Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Moment of Reflection on the State of the Automobile and the Enthusiast

My Generation
 A Moment of Reflection on the State of the Automobile & the Enthusiast

by Rick Tavel © 12-21-12 All rights reserved

 As car enthusiasts let’s take a few moments to reflect on the state of the automobile and what has become an avocation for most of us as we close out 2012 and enter 2013.  Simply, we find ourselves surrounded by  the fastest, best handling and most technically advanced performance cars ever produced.  No doubt about it.   For those of you whining over the “muscle car” era of the sixties and early seventies get over it, you’re showing your age!  If you don’t know it, this is the real “muscle car” era and we should all realize it and be thankful for it.
If you are not convinced, show me one car from the sixties that can outperform a Corvette  ZR1, a Z06 or a Camaro ZL1.   And if you still aren’t convinced how great things are as we closeout 2012, think back to the late seventies and eighties and the only cars available to us then.  You do remember how Lee Iacocca saved Chrysler with the “K car” and the minivans don’t you?  Exciting times. I don’t think so.   You must remember when the “hottest” performance cars’ speedometers topped out at 85 MPH and a car with 200 HP was considered to be a performance car?  Looking back, yes even to the “muscle car” era of the sixties, was there any production car produced that could compare in performance and build quality to the performance car of the last few years?  If there was, I‘d like to know what it is.   Simply put we are witnessing the greatest performance era of the automobile, bar none.  And for that I can say “Lucky me!”

 If that isn’t enough, we also find ourselves inundated, almost overcome with car-related activities of every type.  This past summer in Michigan I commented to another “car guy”, during a Friday night gathering of FBody owners on Woodward Avenue, that I could participate in a “cruise” event every night of the week throughout the summer if I wanted.  In addition to nightly cruises there were car shows and special events weekly.  Some of them, major events such as two of the largest, lengthy and legendary auto events in the country, The Woodward Dream Cruise and Flint’s Back to the Bricks® Car show and the supporting events which go on ten days prior to the official date. It is almost inconceivable but these two events run concurrently, only an hour’s drive between the two, and together they draw over a million people!  A million people turned out to either watch or be a part of the events in some form or other. 
Back to the Bricks 2012

Michigan does not have a lock on the number and quality of auto-related activities going on.  Every major metropolitan area has numerous events and activities available for the enthusiast throughout the weather-friendly months.  If you don’t believe that then just go into any regional section of a forum and check out events.  I recently put together a “Snowbird Calendar of Cruises and Events for Corvette Clubs in Arizona”.   Just like in Michigan, I can find a cruise event to go to almost every night between October and May.  On Saturdays I can make it an “all day Corvette marathon”;  Corvettes and Caffeine® starting at 8 in the morning until about 11, then a Corvette club luncheon from 11:30 until 1:30 and then off to the Scottsdale Pavillions for the oldest cruise-in in the country from 3 until about 9 or 10 at night. 

Like Phoenix, in every metro market you’ll find an event that you can enjoy and participate in: car shows, cruise-ins, autocrosses, races, rallies, drive and dines, tech lectures, parades, power tours, and the list goes on.  One of the Corvette Clubs in Phoenix has the motto, “If you’re not having fun it’s not our fault!” and that pretty much sums it up and applies to what events are available in most metro markets.  Never have there been so many events for the automobile fanatic.  And once again I say, “Lucky me!”

 Even when you can’t get your car out of the garage because the snow is too deep, don’t despair!  There are other auto-related venues you can enjoy without leaving the comfort of your home.  The most obvious is TV.  There are some of you old enough to remember when there were no automobile or motorsports programs on TV.  Hard to imagine, but in the fifties the only TV coverage pertaining to automobiles were the advertisements for the “Big Three” US auto manufacturers.   Except for some local TV coverage around Indianapolis during the Indianapolis 500 there was no racing of any type to be found on TV.  Automobile racing and motorsports didn’t debut on TV until the sixties. No NASCAR, no Formula 1, no American LeMans, no Indy car (USAC), no SCCA Runoffs, no Dirt Track racing, no Drag Racing.  You get the point. 

