Sharing Our Thanks

Thanksgiving Cornucopia 2014

All of us in the Advance family are thankful for our families, employees and friends in the community.

We extend our warm greetings to you and yours for a happy and bountiful Thanksgiving, 2014 – may your tables be full and your car projects fruitful.

Detroit Lions to give away Custom Team-Themed Ford Mustang

Detroit Lions Mustang

The Detroit Lions have released a brand new Detroit Lions-inspired Ford Mustang with Honolulu blue rims, a silver body with a stripe down the middle and the Lions logos on the car. Valued at over $37,000, the car is a fan’s deam machine.

Jeff Webster with the Lions said that somebody will have the chance to win one of the cars.

“We’re giving this bad boy away to one of our fans at our Fan Appreciation game here at Ford Field on December 14,” Webster said. “The contest is open until November 30.”

The car even has Calvin Johnson’s signature on the dashboard.

“There’s some custom parts that were put in — the exhaust, some of the custom parts in the engine,” Webster said. “It also has custom blue rims. There’s nothing else like it.”

Read the full story and enter the contest at the Detroit Lions website.

Car Museums Aren’t What They Used to Be

Volo Museum 1

An overview of the incredible Volo Auto Museum showroom.

Here at Advance HQ, we get so caught up in debating the latest developments in car culture and DIY that we often find ourselves in need of a serious time out. While those tend to be seldom, we still relish the idea of just being able to talk casually about cars without deadlines to make or milestones to hit.

One way to pass some free time and get your fill of cars, is to hit up a car museum. To that end, we recently explored the legendary Volo Museum – don’t let the word “museum” lead you to believe that all you’ll see is musty, dusty, crumbling history. There’s absolutely none of that here.

Volo Auto Museum Exhibits

Located in Illinois, the Volo Auto Museum specializes in many different types of car collections including:

  • Hollywood cars
  • Bizarre cars
  • Military vehicles
  • Cars of the stars
  • Vintage cars
  • Cars of wonderland

The Grams family purchased the property where the car museum now stands in 1960. The building had a dirt floor and contained old junk cars, including decrepit Ford Model As. “My dad and brother,” Brian Grams tells Advance Auto Parts, “would tinker with those cars at night as a side hobby. As they fixed them up, people wanted to buy them, so they sold a couple. With that money, they bought nicer cars and repeated the cycle, until they got involved with collector cars, both buying and selling.”

By the late 1990s, a large part of the property had evolved into a car museum. Annually, Volo gets about 300,000 visitors, but most arrive in the summer, making wintertime an even better opportunity for a laid-back visit.

Here are more specifics about the exhibits.

Hollywood Collection

Police vehicle, Barricade, from Transformers movie.

Police vehicle, Barricade, from Transformers movie.

The Hollywood collection started with the George Barris Batmobile from the 1966 television series starring Adam West and Burt Ward (Thwap! Pow! Bam!). From that point, the Batman collection – and the entire Hollywood collection – continued to grow. Other Batman-related items now at Volo include the 1966 Batcycle; the Batmobile from the 1989 movie, Batman; the 18-wheeler used by the Joker in Dark Knight; and Dark Knight movie props. You can even watch “Evolution of the Batmobile” in Volo’s theater.

Not a fan of Batman? Then you’ll just need to content yourself with others of the more than 80 vehicles from television and film; exhibits change frequently, so more than one visit could be on the docket. Other cars include:

  • Season 1 General Lee from Dukes of Hazzard
  • DeLorean from Back to the Future
  • One of the Ghostbusters’ Ectomobiles
  • Beverly Hillbillies’ truck
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger’s hearse in Terminator 3
  • and much, much more

Not all cars arrive in pristine condition. The Greased Lightning car, used in the 1978 film Grease, is a perfect example. In the movie, John Travolta and his friends restore this vehicle in an attempt to attract females. While that worked fairly well, at least for Travolta, the condition of the car deteriorated during the post-movie years. Then, a collector bought it and hired someone to begin the restoration process. That owner died, though, mid-restoration, and the car was put outside where its condition continued to deteriorate. So, the Volo Auto Museum stepped in. They bought the car, finished its restoration, and added it to its displays.

