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Researching Corvettes

I had hoped that my stereo woes would have ended after replacing the Bose speaker/amplifiers. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be and when I woke the Dragon from his slumber this year the stereo system failed to work. The unit lit up but is completely non-functional.

I do like music when I am traveling, especially on longer journeys. So I’m at the point where I want to address this. I have some longer term plans in this area, but for now I just want to do something relatively simple and cheap that will get me by.

I’d heard from a number of sources that it was possible to swap out the head unit and Continue reading

I’m replacing the stock ZR-1 front brakes with an updated design from a C5 ‘vette. The C5 calipers are stiffer and better at heat management, they also have a bigger pad area and so provide an increase in braking of around %30. Pretty good for a cheap upgrade. The calipers came from my good friend, Ron, for free. I just need some rebuild kits – seals and so on to make them as good as new.

I’ve looked at various options for updating the brakes. There are a number of systems available but the prices are high – anything from $2k and up! If this were a track car I’d certainly be looking at these alternatives but it’s basically a cruiser, so the C5 is a good cost-effective upgrade.

I’m going to finish them with caliper paint from G2. This is a high ceramic, high temperature paint especially designed for this application. Many people get their calipers powder coated but I don’t have anyone who can do this for me locally so the paint looks like a good option. The G2 system has great reviews from lot’s of people so I’m confident it will work.( Just as a note, this isn’t the caliper paint you can buy in places like Canadian Tire – their’s is a much less durable, lower ceramic content paint that get’s pretty awful reviews.) I had to order the G2 specially, using good old E-Bay.

The C5 calipers had already been painted but not with G2, so the first job is to get this off. I tried various wire brushes and so on but they weren’t very effective. So my next approach is going to be chemical; acrylic thinners to break down the paint and strip it from the metal.

This is the new C5 front caliper:

Dirty C5 Z06 Front Caliper

Pretty dirty right now, Hopefully stripping will take care of that.

This is the C4 rear, also looking pretty rough:

Dirty C4 rear brake caliper

My plan right now is to swap the rear caliper, these are some used ones I picked up. The aluminium is fairly deteriorated though so I may just use the existing ones on the car instead. I’ll decide once I’ve cleaned them up some more.

Here’s the C5 Abutment bracket also in the rough, these are going to be painted in black:

Unpainted C5 Abutment Bracket

 

And finally, the conversion brackets that make it all possible. I’m going to hit these with the black also:

C5 Conversion Brackets

 

It’s definitely winter here in the Great White North, as attested to by the -20+ temperatures and the fact that my dog doesn’t want to spend much time out on the deck! One of the benefits of the long winter though is that at least it gives you time to do some update projects without having to sacrifice seat time.

At the moment projects are somewhat problematic. My garage isn’t built yet; I had hoped to get it done last year, but that was taken up almost entirely by wedding plans and preparation, leaving virtually no time for anything else (including driving the vette!). So, at the moment, the car is tucked away in a friend’s heated garage (thanks Ted!).

This is a great improvement on the first winter of having the car (I still have nightmares about putting the car in storage the way I had to then), but it also provides limited access and space for working on any projects. Reviewing the work I would like to do on The Dragon, it’s clear that most of it requires long hours of access not available without my own garage. Continue reading

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?

We’ve had the ZR-1 on the road a couple of weeks now and a ‘change oil’ light has appeared. With the ZR-1 this is largely a moot reminder. Most owners change oil every 5000 miles or so anyway, so the factory reminder is meaningless. That said, I’m a little paranoid when it comes to the car, so I decide I will make the change anyway and start my cycle immediately.

All I need is some oil (Mobil 1 High Mileage for the zinc, though the car isn’t high mileage), an oil filter, and the necessary trays etc for draining. The oil turned out to be no problem at all, in fact Canadian Tire had an offer on, so I took advantage and stocked up (it’s rather expensive stuff!). Then came the procurement of a suitable oil filter. Continue reading

Although the C4 Corvette was a world beater at the time it was released, sadly the inevitable march of time changes things. Twenty plus years is a long time in the auto industry.

That’s not to say that C4s should be dismissed – as some newer ‘vette owners and associations (and indeed many manufacturers) would like to. A good C4 can probably still kick the ass of 95% of the cars out on the streets.

