Owning a Corvette can become a matter of life and death - at least it is for Bud Mozzant, who took his 1976 "Vette" to the 5th annual Capital Area Corvette Show and Swap Meet against orders from his doctor.

"The doctor told me if I came out I could die," Mozzant, a D.C police officer, said when explaining that he had been rushed to the hospital Saturday night with extreme stomach pains. Mozzant said he left the hospital yesterday morning, even though the doctor said his stomach might begin hemorrhaging, because he did not trust anyone else to drive his car home.

"I would have stayed in the hospital, but I have no way to get (the car) home," he said. "I promised the doctor I'd be right back. It's really a stupid thing to do, I know."

Mozzant, like the owners of the other 73 Corvettes at the show, has been caught by the charisma and mystique of the Corvette. Mozzant said he has been saving since he was a child to buy a Corvett, yet he seldom drives it because he is "scared to." The car has only 4,000 miles on it. "My luck, a lady in a '56 Chevy would hit it," he said.

Show officials estimated the 5,000 people came out to JKJ Chevrolet Inc., to admire and compare the privately-owned cars. Many of the spectators were Corvette owners who came in to ask in to ask other owners what was the best type of paint to use or who needed to buy a spare part from the Corvette parts "flea market." Others came only to dream about the day when they would own one of the cars, although the closest they got yesterday was to buy a T-shirt with "Vette" written across the front.

"I guess owning a Corvette is like owning a childhood dream," Karen Martin of Baltimore said. She said her 1977 Corvette was an "impulse purchase," which she considers a "show car" and seldom drives.

"You don't want to drive it," she said. "It's so clean you don't want to get it dirty." But Martin said "when this one's paid for I'm going to buy another to put on the street."

Cleanliness is one of the most important criteria for judging the cars in the show, according to Tom McPherson, the head judge for the event. The judges were busy throughout the afternoon checking the car's engines and undersides with cotton swabs for dust. They also consider whether the car has original parts and how well it fits together, McPherson said. But because the cars are all so well maintained, the final determination for first place might well come from having the original owner's manual, a working clock or the original type of General Motors fan belt.

Louis Giacomozzi's 1972 yellow Corvette was picked by the judges on that criteria as the best of the show. Giacomozzi, who says he has become "fanatical" about his car, said he does not drive it and keeps it in "perfect" condition "because I've got something I want people to see."

"You could eat off the bottom of some of these cars," said Ken Lassiter, a salesman at JKJ and owner of two "Vettes". To prove the point, several contestants had mirrors under their car to display bright, shiny, clean undersides.

Lassiter said it is the uniqueness of the Corvette that makes it so special to sports car fans.

"The Corvette is America's only true sports car," he said. He added that since it is the only American car made of fiber glass, is hand constructed and only about 40,000 are produced every year it has developed its own charisma.

The normal sticker price for a Corvette is close to $12,000, he said, but special models like the limited edition car used to pace the Indianapolis 500 last month are selling for at least twice that amount.