You may also remember the Ferrari Daytona used in the television program, Miami Vice. It had been left to the mercies of the rain and sun until the leather interior looked like a “shrunken head.” Enter the restoration genius of those at Volo and this car is also now on display.

With the reputation that Volo now has, they often get asked if they’d like the opportunity to buy a Hollywood car. For example, after Fast and Furious 4 was filmed, the Grams were asked if they wanted to buy every car used in the movie. They made the decision to do so; sold off some; restored others; and have a great addition to their museum: the black Dodge Charger driven by both Van Diesel and Paul Walker in the film.

Bizarre Cars

Volo Museum 3

When this baby hits 88 . . . Back to the Future DeLorean

“The most popular bizarre cars,” Brian says, “are the Roller Skate car and the Piano car.” While enjoying those vehicles, you can also take a close look at an Elvis tribute car and spot some of the 40+ elements in the car’s design that honor the King. Or, perhaps a PG-13 rated Marilyn Monroe tribute car, shown in more than 30 countries, is more to your taste.

Elton John? Michael Jackson and Soul Train? Charlie Chaplin? James Dean? Check out these bizarre cars.

Military Vehicles

The website posts the following caution in the military-vehicle section: Warning Combat Zone: Action-Packed Battle Scenes and Heart-Pounding Sound Effects May Not Be Suitable for Wimps

“This is a very interactive area,” Brian says, “with an atmosphere of a live battlefield.”

Displays range from a 1967 Bell Helicopter #355, shot down by hostile fire in Vietnam to an M114 armored personnel carrier built by Cadillac and powered by a Chevy V-8 motor. The latter item has been completely restored; is fully functional; and one of only 12 legally registered in the United States. The museum also features a 1939 jet engine that was still considered an experimental item. After World War II, though, it became clear that jet engines were the way of the future.

Cars of the Stars

If you were Oprah Winfey and had just turned 46, how would you treat yourself and how much would you spend? The answer is a luxury convertible now housed at Volo, with a spend of $365,000. That car, Brian says, is one of the most popular car of a star housed in their museum. “The other is definitely the Britney Spears car,” he says, “the black Mercedes convertible that TMZ called the most dangerous car in the streets of L.A. They said this because of the various things that happened while Britney was driving the vehicle.”

You can also see the Rolls Royce that transported England’s Princess Diana during her last trip to the United States; the Rolls Royce convertible that Zsa Zsa Gabor was driving before the infamous cop-slapping incident; and much more.

Vintage Cars

From 50s cars to older antiques, and from Corvettes to muscle cars and pony cars, Volo has a wide selection of vintage cars. “The baby boomer crowd often likes the Duisenberg collection,” Brian says, “while the younger crowd often gravitates towards the main showroom with Camaros, Mustangs and 57 Chevys.”

Cars of Wonderland

Volo Auto Museum is a good choice when you are traveling with your children, grandchildren, nieces and/nephews, as there is an entire section dedicated to children – and even the adults love many of the displays. In fact, Brian Grams calls the Cat in the Hat Super Luxurious Omnidirectional Whatchamajigger one of his favorite museum vehicles, calling it an “absolute work of art”; there is also the Flintmobile, a vehicle that you can climb in to have your picture taken; Bugs Bunny’s Karrot Car; a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles vehicle; and much more.

“The kids,” Brian says, “really like Lightning McQueen and the Mater.” Not sure what the Mater is? The site helpfully shares that “It’s like Tuh-Mater but without the Tuh”!

There are also coin-operated kiddie rides, Disney display props from the 101 Dalmatians, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Beauty and the Beast and more, plus Warner Brothers’ studio display props. “Kids and adults alike stop by the Looney Tunes display,” Brian says “because we all remember the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote.”

If you need to rest your feet for a while, you can stop by Pete’s Garage, which is a small theater where relevant 15-minute short films are shown. The museum also often hosts “out of the box events, quirky ones.” Coming up next is a contest in conjunction with the upcoming Transformers movie. The winner gets to enjoy the movie at a drive-in in one of the two Transformers cars available at the museum.

But, before you go, there is something we, uh, need to tell you. The place is haunted.

Gulp . . . Haunted?

Volo Museum 4

Elvis tribute car and James Dean tribute car.

