Sunday, April 30, 2017

A victim of fashion...and accessories! A Day at Zip Corvette, Mechanicsville, Virginia, September 28, 2015

The Book of Danger

"You say I'm a narcissist
I say I'm image conscious
I'm a victim of fashion
Fashion and accessories
Fashion, fashion and accessories"

                                           Rough Trade, "Fashion Victim," 1980

Shortly before buying our Corvette, I was warned by a Corvette owner that buying one of these cars would mean I would spend a lot of time discussing cleaning products with middle-aged men and that all my money would go towards buying accessories.  

This is turning out to be disturbingly true.  When I look at what I have in my bathroom cabinet as far as my person cleaning care--toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, deodorant, razor and shaving cream, hairbrush--and compare that to what is in my garage for the Corvette it is to laugh.  What does the Silver Bullet get?  How about this list:

car wash with carnauba;
clay bar;
paintwork cleansing lotion;
mist detail spray;
high-end paste wax;
waterless wash for road trips;
bug and tar remover;
windshield cleaner;
leather cleaner and conditioner;
carpet spray cleaner;
vinyl and rubber treatment;
tire cleaner;
rim cleaner;
tire shine;
all purpose cleaner (for engine detailing);
special purpose brushes for rims, engine;
2 large buckets, one with a grit guard;
and a large collection of microfibre towels.

Of course, some of these products were already in the garage.  The wax, which is amazing stuff, was bought in 1995 specifically for a black car and gives a marvellous shine and, delightfully, smells like fruit salad.  It comes from Pinnacle, which has expanded its line greatly as men throughout North America discovered a hidden fetish for cleaning their cars.  "Detailing" has become huge business but I do have to admit I have always enjoyed washing my cars.

But we are here to talk about accessories!

The headquarters of Zip Corvette, Mechanicsville, Virginia
When we went to Corvettes at Carlisle, we came home with a big pile of catalogs from eager suppliers wanting us to make our cars more than what they are.  Why should this be?

In my view, the Corvette is built to a price, with a focus on performance, meaning that you can get a high-performance car for a reasonable price.  The product of a huge corporation, the Corvette engineers have access to extensive parts bins to keep costs down.  The 6.2 litre V8 engine in my car is a variation on the engine you will find in the Silverado pick-up truck, one of the most popular vehicles made in North America.  What you will not get is top-quality leather, finely stitched, like in a Ferrari, or highly-refined components that, for example, you will find under the skin of a Porsche 911, such as the fasteners.  But to get the performance of a Corvette, the Porsche model will cost $50,000 more.

So this is where the huge after-market comes in.  Chevrolet did not spend to upgrade your Corvette but you can do it.  There is a huge range of products available for all generations of Corvettes, for restorers or "improvers" like me.  It began when I purchased a curb sensor for the front of the car and had it installed at a local radio shop.  Then at Carlisle I bought aluminum billet replacement radio knobs, a set of six chrome fluid cap covers, "Corvette" script for the bumper, and stainless rings for around the taillight lenses, where the lack of trim always bothered me.

By mail-order I had also purchased a 3-piece leather set, replacing the cheap vinyl shift boot and parking brake boot and padding the hard plastic console cover with cushioned leather.  I have since purchased a leather-wrapped shift knob and a pair of door armrests in the correct titanium interior colour.

Stopping off at Zip, where products would not only be sold to you but installed, meant we could really go to town.  Arriving early in the morning, we went through our list of pre-ordered parts and the car went into the garage for the work.  It took a few hours and Zip loaned us a minivan so that we could go off for a nice lunch.  So we really did go to town.

Here is what we had installed:

a colour-matched rear license plate frame;
a flip-down front license plate holder (purchase elsewhere);
side vent laser stainless mesh inserts;
rear exhaust stainless mesh panel;
A-pillar aluminum panel, colour-matched;
spoiler and door handles in body-colour;
stainless console insulation panel.

What we took home to install ourselves:
mirror chrome "Corvette" script for the dashboard;
very fancy Lloyd floor mats in grey with "Corvette" script and logo;
aluminum door button bezels;
sunvisor label covers (to hide the airbag instructions);
shoulder belt pads;
rear bumper protector;
stainless steel travel mugs;
perforated roof panel solarshade

Needless to say, this was not inexpensive but not only has personalized our car but has added to its comfort and utility.  The best things so far: the leather console cover, along with the other leather bits; the laser mesh inserts; and the A-pillar matching pieces.  The least useful: surprisingly, the bumper protector, which you roll out over the rear of the car when loading or unloading.  But I am sure there will be more things coming!

