Sunday, June 28, 2009

Further tales of two 'Vettes!

This weekend we will not be at Buttonwillow, after all. A family illness necessitated our return to our home in Boulder, Colorado, where we will be spending the next couple of weeks, and we have no chance of a quick dash back to participate in NASA’s HPDE event at what has quickly developed into our favorite track. We hear this weekend the cars will be circulating in a counter-clockwise direction, whereas the previous time it had been clockwise. Check out the post of April 30, ’09: Are we humans? Or are we dancers?

Perhaps the saddest sight to see is both of our cars sitting in the garage hooked up to battery charges, as pictured above, where they will remain until much later in July. With the arrival of the July 4th weekend we head to Copenhagen for a much-anticipated cruise, courtesy of Princess Cruise Line, around the Baltic that will take us to a number of Eastern European cities, including St Petersburg, Russia, Tallinn, Estonia, and Gdynia, Poland. In the meantime, it try not to think about the Corvette (and the Infiniti, of course) locked away in a garage, some 1,000 miles away from Colorado, in our other home in Simi Valley, California. And look for a post on this adventure next month – but I am digressing.

While walking along the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder a few nights ago, Margo and I ventured into a notorious T-Shirt store: it has some of the funniest ones I’ve ever seen. And I came across one that illustrated my digressions: it said “Of course I don’t have ADD. Look, there’s a rabbit!”

Simi Valley has developed into quite the Mecca for Corvettes, and there’s been barely a day go by without seeing one a little out of the ordinary. There’s a very active Simi Valley Corvette club that regularly meets at a little Italian restaurant nearby and whenever they gather in the car park, there’s always a lot of well turned-out Corvettes to look at.

This is also the neighborhood where Margo and I first met our good friends Brian and Jan – they too drive a C6 Corvette that they take to the track, so it was pretty easy to form a friendship on this basis. They also track a BMW 328 coupe, just as we track the Infiniti G37S coupe, so there’s always something to be discussed each time we get together – over apple-tini’s! (Brian and Jan introduced us to this amazing drink, which when served at Maestro’s together with a touch of dry ice, looks like a witch’s brew, but tastes fabulous!)

While waiting for a latte at the local Starbucks, only the other week, in pulled a beautifully restored 1966 C2 Corvette with a big-block 427! The driver owns a custom motorcycle shop but, his custom cruisers aside, this Corvette is very much his pride and joy and the picture here is of it parked right outside the café. In between business transactions that he was actively pursuing at the time, we were able to exchange a few pleasantries as we both waited for our coffees.

But this is not the end of the story. The next day as I walked across to Starbucks, on my “morning tea” break, I spotted what I thought was the same red C2 Corvette parked by the café again. This time however, I am really taken by surprise. As the photo below suggests, it is not the same Corvette but something equally as special. The license says it all – it’s a 64 Z06! While many Corvette owners know that the C5 and C6 models included a Z06 performance option, the original Z06 performance option came out with the introduction of the 1963 C2 – but I wasn’t sure about a ’64! Seeing the license plate really made me curious!

We may be far away from our C6 Corvette and missing the opportunity to be Buttonwillow, but we shouldn't be expecting to get too much sympathy as we have a 2003 C5 Corvette Z06 in the garage of our Boulder home. This is our back-up car and while recently we were tempted to take it out for a track session at a new circuit just opened to the East of Denver, we hesitated. With two cars spending time at the track, do we really want to take another car onto the track? The Z06 is very special for us, as it was our first Corvette. It is not something we are likely to sell, or trade, anytime soon. But owning a Z06 has given me the opportunity to come to appreciate the heritage of the Z06. For a picture, check the earlier Looking back on '08

As I walked closer to the car claiming to be a 64 Z06, it certainly didn’t look like a typical C2 restoration – for starters, it had modern C6 wheels and, clearly visible through the spokes, what looked suspiciously like Z06 brakes. And the suspension appeared to be modern as well. As I walked alongside the car, sure enough, there on the right fender was a current C6 Z06 “505hp” badge. Look closely at the photo I have included below. The car was a hybrid put together by Greg Thurmond, owner of GTS Customs – check out his site

Well, I quickly sent him an email – his wife had driven the car that morning to Starbucks – and later that day I dropped by his shop located, imaginatively enough, on Simi Valley’s Easy Street! Who knew! What Greg basically does is accepts pretty distressed C2s (and C1s for that matter) and then takes a highly modified C4 frame that he chops around a bit, before dropping in C6 engine, including today’s latest LS7. There are other power-plant options, and when I suggested installing a Supercharged LS3 “Stroker” I seemed to recall Greg even knew my friend Andy Green out at A&A Corvette Performance.