The original structure on the Volo property was built in 1848 as a farmhouse – only four years after the county’s first permanent settler (Captain Daniel Wright) arrived. By 1850, several townships clustered together in this area, with Forksville (the original name of Volo) forming at the crossroads of Chicago Road, McHenry Road and Little Fort Road.

Just 13 short years later, the first shots of the Civil War were fired upon Fort Sumter and, on April 15, 1861, hundreds of patriotic men in Lake County (where Forksville was located) gathered at the courthouse of Waukegan to fight for the Union.

Over the next four years, nearly 2,000 men from this county signed up to fight, including H. Wallace Gale. Wallace was the son of Gardner (who built the now-Volo farmhouse) and Louisa Gale, and was born in 1842. He grew up on the farm where Volo now exists and he died in combat at Fort Donnellson on February 13, 1863 at the heartbreakingly young age of 20. His body was sent back home and he was buried beneath a white monument in a nearby cemetery, “about 50 feet from our property line,” clarifies Brian.

Brian grew up in the original farmhouse located on the Volo property, just like Wallace did. But, by the time that Brian lived there, it already had a solid reputation for being haunted. “Weird things did happen,” Brian shares, “such as the television turning on by itself. So, I thought it was perfectly normal that my house was haunted. If someone seemed shocked, I’d think – what? Isn’t YOUR house haunted???”

Those odd events made it difficult for Brian to convince friends to spend the night at the farmhouse. In fact, he couldn’t. “They’d make it to midnight,” he said, “and then call their parents and say, ‘Come pick me up!’”

Ghostly happenings extended far beyond just televisions turning on, though. “Museum visitors sometimes describe seeing a figure wearing a uniform, or a trench coat or some other type of long jacket or coat,” Brian says. “Other people say that, in the barn [which is now an antique mall], they get a strong whiff of cigar smoke for no apparent reason – and then it suddenly vanishes.

Someone – no one in the Grams family – decided to write to the Discovery Channel about these supernatural events, and the company filmed a Ghost Lab episode there in 2009. After that episode aired, even more stories about otherworldly events on the Volo property poured in.

“The best thing that happened, though,” Brian says, with a laugh, “was when a vehicle transporter wanted to park his rig in our parking lot overnight. We say ‘sure.’ Now, this guy is from Texas. He doesn’t know us or anything about our property. In the evening, he sees someone walking around the parking lot and so he hollers a greeting. The figure keeps walking, then starts running – and then completely disappears through a wall in the barn.”

So, what did the Texan do? “He started his semi up with a roar,” Brian says, “and then he was quickly long gone.”

What’s next?

General Lee vehicle from Dukes of Hazzard, season 1

General Lee vehicle from Dukes of Hazzard, season 1

Editor’s note: Check out our behind-the-scenes look at the Lane Motor Museum, where unique cars from A to Z are displayed.

 


Celebrate America Recycles Day — November 15, 2014

Are you doing your part to reduce waste? We salute America Recycles Day!

As part of the Keep America Beautiful program, America Recycles Day is a nationally recognized day dedicated to promoting and celebrating recycling in the US. Every year on or around November 15, America Recycles Day event organizers like you can serve to educate neighbors, friends and colleagues through events nationwide.

One way to help the environment as you tackle those car maintenance projects is to recycle your used batteries and motor oil. Advance is here to help. Just visit your nearby Advance Auto Parts store for more details.*

 

Recycling Flyer

*Free services available on most automotive vehicles, most locations, unless prohibited by law.  Services may not be available at all stores due to select local community ordinances. Contact your local Advance Auto Parts store for complete details.

James Hetfield’s Black Pearl to appear at the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show

James Hetfield Black PearlMetallica front-man’s prized possession to turn heads at the LA Auto Show later this month.

The award-winning Black Pearl is coming to the Los Angeles Auto Show this November. Built from the ground up and designed by Metallica’s James Hetfield and world renowned custom car builder Rick Dore, the Black Pearl has been turning heads at shows all around the United States for the past year, and is coming home to California to appear at this year’s Los Angeles Auto Show November 18th through 30th.

