1994 that’s just a few miles down the road in Effingham, Illinois, where he hosts some of the country’s well-known Corvette meets, including the annual fall Funfest at the Mid America Motorworks headquarters in Effington, Illinois.

click to enlarge The only car of 33 in his garage that's for sale is the last C5 built.

Yager calls the part of the Mid America compound where he keeps his special cars “MY Garage”. It contains 33 special, one-off cars in it at any one time, for example the CERV 1 (Chevrolet Experimental Research Vehicle), the mid-engine, open-wheel test bed that was used to develop Corvette racing cars by famed engineer, the late Zora Arkus-Duntov. The recently restored 1968 C3 racer that finished LeMans in 1972 is parked in the workshop section, and the display area has the final production C4, a white coupe with the signatures of all the Bowling Green, Kentucky plant workers, engineers, and outspoken Chevy boss Jim Perkins hidden underneath, as well as the only 1989 ZR1 ever made (the car was introduced as a 1990 model). GM design chief Bill Mitchell’s personal Woodward-cruising Sting Ray, and Chevy boss Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen’s Sting Ray styling twin—built originally for the 1964 New York World’s Fair—are also in the garage. Only one of the cars is for sale for a reasonable $90,000, the last C5 Z06 built, while the famed GM executive hand-built Sting Rays are valued at seven-figures each.

Separated from the Corvettes by a half-wall are three and a half VW Beetles, the highly modified, widened NASCAR Beetle from the “Herbie Fully Loaded” movie of 2005, as well as a super-clean version of the “Herbie Goes Bananas” movie of 1980. About nine years ago, Yager added the air-cooled Volkswagen parts to his business, because, he says, the customers are just as passionate about tinkering with their cars as Corvette folks are with theirs. And a little-known fact about Mike Yager is that he owned a Karmann Ghia before he bought his first Corvette.

click to enlarge One of Yager's brothers has been a VW fan, as well as Yager himself, so the brand was added about nine years ago.

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