 It was not until the early sixties that auto racing made its debut on national TV.  I remember my excitement when I found out that the Grand Prix of Monaco was actually going to be shown on network TV in 1962.  For the first time in my twelve years I was able to see a Formula 1 car actually racing.  Before that I could only read about, look at pictures, and dream of them.  It wasn’t until the seventies before national TV networks realized the motorsports “golden goose” had just started to lay the “golden egg” of TV coverage.

 Today there are at least two cable TV networks devoted to nothing but the automobile.  In addition every major race is also broadcast on either network or cable TV.  If you have cable, dish or direct TV you can watch several automobile programs any given hour of the day.  Every conceivable type of motorsports is covered from mud racing to rock crawling.  It is hard to find an hour of the day during the racing season when you can’t find something on TV about NASCAR.  Today every major event in Formula 1, Indy Car, NHRA plus a plethora of European and Australian racing is covered in depth.

In addition to the motorsports coverage, over the past decade TV has discovered that there is a huge market for reality based automobile and motorcycle programs.  American Chopper” just ended their ten year run.  We can watch Chip Foose building another “Riddler Award” car, or Wayne Carini chasing another classic car and losing money on his latest auction recommendation.  We can watch Ryan on “West Coast Customs” build a custom Camaro for Rascal Flatts.   SPEED®, formerly Speedvision®, discovered covering the Barrett Jackson® auctions on national TV was also big business.  Then Velocity® TV jumped on the bandwagon broadcasting Mecum® auctions.  Now each of their several auction events is covered in depth.  Mecum’s Kissimmee auction and Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale auction will each be televised over forty hours, many of those hours broadcast “live”.  Never before has there been so much coverage of automobile events of every type.  And as an enthusiast I say, “Lucky me!”

 But of course, if you are reading this you know that we have another source of automobile entertainment, the internet.  This is the largest source of every type of automobile information available.  It would be impossible to go into all of the different type of sites and information available to us 24/7.  It will suffice to say, you can virtually find out any type of information you need on your car, or any car for that matter, from “how to” technical information to production information and specs.  History, production information, and specifications for virtually any production car ever produced are available at a moment’s request.  There are sites to decipher a VIN and even report how rare or unique a particular car may be.  You want to know how many C5, Speedway White with Red/Black interior, Z06’s were produced, you can quickly find out that there were only 137 produced and only in 2001.  You want to know the right performance cam to install in your LS2, the best clutch set up for racing, how to install twin turbos on your LT4 or anything at all, it is all there, a click away. You can watch thousands of “UTube®” videos on absolutely any and everything auto related.  And finally let’s not forget the “forums”, where you can share automotive ideas and thoughts with others of similar interests.   And as an automobile aficionado I say, “Lucky me!”
2013 SRT Viper

 As the checkered flag comes down on 2012 you have to be aware that performance is alive and well, like never before.  The ZR1 Corvette, like the one that just beat the Viper at Laguna Seca is only one of several testaments to that.  Throughout the automotive industry outstanding performance cars are being built and each year the bar gets raised a little higher.  Certainly the new Viper is a contender and Ford’s new GT500 looks like it will be some serious competition to the new Corvette as well.  No longer when someone in a Mustang pulls up next to us can we take it for granted that they will be sucking our exhaust fumes.  And all this is not only okay, it’s great!  It signifies just what I have been saying:  the performance automobile is thriving like never before.
Rendering of 2015 Mustang GT500