“It is a real honor to have the Black Pearl included in this year’s Los Angeles Auto Show,” enthuses Dore in anticipation of the show. “The Black Pearl is one of those things that – we initially had been taking other vehicles and cutting and pasting, making you own prototype in a way,” explains Hetfield. “This one we actually started from scratch. We started with a ’48 Jag and basically tried to work it, work it down to frame and build it up from scratch from a drawing. It took it to a whole new level of car building: from a drawing.” Metallica James Hetfield

With its fastback roof and sleek lines, the Black Pearl was inspired by some of the early concept cars of the 1930’s, while the chassis is based off of a 1948 Jaguar. The body was completely hand built and shaped by Marcel and Luc De Lay under the direction of Rick Dore, who’s Rick Dore Kustoms built the rest of the project before the lustrous black finish was applied by Daryl Hollenbeck. In the past year the ‘Pearl has made award winning appearances at The Grand National Roadster Show, winning the 2014 Al Slonaker, Blackie Gejelan and George Barris Kustom awards and The Goodguys, winning Mother’s Custom of the Year and Best In Show, and was shown at The Quail and A Motor Sports Gathering, amongst others. 

The Los Angeles Auto Show is open to the public November 21st through November 30th. For admission info and tickets, visit www.laautoshow.com.

Baby, it’s cold outside! Pros and cons about heated seats for cars

Car seatsWhen cars were first invented, rides in them could be downright chilly, especially during winter months. After all, these early-model vehicles were open bodied, so wind could whip around drivers and passengers alike as rain, snow and/or sleet fell freely upon their heads. Glass windshields started to appear around 1907, breaking some of the wind, and motorists bundled up and put gas lamps in their cars to create some radiated heat. But, still! It was cold.

At the 13th National Automobile Show in New York, a mass production car debuted that was fully enclosed: the Hudson “Twenty,” which was produced in Detroit, starting on July 3, 1909. Because this car was a warmer ride, 4,000 vehicles sold that year – this in spite of the cost of nearly $1,000 (about $26,000 in today’s dollars; remember that car financing wasn’t typically available to buyers). In 1910, Hudson built nearly 6,500 of these cars to continue to meet demand and, by 1925, Hudson was the third largest US car manufacturer behind Ford and Chevrolet.

Although an enclosed car was warmer than an open-bodied one, traveling was still a cold proposition in the winter. Enterprising people tried to recycle exhaust fumes into their vehicles to benefit from small amounts of interior heat. This doesn’t sound like a particularly safe idea, though, and it couldn’t have smelled great, either. In 1929, a hot air heater was available in the Ford Model A. It took a while to fire up and it provided inconsistent engine-generated heat, but it had to be safer than inhaling exhaust fumes. In 1933, Ford installed the first in-dash heating unit: gas powered.

Meanwhile, General Motors created a heater that used redirected engine coolant, debuting the first modern heater core in 1930. Although improvements are continually being made in the auto world, including with heaters, this 1930 model is still the basis of what’s being used today.

Heated seats

Although car heaters made driving far more comfortable, a heated seat would provide targeted heat to one particular body part – and that was an appealing idea to many. It’s reported in many places online that General Motors (GM) tested car seat heaters in 1939 on select models, but no additional details or sources seem to be available. But, GM clearly was a pioneer in the heated seat effort, with Robert Ballard of GM credited with the first patent. He applied for his patent in 1951 and was issued #2,698,893 in 1955. See pictures and detailed text of his patent here.

In 1966, the Cadillac Deville came with the option of heated seats, along with two other luxury innovations: headrests and an AM/FM stereo radio. This option more closely resembled heating pads for the seats, rather than today’s more sophisticated options, but at least they were warm. Here’s a photo of the temperature controls.

Who gets credit for the first “real” heated seats? Saab, although the initial goal was to minimize backaches, which would lead to more pleasurable traveling – which would make for safer driving, according to Saab. The original press release reassured car owners that the heating system was not affected by dampness or water, causing Jalopnik to have this bit of fun: I like the “not affected by dampness” part in there, because that’s automaker code for “Go ahead and wet your pants! You won’t die! Enjoy!”

Let’s talk about safety

In a 2011 article in The Legal Examiner, it was stated that approximately 30% of cars on the road today come with heated seats. Edmunds.com states it in a different way: that nearly 300 models of cars come with seat warmers today.

