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Buying a Corvette

There never seems to be many C4 vette accessories around, so I’ve put together some C4 vette racing products. I think they’re pretty cool. You can get them from Zazzle.com. So far there are just T-shirts, mugs and phone cases. Let me know if you have suggestions for additional items and I’ll try to make them available.

JakeTravel Mug-Dark JakeT-Shirt-Dark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Update:I’ve just added a “Kicking Ass” C4 Shirt too!

Kicking Ass1

Auction season is in full swing with Paris’s Le Grand Palais being just one of the latest. As always with these events the cars combine rarity and beauty along with eye-popping prices. I have one simple strategy when it comes to any kind of auction – don’t! It really doesn’t matter too much what is being auctioned and, what’s more, they’re all pretty much above my pay grade!

That said, here’s my choice from the line up at Le Grand Palais.

Citroen DS21 1968 Citroen DS21

At an estimated $190,000+, this is probably the cheapest car at the auction and I still couldn’t afford it! Oozing all of the Gallic charm it can muster, the DS series was iconic of Citroen. I remember ads on TV declaring “Citroen DS for the sheer joy of driving.” a captivating idea that stays with me even now. Driving – just for sheer pleasure. Years later my first real car was a Citroen Xantia, direct descendent of the DS series and a car enjoyed by both myself and my wife.

Jag D-Type1955 Jaguar D Type

As a British lad, how could I not be entranced by Jaguar who have produced some of the most beautiful and highest performing cars in the history of the automobile. The D-Type brought innovation in chassis design and was one of the most successful sports cars in Jaguar history winning the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1955, 1956 and 1957. Look at those curves! Estimated price? An eye-watering $5-6 million. Continue reading

According to the press the new Corvette ZR1 production has been suspended due to the financial problems that all of the “big Three” auto companies are having.

As I pointed out in my earlier article “Lessons from History” this, sadly, comes as little surprise to me. It looks likely that the 2009 ZR-1 could even be a one year only vehicle considering it is the kind of ‘high profile’ offering likely to be offered up to any government auditors as ‘proof’ that GM is behaving responsibly with its bailout money.

Believe me I hate to be proven right and I would be happy to be very wrong in this case. I’m not a big fan of the C6 or ZR1 personally but I would mourn their loss neverthless.

A journalist from Corvette Fever mentioned in a recent issue that he was looking for a part for his 1996 C4 in 2001 and GM had already withdrawn the part – just five years after the car was sold. It seems to me that this is the kind of issue that has brought GM (and the other manufacturers) to their current problems – not quality, not ‘gas guzzlers’ (this has been a recent impact solely on the back of increased gas prices), not building “cars that no one wants”.

GM have pushed and pushed to make cars commodoties with ever shorter product ‘life cycles’ that they want to push to maintain the ridiculous profit taking of their senior management. As I know all too well from my experiences with my ’91 ZR-1.

Perhaps if they put as much effort into supporting their customers as they do into trying to force them to buy the next model then they might have a happier future.

After the last email from Jason at Backyard Buddy I thanked him for his replies and said he had provided me with valuable information (detailed here). The valuable information was all pretty bad, but I thought perhaps the poor guy had hammered enough nails into his own coffin. Unfortunately, it would seem that Jason hasn’t got the intelligence to know when to quit. He sent me a brief email about checking out the latest Corvette Fever article about lifts (which is where all this began). Then this morning I received two emails in quick succession.

The first was :

Email5

I don’t feel that my comments were condescending. I had a valid complaint about a shockingly bad website and responded to Jason’s hostility in a measured way – a direct opposite to his own somewhat histrionic communications. I also had a valid complaint about the tone of his responses and the facts that he stated in them. I also didn’t ‘slam’ Backyard Buddy; I think Jason has managed to do that pretty thoroughly without any help from me. If asking for decent customer service makes me an ‘idiot’ then I suspect most of Backyard Buddy’s customers would also fall into that category. As for why he’s never heard of me? Well, why should he have? I’m just a consumer writing about his personal experiences with an incredibly hostile ‘sales person’. I never made any claims to be anything else.
 
