The movie begins with the shop class at McArthur High School scavenging around an auto junkyard. They are looking for parts in order to build a vehicle this coming year. The focus of the class is 5th-year Senior Kenny Dantley. He's not satisfied with any of the selections until a "Corvette" emblem drops in front of him. The class decides to remodel the Stingray.
Kenny, his classmates, and shop teacher, Ed McGrath, work long and hard to create the perfect Corvette: candy apple red, right-hand drive (to check out the ladies along Van Nuys Blvd), superior mags, mercury tubes, Gabriel shocks. Although Kenny's future as a car designer is bright, his love life has yet to develop. Sans sweetheart, Kenny lives with his lush mom in a trailer park. Kenny doesn't do so well in his classes either (D- on his Biology mid-term). But, all this is secondary to Kenny as he has the Corvette to obsess over.
On the night of the school dance, Kenny hangs out in the shop room and takes another look at his masterpiece (the Corvette). His shop teacher, Mr. McGrath, is a dance monitor, but he finds Kenny in the shop room. Mr. McGrath has a talk with Kenny, letting him know not to get too attached to the Corvette ("It's a commodity to be bought and sold."). Of course, this advice goes in and out of Kenny's ears...
The Corvette is now ready! The class takes the car out for a spin. One of Kenny's classmates suggests that Kenny "go pro" and send some "Polaroids to Detroit." After a few rides around Van Nuys, Kenny's goof-ball classmate, Kootz, takes the Corvette over to a convenience store to pick up some sodas and snacks. Kootz takes the Corvette keys with him. After an hour or so, Kootz and the Corvette are nowhere to be found. The gang rides in Mr. McGrath's Suburban to find Kootz with snacks, sodas, but no Corvette! Kenny, undoubtedly angry with Kootz for losing the car, gets into a fight with him, but the police reassure Kenny that they would do their best to find the car.
A police detective talks to the shop class the next day. They have been unable to trace the Corvette, and they feel that the car's parts have probably been taken apart and sold. Kenny doesn't think its possible! He feels that the Corvette is out there somewhere.
Now it's summertime, and Kenny has graduated. He works at a gas station and has posted flyers asking that he be contacted if anyone knows the whereabouts of the car. One day a man arrives to fill the vending machines at the gas station. He recognizes the Corvette and indicates that it's on display in Las Vegas!
Kenny then packs up a few things and hitchhikes from LA to Vegas. The first to pick Kenny up is a group of low-riders (led by a guy named Tico) who travel 15 miles per hour on the interstate (they do this because it's "classy"). This is too slow, so Kenny asks to be dropped off. Then, a large van with a female driver picks up Kenny. The girl is a recent grad from San Fernando High School. Very naive, Kenny doesn't realize at first what she does for a living (she's a "hooker-in-training"). He explains to her that he's heading to Vegas to track down the Corvette. When they get to Vegas, she propositions Kenny (for $50). Kenny says no, and then the girl drives off angrily (we learn, from the decoration on the van, that her name is "Vanessa").
Kenny roams around Vegas in search for the Corvette. He asks around various hotels to see if they have a car on display. Kenny finally finds a hotel that has a car on display, but it's a Datsun! Disappointed, Kenny takes off but runs into a man who tries to sell him some fake diamonds. Kenny informs him that he's from out of town and isn't interested. Then, Kenny heads over to get some food. He gets ready to pay for it but discovers that his wallet was stolen (fake diamond guy was a pocket picker as well...). Fortunately, a mysterious man gambles his way into "winning" Kenny some food. The man, "Mr. Lucky," came to Vegas with only $2.00. He won over $13,000. Kenny asks him for a ride back to LA, but he wasn't headed that way (going to Portland instead). Because he felt bad for Kenny, he passes on his "lucky streak" and gives Kenny a two-dollar bill.
The next day, after spending the night in a U-Haul, Kenny tries to hitch back to LA only to see the Corvette racing down the road! The Corvette really IS in Las Vegas! Kenny tries to chase after it, but no luck...
