Thursday, August 16, 2018

NASCAR in the South: Touring with the National Corvette Museum, May 7-14, 2017--Part One

The Old Mill of Guilford in Oak Ridge, North Carolina
With my last day of work on Friday, May 6, 2017, I left gainful employment after 35 years in the workforce and began the next phase of life On Saturday we departed southwards to join the National Corvette Museum's Museum in Motion tour, this one called "NASCAR in the South."  The museum has a full slate of trips around the United States and we thought that going to the Southern USA and getting Spring early was very attractive, although we knew pretty much nothing about NASCAR, having never been to a car race of any kind.

The tour was limited to 50 people/25 cars and we had been among the first to book, having paid by early January.  This turned out to be a good idea as the tour was sold out quickly.

We were to be based in Charlotte, North Carolina, for most of the tour but as Charlotte is too far from Ottawa for a single day's drive, we elected to stop at the historic George Washington Hotel in Winchester, Virginia for our first overnight stop.

Winchester sits at the northern end of the Shenandoah Valley and was first settled by Europeans around 1729, with the incorporation of Winchester itself (previously known as Frederick Town) in 1752.  George Washington was active here as a young surveyor and the city was the site of fierce fighting during the Civil War, changing hands numerous times.  Winchester was the birthplace (and burial spot) of noted country music star Patsy Cline.  It is the county seat of Frederick County and has around 27,000 residents.

The George Washington Hotel was built in 1924 and was strategically located near the Baltimore & Ohio railroad station.  It was a vital part of the city's downtown core and expanded in 1929, to a total of 150 rooms, and hosted celebrated guests, including Lucille Ball and Jack Dempsey.  But the decline of passenger rail travel and the increase of personal travel on the Interstates (although it should be noted that I-81 passes directly by the city) resulted in closure of the hotel in 1978.  It was converted to a senior citizens' residence and used in this capacity until 1993, after which time it was vacant until 2004.  That must have been pretty depressing, having a very large and elegant building in the center of your town empty for eleven years, a constant reminder of better days.  Of course, there was a happy ending as the building was purchased and renovated over four years to become a fine hotel once again, reopening in 2008.

We enjoyed our very comfortable room after the long drive but downtown Winchester was very quiet so rather than drive to the junk food strip along I-81 for dinner we enjoyed a modest meal in the pub/restaurant at the the hotel.

The next morning, which was surprisingly cold, I walked around Old Town Winchester, which was empty although it had a nice pedestrian zone.  There was some good solid architecture, such as the Masonic Hall, and novelties like the Snow White Grill, a tiny restaurant that opened in 1949 and is the last survivor of a small chain of places selling mini-hamburgers.  The one-time Taylor Hotel, built in 1847, is a fine classical building that was used as a hospital during the Civil War.  The handsome B&O station, built in 1892, is still standing as well.

the Taylor Hotel

B&O Station

Departing Winchester on Saturday morning, we travelled south through Virginia and into North Carolina, following some smaller highways and state roads until we arrived, around 5 hours later, in Oak Ridge, North Caroline. We done come to buy us some grits!

Oak Ridge is the home of the Old Guilford Mill, a grist mill first constructed on Beaver Creek in 1767, and subsequently moved downstream to its current location in 1818.  It is one of the oldest operating mills in the United States.  The 24 foot water wheel was added in the 1950s and does not actually power the mill.  There was a nice selection of stone-ground products, including unbleached wheat flour, cornmeal and grits and we even picked up some hush puppy mix.

Taking our leave of the ladies at the mill, we continued south and ninety minutes later we arrived at our destination, Concord, North Carolina, which is basically a continuation of sprawling Charlotte.  For the remainder of the trip we would be based at the Holiday Inn Express, which was conveniently located next to the Interstate and offered the usual shopping/restaurant choices.

Seeing all the Corvettes parked at the hotel meant we were in the right place!  There was an introductory pizza party where everyone said where they were from and if they had been on an NCM tour before.  People came from all over the United States, from as far away as California, Texas and Minnesota, so coming from Canada as we did was not the longest stretch by far.  Everyone laughed when I said that I had been retired for two days: I am sure that pretty much all the participants were retirees, and some of them for a long time!

2016 Z06 C7.R Edition with additional markings to look like one of the Corvette Racing C7.R GTLM racing cars.  This is one of 500 cars built in this edition.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Autorama Car Show, Ottawa, Ontario--April 29, 2017

As in years past, the Capital Corvette Club was offered a display spot at the Autorama Car Show, held at the E&Y Centre near the airport in Ottawa.  Volunteers to man the stand were requested and so I headed down to see an indoor car show devoted to hot rods, muscle cars and even some Corvettes.  It was April and I had just taken our Corvette out of storage; the roads in Ottawa were cleaned up enough that the short drive caused no anxiety.