There is no doubt that they provide comfort in the cold months. However, although manufacturers typically list that these heaters max out between 86 and 113 degrees Fahrenheit, temps can sometimes reach 150 degrees. Third degree burns can develop in about ten minutes when temperatures reach 120 degrees, and people with diabetes, neuropathy and/or other paralysis issues may not have the ability to sense danger in time to shut off the heater.

Toasted skin syndrome is an actual condition that, according to the Chicago Tribune in 2013 “results when the backs of your legs, thighs and buttocks become darkened and discolored after too much time snuggled into a heated seat. Yes, your Fanny Fryer accessory package literally could tan your hide.”

The article goes on to say that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Society of Automotive Engineers alike have formed “what can only be called crack teams to get to the bottom of it all and forge safety standards.”

It’s easy – all too easy – to joke about seat warmer challenges but results can be quite serious. The integrity of the burned skin, The Legal Examiner article states, could be compromised permanently – and this is not a theoretical issue, with numerous people already receiving significant burns from car seat heaters.

Heated seat repairs

If you decide that the benefit of more targeted heat is worth potential risks, and your heated seats aren’t functioning properly, then here is a checklist to guide you through troubleshooting, repairs and replacement.*

Question: who wants to tear apart their car seats to diagnose a heated seat problem?

Answer: nobody.

Fortunately, there are plenty of potential problems and fixes to try first, including:

  • Check for and fix blown fuses. Does that solve the problem?
  • Make sure that the plug connecting the seat to the wiring is free from corrosion or dirt. Using a voltmeter, make sure that at least 12 volts exist on each side of the switch.

Still having a problem? Pull out your car manual to see where the thermistor is located. Has it shifted? If so, then that shift probably burned out the heating wire. Burn spots in the car’s fabric indicate the likelihood of this issue. If that’s the case, you’ll need to replace or solder bad wire.

Let’s say that none of this helps. You then should use an ohmmeter to see which section of the heating element is causing a problem (knowing that the answer might be “all”). If you decide to replace the unit:

  • Detach any wires from the seat.
  • Remove the seat from the car.
  • Disassemble the seat, separating the back and base, and removing the cushion and leather from the base.
  • Replace all heated seats parts, including the heating element and the wiring.
  • Put the seat together again.
  • Reconnect the wiring.

Editor’s note: What are your thoughts about and experiences with heated car seats? What questions do you have? Please leave your comments below. And, check out Advance Auto Parts for the best in savings and selection.

 

*Always consult your owner’s manual first. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations to ensure warranties are not voided.

Famous radio car guy Tom Magliozzi dies at age 77

Tom Magliozzi

Photo courtesy of Richard Howard.

As co-host of the NPR show Car Talk, Tom Magliozzi became a weekly radio institution.

Public radio personality and car repair expert Tom Magliozzi died on Monday due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease, at age 77.

As one half of “Click and Clack the Tappet Brothers,” along with his younger brother Ray, Magliozzi entertained listeners each week for over three decades on the NPR show Car Talk. The brothers told jokes, talked cars and gave distinctively candid advice to callers about their clunkers.

Famous for his hearty laugh, colorful commentary and undeniable DIY smarts, Tom Magliozzi forged a loyal and lasting bond with listeners that would span over 35 years. His warm radio voice, well-worn wisdom and authenticity will be deeply missed in car circles and beyond.

Read more about Tom Magliozzi on NPR.

 

Top 7 car spoilers … epic downforce!

Toy Car SpoilersOne of the most polarizing automotive design choices any automotive designer can make is the inclusion of a rear wing.

Rear wings, or spoilers, are often added to race cars to spoil the flow of air across the vehicle and thus eliminate unwanted turbulence that could cause the vehicle to lose traction, become airborne or otherwise behave erratically on the track.

So if spoiler tech is designed for race cars, why have so many street machines become factory-equipped with huge rear wings?

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and, in this case, the old adage is true. Many factory-issued car spoilers are designed to make street-legal versions of race cars look more like race cars. And this usually sends brand enthusiasts to dealer showrooms by the thousands.

Here are a few of our favorite spoilers from years past … and if you read all the way to the end you’ll see that not all of our favorite car spoilers are affixed to the rear decklid like you might expect.