Just a few years after the entire US auto industry almost went “belly up”, we have been rewarded with cars that were almost unimaginable thirty years ago.  Who could conceive that we would be driving street legal production Corvettes that could top 170 MPH?  And when GM declared bankruptcy who of us did not worry that we may never be able to drive another new Corvette, much less an entire new generation of Corvettes.  The very fact that through the most adverse times in the company’s history, the engineers and designers at GM were able to not only keep the dream alive but to produce an entire new generation of Corvettes touted to be the best ever. That remains to be seen.  There are several “naysayers” out there criticizing the C7  which the pundits have never even seen, much less driven, but my bet is that GM will deliver us the best Corvette ever, in every respect.
C&D Corvette C7 Rendering

 Regardless though, whether the C7 first year car has 450 HP or 475 HP, we still live in the most exciting times in automotive history.   We not only have the best cars, we have more venues to enjoy them, more exposure to motorsports and activities of all types.  We have more information at our fingertips to fix, upgrade, customize, restore and simply enjoy our cars.  As the green flag is waved for the start of 2013, the Golden Age of the Automobile is upon us and the hobby. 

That’s something I would have not thought possible twenty five or even five years ago.  We are living it, a part of it.  And as an enthusiast I can say, “I’m damn lucky!”



Here is the link to the Published version of the story.
A Moment of Reflection on the State of the Automobile and the Enthusiast

Saturday, December 22, 2012



Barrett-Jackson to Auction a C7 Corvette on January 19th In Scottsdale

 By Rick Tavel ©12-21-2012  All rights reserved  Do not use without permission.

Jalopnik Rendering of C7 2012
It looks like it will happen, Barrett-Jackson will auction off a C7 Corvette at their Scottsdale auction on Saturday, January 19th at 8:30 PM. It appears the good people at Barrett-Jackson are using the same diversionary tactics they used last year when they sold the 2013 Number 1 VIN 427 Convertible.

What that means is last year in their auction catalog they did not list the details of the 427, it was merely listed as a 2013 Corvette. This year for the Scottsdale auction, if you look at Lot #3016 you will see the following entry:

“A special Chevrolet model will be revealed and bidders will have the opportunity to take home this one-of-a-kind vehicle. All proceeds to benefit Center for Creative Studies. Will be sold at approximately 8:30pm on Saturday, January 19, 2013.”

Now all we need to figure out is which C7 VIN will it be. If my sources are correct it will be VIN #2 since the first production C7 Corvette will most likely go to the GM Heritage Center.

Chevrolet has a history of auctioning off special cars at this auction for charity dating back to when, in 2008, they auctioned off the first 2009 Corvette ZR1 for $1,000,000 with the proceeds going to the United Way.

So if you can’t be in Detroit on 1-13-13 then make sure you are at Barrett Jackson on 1-19-13. Oh yeah, make sure you bring your checkbook!

Friday, December 14, 2012

To All Corvette Fans & Followers Anxiously Awaiting the New C7

This parody is aimed at all the naysayers and "haters" on the forums that can do nothing but bash a car they have yet to see.   A little Holiday cheer entitled:

The Corvette® Enthusiast’s Night Before Christmas

By Rick Tavel ©2012 All Rights Reserved

Twas the night before Christmas, and in the garage
Was a brand new C7, engineered by Tadge!
It’d been years in the making, and soon would be shown
To frustrated enthusiasts who had started to moan!

 They kept it all covered, so no one could see
The design and the details, and just what it would be!
With Jalopnik®’s renderings, C&D’s, and more
The excitement was epic like never before!

 When out in the Forums, there arose such a clatter
I sprang to my PC, to see what was the matter!
I typed in the website and looked for the thread
About the C7 containing nothing but dread!

 The threads debated every detail and line,
You’d think GM® knew nothing of design!
Forget the fact they’ve been successful for years
Every expert on the forums expressed nothing but fears!

 The engine and power, disappointing at best,
Were argued, debated and not put to rest.
How many horses were under the hood,
But that’s not important, no one understood.

 Not horsepower but torque is what should stressed,
Some understood, some not they confessed!
They talked of the charts and debated the curves
The discussion so detailed it got on my nerves!

