Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Stutzes and Baseball! In Downtown Indianapolis: June 24, 2016

In the early days of motoring, the state of Indiana could make a good claim as one of the centres of American auto manufacturing, and the record shows that somewhere in the order of 198 different builders operated in 42 cities. Of course, many of these would have been of minor importance—some mechanics assembling a few cars from parts purchased elsewhere—but certainly there were notable large enterprises. Studebaker of South Bend was one of the longest-lived, Crosley one of the more eccentric, and Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg possibly the most glamorous. But one of my favourites is Stutz, which produced high-quality cars in Indianapolis from 1911 until the Depression shut it down in 1935, with some 35,000 cars having been built.

1914 Stutz racing car at the Indianapolis 500, Earl Cooper at the wheel

The company acquired a degree of fame when one of its new cars finished in 11th place at the 1911 Indianapolis 500 race, giving rise to the company's rather hyperbolic slogan of "The Car That Made Good in a Day."  Wags, of course, retorted with: "You gotta be nuts to drive a Stutz!"

The fabulous Bearcat model was introduced in 1912 and had an impressive racing history, winning 25 of 30 events entered that year.  The company's "White Squadron," whose drivers included the famous Barney Oldfield, won national championships in 1913 and 1915 with these powerful and lighweight cars.  In 1915 Earl "Cannonball" Baker set a transcontinental speed record in a Bearcat, travelling from California to New York in 11 days, 7 hours and 15 minutes.  This inspired the famous Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Day of 1971 (to be Hollywoodized as "The Cannonball Run" in 1981).

1914 Stutz Bearcat
Harry Stutz and the original investors sold out in 1919 to a group headed by steel magnate Charles M. Schwab and the new owners brought in Frederick Moscowics, formerly with Daimler, Marmon and Franklin, to run the operation. The new Stutz models put an emphasis on safety, with safety glass and a low centre of gravity, but the cars still boasted impressive performance for the day, with one of them coming second at the 24 Hours of LeMans in 1927; three more were present in 1929, with one finishing fifth. Stylish bodies were provided by the most noted coachbuilders of the day but ultimately the market for luxury, high-performance cars dwindled after 1929 and eventually Stutz joined Pierce-Arrow, Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg, Marmon and Peerless in bankruptcy.

The factory that was built in 1912 and expanded over the years still exists in Indianapolis. Used by the Eli Lilly company as a packaging centre until 1982 and then left empty for decades, it has been re-purposed as a home for small- and medium-sized enterprises. Opened in 2004, it has some 150 tenants. The current developers note: “The former automobile factory occupies an entire city block with seven buildings, five freight elevators, and 11 loading docks!  Artists, architects, attorneys, graphic design firms, advertising firms, internet firms, engineering firms, and other small business owners enjoy flexible space and lease terms that fit their budget.” 

One of these tenants is a nice little neighbourhood restaurant named, naturally, “Bearcats” and we enjoyed an excellent dinner there. It is primarily a lunch spot as it was empty this Friday evening; the area around it is not very residential. After talking with the staff, the owner of the restaurant took us for a quick tour of the building so we had the opportunity to see Mr. Turner Woodward's (the building developer) own collection of Stutz cars, along with some non-Stutz worthies. Definitely something to see if you are in Indianapolis!

1929 Auburn Boattail Speedster, built for the English market

1929 Stutz Dual Cowl Phaeton

1927 Stutz Safety Sedan

1933 Stutz DV32 Hollywood Sedan

1920 Stutz Fire Truck

1928 Stutz Blackhawk Special, a replica of the car in which Frank Lockhart (winner of the 1926 Indianapolis 500) perished in a crash at Daytona Beach while attempting to break the Land Speed Record.  Stutz left motorsports after this.

