Archive for the 'Driving' Category

FROM THE FRYING PAN INTO THE FIRE

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

Is there a Survivor in there?

I have been congratulating myself for resisting the temptation to “over restore” the Corvette, and rather to make it a real “driver”.  I do not want to end up with a “garage queen”, too nice and too costly to drive and not friendly enough to sleep with.  As I have been getting into making the car roadworthy, I have also reminded myself that it is pretty original, given that I bought the car new.  So I know exactly how few things have been changed out in my 40 plus years of ownership.  Enter the “Survivor” concept.

Survivor is a category of classic car ownership that defines a car that is nearly completely unchanged from the day of delivery: original driveline, paint, interior, etc.  Sounds pretty simple and my car is pretty original.  So I had begun to think, why not try to maintain that survivor status as I get the car back on the road.  Both NCRS  http://www.ncrs.org/ (National Corvette Restorers Society) and Bloomington Gold http://www.bloomingtongold.com/ (the premier Corvette show and judging organization) have “Survivor” categories.  (Bloomington Gold has a copyright on the term and claims to have invented the category).

My last blog entry talked about the build sheet I found on the gas tank, and that prompted some research.  And that’s where I nearly jumped from the frying pan of over restoration into the fire of change nothing “Survivor” status.  Along with other research, I had an illuminating and scary email conversation with Dave Burroughs, the Bloomington Gold Survivor guru.  The bottom line Survivor repair/restoration philosophy is “don’t do anything!”; although somehow the car needs to be returned to running condition.  Do no painting, remove no torn decals or build sheets, replace no parts, don’t even wire brush the rust.  Yikes, another “garage queen”, but one that looks and drives like a car that hasn’t been touched in 40 years; because that is exactly what it would be.

So, here I am, suspended somewhere between the frying pan and the fire.  But what the heck, that is exactly where I want to be.  If I want to mount new, softer shock absorbers, or a lifetime stainless steel exhaust, or clean and paint the engine compartment,  or mount tires that provide decent traction, I’m going to do it.  This driver is for getting my “Yeee Ha” on!

An original Corvette anticipating return to action

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010
Chaz's 1967 Stingray

Chaz's 1967 Stingray

Today is a very good day in my world of cars.  After many years of procrastination and several months of glacial preparation, I have laid the first wrench on the Corvette.  In time (estimates later, but reality is when rubber hits the road) 67Vette will be mixing it up with all of those homogenized, drive-by-wire, cell texting, modern day cars. Ah, the pleasure of being involved with the car rather than the peripherals. Meanwhile, I plan to get reacquainted with an old friend, one bolt at a time.

My Corvette is a 1967, convertible, 427 ci., 390 hp., 4 speed.  I can’t recall any options except, perhaps for the AM/FM radio (rarely used as the more satisfying exhaust note is just a throttle mash away).  I purchased it new in the fall of 1966 and have accumulated about 120K miles (the odometer failed long ago and I only was able to keep track of the miles by my “frequent” gas purchase records).

As far as provenance, I have been the soul owner.  It’s been run hard.  It’s very quick to 100, but the short rear end limits top speed (a good thing since the front end begins fly at about 120.  No surprise that Corvette’s sprouted front end spoilers with the next model change).  It was autocrossed and rallied extensively, and has run fast on Sebring, Watkins Glen, Cumberland Airport, and Marlboro raceways (not in sanctioned races, just autocrosses or “bandit” runs after the officials had departed).  Early on, late summer Sunday night returns from the beach were supremely entertaining.  It was also used for everyday transportation for many years; some residents on Gorman Road, in Howard County, MD may remember my morning bonzai runs on the way to work.  One could hit triple digits by catching the last corner before the bridge over I95 just right.  Yeee ha.  Now that was a workday stress reliever!