Dodge Charger Daytona

Photo credit: Erik Baeumlisberger.

Photo credit: Erik Baeumlisberger.

You thought we were going to say Superbird, didn’t you? Well, truth is, the Daytona pre-dated the infamous Superbird by one year. The outrageously huge rear wing was added to keep the car glued to the high-banked NASCAR tracks it raced on, and for good reason. The Daytona was the first in NASCAR history to break the 200 mph barrier.

In 1970 its famous successor (the Superbird), caused officials to change the rule book. NASCAR told Plymouth they had to either run a smaller engine or add weight as the speed of car far exceeded the tire technology of the day.

Pictured above is one of the Daytonas used in the film Fast and Furious 6.

Subaru WRX STI

Subaru WRX STI

Photo credit: Erik Baeumlisberger.

Introduced to the United States market in 2004, the WRX STI from Subaru was a street legal WRC car minus the roll cage. Its 300 hp turbocharged 4 cylinder engine pushed the 3,000 lb. bruiser to 60 mph in just 4.6 seconds. Its giant ironing-board-sized wing was matched only by its stiffest competition, the Mitsubishi EVO.

Like the EVO, the STI lost its wing in subsequent model years. However the wing is back for 2015.

Porsche 930 911 Turbo

Porsche 930 911 Turbo

Porsche engineers needed a way to vent more air into the engine bay of the rear-mounted flat-six. Their solution? One of the most iconic spoilers of all time–the whale tail.

Being German means being precise, at least in the automotive world. The precision spoiler also created downforce that helped keep the notoriously tail-happy 911 pointed in the right direction. This combined with flared arches and wider wheels gave the 930 a distinctive stance, one whose roots can be seen in present day 911s.

Toyota Supra Turbo

Photo credit: BenRichardsFife.

Photo credit: BenRichardsFife.

Pretty much every car in the 90s had a wing, and we loved them all. From the Toyota Supra to the Mitsubishi 3000GT, several cars were available with big suitcase handles attached to their rears.

Whether or not the wing on the Supra is functional or not is up for debate. But like many cars in the 90s, the presence of a spoiler meant one thing–force-fed power under the hood. The addition of a huge wing set often set turbocharged models apart from their normally aspirated siblings. Heck, even the Mitsubishi Eclipse GS-T had a ridiculously oversized wing in the 90s.

Ferrari F40

Ferarri F40

Photo credit: Erik Baeumlisberger.

One of the most collectible classics of the modern era is the Ferrari F40–a stunning example of lightness, power and beauty. Most F40s go for well over $1 million these days, so let’s just say that you or I probably won’t ever own one. But, still, they are magnificent. We’re also impressed by how seamlessly the huge, carbon fiber rear wing molds into the rear decklid. The F40 is truly a work of art.

Buonissimo!

Lamborghini Countach (double winner!)

Lamborghini Countach

Photo credit: Erik Baeumlisberger.

We’ve saved the best for last. Our favorite car spoiler of all time is actually a pair of spoilers! Yes, not one, but two spoilers were affixed to the nose of the Countach by Lamborghini of North America during the 1980s. The reason? To get around U.S. laws that required all cars imported to North America to have 5 mph crash bumpers installed.

The most famous nose wing of all time has to be the one present on the Cannonball Run Countach, now owned by Jeff Ippoliti of Celebration, Florida.

 

Editor’s note: What’s your favorite car spoiler of all time? Let us know in the comments below! And make sure to hit up Advance Auto Parts for a wide selection of spoilers and car accessories. 

Lead graphic courtesy of ToysRUs.

American Car Culture: Up Close and Personal

Auto Repair pictureStunning new exhibit showcases the candid and personal work of photographer Justine Kurland.

For over three years, photographer Justine Kurland and her son Casper traveled the country documenting the daily happenings and culture of cars, mechanics and auto repair shops, as well as the open roads that guided their journey.

In a recent article on Slate.com, Kurland’s story and some of the unique photographs documenting it are displayed as part of her new exhibition series Sincere Auto Care, which is also showing at the Mitchell-Innes & Nash gallery in New York City.