First stop was the Capital Corvette Club's big display, showing cars of the generations from C2 to C7.  In past years the club had been given a popularity award as people actually were able to sit in our cars!

In addition to our cars, there were other Corvettes on display, including a very nice pair of C2s, one, a 1967 silver car, which was restored to original while the other, a red 1965 Coupe, had been extensively modified with more up to date components.  The shop that had done the work had some other cars on display, including a gorgeous red Dodge Coronet GTX.  I think that a lot of the Chrysler products of the late 1960s and early 1970s were very fine designs.

Corvettes seem to be welcome at all car events and in addition to our club's cars and the restored mid-year cars, there were a couple of other of the plastic wonders present.

Other car clubs were represented, such as one-make groups like the Acura NSX followers, but also general social clubs for any type of special interest car, such as the Summer Knight Cruisers Car Club of Ottawa.  This group had a surprisingly eclectic range of cars, from customized American Muscle to VW vans to one really, well, pedestrian car.  The owner was very nice and was quite excited about his recently-purchased low-mileage c. 1981 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Sedan, showing me all its highlights.  I am not one to disrespect the object of other car enthusiasts' affections--and I think the 1968-1972 3rd Generation Cutlass coupes of my childhood were very cool--but this was one seriously dull car.  But I have seen worse--such as a pale blue K-Car at a show.  That model may have saved Chrysler for a while but seldom has such a car been so quickly forgotten.

There were some other boring cars as well but they had been livened up with air suspensions, so beloved of the "low rider" set in Los Angeles:

Not dull in the least and requiring no improvement was a superb 1965 Shelby Mustang GT350, one of only 562 built.  Actually, it did need some improvement as it was converted to a race car in 1966 and then totally wrecked in a vintage race in 1975.  The current owner restored the car to its original configuration, taking 3,500 hours to do so between 1976 and completion in 1992.  Impressively, the car, which is very valuable, is not trailered but driven to events.

Even signed by Carroll Shelby himself!
Shelby was famous for the Cobra sports car and a replica was present at Autorama.

Another American icon that a lot of time and money had been spent on was this 1981 Camaro, equipped with a GM crate ZZ572 engine producing 620 hp.

The show was open to all and while it was clear that North American cars and trucks were predominant, there were some nice examples of cars from the other side of the Pacific:

A flock of Acura NSXes was present, none looking much like they came from the factory

Nissan 370Z (foreground) and other Japanese cars

Highly modified Nissan  370Z
The other section of the E&Y Centre housed the most over-the-top automotive creations imaginable.  Not being connected much with the car enthusiast world until buying the Corvette in 2015, I had forgotten about the strange world of show cars.  Not hot rods, which are meant to be driven, but rather cars that are so artistically finished that they live in dust-free trailers and only appear indoors at car shows like this, often with their wheels off and surrounded by mirrors.  The attention to detail, the paint, the chrome--each is a huge investment of money, time and skill.  There is a circuit of shows for these vehicles and while I admire the workmanship that goes into them (if not always the aesthetic) it is not something I would ever pursue.

There were two-show stoppers on display.  The first, with a huge area to itself, was the VooDoo Sahara, a ferociously customized 1954 Kaiser Manhattan built from 2014 to 2016 by VooDoo Larry of Schaumburg, Illinois.  The car was constructed as a tribute to a customized 1953 Lincoln, the Golden Sahara, that was created by George Barris in 1954, and which became one of the most famous custom cars of the 1950s.  The original car, which had been further modified to become the Golden Sahara II, disappeared in the early 1960s.  Its owner had put it into storage and following his death in 2017, that car reappeared and was auctioned in 2018.

The Golden Sahara, with its built-in television set and tape recorder, gold-plated trim, and cocktail bar with refrigeration unit, looks kind of insane today but one could imagine that it is the kind of thing that would have made the front cover of "Popular Mechanics" in the mid-1950s as an expression of how cars of the future would look.  The VooDoo Sahara, which includes styling elements from both iterations of the original car, reflects the era's tastes--even if it looks to be undriveable!

In good car customizing tradition, what began as a 1954 Kaiser Manhattan received a hand-made custom body, 1960 Corvair headlights and 1958 Mercury taillights, a windshield from a 1955 Chevrolet and 1935 Ford headlight buckets were turned into the "Dagmars," the bullet-shaped forms at the front of the car.  It is powered by a 1969 Chevy small block V8.  The 1954 Kaiser frame is augmented by a 1980 Camaro sub-frame and a 1977 Chevrolet Nova rear end.