 After bashing and slandering GM® engine designers
Other threads discussed “styling”, a haven for Whiners!
Very little was “right” from the front to the back,
The car simply was wrong for the road and the track!

 The taillights were wrong, giving up the tradition
“Camaro-esque” was the term it was simply sedition!
Roofline and “B Pillar” windows were cursed
Tradition was shunned to give way for this “first”!

 I read and questioned why anyone would own
A car so inept, the legend dethroned
By so many “experts” without foundation of seeing
The real car, the performance, it’s essence of being!

 Away from my PC,  giving way to my dread
I needed assurance and summoned the dead!
Harley Earl, the greatest designer of all,
Shinoda and Mitchell, I also gave call.

 And to assuage my worst performance fears
Zora came forth, I saw through my tears.
“Calm down, my friend, why all the commotion?
The naysayers are wrong and they don’t have a notion.

 Of all the design, engineering and tests
That went into this car to make it the best.
Over sixty years we’ve fulfilled all your dreams
And on 1-13 we will be redeemed

 By the critics and all of the other naysayers
Who bash and complain and pile on in layers.
So turn off the critics, forget all the worry
January 13th will be here in a hurry.”

Then back to my bed and back to my dreams
My concerns all assuaged, so right it all seems.
But I heard Zora exclaim as he faded from sight
“The C7’s a winner to all a goodnight.”




Thursday, November 29, 2012

How Much Would You Pay for the First Production C7

by Rick Tavel ©11-19-2012  All rights reserved  Do not use without permission. 
As many of you probably realize, preparations for Barrett-Jackson's world famous January collector car auction are already underway in Scottsdale, Arizona.  This year’s auction is January 13 through 20. The magnitude of this auction requires Craig Jackson and his team to begin preparing for their flagship Scottsdale auction almost a year in advance. This event is a must for any car enthusiast and for those of you who have never attended a Barrett-Jackson Auction you have to put it on your Bucket List. It is one of the top ten auto based events in the world and you need to know that you don’t have to spend a fortune bidding on a car.  You don’t need to bid at all because the greatest enjoyment of Barrett-Jackson for those of us who do not have a couple million dollars to drop on a car is to enjoy inspecting, arguably, the largest great collection of diverse collector cars in the west.  Guaranteed you won’t see a larger assemblage of cars west of the Mississippi the entire year.  Of course there is a side benefit of spending days inspecting the myriad of cars displayed in several tents, some larger than a football field, that benefit is you could become the owner of any one of them, if your bank account is large enough.   Sure all cars are not “showcars” but most would qualify. 
       This year in addition to their usual offerings of outstanding sports and muscle cars they will also be offering their “Salon Collection”.  This is a special exclusive offering of very rare, award-winning collector cars with great historical provenance, many of which have not been up for sale in quite some time.  In their tradition of bringing top grade collectables to the collector market and devoting a portion of the prime time auction to this segment of the car collector hobby illustrates Barrett-Jackson’s commitment to excellence and diversity within the collector car community.  As most of you know  their focus over the past years has primarily been top grade American muscle and sports cars, but what you may not know is that years ago the cars typical to the Salon collection are the type and era of car that Craig Jackson’s father focused on as he was building the business.   
Barrett-Jackson's Iconic 1/4 Mile Tent