Kenny approaches the Las Vegas Police Dept. and files a report about the Corvette (and grabs a few donuts at the same time!). They indicate to him that they have all the resources necessary to track the Corvette and don't need Kenny's help. That night, Kenny writes the first of many postcards to Mr. McGrath, letting him know the status of the Corvette hunt. Kenny gets ready to go to sleep (in the U-Haul trailer) when he sees Vanessa again. She had a rough time "on the street" (apparently, blue jeans doesn't get you very many clients -- she feels she needs a "sophisticated outfit"). She and Kenny talk for a bit, and then Vanessa convinces Kenny to spend the night with her in the van. But, Vanessa means more than just sleeping over. Nervous, Kenny makes an excuse and sleeps on the floor.
The next morning, Gil, the owner of the gas station next to the U-Haul lot, overhears Kenny and Vanessa fighting. Vanessa is ticked off that she and Kenny didn't have a sexual encounter that night, but she still demands $50 and kicks Kenny out. Angry, Kenny slams down the two-dollar bill that Mr. Lucky gave him ("full payment for services rendered!"). This really ticks Vanessa off. She then drives away. Gil, inspired by Kenny's "spunk," offers Kenny a job at his gas station.
Gil is an interesting character. He makes his money from cheating people out of theirs. For example, a lady with kids pulls into the gas station for a filler-up. Gil tries to have Kenny sabotage parts of her car to force her to buy things, like a new battery or tires. This particular lady, though, tricks Gil by making Kenny distract Gil while she steals oil, tires, etc, from Gil's station! Of course, Kenny is clueless through the whole incident.
Later, Vanessa pulls into Gil's station and takes Kenny with her. Vanessa now works at a beauty parlor to make ends meet (she's horrible at being a prostitute). She informs Kenny that her real name is not Vanessa -- it's Eleanor! But, she thinks she should change her name to "Rosalind." In the middle of their conversation, Vanessa and Kenny then encounter the Corvette! Kenny has Vanessa chase after it until they encounter the police. Kenny explains to the officer that the car was stolen. Vanessa recalls the plate number. Unfortunately, no such plate exists in the Nevada registry. Meanwhile, Mr. McGrath receives Kenny's first postcard. He calls up someone and informs the person that Kenny is in Vegas...
That night, Kenny writes another post card to Mr. McGrath. Vanessa gets drunk and makes fun of Kenny's car obsession. Kenny is hurt, so Vanessa apologizes and shows him that she framed his two-dollar bill. They then kiss...
Now, Kenny has a girlfriend! He takes on a job as a valet, just in the chance that he could run into the Corvette. He writes another postcard to Mr. McGrath explaining what's happened.
Later that night, Kenny finds a note from Vanessa indicating that she's "working late." He thinks she may have joined a whorehouse ("Good Company Escort Service," a place Vanessa had mentioned before). He doesn't find her, so he heads over to Danny's Diamond for some food. He orders, but then the person on the other end was Vanessa! She quit the beauty parlor because they accused her of "petty theft." Anyway, the job at Danny's Diamond would help them find the Corvette because many cars come by. Vanessa is flattered that Kenny was worried about her. She tells him to relax because she is on his side.
The following day, Kenny stops by an auto shop called Silverado Autobody and meets the owner, Wayne Lowry. Kenny shows a picture of the stolen Corvette to Wayne. He acts very strange about it and informs Kenny that if he comes up against a car thief, he's "liable to wind up at the bottom of Lake Mead." When Kenny leaves, we see the Corvette in Wayne's garage. He asks Jeff, one of his employees, to repaint the car.
Mr. McGrath visits Kenny's mom. Seems she is moving to Del Mar (she has a new boyfriend). Mr. McGrath informs her that Kenny is in Las Vegas. It doesn't phase her much, as she figures that Kenny would "find her" eventually.
