MERRIMACK -- Newport resident Melanie O'Sullivan was just 8 years old when she caught a first glimpse of her dream car.
It took some time, but after building an administrative career and raising a family, O'Sullivan finally had the chance, two years ago, to buy an orange 1957 C1 Corvette with tear-drop sides.
“I get a lot of thumbs up and waves when I drive it,” said O'Sullivan who, along with her husband, Denis, loves Corvettes in all models and colors.
O'Sullivan's mint-condition, antique Corvette was one of several crowd favorites at Sunday's Spring Fling car show and competition sponsored by the Gate City Corvette Club of Nashua. Hosted by the Anheuser-Busch plant in Merrimack, the event draws Corvette fans from as far away as New York and Canada and raises money for local charities such as the Nashua Soup Kitchen and the American Cancer Society.
“I think people like Corvettes because they're America's sports car,” said Dean Gagne, a member of the Gate City Club and the coordinator of Spring Fling. “They're fun to drive, and they are definitely excellent performance vehicles.”
Hooksett resident Lenny Laliberte, who was at Spring Fling with his special Indianapolis 500 edition -- which is used to pace the famous speedway race -- said engine performance is a big part of the Corvette's appeal.
“With a 300 horsepower engine and wide tires, they handle nicely,” he said.
But Laliberte said it's more than just heat and power.
“It's the style,” he said. “There's no other American sports car like it.”
There was a lot of talk at Spring Fling about design, lines and style, and how the Corvette is actually a work of art. And a lot of owners do treat their cars almost like priceless paintings.
Bob George of Bradford, Mass., bought his Corvette, a red one, back in 1969, when he was 17. Although it now has 85,000 miles on the engine, everything under the hood is as spotless as most hospital operating rooms.
“It's definitely a labor of love,” said George, who admits he probably spends as much time cleaning and caring for his car that he does behind the wheel.
Donna Zakiewicz of East Hampton said her husband spent about eight hours getting his Corvette ready for the show.
“He spends hours and hours and hours cleaning,” said Zakiewicz, who likes the car but only as passenger, not a driver.
“It's a little too much power for me,” she said. “I have a heavy foot.”
Although drivers appreciate the Corvette's speed and handling, they also like to point out that despite all the horsepower, it's not a gas guzzler. Corvettes seem to average about 25 miles a gallon. But most also admit they don't drive their cars that often. Corvettes are typically locked away for the winter, safe from snow, sand and salt, and a lot of owners admit they won't even drive their cars during the summer if there's a possibility of rain.
Most of the owners with Corvettes at Spring Fling didn't buy their cars until they were well into their 40s and 50s. And there's a good reason for waiting: The sticker price for a 2013 corvette starts at about $49,000 and can reach as high as $111,000 depending on the model and extra features. And the bills for repairs can be heartbreaking.
Still, Gagne said the Gate City Corvette Club has about 60 active members and is one of hundreds of similar clubs throughout the country.
“It's just a lot of fun to drive,” said Tom Coville who had a Corvette competing in Spring Fling, and two others at home in his garage in Salem. “It's fun to go out cruising and see how many heads you can turn.”