             But there is another side of Barrett-Jackson aside from auctioning  some of the finest collector cars in the world. That part is giving back to the community – helping raise money for charities.  Partnering with General Motors, other automotive manufacturers and dealers, Barrett Jackson has raised millions of dollars for charity.  Who could forget last January when Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports teamed up to offer the first 2013 Corvette 427 Convertible offered to the public.  That car sold  for $600,000!  The proceeds were donated to the AARP  Foundation’s Drive to End Hunger initiative.  Just imagine, $600,000 for a C6 427!  Granted it was the first “427 Convertible” sold to the public with a VIN of 001.   Forget that the seven liter, LS7 engine produced a mere 505 horsepower.  And even forget that it’s  a car that can do 0 to 60 in under four seconds,  it’s still a bunch of cash to come up with!  Pardon me, but even for a Corvette!                                                                                                                                    
The 1st 427 Corvette Auctioned at Barrett-Jackson
 So by now you probably have figured out where I’m going with this.    As all Corvette enthusiasts know, 1-13-13 is a very special day, the day Chevrolet will formally introduce the 2014, completely new C7 Corvette to the media and public at the Detroit Auto Show.  Coincidentally 1-13-13 is also the first day of the Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale auction.   What marketing executive worth his weight in platitudes would not jump at the chance to utilize the biggest automobile event of the first half of the year to market his product to hungry enthusiasts with pockets full of cash, all in the name of charity!  Absolutely the best idea since someone put bikini-clad girls on new car model’s turntables back in the fifties. 
              So on one hand we have Barrett-Jackson with a track record of creating unbridled excitement, setting world-record auction prices, with a 120,000 square foot tent packed full of cash-laden, hungry buyers and almost non-stop national cable TV coverage throughout the entire auction from Speedvision.   This may sound politically incorrect, but even the “Helen Keller” of marketing whizzes could see the obvious opportunity before their eyes.  It is what is known as “low hanging fruit” in the industry.  There for the taking.   The only problem for Barrett-Jackson’s and Chevrolet’s marketing people was it could keep them awake at night wondering  just how much someone would be willing to pay for the number one C7 ever offered for sale to the public.  That would most likely be serial number 2, assuming that number 1 would go to the National Corvette Museum. 

The $600K 427 Auctioned by Barrett-Jackson
Now we are talking about the number one car offered for sale of an entire generation of Corvettes, not “just” a special model!  Imagine it!  Understand I am not minimizing the importance of or undervaluing the “427 Convertible”, I’d love to own one and am envious of those that do, but I am speaking “relatively”.  Would the first C7 available for sale to the public bring  $750,000, a $1,000,000, $1,500,000 or even more? I am not sure anymore where this could shake out.  If it were 2007 I might be able to see two million dollars, but with the volatility of the collector car market since 2008 I am not sure.  The market has made a comeback but it, hasn’t made it all the way back to the market where an Oldsmobile prototype topped four million dollars at Barrett-Jackson during the peak.  But when you consider the fact that the one hundred and fifty tickets the National Corvette Museum offered sold out almost overnight at $995 a pop, just to be at the C7’s introduction in Detroit on 1-13-13.  A thousand bucks to be a part of the media introduction gives rise to all kinds of price possibilities.   Whatever, the prospects are more than enticing for both Barrett-Jackson and Chevrolet . 

              So I am asking you, “How much would you pay for the first C7 ever offered for sale to the public?”    And if you’re a little short this month and can’t quite swing it then, “ How much do you think someone else would be willing to pay?”  With all the hype and enthusiasm around the new Corvette’s introduction it is an interesting point to ponder.  Even Vegas could get in on the act and offer odds.  Maybe it’s not worth laying awake at night over, unless you have just checked your investment position, clipped a few coupons, liquidated a few stocks and transferred some money between accounts.  But my guess is something is being put together right now between Chevrolet and Barrett-Jackson, something that will top last year’s “427 Convertible”.  Something BIG – Barrett-Jackson only does things BIG in the collector world – and it doesn’t get any bigger than auctioning off a low production number C7 to be built.  I may be wrong on this, not likely, and you will have the opportunity to find out this coming January 19th, in the iconic quarter mile tent located in Scottsdale, Arizona.  I can’t be in Detroit on the 13th, but you can bet I’m going to be at Barrett-Jackson on Saturday, January 19, 2013, to find out.

