Monday, September 5, 2016

Getting ready for fall … bring it on!

After a lengthy hiatus, our red C5 Corvette Z06 is almost ready for the track. For nearly two months it has been worked on from top to bottom and from front to rear. The list of service and replacement items was extensive and comes after three years of nothing more than track outings. For a moment, we were even talking about replacing it with a C7 Z06 Vette and on a recent road trip Margo searched the web for every piece of information on the C7 Z06 after our local GM dealer put a very attractive package together for us.

A black C7 Z06 with the optional Z07 package and with detailing that included the upgraded interior, where the double stitching was done in yellow as were the powder-coated brake calipers – the touch of yellow on an otherwise black Corvette was all rather striking - and we came very close to pulling the trigger on the deal. But then, stepping back and looking at our C5 Z06 and having already experienced a supercharged C6 Vette on track, we decided to spend the money and bring our beloved C5 Z06 back to track readiness. Yes, this was going to be a big month for us when it came to maintenance.

The arrival of the C5 Z06 back in 2001 marked a complete rethink of the Vette program within GM. To think of the Vette as nothing more than muscle cars is completely at odds with the purpose of the Vette following the release of the fifth generation, C5. If you are interested in a GM muscle car then buy the Camaro. On the other hand, if you want a track or autocross car, then pick the Vette. Likewise, if you want a Dodge muscle car, buy the Challenger but if you want a track car, buy the Viper.

Take a Vette or a Viper right off the showroom floor and onto the track and you can be assured of having a highly competitive car. When GM took the C5 to LeMans it was an immediate winner (2002 and 2003) and with each new generation it has continued on its winning ways. With the stiff Balance of Performance (BoP) mandates that today attempt to level the playing field among the manufacturers, often times it results in the race cars having less power than the equivalent street cars. So yes, drive what the racers would prefer!

Perhaps the most serious upgrades were to the brakes, suspension and yes, the drive shaft. Being a 2003 model where half its mileage had been accumulated on the track, the drive (or propeller) shaft had bent so a replacement shaft was installed. It is a much beefier unit capable of handling up to a thousand horsepower and the actual heft is noticeable in the picture included here. As for the brakes, well, we now have slotted StopTech rotors with HAWK track-friendly, HP+ pads. Not too much squealing coming from the brakes while driving on the street, but for the first couple of miles when they are cold, then yes, you can hear them protesting just a tad.

The clutch was reworked a while back but following this latest service coupled with the new drive shaft and another service of the gearbox and differential, it just feels so much meatier with gear changes a lot less rubbery than it had been just a year or so ago. The wheel bearings and speed sensors monitored by the ABS, traction control and active handling were serviced and on a couple of corners, replaced. The shocks were pretty much out of gas so on went a set of heavy duty Bilstein shocks. And yes, there was a significant leak in the power steering pump that had to be attended to but it’s all fixed now. It never ceases to amaze me just how driving a deteriorating car can desensitize you to its many faults! 

So yes, the steering is precise. The clutch and gearbox feel purposeful. And the drivetrain no longer produces any unusual sounds and of course, the car brakes really well. The only remaining task is to throw on a new set of street Bridgestone tires that through the years have provided us with unusual levels of grip that have always surprised our passengers but as we have become so used to them, it’s difficult to consider changing to anything else. We just have to keep our fingers crossed that Bridgestone continues to make the Potenza RE760 Sport. While our Viper is no longer with us even as the Vette makes a dramatic comeback, the memories of track days in both still linger ...

This introduction and update on the C5 Z06 is by way of explaining that our passion for cars continues unabated. Whenever an opportunity for a couple of hours of downtime presents itself we head to the garage and jump in a car. Heading down the driveway we immediately begin relaxing and with the many canyon roads leading up into the Rocky Mountains, and the many small towns beckoning, we soon put the city behind us. Shortly, the fall colors will arrive with the forests of aspen trees turning gold but for the moment, we still have warm temperatures and clear skies so yes, driving with the sunroof open or the ragtop retracted, is enjoyable and highly entertaining!

There is always something new to see and places to drop in on – no matter how many years we have been driving along these mountain roads there is always some place to pull into and check out. When you drive the peak-to-peak highway connecting Estes Park down through Nederland and Blackhawk, you pass the small village of Ward. On the highway proper there is a small bar and restaurant adjacent to an elbow in the black top and on summer days, there’s always a mix of sports cars and motorcycles. For the twenty years I have been stopping in on this establishment, nothing has changed but the hamburgers are pretty good, particularly as there isn’t another establishment for miles around. 
Closer to home is a short but twisty canyon road that leads to Carter Lake.

