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I’ve known about the famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask!) ‘Gatherings’ for several years, even before I bought my ZR-1 and it has always been my intention to make the trip at one point or another. 2009 was a possibility but I wasn’t sure I’d want to go two years in a row and so we postponed until this year. This also coincided with the twentieth anniversary of the ZR-1’s ‘birth’ which made it even more special.

The drive down was through some terrible weather, rainstorms beat around our ears all the way and the Dragon looked almost as bad as when he’d been delivered to us in the middle of winter – despite having done an extremely thorough detailing job over the weeks before setting out.

The Gathering always has lots going on and the anniversary version no less so. There were presentations, Q & A sessions and the opportunity to meet some of the most famous people in the history of the Corvette and in-particular the ZR-1. It made choosing what to sign up for very hard – simply not enough hours in the day.

Our first event was a guided trip through the Kentucky back-roads by no other than Jim ‘Jingles’ Ingle himself. Jim was one of the original drivers at the ZR-1 press launches and entertained the crowd with his tire shredding ‘grenade’ exercises. Not only that, but Jim was in charge of the test drive and quality check program that GM put the ZR-1s through.

Jim’s quiet exterior is at complete odds with what he can do behind the wheel. On the first leg of the journey there were a few grumbles about ‘not going fast enough’ – but with a dozen or so ZR-1s travelling in convoy we were a rather conspicuous group! On the second leg, Jim turned his 2010 ZR1 up a notch to power through the gorgeous and challenging Kentucky roads, which quickly silenced everyone. Certainly no-one was complaining at the speed at our second stop!

The trip itself was a delightful romp through the countryside to the Z06/ZR1 chassis assembly plant where we were treated to a guided tour of the amazing Dana plant. The painstaking attention to detail and the technology that goes into putting together the aluminium chassis is remarkable. I tried to persuade the Plant Manager that they out to put together an aluminium chassis for the C4 ZR-1, but unfortunately he seemed to think I was joking!

The next highlight of our trip was the special barbecue hosted by Jim Van Dorn at his Automasters shop just across from the museum. JVD is the man who put together the Corvette Pirate Racing team in the 90s and effectively served as the test-bed for what became the official Corvette racing team. Not only that but JVD’s outfit was one of only three teams to officially race the ZR-1.

Due to the late return of the Jingles Tour, we ended up getting to the barbecue late as well. This didn’t seem too significant until we queried the whereabouts of our specially ordered veggie-burgers. JVD takes regular burgers and cuts them into Chevy bowtie shape before barbecuing them to perfection. We’d requested veggie-burgers and arranged with Jim to have them there.

After a detailed investigation by the FBI, Secret Service and Sherlock Holmes it became clear that the burgers had been eaten by those nasty meat-eater types. Jim was appalled at this and more annoyed than we were!

At the barbecue Jim showed a video detailing the ZR-1 anniversary run, an amazing feat that still is unrivaled by any production car, what made it an even more incredible event was that in the audience were Dave McLellan, Tommy Morrison, John Heinricy, Stu Hayner, Jim Minneker and Hib Halverson the key men who were involved in the development of the ZR-1 and the record attempt.

After the video finished, all the people involved took part in an ‘after-hours’ discussion on the attempt and the car, led by Dave McLellan. In that they revealed a lot of fascinating new details about the car’s unique development, the battles with GM corporate to get the car out and insights into what had been planned for future development.

When the discussion stopped Jim held an auction in aid of soldiers on duty in Iraq and again the ‘celebs’ led the way, showing entertaining skills (Jim Minneker and Tommy Morrison could probably do a stand-up routine if they ever wanted to!) as auctioneers. I managed to snag an LT5 cam-cover and took it around to all the guests for their autographs – a ‘trophy’ that is now the pride of my ZR-1 memorabilia collection.

With more discussions and talks and side events than you could imagine it was impossible to see everything. I focused on the technical presentations and the talks with the former GM people gaining a huge amount of information and insight into the car’s development. Sadly that meant I missed seeing John Heinricy resoundingly taking first in the autocross event, but with so much going on how do you choose?

One of the best moments was taking around my copy of ‘Heart of the beast’ and getting each of the celebrities to sign their part of the book. It’s hard to believe that these people would spare so much of their own time to talk to an enthusiast like myself and yet they made me (and everyone) feel like old friends. At the Gathering dinner Dave McLellan actually asked everyone there to sign a commemorative poster for him as a memento!  It truly brought home the community feeling associated with the Corvette and the ZR-1 specifically.