His claims that Backyard Buddy build the best lifts again is entirely irrelevant; at no time did I say their lifts were of poor quality – I simply pointed out the flaws in their misleading website, order process, and extremely poor business communications skills. Interestingly when I did a quick search online, I found a post on Corvette Fever regarding the dubious practices of Backyard Buddy’s sales force.

“There was one big difference however… the sales reps for BYB were the only ones that were denigrating their competition. I have been around lifts all of my life and I certainly know the difference between a good lift and a bad one. I also understand the concept of “puffing” in advertising and that it might work when dealing with the uninformed, but that alone convinced me to not buy their product. Too assume all of your customers are ignorant of quality was a little too arrogant for me. “

It would seem that they like to denigrate potential customers as well as their competition.

I didn’t claim that the steel market and stock market were ‘parallel’; I simply pointed out that the stock market has heavily fluctuating prices and yet manages to keep people up to date on current prices. I could have used gas prices as an example, but let’s face it, it doesn’t really matter what example I used; the fact is that changing prices on a website takes about five minutes of someone’s time. If you’re crying about having to spend that time then you are pretty much the definition of ‘lazy’ and probably shouldn’t be in business. Here’s a thought: if you don’t want to market through the web just take your site down – believe me no one will miss yet another bad website.
 
The idea that somehow I am being ‘unfair’ is amazing and displays a paranoia that is as remarkable as it is unfounded. I specifically made the point of detailing the entire email conversation on both sides in its entirety. If this is ‘unfair’ then presumably any concept of what’s fair must be completely beyond Jason’s comprehension. Was it unfair of me to show him opening his mouth extremely wide and shoving his foot into it repeatedly?
 
Within ten minutes, he followed up with this. I hadn’t responded, as the sheer hostility and personal attacks had left me somewhat stunned. If this is an example of his business communication then I have to wonder where his talents lie.

Email6

Again I didn’t ‘slam’ his country. The typical American is not exactly renowned for their ecological and environmental concerns and I felt it only fair to have a little quip at their expense (note the use of the smiley in my original post). As for my Corvette, yes it is an ‘American made car’; the engine was designed by Lotus, in England. The transmission comes from ZF in Germany. But it was assembled in the USA. This seems to have little to do with my complaint about Backyard Buddy’s inaccurate and misleading website and the virulence and misinformation in Jason’s emails.
 
I also have to say that I find the sheer amount of racism displayed in these emails to be quite staggering; one can only assume that Backyard Buddy has no plans to appeal to future Chinese customers. I also don’t imagine that his comments describing Canadians as ‘typical liberal hypocrites’ is going to enamour the company to any potential Canadian buyers either 😉 . What makes his diatribe even more laughable is that although I live in Canada, I am originally from England with grandparents who were Irish, Scottish, Welsh and English – a true Celtic mutt :-) . Presumably all of those countries are full of ‘liberal hypocrites’ too.
 
Just to clarify some of the points Jason mentions repeatedly (perhaps he needs to follow his own advice “if you don’t know, then don’t speak about it”):
 
Recycling
Steel is one of the most recycled products anywhere, and especially in North America. The energy saved by recycling is around 75% over producing ‘new’ steel; not only that but about three-quarters of all steel produced annually is recycled and recycling has been an accepted practice for more than a century. See the recycling section on answers.com for more detail. That being the case it seems highly likely that the steel used by Backyard Buddy has a good chance of coming from a  ‘recycled’ source as any other steel in use anywhere else in the world.
 
Grade
Grade, in relationship to steel, refers to a scientific method of determining steel quality. It is not an arbitrary ‘judgement’ that fluctuates depending on who is assessing it. The definitions and standards for each grade are strictly laid down both internationally and in North America. If a particular piece is a specific grade, then it is that grade – regardless of source. More information on steel grades can be found in this article on wikipedia.
 