The last time we attended a NASA weekend at Buttonwillow we were able to get up close to Corvette’s of a completely different ilk. We came across a team competing with a Factory Five GTM Supercar. For those who may not be familiar with this car, Factory Five has set about creating a Corvette for the track that’s done pretty much about right! The big difference from any other Corvette that circulates the track is that this is a mid-engine set-up, with the beauty of the LS7 fully visible underneath the rear window, a la Ferrari. For more information, check out the Factory Five web site:

There has been a lot of discussions of late on blogs and in online forums about the failures of both Chrysler and Chevrolet. And a lot of it had to do with their respective performance cars – would FIAT even bother to continue producing the Viper, for instance. And would the new GM even want to have the Corvette remain part of Chevrolet – or would they be looking for a buyer for this product as well? Or, are there already enough “models” in the ‘Vette family that could sustain it as a separate “marque” alongside of Chevrolet and Cadillac?

Chrysler is out of Chapter 11 and FIAT management is in place – and to the surprise of many I suspect, the first plant put back in operation was the small shop that produces the Viper. So perhaps it’s not all that bad for America’s super cars, and perhaps we will continue to see both cars developed even further. And while there is discussion on the blogs as to whether Corvette needs a mid-engine “racer”, or even a four-door model (as Porsche, Aston Martin, and even Lamborghini are planning to produce) to sustain it as a stand-alone marque – the consensus, as of today, is no it does not need anything additional. The basic C6, the optional C6- Z51 (as a junior track car), the C6-Z06 (as “the” track car), and now the C6-ZR1 “Supercar” give the marque a substantial product lineup, better than nearly anything else from the more famous manufacturers.

While Buttonewillow is not the best track for the big American torque cars like the Viper and the “Vette, every time you hear one blast down the main straight, it still sends shivers up my back. There’s absolutely nothing like the sound of the current crop of large displacement, high-revving, big-iron (mostly alloys, of course, these days) engines! But for Margo and I, this track will continue to remain the venue for which we think the Infiniti G37S coupe is the best option. We simply have learned so much more about the track from the driver’s seat of this car, than in all previous outings in the “Vette.

But our Supercharged C6 ‘Vette will be making a comeback. Even if it’s early next year! The hidden lesson for us both is that nothing comes for free, and with all the enjoyment we have had to date from participating in NASA HPDE events, the cars have taken a beating. Right now, the ‘Vette is facing new rotors and brake pads (with a change of fluids), and new tires. The Infiniti, too, will probably need new brake pads after the next weekend outing – which, according to the calendar, will see us return to Cal Speedway and that’s a track that typically is pretty heavy on everything, including brakes! It’s all become a case of managing the “variables” of the two cars – and looking to make sure we do invest any additional money in only what we need!

I have already begun the email exchange with Andy at A&A Corvette Performance and I will let him “freshen-up” the Vette in a month or two’s time, once we are back in Simi Valley. Andy can easily do the brakes and perhaps we will change the tires as well. Maybe even add an anti-sway bar that is a little stronger – and adjustable. Oops - that’s probably an example of “not really needed!” May have to cross that out! And maybe it’s even worth considering changing out the rear-end for one of Andy’s taller units 3.1:1 perhaps? Oops – maybe a bit extreme and not really necessary at this time! The ‘Vette has the standard rear-end that comes with all automatics (around 2.4:1), and getting more torque to the pavement may have advantages at tracks like Willow Springs! Yes, definitely, that’s what we need – more torque to the pavement! Ah, but the list is growing.

In one of our more-recent L.A. freeway drives, we must have run over something, (most likely rubber that had separated from a truck tire), that rebounded underneath the car. When we last had the ‘Vette up on the lift, it had a large piece of an underbody panel missing, with a substantial hole revealing the inner-workings of the windshield washer receptacle and its associated plumbing –probably not an ideal situation for future track outings. But Andy knows what will be required and it will be included in the list as well. So it’s not just being on the track that generates all the maintenance items on our check-list, but being Margo’s daily drive the ‘Vette comes with a price!

Logic dictates that there’s little sense in messing up two cars as we continue with NASA’s HPDE program – and looking at both the Infiniti and the ‘Vette, it’s the ‘Vette we really love to drive. The Infiniti is serving a wonderful interim job in helping us learn the tracks – and the ease with which a “momentum” car, like the Infiniti coupe, gets around the track lessens the distractions that otherwise arise from a big torque car where throttle management becomes so critical. And ‘Vettes belong on the track –their history is liberally sprinkled with success from every corner of the planet. Even when the prettier examples are restored, as Greg does so well, they still need to perform as well as they look!

Having experienced tracks with a few less cylinders has had its advantages and definitely improved our relationship with the organizers, yet Margo and I do so miss “Frankenstein”. And if what we have learnt from the Infiniti translates to better management of the beast when it is next out on the track – then the lessons have been well worth it. Already, 2010 doesn’t seem all that far away and the next three or four outings will only help in better preparing us for the inevitable return of the ‘Vette. After all, there’s only so many times I can look at the photo at the top of this posting without cringing and being overcome with remorse – life on battery feeders is no life for a car, engineered to deliver in a way only the ‘Vette can!