Fully-accessoried!  Visible here are the colour-matched door handles and spoiler, the mesh inserts in the side vents and around the exhaust, the matching license plate frame, bumper lettering, and the stainless rings around the taillights.  I also could not resist the stainless steel "Z51" badge (reflecting the sport package the car has) to liven up the side a bit; it is located where a "Z06" badge would be on those cars.  The only item I really had no choice but to buy was the rear Corvette insignia, which was oddly faded on an otherwise impeccable car.  I found an OEM part from a dealership which is far better than the cheap knock-offs that are also available.
The best floor mats I will ever buy, along with the dashboard script in mirror chrome, leather shift boot and knob, leather parking brake boot, leather console cover, selt belt pad and, just visible, aluminum billet radio knobs and door bezel.

The exciting stainless trim that should have been around the taillights from the factory!

My trick front license plate holder, which only comes into use when driving out of Ontario or parked at a car show.

Two Wheels Fast: UCI Road World Cycling Championships, Richmond, Virginia--September 26/27, 2015

It was time to saddle up the Corvette again for another epic trip.  For only the second time in its history the Union Cycliste International (UCI), the cycling sports world governing body, was to hold the World Road Championships in the United States and Richmond, Virginia had won the rights, in spite of some doubts by residents about the cost and inconvenience.  Essentially, the capital city of the state would have a week of significant road closures in the downtown area but, on the other hand, the whole world would be coming to watch.  Including some of us from Canada (where the UCI Worlds have been held twice as well).

It was a longish drive from Ottawa to where we would be staying with friends in Richmond, a drive of 1100 kms but no problem with the long-legged Kentucky supercar.  As part of a larger trip, we would be in Richmond for the Elite Women's race on Saturday, September 26 and then the Elite Men's race the next day.  I would have liked to see some of the time trialling (as someone who has done this kind of racing at a very amateur level) but it would have meant too much time away since those races were very early in the week.  But Greig Leach, the Official Artist of the event, was there and captured some of the action very nicely in his watercolours:

Greig Leach: "An Inspired Ride"
I have reviewed Greig's books at and we had the chance to chat with him in the Convention Center, which had been set up as Race HQ.  In addition to Greig, who works "live" on his paintings while the event takes place, there were vendors, press people and special events in the building.  Here is my review of Greig's book covering the Richmond races.

Vendors who were set up including the mega-manufacturers Trek and Specialized, along with a surprising appearance by Austro-Daimler, a name from the distant past revived.

Of particular interest to me was the Trek stand's special display of the track pursuit bike used by Jens Voigt to set a new Hour Record on September 18, 2017 at the track in Grenchen, Switzerland.  The UCI had finally tried to bring some order into the Hour Record, which after successful attacks on it using aero bikes the UCI  divided it into two categories, one for standard bikes and the other (lesser) version for aero bikes.  This meant that going after the record set by Eddy Merckx in 1972 would require using more or less the same bike as he did.  Chris Boardman was successful at this in 2000 and that record was beaten by Ondrej Sosenka in 2005 but the feeling was that the Hour Record, once considered the greatest feat in cycling, was not attracting much talent anymore.  The rules were modified in 2014 to allow the use of  a current UCI-approved track pursuit bike and Jens Voigt, on the verge of retirement, took at crack at being the first to set the "new record," which he did with 51.110 kms; neither Boardman nor Sosenka had broken 50 kms on their attempts.  Since then, the record has since been broken four times and currently stands at a remarkable 54.526 kms, set by Bradley Wiggins in June 2015.

Jens Voigt's Hour Record Bike

Definitely not Jens Voigt

Much of downtown Richmond was blocked off and we were able to find good positions to watch the women's race.  The forecast for the weekend had been for rain rain rain but we were delighted that it never happened.  The skies were overcast but there was no precipitation.  There was plenty of great racing, however.

The crowds were not overwhelming although, not unexpectedly, it was hard to get close to the finish line.  We did see the final big sprint, which ended with the UK's Lizzie Armistead taking the iconic rainbow jersey as the winner.