Canadian/US cars
Canada makes a lot of cars. Almost all auto manufacturers now are international concerns;, some (like GM who build the Corvette) have been for a long time (as with my ZR-1). As it happens the 2009 Camaro for example, is to be built in in Canada. The Buick LaCrosse/Allure, Grand Prix and Impala are also built in Oshawa, Ontario and the plant was recently rated as one of the most efficient auto plants in North America. In addition, Ford builds the Freestar, Edge and Lincoln; DaimlerChrysler builds the Dodge Magnum, Charger, Chrysler 300 and Caravan among others (by the way, DaimlerChrysler’s corporate head is in Germany). Honda and Toyota also have plants here building Civics, Acuras, Corollas, Lexus and Matrix. And the largest market for all of these is the US. See here.
 
Made in the USA
Many companies now exist and operate in a world-wide economy. While that might feel strange to people more used to dealing with ‘Mom and Pop’ organisations, it’s a fact of life that we have to deal with. Just because products come from another country does not automatically make them bad quality (anyone care to discuss quality with BMW, Audi or Mercedes, for example?), in just the same way that goods from the US are not automatically good quality (the examples here are numerous, but I guess I’d be ‘slamming’ the USA again to point them out). For what it’s worth, the vast majority of goods will have at least some percentage of parts made elsewhere, whether it be your TV, Computer, tools, auto lift or anything else you might care to point to. When we look at cars as an example, ‘Made in the USA’ is defined as having 75% or more of their parts made in the US or Canada. So that means anything stamped that way could have up to a quarter of its content sourced from anywhere else in the world. According to the Automobile Trade Policy Council (a lobbying group for GM, Ford and DaimlerChrysler), most of their own cars only get to 73% (as an example the Ford Mustang only has 65 percent domestic content). See here for more information.

Presumably the workforce at Backyard Buddy only buys domestic TVs, washing machines, computers, phones, kitchen and bathroom appliances, linens, crockery etc.. If so, perhaps they’d be willing to share where they get all these goods domestically?
 
Certainly I support locally produced goods; from an environmental perspective it’s the only stance that makes sense (not to mention the long term benefits to the local economy). Sadly, the real world means that all too often this option isn’t even possible. The US economy is propped up by cheap Chinese goods and cheap oil for transporting them. The US has racked up a massive debt to China of several trillion dollars – that scares me and I don’t even live there! This has been largely created by greedy companies taking advantage of less costly workforces overseas without regard to the effect at home, and by consumers who choose simply on the basis of price, regardless of the cost to the economy or the quality of the product. My issue was never one of quality or whether I should pay more for that – it was about a highly misleading website that tried to take my credit card details without informing me of the price, incredibly bad customer service, and one extremely ignorant man’s unprofessional, offensive and racist comments.

In among my plans this year is building a garage and workshop for my Corvette so that I can work on it more easily and also continue to work on it year round, through our long (cold!) ‘off-season’. Although it is currently stored away with some good friends who are taking great care of it, the withdrawal factor has been pretty high and I’d rather not repeat the experience if possible.

As I do all the work on my car, one of the other items on my shopping list is a lift of some description. There are a large number of options out there and it’s quite hard to know what you’re getting, especially as prices seem to vary enormously; so it was quite interesting to see an article on lifts in one of the recent issues of Corvette Fever. In the article they made cautionary note of the quality of some of the lifts (including one of the few that seem to have local representatives here in Canada – DirectLift).

As my ZR-1 is just ever so slightly valuable to me, I felt that I should at the very least check out some of the more highly recommended suppliers and gain an understanding of the differences in quality and price – informed decision making generally being the better part of purchasing valour.

One of the lift suppliers given an ‘honourable mention’ was Backyard Buddy, and I have often seen their name mentioned with acclaim on the various web fora that I frequent. Thus inspired, I fired up my browser and quickly located their site.