Near the VooDoo Sahara was the most overwrought car I have ever seen: the Sun King, a 1951 Chevrolet Bel Air.  This car has been pained, chromed and engraved to the ultimate degree.  Apparently it is driveable but I can't imagine how many hours you would need to polish it after even a short trip!  The entire car was positioned above mirrors so you could see that underneath it was as painted, chromed and engraved as above.

More to my liking was a beautiful 1932 Ford 3 Window Coupe.  Painted dark green and named "Emerald Illusion," I had actually seen this car, owned by a couple in Laval, Quebec, on the road, or at least outside on the street at the Hawkesbury show.  A classic hot rod, it is powered by a 350 cu in Edelbrock Chevrolet small block putting out 410 hp.

"Celeste" was the name given to a nicely modified 1955 Ford Thunderbird, now powered by a 2010 Mustang V8 engine and boasting a fine leather interior, with burl walnut trim.  The car uses a reworked 1936 Oldsmobile gauge cluster!

A more recent example of a Ford was this 2014 Mustang, "Prototype," with its 22 inch custom wheels and extensive body kit.  It has a Paxton supercharger on the engine, which is capable of 700 hp.  No surprise that the stereo is 2000W--it probably needs to be with all that sound.

Customized 1973 Dodge Challenger

1957 Ford Gasser, of a type popular in the period for drag racing.  This example's engine produces 572 hp @ 6000 rpm.

Customized pickup trucks are gaining popularity
A real novelty was this 1953 Studebaker Land Speed Record car, powered by a 1957 Chrysler 392. During the Bonneville Speed Week in 2016, the car reached 220.696 mph, or over 355 km/h.  Unlike the fancy signs used to show off the other cars, this Studie just got a scrawled piece of poster board, perhaps keeping in the homebuilt spirit of Bonneville.

Another novelty was a customized van, the sort of thing I recall from my high school era but lasting not much beyond that.  "Sharky" is a full-size 1980 Ford Econoline boasting gull-wing doors, 4 oak bars for the party-hearties, a 5" television, a refrigerator, a velour interior, murals, a high-powered sound system, and a water bed.

1950 Mercury Pickup Truck

Rat rods were present.  This crazy thing above is the Getty Maddmerc, based on a Canadian-market 1950 Mercury pickup truck.  It uses what is basically Dodge Viper running gear, with an engine producing 505 hp and a six-speed manual transmission.  The bed is covered with Canadian pennies (no longer used as legal tender in this country) and the fuel filler is hidden in the Coca-Cola cooler.  A regular at Ottawa events, the truck was built in under a year to be a featured vehicle at the 2016 SEMA show in Las Vegas.

How about a rat rod pickup ideal for Canadian winters?

Then there was the garden-variety rat rod, looking a bit prosaic compared to the others.

Pre-World War 2 cars, the original inspiration for hot rods, were not forgotten. A car we have seen on several occasions was this excellent 1932 Chevrolet Master Coupe Pro Touring, rocking a big Chevrolet LS engine and a fine custom interior.  This is another car that the owners are proud to drive rather than trailer.

1940 Chevrolet Coupe

1939 Chevrolet Business Coupe
1932 Ford (Yes, a Little Deuce Roadster, known as the T-Bird Deuce)
An unusual car was this 1932 Ford that had been hot-rodded in 1955 but, as seems to be the case, the builder thought more power would be nice and installed a new Thunderbird crate engine.  Since then the T-Bird Deuce has had 24 owners--all of whom have been identified!  The 7th owner, John Willoughby, bought the car in 1962 and sold it two years later.  In 2011, he tracked down and repurchased his old car, 47 years afterwards.  A website gives the background to the car and all the changes it has had since being hotrodded.

The hot rod industry seems to be flourishing as in addition to these highly modified original cars, there was a gorgeous 1934 Ford Cabriolet.  "Rubber Ducky," a good name considering its colour ("Ford Screaming Yellow"), is basically a new car.  It has a fiberglass body, a custom chassis and a V8 engine far more powerful at 436 hp than Grandpa could have imagined (plus 60 hp more from a shot of nitrous oxide!), along with disc brakes.  But it still has suicide doors and a rumble seat.  The owner was taking the opportunity to photograph his Significant Other at the show alongside the car.

And the Old Ford Club was present with a nice Model T station hack, the owner of which was most enthusiastic about the virtues of the Model T and the Model A.

These were the highlights of Autorama 2017 to me and I enjoyed seeing the custom cars and chatting with the owners.  It was a fun way to spend the day (although I noticed that the attendance was not overwhelming) but I was happy to go outside into the excellent Spring weather and get into my own very fine, non-trailered special interest car for the drive home.