Kenny takes a new job at a car wash. As he washes a car, he notices the Corvette pull up (it's painted gold!). Kenny confronts the driver of the vehicle (one of Wayne Lowry's henchmen). The henchman blows Kenny off and drives away with the Corvette. Kenny chases the Corvette down on a bicycle. He then lands in a pile of tires at Silverado Autobody. Wayne Lowry and his henchman beat Kenny up and lock him in a storage room.
Later that night, Kenny tries to escape. He hides in a bucket of tar and is able to run away. Tony, one of Wayne's henchmen, chases Kenny down to railroad tracks. He uses a chain to beat Kenny. Fortunately, Tico and his low-rider friends arrive on the scene, which chases Tony away.
Vanessa gets a knock on her van door from Tico. He then brings a tar-soaked Kenny to Vanessa. She takes him, ironically, to a car wash to clean him up. Vanessa sympathizes, as she congratulates Kenny for finding the car. She encourages him to go to the police.
The next day, Kenny gets ready to go to the LVPD when Mr. McGrath approaches him. Kenny rides with Mr. McGrath to the desert, where Kenny learns that Mr. McGrath, in fact, aided in stealing the Corvette! As a teacher, he only makes $15K a year, and it was tough making ends meet. So, Wayne Lowry propositioned him. Mr. McGrath pleads to Kenny not to go to the police because it would hurt McGrath's family. Instead, he tells Kenny that his mom moved to Del Mar (so there is no reason to move back to LA) and offers Kenny a job to work with Wayne Lowry in his shop for $700/week. Kenny is hurt and confused. He hesitates but accepts the deal. That night, he mulls over the decision.
Kenny then arrives at Silverado Autobody, where Wayne, Mr. McGrath, and Wayne's henchmen (Tony and Jeff) greet Kenny. They apologize for the beating from the other day and ask for a clean slate. Kenny accepts but ups the money! He asks for $850/week (first week in advance). Wayne agrees to the increase, and now Kenny is on the team.
Kenny finds Vanessa digging through trash. Vanessa is shocked as she sees Kenny dressed in fancy clothes and shades (a lot like Wayne Lowry!!). He then buys a fancy outfit for Vanessa and takes her to a posh hotel. Vanessa is suspicious about Kenny's sudden wealth. She learns that Kenny is now in Wayne's car theft ring.
The following day, Kenny is working with Wayne when Vanessa's van shows up at Silverado Autobody. She sold it to a guy who wanted it detailed. Kenny accuses him of being a car thief. Wayne can only laugh, as Kenny doesn't realize that he, too, is a car thief now!!
Kenny searches high and low for Vanessa. He then finds Vanessa at a casino dressed as a high-priced prostitute (with a new name: Rosalind). Having quit her job at Danny's Diamond, Vanessa tells Kenny that she's doing "body work now, just like [him]."
Finally realizing what has become of him, Kenny waits for all of Wanye's employees to leave. He repaints the Corvette back to its original colors. When Tony and Jeff return, they see the Corvette has changed. Kenny fights them and steals the Corvette back! Kenny then finds Vanessa making a "blue movie" at the hotel. He drags her away in the Corvette. Vanessa is totally confused as to what was going on.
Wayne finds Tony and Jeff beaten and then chases after Kenny. Vanessa thinks it's all a big joke, but then Wayne shoots at them and chases them around the desert. The chase leads Wayne's car to flip over. Wayne then shoots his car to put it out of its misery.
Kenny and Vanessa find their way back to LA. Kenny drives the car back to the high school, where he hands the Principal the keys. He informs the Principal, in front of Mr. McGrath, that the police don't know anything and that the most important thing is that the car is back where it belongs. Kenny then asks for his diploma, which the Principal had saved in his office.
Mr. McGrath stops Kenny and tries to negotiate with him. Kenny just tells him farewell. Kootz gives Kenny his diploma, but Vanessa grabs it from him. Kootz asks Kenny if he's going to buy the Corvette, or if he's going to stay around for a spin. Kenny brushes him off, as he realizes what's most important to him: Vanessa. Vanessa and Kenny kiss and make up, as Kenny's diploma flies in the air...