Jalopnik's concept of what the C7 will look like

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Fixed Roof Coupe

The Hardtop for Hardcores
Introduction by Rick Tavel © Do not use without permission

Several weeks ago Hib Halverson shared an interesting story with me concerning the birth of the C5 Corvette and more specifically the FRC which I believe most Corvette enthusiasts would find interesting.  I asked Rob at The Corvette Action Center to resurrect Hib’s article so all FRC enthusiasts could enjoy it. Few of us have the insight and the access to the inner workings of GM like Mr. Halverson who was there, reporting on the FRC developmental events as they happened back in 1997-98. In some ways it was much like the debates and discussions surrounding the styling and performance capabilities of the new C7.   There was a great deal of speculation and heated debates about just what the FRC would be.  There were two camps among the enthusiasts and also within GM who each held their own very specific ideas of what the FRC would be and what its purpose would be. Marketing very clearly wanted a decontented, lower price Corvette that would help boost sales based on its lower price. Engineering disagreed and wanted the FRC to be a performance model that would take advantage of the new model’s lighter weight and stiffer chassis.  Leading that group, the group that wanted to build a street legal competition car, was Dave Hill, then chief engineer. The opposing camp was led by Brand Manager Dick Almond, who saw a stripped down, lower priced, Corvette as a way to capture those buyers who lusted for but couldn’t afford the ever rising price of America’s only real sports car.  Both sides had valid points to make.

It is interesting to read Hib’s account of not only what actually happened in the debate inside GM but also how the outcome affected the actual FRC that made it into production and how the car was marketed.  One of the most exciting aspects of Hib’s story is the short time frame in which this transpired -from the time the debate came to a head and the ensuing changes to the car that were nedessary in time to meet the introduction deadline. Those of you who have read "All Corvettes Are Red" have a pretty good idea of what it takes to get a model into production and the timing required to make it happen. The incredible "about face" that occurred in the time frame of less than six months is almost inconceivable and unheard of in the automotive industry. From Chevrolet's bungled release of the preliminary Dealer Order Guide in late April - early May, which showed the FRC as the decontented, base model advocated by Almond and the marketing people, compared to the actual model released in the fall which was Dave Hill's performance car, not the opening price point model that was detailed in the Dealer Order Guide. This is just one of the interesting and unique events that marked the birth of the FRC. And so it was in the case of the FRC.  In less than six months the FRC that the dealers and marketing department thought they were getting was completely transformed to Hill’s performance, lightweight Fixed Roof Coupe, the predecessor to the renowned C5 Z06.

 While doing some research for the FRC registry which I am working on, Mr. Halverson contacted me with some information that I had not uncovered regarding how the FRC had actually evolved deep inside of GM. He shared with me his story from the perspective of a journalist that was actually there documenting the launch of a new model C5 Corvette and the ensuing FRC a few years later.  Some of you may have read some of his articles about the Corvette over the past years.  He has written for all of the major automobile publications.  If you haven't it would be worth digging back through "VETTE" magazine's archives to read some of Hib's accounts of Corvette development.  Over the years Hib has been not only a supporter of the Corvette but an objective journalist who has honestly and fairly evaluated both the car and the company that makes it.

He is known as one of the most knowledgeable journalists on the Corvette (his background as an automotive service technician gives him a thorough working knowledge of what he writes about and enables him to ask the questions that many other journalists do not fully understand). He is also known as one of the more “controversial” automotive journalists for "pulling no punches" and ferreting out the real story. He recently wrote an article about his experience of building his own Corvette 427 engine in the GM Engine Build Experience program at the General Motors Performance Build Center in Wixom, Michigan. This experience was offered as an option for buyers of Z06, ZR1 and select GS models and he takes you through his personal experience and each step of building the 427 for his Corvette.  (You can read about his experience at the Corvette Action Center ). So now that I've shared a bit about his background go to the link below and let Hib tell the story he shared with me a while ago. As GM gets ready to introduce the new C7 read for yourself about the introduction of the new C5 model over sixteen years ago.  Hib's article was originally published  in the 1998 issue of Vette Magazine.  Read about the initial road tests and first impressions, and understand why the Fixed Roof Coupe (known then as the “hardtop) became known as the Hardtop for Hardcores.