The site provided me with a lot of information about their lifts and was greatly disparaging of lesser quality products. I’ve never been one to look for the cheapest option and firmly believe that quality is worth paying a higher price for; in fact I do it all the time on clothes, shoes, tools and more or less everything I buy.

Ahhh yes, and there’s the rub my friends. Although the site talks a great deal about online ordering, I see no prices listed. Even though I can add a lift to my shopping cart, no pricing appears. Even though I am invited to check out and hand over my credit card information – still no pricing appears. “Don’t forget that you can view automotive lift products with prices and even order securely online”, their contact page proclaims. Sadly the link to viewing these products with prices results in a “page not found” error; what’s more the contact form itself produces an error when I try to use it.

By now I’m somewhat irked. Yet another badly designed web site breaking basic design rules that have been known and well publicised for years – check out No. 10 on Jakob Nielsen’s Top 10. I persevere however and send an email to the contact email listed on the site; former experience tells me I’m not likely to get a response but what can I say, I’m just an eternal optimist. Here’s my email in full:

Email 1

Somewhat to my surprise, I actually received a reply. Perhaps I thought, as I opened the email, they are more on the ball than the website suggested. The reply in full was:

Email 2

I was somewhat amazed by the hostile tone in his reply. I can only imagine the results if I responded to clients this way and, working in the IT industry, believe me I deal with far more awkward customers than me on a daily basis. The response also contained a number of assumptions, the biggest being a complete refusal to accept that the site was at fault; so I felt I should respond and point out in more detail just what the problems were in relation to the site, the misconceptions and the tone of the response.

Email 3

A reasonable response I would say – all clear and valid points. Imagine my greater surprise then when I received this:

Email 4

I don’t have any ‘mad’ tools, but no doubt some of mine are of Chinese origin – sadly it’s virtually impossible to avoid these days, even when buying from well known companies. But again, look at the hostility here. I don’t pretend to be an expert on steel prices, but stock markets are pretty fluid and they seem to somehow manage to keep those up to date. Even if, for some reason, the pricing can’t be kept up to date then make that clear on the site; all it takes is a “due to the volatility of steel pricing we cannot maintain accurate prices on the web, please call for a quote”. That’s not great either, but at least you’re not giving me a site that pretends it will give me a price, that invites me to order online, that allows me to add the lift to the basket and that even allows me to check out and enter a credit card and still doesn’t let me know that pricing is not available online (and worse that the basket/checkout etc. isn’t even functional!).

The point he makes about how I would insist on paying the price listed on the Internet is certainly valid – I would expect to pay whatever was advertised. But is it really unreasonable to expect that the price displayed be valid? Or that if pricing isn’t available online, then this should be clearly stated and all reference to pricing, basket functionality etc. be removed/disabled?

And while on the issue of pricing, the accessories for the lifts – all made of steel presumably – are on the site. What about the volatility of pricing now?

The issue here is clearly that the company representatives are too lazy to keep the site pricing up to date and too lazy to properly remove the references on the web site. If I was running this company, I’d also have a big issue with someone in my sales team responding with such hostility to a potential customer, regardless of circumstances. Perhaps Backyard Buddy can learn something about courtesy and sales from the Chinese…

There is also an implicit assumption in his email that I should simply look at the website and then call for pricing. Surely the whole point of having a website is to communicate such information to customers? Why would I take the trouble to look on any site simply to be told “okay, now call us for the important information”. If that’s the way you’re thinking then perhaps you’re better off  not having a website at all…

The last comment in the final email links recycling, quality, and Chinese tools; there really is no link here. As I said in my first response “As long as the quality of steel used is not changed…” in other words, if the grade of steel is the same then the source, recycled or not, makes no difference – it’s still the same grade of steel. Recycling is a good thing because it saves resources (though I can understand how someone from the USA might not understand that point 😉 ) and (usually) helps keep costs down. Keeping costs down, helping the environment, while delivering an equivalent product to the customer at a lower price, all sound like wins to me. Of course, if the quality has changed, then that’s a different story. But I don’t see how US steel is somehow intrinsically better than Chinese steel (or Russian or British or Mexican or Canadian…); if it meets the required grade then that’s pretty much the end of it.