Nevertheless, time brings improvements, so what, if anything can be done if you’re an ardent fan of the C4 but still want to play with the newer ‘vettes? Continue reading

There’s been a lot of talk on the ZR-1 forum and others about the removal of Zinc from motor oil, specifically Mobil 1 and the potential detrimental effects on the LT-5 and other Corvette/high performance engines. Opinions have varied and I’m certainly no expert so I decided to do the obvious – I asked Mobil through their support line. The response was –

The new ILSAC GF-4 motor oils (10W30 and lower viscosities) do have reduced (0.08%) ZDDP in the formulation for longer longevity of the catalyst converter and system. This is not a problem on newer vehicle designs that utilize the roller cam, valve train technology however, if you have flat tappet cam, valve train technology you generally want higher ZDDP levels. Mobil1 15W50’s, Mobil1 diesel motor oils, Mobil1 motorcycle motor oils and Mobil1 High Mileage 10W30 and 10W40 have high ZDDP levels and would be the best choices for these engines.”

I also found some good online resources discussing this issue and additives in general –

http://www.hotrod.com/techarticles/e…ech/index.html

http://www.performancemotoroil.com/truth_about_oil_additives.html

Hopefully this will help people make an informed decision.

How many ‘vettes are there in your personal target group?

Thirty thousand? Fifty thousand?

GM have built around twenty to thirty thousand Corvettes most years of the car’s existence, so the target of ‘possibles’ should be quite high for any given year.

Or perhaps not.

Corvettes traditionally come with quite a lot of options, especially in the earlier years when some models had as many as four or five engine choices, gearbox options, rear-end ratios, suspensions etc.

This profligacy ended when the laws were changed to require all variants to be tested for safety, crash testing and fuel efficiency, which is why later models typically have less mechanical options. On top of these we have the various technology updates which on a  ‘vette tend to be a yearly cycle as well as interior and exterior trim and things like performance brakes or suspension.

One Corvette owner I met told me that ‘all Corvettes are rare’ and indeed that’s true. Compared to a typical saloon or minivan twenty or thirty thousand vehicles isn’t many. He then went on in great detail how his car was rare because GM had changed supplier mid-year and his shade of blue was slightly different to the one that replaced it.

In engineering circles this sort of thing happens all the time and is called a manufacturing or engineering tolerance. It’s nothing special, it just means that nothing is truly perfect or consistent.

On that basis, every Corvette (and in fact every single manufactured item on the planet!) will be unique and infinitely valuable. If GM changes supplier for 10mm bolts during a year and you get one of the cars with the lesser suppliers bolts does that mean you have a rare or valuable ‘vette?

A feature in ‘Corvette Fever’ recently featured a car they celebrated as unique, purely because the owner ordered a bunch of options that weren’t really standard and the engineers at the factory threw the car together haphazardly, often not even bothering to make the various options work correctly. Poor workmanship does not a valuable Corvette make…

In fact, if producing poor quality vehicles was the key to success, GM, Ford et al. would be kicking Toyota and Nissan’s collective arses.. instead of suffering from their customers walking away them in droves.

A significant number of ‘vette owners vastly over-rate their cars value, at least judging by the asking prices seen, and many don’t even know what they own. I’ve seen numerous ‘T-roof’ C4s (there were none ever built), ZR-1s with automatic transmissions (again none were built) and a host of others that are rare by distiction of being only one of ten thousand built that year with a red exterior.

This for example, labelled as a ZR-1. The engine is clearly not an LT-5. It claims to be a 412ci engine, which might be true, but it isn’t a ZR-1. Dressing up an L-98 base-engined car like a tart’s handbag doesn’t make it a ZR-1 😉

I hate negotiating a deal. To me something is either worth the asking price or it isn’t. If you’re trying to sell me something you are far better off quoting a fair price than adding on in the expectation that I’ll haggle you down.

The chances are I won’t even look your way if you overprice and if you mark something at a real rip-off price I won’t buy it even if you subsequently drop the price to something reasonable or even cheap – you’re already tagged as a rip-off merchant in my mind and my principles kick in.

What’s more, we all know the market value for things these days (or if you don’t, then you need to start using this thing called the internet for something more useful than reading my reading my immortal prose!). Everything is published online, somewhere, from used car values to what the neighbour really got for his house.

I often see rather ordinary ‘vettes at outrageous prices, so high that you have to wonder where the owners are coming from. Often the strategy seems to be wildly over-optimistic to put it mildly and I often wonder whether the sellers ever achieve these inflated demands or whether they eventually rein back on their hallucinogenic inspired prices.

Interestingly too, I seem to notice this more in ‘vette prices here in Canada than I do in ads ‘South of the Border’. Okay, so Corvettes are less common here (so are buyers!) than in the US, but not that rare, and heads up guys, it’s not exactly hard to find a likely vehicle, hop over the border and drive it back…

A recent example comes to mind – a ’90 ZR-1 advertised at $35k US. KBB price lists this as being worth around $20k, if the car is absolutely flawless!

Fifteen grand is a hell of a ‘maple leaf markup’!

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