The museum itself is amazing. The number and rarity of the cars on display is incredible. From details of the early designs and designers all the way up to the latest and greatest, the presentation is world-class. Cars that belonged to Harley Earl, Zora Duntov and Ed Cole nestle in-between displays of modern C6Rs and concept cars. In reality you probably have to go around a few times for everything to sink in properly.

For the Gathering a number of cars had been brought in specially to form a display in the Main Hall, this included Tommy Morrison’s race Corvettes, “Queenie” a prototype ZR-1 from 1988 that was crushed only to later rise from the grave, not to mention the world record running ZR-1s.

As we were reluctantly loading the car to return home we spotted a gold coloured ZR-1 sliding up beside us. To our amazement it turned out to be Tommy Morrison himself who had been staying at the same hotel, unknown to us. I paid complement to Tommy’s one-of-a-kind custom ZR-1 which has some incredible unique details and he returned the same about our car. The thing was you could genuinely feel that he meant it.

Going down I wasn’t sure if I would want to go twice in a row. Coming back I was sure I would!

 

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.

It’s more or less the end of the ‘vette season here in the ‘great white north’; if I’m lucky the weather might stretch out to another few weeks of patchy driving for the ZR-1. It seems strange to imagine I only took delivery of ‘The Dragon’ on that icy night back in February; the summer has had a peculiar timelessness to it.

The first couple of months were filled with immense frustration, having taken delivery and then having to place him in storage where I couldn’t even get access particularly easily. After the journey up from Detroit he was covered in road gunk and looked a complete mess, like taking in a stray puppy and then not giving them a bath and a warm place to stay.

Black Corvette ZR-1 with snow and trees in background
I admit it; I pushed to get him out. We were lucky to have a fairly mild winter, which helped and I hoped to get him on the road for my birthday in March. That didn’t happen, but I did have my first real ride in him a week later. (Yes, that is snow in the background.)

So how was it? How did Achilles feel when he rode Xanthus? How would it feel to be a Dragon rider on Pern?

At first I was almost in awe of the Z, hardly daring to ‘loosen the reins’; though I have driven some fairly fast cars, nothing could prepare me for the sheer explosive nature of the Z when you ‘get on it’. The power kicks in and you think you must really be kicking ass, then a quick glance down informs you that you still have around half the rev band available! The power curve on the LT5 is quite simply awesome; the closest I have come to it previously was on the Jaguar V-12 engine, that red-lined at 6800RPM but had 25% less power.

Continue reading

Just found out that an article I submitted for the ZR1 Registry magazine has been published in this issue. It’s a great feeling and I hope people find the piece entertaining.

The Registry has been an incredible source of information and very supportive both before and after getting ‘The Dragon’ and I have to thank everyone there for helping and answering my sometimes dumb questions.

So at the moment I’m feeling pretty chuffed!

After we bought our ZR-1 we thought it would be nice to join the local ‘vette club. A bond of mutual appreciation of the Corvette, events, camaraderie, shared tips etc. We’d met them several times before but hadn’t joined because the idea felt a little strange with not owning a Corvette.

This last Sunday was the first ‘official’ cruise of the season, a steady run to North Bay (two hours East of Sudbury), Cruise around town and then lunch at Average Joe’s on Trout Lake. A nice relaxed start to the ‘vette year. Continue reading

When the Corvette was first conceived the idea was that it would be a lightweight, cheap (more or less…) car aimed at younger drivers unencumbered by the delights of mortgages, educational plans, pension plans or families. After all, who else would be interested in an impractical two-seat sports-car anyway?

Sadly, the relative price of the Corvette has risen dramatically in real term costs. When introduced in 1955 the base price was 84% of the average wage. As can be seen below, by the 80s the base price had risen to almost 150% of the average wage and this trend has continued ever since.

Year Average Wage * Base Price %
1955 3,301.00 2,774.00 84.04%
1965 4,658.00 4,321.00 92.77%
1975 8,630.00 6,810.00 78.91%
1985 16,822.00 24,878.00 147.89%
1995 24,705.00 36,785.00 148.90%
2005 36,952.00 44,245.00 119.74%

*Wage data courtesy of the US Dept. of Social Security

That’s not to say that the later model Corvettes are poor value for money, the technology and power levels being achieved are incredibly impressive, especially when compared to other exotica such as Porsches and Ferraris. What it has done though, is made it much more difficult for the average guy in the street to buy one and, especially with rising insurance costs, it effectively puts them way beyond the budget of a lot of  (if not most) younger drivers.