Excalibur Series IV pseudo-classic, built in Milwaukee from 1980-1984, powered by a 5.0 litre Chevrolet V8

Any Corvette blog entry needs a Corvette: here is a 1978 Indianapolis 500 Pace Car Replica.  6,502 were built, or one for every Chevrolet dealership!
After dinner, we made our way to beautiful Victory Field, opened in 1996 and considered one of the nicest Triple A baseball stadiums in the country. The Indianapolis Indians (of the International League) were founded in 1902 and the club is the farm team of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The stadium, centrally located in the heart of the city, has 12,000 seats and a large picnic area. It was a beautiful June evening as we watched the visiting Buffalo Bisons defeat the home team in a 1-0 yawner, perhaps the dullest baseball game I have ever seen. But it was great to just soak up the ambiance of the park and afterwards there was a most excellent fireworks show.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Capital Corvette Club Outing: Tuque de Broue, December 9, 2017

Although Corvette season is over, socializing is not and one of our members organized a group outing (with not a single Corvette!) to the Tuque de Broue craft brewery in Embrun, Ontario, yesterday.  Embrun, first settled around 1845, is located 25 minutes' drive from Ottawa, and has a majority French-speaking population.  It is predominantly agricultural but growing rapidly as a bedroom community for Ottawa.

The club visited the brewery last Fall for the launch of their pumpkin ale and the most recent visit was to celebrate the new seasonal beer, St-Nicolas Coffee Porter.  The proprietor is also named Nicolas but while he pointed out that he is no saint, he did mention that the picture on the label does look like him.  The beer is very smooth, with a noticeable coffee note at the end.  The owner of the plantation in Honduras that supplies the coffee was present as well!

The brewery has seen impressive growth in the last year, and Nicolas even mentioned that they ran out of beer in July at one point.  There are more fermentation tanks and an even wider range of interesting beers.  Food, in the form of pulled pork sandwiches, was available, along with many gift items.

We had our own table in the back room of the brewery but at the rate they are going they might be filling this space soon too!  So even without our Corvettes it was a fine day out...

Friday, December 1, 2017

Bloomington Gold, Indianapolis Indiana, June 23/24, 2016

Beginning as a one-day show at the Bloomington, Indiana fairgrounds in 1972,  Bloomington Gold  has grown over the decades as the longest-running all-Corvette event in the United States.  It has changed locations and owners a number of times, as well as its format.  It has now relocated to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway each June and runs for three days, attended by over 30,000 people.  There is the opportunity to have your Corvette judged by NCRS experts to receive the hallowed "Bloomington Gold Certification" as a top-quality authentic vehicle; there are many vendors, selling everything from clothing and jewelry to parts to complete Corvettes; there are educational seminars; there is an autocross course; and, of course, the chance to do some parade-speed laps around the famous Speedway oval itself.  And hanging out with Corvette people is always fun.

Driving to the Speedway was quite simple and the traffic into the venue was well-organized.  As a member of the Facebook group "Simply Corvette," we had a special club parking area reserved and found it without too much trouble.  We took the opportunity to speak to some others from the group (none of whom had actually met in person in this Digital Age).  There was a gentleman from Rochester, New York, with a nice C5 who told us he was stopping at the event as part of a trip that would take him to the West Coast.  It turned out that this would be his fifth time making the journey in his C5, which says a lot about Corvettes as travelling machines.

Across from our parking area were several vendors' tents and as I passed by I noticed that one of them was selling flat-bottomed, leather-wrapped replacement steering wheels.  One of the criticisms of the C6 Corvette was that the steering wheel looked as if it came from the Chevy Cobalt economy car, although I understand that in fact it went the other way around!  In any event, the replacement steering wheel looked great and as installation could be done on the spot I persuaded the vendor to stop his sales pitch and just sell me the darn thing!  Not inexpensive but the steering wheel not only looks much better but is far more comfortable when driving on our long trips.  Of the numerous bits of personalization we have done to the Corvette, this is one of the very best. 

The new steering wheel installed, with matching titanium grey stitching and leather
That bit of pricey business dealt with, it was time to walk around the show.  Of course, there were Corvettes as far as you could see even if the numbers were below what we had seen at Corvettes at Carlisle in 2015.  Nonetheless, it was quite impressive.

Near us was a local dealer with a big selection of used Corvettes under a marquee and beside that was to be found the stand for Chevrolet itself.  In addition to the current C7s, there was one of the GTLM racing C7.Rs and it was nice to get a close up look at it.  As well, the Chevrolet people were handing out Corvette Racing t-shirts, but then again this was a crowd sold on their product.  The best thing (next to the racing car) was the really cool C7.R motif car cover which, unfortunately, costs something like US$ 900.00 and would not fit our car anyway...