I’m sure that Jason felt really proud of himself as he cocked up the last sentence, crowing about my Chinese tools. No doubt he really thought he put me in my place with that final insult. :-)

I could go on; after all I was just a potential customer looking for basic information and also trying to avoid cheap goods of dubious quality, but here are three final points:

First, here are the screenshots showing the misleading pages on the site.

Screen 1 Screen 2 Screen 3 Screen 4 Screen 5

Second, I sent a similar email to another company, BendPack. They responded with professional courtesy, pointing out that they don’t sell direct and offering to provide me with the nearest dealer (which they did within ten minutes when I asked).

Third, perhaps Backyard Buddy ought to consider a name change. Backyard Bozo, maybe?

After several weeks of agonising, waiting for the weather to break somewhat predictably we managed to jump through the last few hoops needed to make the ZR-1 finally fully legal.

First of all we needed to get the vehicle safety inspected. This was largely a formality, because the car is a ’91 and being over fifteen years old is exempt from the RIV program and needs no modifications to be legal here in Canada.

Down we trooped to Canadian Tire to get the official sanction on the vehicle where we were greeted with a great deal of jokes about ‘having to keep it for the weekend’ and so on. I also wasn’t happy about the compulsory 4km test drive that they needed to do – a ‘crappy tire’ guy driving my ZR-1? Continue reading

I just took delivery of my Corvette ZR-1 last night. What a fantastic feeling to think that it’s finally here after all these years of dreaming.

The event itself was a bit of a suprise. I contacted the shipping company at around lunch time and was told it would be next week as they didn’t have a transporter coming up this way till then. Then at about 4.30pm I got a call and the guy says “I’m delivering your Corvette, I’ll be there about 8.30!”

Ten out of ten for nice suprises, but -1000 for customer contact skills. Also to make things worse, the storage facility I am going to use till Spring closes at 7pm.

So at the appointed time I go out to meet the transporter at a nameless Husky gas station on Highway 17. It’s pitch black and -7C, I have knots in my stomach from excitement and worry and I feel like a stolen car dealer – now where did I leave my ski mask?

The first thing I see as we pull up is the distinctive wide rear of the ZR-1, I’ve thought about these cars and ‘studied’ them so much I barely have to glance at it to recognise the shape. It’s dirty, filthy in fact, covered in road grime and gunk, barely recognisable as the car I saw a few weeks ago. But it doesn’t matter, it’s mine and I’m about to drive the King of the Hill. The Beast. Continue reading

Okay… had to happen I guess. We have a problem, not of the Houston variety.

When I bought the ZR-1 we did an exchange of the car title (ownership record) and money via mine and the sellers respective banks. This was all well and good, protects people from possible problems etc. All nice and clever and simple.

Except, as I mentioned in a previous post, it meant I ended up with the title and it needed to stay with the car for import purposes. Couldn’t be a copy, has to be the original.

So I went to my post office, said “I need to send this to the US fast and secure.” the Canada Post lady said I needed to use their xpresspost delivery and it would cost $14. Seems a lot of money I think but what the hell, I want it done quick. After sealing the title inside the envelope and filling in everything, paying my money etc. she then adds ‘It will take 6 working days, and tomorrow doesn’t count.”

Why Wednesday doesn’t count as a working day for Canada Post is a mystery. I’m not happy about this, 6 days isn’t what I would call ‘fast’ for delivery to a destination I can drive to in 8 hours. Unfortunately by now I’d paid my money, sealed everything up and didn’t feel I have any choice any more.