The Vette is not a virgin.  I have previously completely rebuilt the engine and the brakes.  I have experimented with various ignition, tire, suspension, exhaust, and fuel delivery setups.  The original parts that are not on the car are preserved, but I have no intention of getting anal about a “numbers matching” garage queen.  The memories of driving are just too vivid and fun to do a restoration and then not drive it. I pretty much completely know this set of wheels from the inside and the outside, so I think this process will be like turning the pages of a favorite long lost diary.

Stay tuned for updates.

Yeeh ha!

For those of you who are first time visitors, you can read about the origin of this blog if you click into the October 2008 Archives at the right of this page.

Rental cars don’t always suck

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

Warren Brown is an enthusiast with the unenviable job of writing about cars to an audience of mostly non-enthusiasts – Washington Post readers.  This is a newspaper whose only automotive sports coverage is the occasional NASCAR fisticuff.  Today Warren wrote about bottom feeder rental cars  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/01/AR2009050101603.html .  That got me thinking about my own experience with rental cars.

 

My favorite recollection is of the 1986 timeframe, when I was torn between buying a BMW 3 series and a Merkur.  BMW, back then as now, was considered the pinnacle of sports sedans.  I wanted one badly, but I had also read good things about the Merkur.  Sir Jackie Stewart had helped with the suspension tuning, and a friend had one he loved.  I discovered that Merkurs were available from a rental company, so I rented one for the weekend.  I took off to Pennsylvania and couldn’t stop driving!  The rental was on a fixed mile basis and I ended up with a big mileage penalty, but I also ended up buying the Merkur.  I loved that car, put 170K miles and 18 years on it, and only gave it up for a modern Mini.  Oh yeah, and with sales desperation discounts, I saved nearly $15K over a BMW.

 

Countering that experience was an early Hyundai my wife and I rented in Boston.  This car was so bad that we returned it to Logan Airport, driving thru terrible traffic in both directions, to exchange it for something acceptable.  And, in spite of recent great press for the brand, I still maintain a resistance against ever buying one.

 

Swinging back to the positive side, my son and I rented an early Chevy Malibu in Portland, OR a few years ago.  This was before the automotive press had discovered it.  We had a ball hammering it on the way out to the Oregon coast and then inland to Mt. St. Helens.  This was one of the few times I can remember crying Uncle! as a passenger.  But then I never have been a fan of steep drop offs.  Both of us concluded that this was a really nice, inexpensive, sporty sedan with plenty of pep (we had one with a 6 cylinder engine).

 

I also recollect a friend and I, each in our own rental Ford Fiestas, hanging it all out on Mulholland Drive, in LA.  Back then Mulholland had long stretches of dirt and we both felt like FIA World Rally drivers.  That was a car you could abuse terribly and it would still come back for more.

 

And, finally, who could forget the original “Rent-a-racer”, the Hertz GT350.  See my March 2009 blog entry on Marlboro Raceway.

 

So, Warren, bottom feeders may be the bane of today, but rental fleets of the past offered up some really great rides.

Truth in 24 – watch it

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

Google “Truth in 24” and watch the trailer.  This looks like a great movie for gearheads.

Too bad this won’t air on ESPN until March; I need a racing booster right now.  The real racing season will be in full bloom by then, but now all we can get are a couple of ticklers from Florida.

And what do we get at the car shows this season, but a bunch of mostly boring (from the drivers seat) “green” cars.  Don’t get me wrong.  I find the new propulsion technologies endlessly fascinating, but in their present form there is not much to offer from a driving excitement viewpoint.  Not much Garage Envy there.

January, a crappy month for car nuts.

Kimi vs Deweycheatumnhowe

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

 

This news clip from the New York times this week was irresistible.  The text reads roughly as follows:  The Hambletonian winner Deweycheatumnhowe voted trotter of the year, while record earner Somebeachsomewhere voted top pacer of the year.

 

How lucky we automotive race fans are!   Can you imagine David Hobbs describing lead changes between Icemankimipartyboy and Orderofthebritishempirelewish.  Or even more ludicrous, Darrell Waltrip moderating a punchout between mandmsnickerbush and cousincarlaflac.  The possibilities make my head hurt.