When we first began riding our motorcycles, this was an oft-visited destination. The water level rises and falls with the season as much of the spring snowmelt flows into the reservoir. Each and every time we took the ride, we passed a small bar and restaurant on the northern edge of Carter Lake and this past month, after passing it so many times, we pulled in for lunch. Looking around at those seated nearby, we spotted one patron drinking what we thought was a bottle of Angry Richard so of course, we had to sample a bottle for ourselves but it turned out to be really Angry Orchard and wasn’t a beer but an alcoholic cider – but holding the bottle astutely, it’s not difficult to see how we were so easily taken in! 

David, our local BMW salesman and someone we keep in touch with on a regular basis as both our 740i ad our 750Li were leased from him, continues to promote the latest range of BMW hybrid cars. Readers of our business blog for the NonStop community, Real Time View, may recall reading the May 4, 2016, post, Hybrids continue to make headlines … where Margo and I were given the hybrid i8 to drive around in for a morning. More recently, David gave me the much smaller i3 for a Saturday morning drive and I found it way more entertaining than I had imagined. While the pace of the i8 is unquestionable, the pocket-rocket i3 is perhaps the fastest BMW ever to 30 mph. 

Not sure I like the dark color schemes as I found the white i8 perhaps the most attractive color combination but with the i3, its diminutive size makes it an ideal city car. We have our Cooper S Roadster by Mini and somehow, I just cannot see Margo giving up that vehicle any time soon but somehow, the progress being made on hybrids is something few of us can ignore. While I am still very reluctant to commit to an all-electric car, no matter how well the batteries perform, the presence of an additional power source just seems to me to be better suited to the wide open spaces that we have here in the west.

While August saw us only taking one business trip and that was to spend a couple of days in Dallas, having as much time as we did have at home proved to be really enjoyable. Leisurely mornings spent sipping coffee and looking out onto the mountains. Well, only after a quick trip to the gym for an hour of “treadmill with the news” as we tend to watch news while walking. By the time we get back home we can truly relax with cups of coffee. On the other hand, as September comes to a close, the routine of regular trips to distant places begins again as the fall season of customer and community events picks up once again. Already we have committed to events in Chicago, Scottsdale, Toronto and San Jose and so there will be many more miles to cover before the year finally runs out.

It wasn’t just the Vette that spent time in the shop being brought back to competition mode. At roughly the same time we had the Jeep in the shop getting serviced with new tires being installed as well as the RV getting serviced with the front windscreen being replaced. It’s often a sore point between Margo and me that we are spending more on tires than she spends on shoes and somehow, that just doesn’t sound right but no longer having to stand in line at airports, put up with failed reservation systems, or deal with weather delays isn’t something we are all that interested in returning to any time soon.

After an equally lengthy hiatus, we had the local motorcycle shop come pick up the Yamaha V Star 1100 that had been Margo’s regular ride since 2003. Last year we traded the Honda VTX 1800 on the Mini Roadster and had pretty much left the Yamaha untouched, but with a carburetor based engine it became so out of tune that it needed a lot of attention and so, in the shop it too has sat. We are expecting to be able to pick it up in a matter of days now and with fall temperatures not too far away, I am looking forward to “riding the Rockies” once again. However, with just one motorcycle, it’s not as much fun as it once was so Margo and I continue to look at the options, but doing anything further in this respect will have to wait until next spring at least.

I have often written posts to this blog that have talked about the possibility of buying a Polaris Slingshot of a Can-Am Spyder but nothing definite has been decided. With a sunroof opened or a ragtop retracted, it’s nice to experience driving al fresco.  And yet, it is no substitute to being atop a motorcycle cruiser with all the sensors taking in the experience only being on the open road provides. We aren’t getting any younger and there will certainly be compromises involved, but who knows. There’s still more miles to cover on some form of motorcycle but there's still no escaping the fact that with two bikes parked in the garage, we had lots of options!

Grilling outside on the BBQ just a few weeks ago and looking around at the vegetation that surrounds our backyard, it was clear that something was unfolding as everywhere we looked the leaves just starting to change color. Hopefully with fall, there will be time to take rides through the mountains on the Yamaha and perhaps one outing on the nearby road course in the Vette. Irrespective of what the fall will bring, road trips are already locked-in and there will be many more miles to be covered.

But as passionate as Margo and I continue to be with driving vehicles of all descriptions and as much as we enjoy exploring out of way establishments, we certainly have enjoyed a month of living at home. Already the pool and spa have been “winterized” and shortly the outside kitchen will be shut down for the season while the lawn sprinklers and drip-feeds to the trees and shrubs will all be “blown out” with compressed air. Fall will be with us for just a short while and then winter will follow just a handful of weeks later.

If we were to summarize the activities for the month, everywhere we turned the story was the same. It was all about maintenance – vehicles of all descriptions, the home and even ourselves. Then again having options, along with opportunities, is something Margo and I cannot see ourselves ever compromising on so until the next round of servicing, it’s now time to enjoy the options we have and go explore some more! Even as the predominant color of our cars is red, at this  time of year they help to add a lot of color to the view from front door. So yes, bring on the fall …