Engine repair

For car guys, automotive enthusiasts and DIY’ers of all stripes, check out the candid shots that help to sum up the personal and soulful connections that Americans have with their cars.

Read the full story about Sincere Auto Care at Slate.com.

Auto shop

All photo credits: Justine Kurland, courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, NY.

Crucial Cars: The Chevy Corvette

2015 Corvette Stringray.png

2015 Corvette Stingray. Photo credit: Chevrolet.

From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.

For this installment, we explore the amazing and iconic Chevy Corvette.

 

Fast, sporty, classic – even iconic. Not many cars can successfully make these claims, and still be within the reach of an average-sized American checkbook. The Chevy Corvette can, though – and, over the past 60-plus years, the sexy ‘vette has allowed many of us to grab our piece of the American dream though adrenaline-fueled car ownership.

As CNN writes, “Even for folks who don’t care about cars, the Corvette matters. It’s historic . . . The sleek silhouette has transformed into a pop culture icon across TV, films and advertising.” And, don’t forget Prince and his 1999 hit, “Little Red Corvette.”

Corvette’s appeal

Here’s the irony: no other car boasts the long-term continuous production as the Corvette. And yet, this classic car wasn’t intended for mass production at all.

In the 1950s, General Motors was the largest corporation in the world, twice as big as the second biggest – Standard Oil of New Jersey – manufacturing more than half of the cars driven in the entire US of A. None of the GM vehicles, though (Buicks, Cadillacs, Chevrolets, GMCs, Oldsmobiles or Pontiacs), were sports cars.

In the fall of 1951, GM’s chief designer, Harley J. Earl, began to brainstorm about an open sports car that would sell for the same price as a typical sedan, which was $2,000. He passed on this dream-car-on-a-budget idea to Robert F. McLean, who caused the notion to become a reality, using standard Chevy parts off the shelf.

According to Edmunds.com, “The chassis and suspension were for all intents and purposes the 1952 Chevy sedan’s, with the drivetrain and passenger compartment shoved rearward to achieve a 53/47 front-to-rear weight distribution over its 102-inch wheelbase. The engine was essentially the same dumpy inline-6 that powered all Chevys but with a higher compression ratio, triple Carter side-draft carbs and a more aggressive cam that hauled its output up to 150 horsepower. Fearful that no Chevy manual three-speed transmission could handle such extreme power (there were no four-speeds in GM’s inventory), a two-speed Powerglide automatic was bolted behind the hoary six.”

GM planned to showcase this vehicle at the Motorama exhibit of the 1953 New York Auto Show but didn’t intend for it to go into production. Then, GM’s chief engineer Ed Cole saw the sweet vehicle and recognized its huge potential – and production preparation began so quickly that it started before the New York show even began. Once the car was displayed to the public, show attendees also loved the car. Six months later, on June 30, 1953, the Corvette rolled down the assembly line in Flint, Michigan.

Urban legend says that Henry Ford offered his cars in any color, just as long as it was black. Well, if you’d wanted to buy one of the 300 Corvettes produced in 1953, you’d have had only one color choice: a white exterior with a red interior.

Production continued to rise to meet the demand. During the 1960s, production increased to about 27,000 cars per year, with multiple engine choices, including performance options.

1957 Chevrolet Corvette.png

1957 Chevrolet Corvette. Photo Credit: Automobile.com.

By the time the C5s rolled out (1997-2004), the ‘vette was racing at Le Mans and the American Le Mans Series. In these vehicles, the “transmission was relocated to the rear of the car to form an integrated, rear-mounted transaxle assembly, connected to the all-new LS1engine via a torque tube — an engine/transmission arrangement enabling a 50-50 (percentage, front-rear) weight distribution for improved handling. The LS1 engine initially produced 345 hp (257 kW), subsequently increased in 2001 to 350 hp (261 kW). The 4L60-E automatic transmission carried over from previous models, but the manual was replaced by a Borg-Warner T-56 6-speed capable of a 175 mph (282 km/h) top speed.”

ZR1 Corvettes of the 21st century can surpass 200 mph, with prices tags of $100,000-plus. And, if you pony up for a 2015 model, these vehicles include an HD video camera (720p resolution) behind the rearview mirror and an SD memory card in the glove box. The original intent: for racers to record laps. This device also records speed data, plus G-force, braking and stability-system data – along with a “secret valet-recording mode.” If you use valet parking, this is one way to make sure that drivers treat your ‘vette with tender loving care.

