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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

The latest copy of ‘Corvette’ magazine has a feature on the ZR-1 and exploring its demise in the kind of derogatory tones that I’ve gotten used to seeing quoted in far too many places.

The resounding idea from the article is that the car’s engine, the mighty LT-5, was too expensive and that it became obsolete and unnecessary because good ol’ Yankee ingenuity made the aging small-block Chevrolet almost its equal.

As an example of this, it tells the story of how the GM engineers developed reverse-flow cooling systems for the small-block that allowed them to create more power from the engine without the heads melting.

Traditionally, engine cooling feeds cool water from the radiator in at the bottom of the engine, this works its way up and the hot water is sucked out of the top. Hot water naturally rises, aiding the flow and all is well.

Except, by the time the water gets to the cylinder heads (the area most in need of cooling as that’s where combustion takes place) the water has been heated in its journey through the rest of the engine block, making the cooling effect less effective and constraining the power levels achievable.

With reverse-flow, as you might imagine, the cool water is introduced at the top through the heads where it can be most effective and is forced down by pressure, where it is removed at the bottom. This gives more cooling up top and allows more heat (power) to be generated without having to suffer lots of unpleasant things such as detonation or combustion chamber meltdown.

A great refinement. Good engineering. A deft solution to an old and stubborn problem.

Perfected by Lotus engineering on the development of the LT-5.

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!

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!

 

I once mentioned to a C4 owner I met at a show how much I loved C4s, his response was “I love them all!”. I can sympathise with that, all Corvettes are special regardless of year, colour or condition.

Most people don’t entirely lack favouritism (or irrationality for that matter!). As such most people will have a lust for a particular incarnation of Corvette or other vehicles (do these exist? 😉 ).

For some, nothing beats the heady attraction of the early ’50s solid axle ‘vettes. The sweeping fenders, chrome strips and teeth, and the contrast painted coves bringing with it the honeysuckle air of yesteryears when live was simpler and lacked the internet, cell-phone, blackberry, mp3 driven techno-culture we exist in now. Hilary is one of these, her choice would be a horizon blue ’61 or possibly a ’57 Cherry with white coves.

For others, its the lure of the ’60s Stingrays – brash, exciting, the epitome of the youth culture of the day, street-racing, cruising round the diner or along Route 66.

The sharks were almost bipolar. In the late ’60s and early ’70s the chrome bumpered versions had much of the animalistic draw of their forerunners – later they seemed the embodiment of disco, bouffant perms and flares.

The ’80s and ’90s C4s brought the Corvette up to date for the then new digital era. Clean lines and good performance blending together in a gestalt of speed, performance and agility.

Fifth generation ‘vettes had much of the same good looks of the C4 but looked slippier and rounder, while increasing the technology and handling to new levels of refinement, sophistication and reliability.

Currently, the C6 are pulling in rave revues and are more adept with even further advanced technology and increased power levels (albeit with a larger displacement engine).

For me. There’s no contest, the C4s engender the greatest admiration. They aren’t perfect by any means, the new cars beat them technologically (though the gap is narrower than a lot of people imagine).

The C1s looked pretty but performed poorly by modern standards – both in terms of power but also handling. Many of the parts were directly taken from family sedans to reduce costs and this led to many compromises (and also resulted in the ‘vette almost never making it out of the ’50s).

The C2s I felt were always a pale imitation of the Jaguars they were pitted against. Their technology was better than their predecessors but the body shape was, to my eye, rather ungainly – particularly at the front of the vehicle.

C3 sharks looked fantastic in their chrome-bumpered early variants, but were bloated and rubenesque in their later incarnations. Performance nose-dived and the chassis, suspension and drivetrain weren’t significantly different from their predecessors. By the time they were retired the basic steering and chassis of the car were almost thirty years old.

The C5s and C6s are technological triumphs and certainly have lifted the bar on technology, performance and handling, but to me have descended slowly into the swamp of blandness that is heir only to large corporate committee-ism and focus-group driven development processes. Great sports cars are built with passion – not ‘do you prefer the turquoise or pink instruments?’.

Which leaves the C4. Style, flair, performance. As goldielocks would say just before burying her right foot in the carpet, it’s ‘just right’.

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 😉

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!

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’!

I’ve been looking at a ZR-1 for a few weeks now, exchanging emails and phone calls with the owner. So far it looks like it might be a ‘go’. The photos of the car look okay – not stunning – but okay.

There is a little surface rust underneath (C.V. joints etc.) and it definitely shows signs of being ‘driven’. That’s okay though, I intend driving it too and as long as you’re aware of any possible problems it’s no big deal.

I have to say that the people on the ZR-1 forum have been invaluable in looking at the pictures with a more clinical and knowledgeable eye. It certainly has helped immensely getting their feedback.

The next stage is to go and look at the car to see if it’s as good ‘in the flesh’ as it is in the photos. The owner is in Wisconsin and I’m in Northern Ontario, so it’s around a 2000km round trip in deteriorating weather conditions – not ideal circumstances, but worth it to potentially get a ZR-1.

The vehicle I am looking at is a ’92, so one of only five hundred and two made. It has a black exterior and interior, which isn’t my favourite colour but that’s okay too – Dark Red Metallic (my favourite) are so rare that I don’t really have much chance of getting one, so a respray will be in order.

The owner has it advertised at $28k US and describes it as in ‘excellent’ condition, an assessment which the photos don’t really hold up. I’d judge it to be ‘fair’ to ‘good’ based on the guides on KBB. This gives it a value of between $22k and $24k – just inside my budget.

Although it’s looking good, the one thing I won’t do is get pulled in to a bad deal. I’d rather walk away and put the trip down to experience. That said the opportunity is there and looks good so far.

There’s a ZR-1 for sale on ZR1.NET. My favourite year/colour – ’95 Dark Red Metallic. It has a beige/saddle interior which I’m not keen on, but I’d still take it!

Sadly it’s $48k US, which translates to almost $60k CAN and far beynd my budget. Yes I’m searching for a ZR-1 but that doesn’t mean I’m made of money or won the lottery.

At the moment I can go up to about $25k US, which buys several ’90/91sand a couple of ’92s that I know of. There were a couple of ’94s that I would have jumped at, but I wasn’t able to move fast enough financially. A ’94 for $25k is a bargain.

By Spring my budget should be up around $30k US which brings more cars in to play – it’s always hard when you have a tight budget. There is always the thought lingering at the back of your mind that you have to get the absolute best deal for your money. The problem is that sometimes that makes you hesitate and end up losing out on what would have been a good deal.

It’s very hard being in this position. On the one hand, I could never have afforded to think about getting my dream car in England where I grew up, but here in Canada it is actually doable. On the other hand, when you see something you tend to jump for joy and start making all sorts of plans, then the doubt demons jump up and you start ‘what-if’-ing yourself out of things because of fear.

I’m fighting hard against it.

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