 

So next time you view a Formula 1 race or the NASCAR circus think about the possibilities. Suppose racer agents/promoters get in on the game and  sell naming rights to the racers themselves; they could surely come up with even more novel names than the horseracing industry.  And now consider how really, really, really lucky we are that right now we live in an era where that idea has not yet caught on.

 

 

 

Two hundred fifty three miles per hour – Where are we going with this?

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

Automotive one-ups-manship has undergone a not so subtitle evolution in the last decade or so.  Used to be that 0-60 time was king, but with the introduction of the McLaren F1 in the 1991 and the setting of the fastest street legal top speed in 1994, things have changed.  Top speed in now king and 0-60 time is just another statistic.  And I think the world of the car enthusiast is poorer for it.

 

 Take a look at this Youtube video  http://tinyurl.com/5cgg7.  Two hundred and fifty three miles an hour in the current fastest production car in the world, the Bugatti Veyron!  That is an insane speed.  The best I have ever done is a hundred miles an hour slower than that!  Now I think most enthusiasts would like to give it a try, but how?  That youtube run took an unbelievable amount of coordination and preparation to pull off.  Not the kind of thing you do on any sunny afternoon.  Lots of other cars, even Corvette, now have bragging rights for an over 200 mph top speed.  And car magazines are constantly churning out features on 200 mph match-ups.  Test drivers comment that everything changes for a production car when you get over something like 170 mph.  Of course everything changes at a much lower speed if you are on a public road; which is what these cars are built for.

 

 Bragging rights are nice; but, as with owning a Rolex or a Mont blanc pen, what more can you do with it than you can with a more ordinary model?  On the other hand, 0-60 time is something an enthusiast can exercise practically everyday they are behind the wheel.  And how exhilarating is that?  There is nothing like nailing it and hanging on for the few seconds it takes to get to 60 mph; and most places you can do it without even attracting the attention of the authorities.  Try that with  200 mph.

 

 So, rise up enthusiasts and demand that car makers and car mags bring the emphasis back to a “go fast” capability that us ordinary folks can relate to.  I’ll even settle for the metric version of that, 100kph.

 

Charles Duryea and his Hill

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

The Historical Society of Berks County http://www.berkshistory.org/histsoc.html houses a small, but very nice museum at its home in Reading, PA.  Tucked among its numerous Berks County centric items is but a single car, a 1902 Duryea.  The Duryea is commonly known as the “first gasoline powered commercial American car”.  Quite a mouthful, but suffice to say this is a classic American car.

 

My interest, though, is less for the car and more for the Hill.  Charles Duryea built his cars in Reading, PA for a time and he used a steep and winding road that climbed Mt. Penn to test his cars.  In his honor, the road was renamed Duryea Drive.  To this day cars, and drivers are tested on this hill in the Duryea Hillclimb.  I got to know this hill, its turns and straightaways in my college years as a form of relaxation, recreation, and adventure.

 

At the time I owned an Austin Healey 100/6 and it was ideally suited for that hill.  It had plenty of low end torque and enough gears (with overdrive) to easily top 100mph.  Duryea Drive became my nighttime hangout.  Nighttime was best because one could see approaching cars by the cast of their headlights on the trees; so the entire road could be used when blasting to the top.  Police were also not a problem since if you met one on the hill, you were long gone before they turned around to give chase.  (I never thought about radioing ahead back then).

 

I probably learned more about car control on that hill than all my other driving combined.  Skinny street tires probably did not make for terrific times, but it was great fun broad sliding and then recovering around the numerous hairpin turns and feeling the wind in my hair (I had some then) at top speeds across the top of Skyline drive from the Pagoda to the old Fire Tower.

 

Luck more than skill contributed to an accident free driving record on the hill.  I can’t say as much for my parking record.  One night while parked with a companion at an overlook on Duryea Drive I accidentally depressed the clutch when distracted by other activities and rolled into a stone wall.  But that is a story for another time.

Duryea Hillclimb - 1960's

Duryea Hillclimb - 1960's