The red 2001 Mallett Hammer Conversion ZO6 Corvette that Kevin and Linda Helmintoller donated to the National Corvette Museum had been on display in the museum’s Skydome just six weeks when a sinkhole swallowed it last week.
“Losing the car really hurts,” Kevin Helmintoller said. “There’s no question it was a part of the family.”
The Tampa, Fla., couple hadn’t made the trip to Bowling Green to see the car on display before Wednesday’s shocking incident, but they visited the museum Saturday to look at the sinkhole that their beloved car and seven other Corvettes tumbled into.
“It appears ours is by far the lowest” in the sinkhole, Kevin Helmintoller said. “There’s no sign of it.”
The Mallett Hammer can be seen on security camera footage of the sinkhole collapse, but the camera’s power was cut before the car dropped into the hole.
“I think I feel better about not seeing it go in,” Kevin Helmintoller said.
The car, which the Helmintollers bought in 2001, has been on many racetracks along the East Coast. The couple donated the car to the museum in November.
“It was very heavily modified,” Kevin Helmintoller said. “It was to the point where it got a little difficult to drive on the street.”
Donating it to the museum seemed like a good way to give it away but still own it.
“They would care about it as much as we do,” Linda Helmintoller said.
When she got the call about the sinkhole collapse, she was wearing the same outfit she had on when the couple donated the car at the museum.
“It was just surreal. Everything about it is surreal,” she said. “How do you plan for anything like this?”
Despite the loss, Kevin Helmintoller doesn’t regret donating the car.
“It definitely hurts, and I’ve cried,” he said. “There’s no question I’m definitely upset, but there’s no way to conceive of anything like this.”
He discovered Corvettes at age 16, when his aunt let him drive her 1980 Corvette.
“I thought I’d died and gone to heaven,” he said. “From that moment on, I said ‘I’m going to own one of these.’ “
He bought his first Corvette in 1996 and has owned nine total, but he just sold his remaining one Monday.
“This is the first time I’m Vette-less since ‘96,” he said.
The Helmintollers are on the waiting list for a Stingray.
Work repairing the Skydome should begin Monday, according to Wendell Strode, the museum’s executive director.
“The priority will be stabilizing the red spire,” he said.
Preparing the area to retrieve the cars from the sinkhole could take five to 10 days, he said.
But Kevin Helmintoller isn’t sure if there’s anything left of his Mallett Hammer to retrieve.
“I still have my doubts about mine because it’s just so deep in the hole,” he said.