Heartbreak at the National Corvette Museum

Corvette museum.jpg

Photo credit: National Corvette Museum.

Unfortunately, the Corvette was in the news recently, not for its stealthy look, but rather for a catastrophe that badly damaged some of the finest specimens.

On February 12, 2014 at 5:44 a.m., the National Corvette Museum got a call from their security company, stating that motion detectors had gone off while no one was in the museum. Nobody could have anticipated what they’d see, which was a 40-foot-across and 60-foot-deep sinkhole, large enough to swallow up eight Corvettes worth an estimated $1 million.

These vehicles included two on loan from General Motors (first two bullet points) and six owned by the museum. Damage-wise, they have been placed into one of three categories: least damaged, significantly damaged or worst damaged:

  • 1993 ZR-1 Spyder:
    • fewer than 12 ever built
    • worst damaged
  • 2009 ZR1 “Blue Devil”:
    • least damaged
  • 1962 Black Corvette:
    • least damaged
  • 1984 PPG Pace Car:
    • one-of-a-kind car for Indy Car World Series
    • significantly damaged
  • 1992 White 1 Millionth Corvette:
    • millionth to come off the assembly line
    • significantly damaged
  • 1993 Ruby Red 40th Anniversary Corvette:
    • significantly damaged
  • 2001 Mallett Hammer Z06 Corvette:
    • one-of-a-kind
    • worst damaged
  • 2009 White 1.5 Millionth Corvette:
    • 1.5 millionth to come off assembly line
    • significantly damaged
Damaged Corvette.jpg

Photo credit: National Corvette Museum.

The rescue operation took exactly eight weeks, with two of the cars difficult to find in the rubble. To quote CNN, “One priceless car was crushed. Another, mashed; a third, pancaked. Now, Vette City faces a sinkhole summer.”

Here is footage of the devastation from a University of Western Kentucky’s Engineering Department’s drone helicopter.

Since the time of the collapse, increasing numbers of people are visiting the museum, with March 2014 attendance figures spiking by 56% and donations of more than $75,000 given. Attendance has continued to rise since the collapse, reaching 66% with revenue up 71% overall.

What’s next?

On April 26, CNN published an in-depth article on the progress of the rescue and restoration efforts, including thoughts on the main challenges:

  • Should the cars be restored?
  • If yes, to what degree?
  • If yes, who does the restoring?
  • What should the museum do about the giant sinkhole?

As far as the car restoration goes, there were probably as many opinions as there were people giving them. General Motor’s Tom Peters (director of exterior design for performance cars) shares this point of view: “Respect the vehicles. They have ‘souls.’ They have ‘character’ and ‘being.’ Replacing too many key original parts might result in ‘re-creations’ rather than restorations.”

In the meanwhile, the damaged cars are on display. As far as the hole, the museum considered keeping part or all of it intact, and transform it into an historic display of its own.

Damaged Corvette 2.jpg

Photo credit: National Corvette Museum.

In fact, board members were leaning that way as recently as late June. But, on August 30, 2014, they voted to fill in the hole because of the high costs of safety features needed to maintain the hole, which would have required 35-foot-tall retaining walls plus beams. Humidity-control devices would also be needed, skyrocketing the repair costs to an unattainable $1 million.

So, the hole will be filled in with rock. Workers will then drill into the rock to add steel casings and then cover all with concrete. Repairs will begin in November (so visit sooner if you want to see the sinkhole!) and will last approximately six months. The museum will be open during the construction period. If you visit, be sure to also schedule a tour of the Corvette manufacturing plant. And, if you can’t visit, then take advantage of the museum’s multiple live webcams.

Share your experiences

Despite the changing design trends, economic downturns and fantastic disasters, the Corvette thrives, more than sixty years after its invention.

Tell us your stories and experiences with the Corvette, in the comments below. And, feel free to check out our prior review of the 2015 Chevy Corvette Z06.

 

Editor’s note: If you’re a proud owner of one of the 1.4 million of these attention-grabbing monsters of acceleration, know that Advance Auto Parts has you covered.