Sunday had a very different feeling as the Men's Elite race is one of the highlights of the racing season.  The crowds were very dense on this day and everyone was rewarded with a terrific race.  Peter Sagan of Slovakia, who had ridden a very strategic race, launched himself on one of the final climbs--I did not realize that a) Richmond has some very brutal short hills, and b) they are cobbled--and rode in at the head of the field in glorious splendour.  He not only threw his gloves and helmet into the enthusiastic crowd but waited at the finish line for other riders coming in.  It really was Party Central in Richmond, Virginia that weekend.

 In second position: the 2005 World Champion, Tom Boonen of Belgium

Andre Greipel of Germany, his work  in support of his team captain finished for the day, soft pedals to the finish.  Note the leg muscles it takes to be one of the best sprinters in the world!

 Fans from around the world were present.  Here are the Flemish ones from cycling-mad Belgium

Peter Sagan surges for the win...
In spite of the doubts, the Richmond Worlds were a success, certainly from a sporting standpoint as Peter Sagan's surging win was declared the most spectacular moment of the 2015 racing season. During the 10 days of the event, some 645,000 fans were present.  The organizers spent $23.5 million to hold the event, which would have been raised from sponsors; tt cost the City of Richmond itself around $5 million, not including street improvements and other expenses.  The overall economic impact to Richmond and the surrounding communities was estimated at $161 million.  Nice.

The southernmost part of our September trip completed, we took our leave of our friends and headed to our next stop: Mechanicsville, Virginia, where Corvette accessories were a-waiting! 

Friday, April 28, 2017

A Visit to Steamtown National Historic Site: August 30, 2015

After enjoying our time at Corvettes at Carlisle, it was time to return home but on the way we decided to stop at the Steamtown NHS, a National Park in Scranton, Pennsylvania, devoted to the history of the steam train and rail transportation in America.  It is located on a 62 acre site that was once occupied by the yards of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad (DL&W), which was established in 1853 and ran until 1960, when, after two decades of decline, it merged with the Erie Railroad.  The DL&W route ran from Buffalo, New York to Hoboken, New Jersey (640 kms) and was primarily a transporter of anthracite coal.

A curious series of events culminated in the opening of the Steamtown National Historic Site in 1995. A major part of the collection had been established by a wealthy seafood entrepreneur, Nelson Blount, who had amassed no fewer than 25 steam locomotives by 1964, when the bulk of the collection passed to a foundation, Steamtown USA.  Blount died in an airplane crash in 1967 and without his finances, the collection, which was used for scenic excursions in New Hampshire, sought state support and was moved to Vermont.  This did not work out well as the organization ran afoul of pollution regulations and federal safety standards.

Overview of the Steamtown National Historic Site
Recognizing the historical importance of the collection and Scranton's own links to railway history, the city agreed to subsidize the move of Steamtown USA's now-40 locomotives and 60 cars, as well as spending $13 million with a private developer to renovate the old neoclassical DL&W station, built in 1908, into a hotel (first managed by Hilton by now by Radisson).  The hoped-for 200,000-400,000 visitors to Scranton annually did not come to pass.  Steamtown USA had only 60,000 in its first year of operation in 1987 and was essentially bankrupt two years later.

At this point some political muscle was applied by the local Congressman, who arranged for an investigation into taking over Steamtown USA as a national park.  The National Park Service acquired Steamtown for $66 million in 1995 after considerable controversy.  It was seen as a pork-barrel project and lacking in historical importance.  The counter-argument, which I think bears some weight, is that the United States is sorely lacking in commemoration of its industrial heritage and Scranton offered a remarkable collection of  13 important buildings--all of them on the National Register of Historic Buildings-- on a single 40 acre site that was the DL&W yards.  In any event, the museum has not been a big attraction under government auspices either and there was even consideration in 2008 to privatizing it.