So here we are, over a week later and the letter still hasn’t got to the destination. I’m tracking it online and it apparently crossed over to the US on the 9th, it’s now the 15th. Now, slow is one thing, but 6 days to travel the hours drive from the border to the destination?

At this rate it would have been quicker to send it by pony express – using dead ponies!

Naturally I phoned Canada Post to see what was happening. The helpful man on the other end of the line informs me that all mail is now routed through New York due to “Homeland Security”. And what has just happened to New York?

Umpteen feet of snow… So the title is stuck in a snow drift, somewhere…

If I had hair, I’d probably be tearing it out right about now.

The deed is finally done!

After all this time I have finally bought a ZR-1.

The vehicle is currently in Michigan and has 33000 miles on it, the bodywork is almost flawless and so is the underneath. It has a custom exhaust and wheels, but comes with all the original parts (including the original 1991 tires!) and even has the original window sticker (original price $66000!)

The previous owners have really kept the car in amazingly good condition and a big thank you goes out to all of them.

1991 Corvette ZR-1
Pictures Here

Of course, the story is not quite that simple. It never is it seems :-) – in this instance the car is in the US and I’m in Canada, so now I have to go through the importing process.

My first thought was that I would drive it back Continue reading

There’s a ZR-1 for sale on the registry site for $5000. Now, hold on just a second, before you go running off to get the number to call the seller, there’s something you should know. It’s been rolled.

There’s no engine or transmission. Most of the front and bodywork is gone and there could be some rear damage too, there also appears to be some damage to the top of the windshield too possibly.

Okay, so now it’s a junker, right? Why am I wasting your time with this?

Well, there are some real possibilities here.

First of all, the overall condition of the chassis and the passenger cell etc. looks in good condition. The parts that are damaged are mostly the parts that are standard to any C4 so plentiful and cheap.

So what you have here is one hell of a fantastic project potential.

First there’s the obvious scenario. Rebuild the car, find an LT-5 and transmission and drop it in. The problem with that idea is that LT-5s aren’t exactly hanging around on street corners waiting to be bought and when you can find them they’re expensive. Still allowing around $10k for the engine, $2k for the transmission and maybe another $6k for the rest of it still leaves you with a fairly good priced ZR-1.

Some other options spring to mind though. Let’s say you do find an LT-5, originality isn’t an issue here so how about mounting the ‘Heart of the Beast’ to an automatic gearbox? The mounting should be a fairly easy fabrication for anyone with a decent home workshop or could be farmed out to a good shop. I can hear the purists gasping in horror at the thought, but hell you’d have the only slush-box ZR-1 on the planet probably.

As I said an LT-5 is pretty hard to find and expensive. So how about dropping an LS-1 or LS-2 in there. Again this might be sacrilege to many, but in many ways the new C5 and C6 engines are the descendents of the mighty LT-5 (albeit a somewhat side branch of the family).

A standard LS-1 will give power levels approaching a pre-93 ZR-1 and with some fairly simple bolt-ons will surpass it, at least on a pure horsepower level, if not in terms of refinement and top end.

The newer engines are also very amenable to tuning; there is a bewildering array of power-adders and updates for these engines. What’s more they are plentiful and relatively cheap. And on top of that, like the LT-5, they’re a completely aluminium engine so the power to weight ratio is excellent.

The fabrication again shouldn’t be too hard. The LS series engines were tested in the C4 chassis while GM was doing early testing with ‘mules’ so should present few problems. The gearbox and instrumentation may need some work but hey we all like a challenge don’t we?

Lastly, how about this for an idea. Install a C5-R 427 or similar. This probably wouldn’t cost any more than trying to find a replacement LT-5 but the power levels would be fantastically insane. One thousand horsepower should be easily within reach with this kind of setup. Adding in super or turbo chargers would provide enough power to move a small planet :-)

Maybe it’s just me, but the idea of rescuing a fallen warrior and breathing new life in to him, giving him the weapons he needs to rise again, that sounds very cool!

 

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