The Saudia Corvette
Way back in 1977, the GM main agent in Saudia Arabia ordered a shipment of various cars from the USA. There were a number of corvettes included, which spent the next two years stored in the desert.
A group of British engineers working for the state airline Saudia Airlines found these seven Corvettes, and purchased them for £4500 each. After buying the cars the engineers wanted to get the cars back to the UK, so they made a deal with their employer and the GM dealership whereby Saudia Airlines put together a plan to make it possible.
In 1979 Saudia Airlines sponsored the Williams Grand Prix Engineering Formula One Team based in Didcot, Oxon. Part of the plan to get the seven Corvettes back to the UK was they had to be painted white, with the two-tone stripes in blue and green running from front to rear, together with the crossed scimitars of the Saudi Royal coat of arms in gold on the bonnet, other advertising decals were included in the design. The colour scheme was based on the airline and Formula 1 Team FW07 race cars. Goodyear tyres supplied all the cars with 5 brand new tyres and Gulf oil paid all the fuel expenses.
Once the cars were ready, they were flown from Jeddah to Athens and then driven to a seaport where they boarded a ferry over to Southern Italy. The corvettes were then driven back to the UK, but en route had to visit major cities and stop off at Saudia Airlines. The route took the corvettes to Rome, Genoa, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Luxembourg and Paris. The Corvettes were driven by Kenny Davies, Bryan Burton, Steve Shinnfield, Mick O'neil, Steve Garland, Jeff Gladstone, Steve Jones and someone called 'Nabil'. The seven Corvettes arrived in the UK at Silverstone Race Circuit, Northamptonshire, on the eve of the British Grand Prix in July 1979.
Saudia Airlines withdrew their Sponsorship from the Williams Formula 1 Team at the end of the season, and the seven Corvettes found new homes with owners in Wrexham, Manchester, Derby and four went to the London area. One of the Corvettes is now owned by Paul Hawkins of Knightsbridge Garage who purchased it in 2009. He acquired lots of documentation about the cars, much of it in Arabic. The accuracy of the story has been confirmed by Kenny Davies who was one of the seven engineers that drove the cars back from Greece.
Paul Hawkins acquired many period photographs of the seven Corvettes en route from Greece to the UK. This has allowed Paul to restore the car with the exact body graphics down to the very last detail as worn in 1979. Paul had the great pleasure of meeting one of the original Saudia Airlines engineers, Kenny Davies, at the Classic Car Show, which was held at the NEC in November 2009 where the Corvette was on display. Kenny commented that the car looked exactly how he had remembered it and was thrilled to see it after all these years.
Of the seven original Saudia Airlines sponsored Corvettes, Paul's car is the only known survivor to sport the full livery and decals. Does anyone know where the other six cars are? If so please get in touch.