The real thing: Corvette C7.R GTLM racing car

My favourite car cover ever!
As is typical of a show of this type, there were many vendors exhibiting products and services.  The Mecum auction people had two very nice mid-year Corvettes that were coming up for sale, and a dealer for Superformance replica cars had a full display, including a superb replica 1963 Grand Sport.

1967 Corvette 427 Convertible

Superformance replicas: from right to left Cobra Daytona Coupe, Ford GT, Corvette Grand Sport

Another vendor that has long been into high-performance Corvettes was Callaway Cars, from Old Lyme, Connecticut.  In addition to their massively powerful supercharged C7s, they had for sale their 2010 C6 SC606 company car that had been used to test components and which has over 258,000 miles on it, a clear demonstration of the durability of Corvettes, even with over 600 hp.  Unfortunately the current asking price of US$ 49,000 also indicates the Callaways hold their value.

2010 Callaway SC606--still looking good with over a quarter-million miles on it now!
Continuing the vendor theme, there was a company with a display of crate engines to turn that tired Corvette into a road rocket; there were sellers of tired Corvettes and Corvette parts from all generations; and perhaps one of the most unusual vendors of all was the Evangelical minister behind Corvettes for Christ.  He does point out on his webpage that Corvettes will not actually be able to enter Heaven, sadly.

One of the most impressive vendors was one from Texas who had brought a series of resto-modded cars: a 1957 Chevrolet, a 1960 Corvette and a pair of mid-year Roadsters.  All had modern chassis and engines and the most beautiful interiors, far far above the original factory quality.

Another vendor specialized in painting components in any colour or pattern you would like and had some startling engine work on display.

Considerable effort goes into the restoration, or improvement, of older Corvettes and vendors were there to fill every need.  One of the vendors who was using one of the garages in the famous Gasoline Alley pits area of the Speedway offered modern chassis conversions and had several beautiful award-winning restorations on display as well.

Gasoline Alley was the area where all the drivers who had signed up for some laps of the track assembled and waited to go out.  The track, which is 2.5 miles long (4.023 kms), is huge and driving past the empty grandstands, which can seat 200,000, made you feel very small.  This was my first time on a track and first time doing "parade laps," which give you a chance to say you have driving on a famous racetrack but do not involve any danger.  In fact, we drove to the Bloomington Gold show along the Interstate at higher speeds than I was permitted to drive on the legendary track!  Three circuits were allowed and it was a memorable experience.  The first turn is probably the one with the sharpest banking but at 60 mph did not feel particularly exhilarating.  By the way, the fastest lap ever turned at the Speedway was in 1996 at 239 mph.  There was a photographer present and I have photos of me with the car crossing the line of bricks at the finish line.  The track was originally bricked over in 1909 but in 1961 the last bricks were removed except for the symbolic row that remains.

The Panasonic Pagoda, the latest version of a pagoda structure that has existed at the track since 1913

Of course, one of the main reasons for Bloomington Gold is the judging of cars whose owners are seeking the Bloomington Gold Certification.  There were cars of the first four generations and were in amazing condition.  I did not see anything like a Survivor Class of original cars, or if they were there they were in such impeccable condition they did not need restoration.  The judges, who wore white polo shirts and white baseball caps, descended en mass on each of the cars to be judged and went over them scrupulously, including checks of the all the mechanical and electrical systems.

In a tent-like structure there was a special "Gold Collection" of midyear Corvettes (1963-1967), including a number of racing examples.

In front of the building were two rows to cars given special attention as well: 1996 Grand Sports, which were built in an edition of 1,000 cars to mark the end of C4 production; and the only C5s that I saw in the show area, the 1998 Indianapolis Pace Car edition in the very distinctive yellow-and-Radar Blue colour scheme.  1,158 of these cars were built and one of them at the show still had its original plastic seat covers as delivered to the dealer.

But not every car at Bloomington Gold was there to be judged for prizes for a meticulous restoration.  To mark the 50th Anniversary of the car a special parking area was given over to 1966 Corvettes and many looked like they had been getting plenty of road use.  There was a club that had driven from Des Moines, Iowa, and one of the cars bore a sign that proudly said it had been driven 478 miles to get to the show.  Not quite as far as from Ottawa, but our car is also not five decades old!

We enjoyed our time at the Speedway and the Bloomington Gold show and the two days we spent there went very quickly.  Taking our leave of the Simply Corvettes group, it was time to continue our own Corvette voyage.