The Corvette demographic is an aging one, sadly myself included, and seems to consist largely of people trying to recreate the misty golden days of their youth mixed with stockbrokers and other wealthier types hoping that they will be able to buy something that they can cash in on and see the kind of vastly inflationary prices seen recently on the early ‘vettes Younger drivers appear largely confined to children of existing owners who have received ‘hand me downs’.

So the question is – where are the next generation of Corvette owners going to come from? Continue reading

On Saturday I was out with Hilary looking at possible houses. Our current place is about to be put on the market and we wanted to get an idea of what we’d be able to get for our money.

Naturally one of the things high on my list is a garage, a place to park and store the imminent Corvette. We’ve approached the process of selecting a house much differently this time. In the past we have often allowed ourselves to be led away from our initial ideas by cutesy romantic ideas. This time I was determined we’d not do that.

What I did was to draw up a list of the features that we wanted, bedrooms, water, sewers, and the all important garage. I then went through the listings and said, “Okay. This is the list of candidates; pick the one you want out of those.” A bit clinical perhaps but at least we know we get a house that meets the needs we have.

So off we trapsed with the realtor through the snow. Looking at a lot of houses being newly built and a few that are resales. It was interesting how many houses had very questionable features. It was also rather amazing how much money is spent in these things just for rather pointless effect. Huge windows and masively high cathedral ceilings are very expensive features that give little in return.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking now. Okay so what the hell has this got to do with Corvettes, other than he mentioned the garage. But hang on.

As were going down one street, around the corner slithered a ’65 coupe. I was sat open mouthed making somewhat incoherent noises while the realtor and Hilary were looking at me obviously wondering whether I was in the initial stages of having a coronary.

This was December. In Northern Ontario. A ’65 Corvette Coupe. And yes, there was at least seven centimeters of snow on the ground; the coupe was sliding around like it was on a snow rally or something.

So the question is. Is this a stalwart ‘vette enthusiast, someone dedicated to driving their precious vehicle at any time in any weather conditions? (The salt man! Just think of the damn salt!) Or was it just a rich dumbass that doesn’t value what he drives at all and is happy for the car to be abused, mistreated until it rots into a pile.

I’d like to think it was the former. I suspect the latter is more likely.

Till next time. Get Vette!

Corvette owners tend to fall into a certain demographic. Largely they are successfull, older people. Often ’empty nesters’ whose children have left and they are finally able to get the ‘dream car’.

This is understandable. After all a ‘vette isn’t what you would call a practical vehicle. It’s a toy, pure and simple, and what’s more a rather expensive one too.

Most of these owners want to own the epitome of the childhood dream and will look to buy a perfectly restored ’57 or perhaps a ’63 split window coupe.

The other demographic stereotypical of ‘vette ownership is the middle-aged exec. These owners tend to buy the latest C5 and C6s with all the trimmings and cruise around looking for young co-eds to pick up. 😉

This subsection of ‘vette owners tend to have a large percentage of disposable income and don’t mind spending it to get what they want. They will trade in their C5 willingly for the latest C6, new is the key here. Whatever the latest and greatest is becomes the goal.

So where does that leave you if you’re a Corvette fan but not an empty nester or a well heeled exec? What of you’re just an average working guy or gal? What if you’re *gasp* below the age of twenty-five?

Luckily it doesn’t need to be that way. ‘Vette ownership is readily accessible to most people now. If you can forego the stratospheric prices of the rare vintage cars and the slick technology laden newer cars you’ll find that there are real bargains out there to be had.

It’s perfectly possible to find decent condition C3 Sharks for less than $10k US. Okay these aren’t likely to be the mountain shaking 427 chrome bumpered variety, they might not be ‘numbers matching’ but they are there if you look. I could probably find a dozen or more of these in just a few minutes of searching online.

Likewise the C4s are very accessible now with many vehicles available for less than $10k including the later LT-1 powered versions from ’92 onwards. These are the cars that frightened Porsche so much they actually bought a couple to pull apart and see how the hell GM was getting that much performance and handling out of the car!

Your budget doesn’t run to $10k. No problem! Some of the less popular years such as the early and mid ’80s ‘vettes can be had for five or six thousand. That’s right, America’s own sports car for the price of a used Ford.

Sure some of these cars are ‘underpowered’ by some standards but you won’t notice it when you hit the throttle and the seat kicks you in the arse. They may not be in great condition, you might have to do some work on them, but that’s part of the fun too.

Good times, indeed!

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