As we are enthusiasts for industrial history, we enjoyed the museum very much.  The outdoor displays are impressive.  Clearly the pick of the pack is the magnificent Union Pacific 4012 "Big Boy," one of the biggest locomotives ever built.  This model locomotive was only used in the West as it could not deal with the tight radius curves common in the Eastern US.  One of 25 built, the Steamtown locomotive was constructed in 1941 and hauled freight between Cheyenne, Wyoming and Ogden, Utah until retired in 1962.  Too big to fit in the DL&W roundhouse, the "Big Boy" nickname is quite appropriate given the locomotive's weight of 570,000 kg (1,250,000 lbs).  Eight of these monsters have survived.

Another handsome locomotive was the curious Reading 2124, which was originally built in one configuration in 1924 and then rebuilt in a completely different form, using the old boiler and firebox, in 1946 and was used to haul freight, primarily coal, until 1956.  It was subsequently used to pull excursion trains but has now been restored cosmetically and is the first thing visitors see when they pull into the parking lot.

In addition to the outside displays, there is much to see in the surviving parts of the DL&W's 1902 roundhouse, with displays about train travel, mail shipments, and railway architecture, such as roundhouses, bridges, tunnels and viaducts, including a big model of one built for the DL&W that was that largest concrete structure in the world in its time.

There were many interesting things to look at, including this fine caboose that belonged to the Rutland Railroad.  It was built in 1920 and used on the route between Ogdensburg, NY and Rutland, Vermont for many years and restored in 1995.

Not part of the Steamtown NHS, there is the Electric City Trolley Museum close by to give an idea of alternative transport.  This lovely 1932 trolley boasted a streamline shape meant to provide competition to automobiles and it operated for 50 years and has been restored to its original colours.

At the present, Steamtown NHS has no operating main-line locomotives but is conducting extensive maintenance.  One of the big issues with restoration is the prevalence of asbestos in the equipment.  Walking through the maintenance part of the museum, we see here CN 3254, built in 1917 in Kington, Ontario, to haul freight and retired in 1958; next is a small saddletank switching locomotive built in Wilkes-Barre, PA, in 1911 and used for switching work in the chemical and paper industries; and then the No. 3 locomotive built in 1927 in Schenectady, NY,  and used by the Lavino Steel Co. until 1949.

There are several Canadian National Railway locomotives in the collection, along with this 1923 Canadian Pacific 2317.  It was used for fast passenger trains and spend part of its working life based in Winnipeg.  It was a good design and the CPR bought 173 of them from the Montreal Locomotive Works but only two survive today.  One of the criticisms levelled against Steamtown NHS was the inclusion of this "foreign" stock and that the collection is heavily biased towards the end of the steam epoch, with many of the locomotives dating from the 1930s and 1940s.

Travelling in a private railcar was the height of luxury.  Here is the Erie Railroad Business Car No. 3, built in 1929 and stationed in Jersey City, NJ, it was for the use of the Assistant Vice President and General Manager of the Erie's Eastern District.  The car contains two staterooms, two bedrooms, crew quarters, galley, dinner room and here is the observation end.

It is possible to actually go for a short train ride when you visit the museum but, sadly, this is operated using a diesel locomotive and considering there is basically nothing to look at on the brief trip it might be something for someone who has never actually ridden on a train before, an occurrence that is probably not unusual in the United States today.

Here is another saddleback switching engine by the Vulcan Iron Works.  Built in 1919, it was used in a quarry in Connecticut until 1959.

On this pleasant Sunday, which had seen a bit of rain, we had expected considerably more visitors to this interesting and significant site.  There are some regular events held here, including the flagship one "Railfest" but the museum attracts only about 85,000 visitors annually.  This is a shame as it offers real insight into America's past--even with a few Canadian locomotives!

Back into the Corvette and onto I-81 and bound northwards, we reached home in the early evening. Scranton is just over 520 kms from our place in Ottawa, a relaxed five hours on the road.  There is  not so much to see in the post-coal environs of Central Pennsylvania but Steamtown NHS would be worth going to see anywhere.

For more information, you can check out their website .

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Corvettes at Carlisle: August 28-29, 2015

It only took us 20 minutes to drive from the Rolls-Royce Foundation Museum in Mechanicsburg to the Carlisle Fairgrounds but what a difference.  Not stately limos here: it was all-American muscle at the annual Corvettes at Carlisle show, this being the 33rd edition.  It claims to be the largest Corvette event of all and seeing something like 5,000 cars present makes me think it is no exaggeration.

The show in 2015 ran Friday-Sunday and an additional day has since been added and it was big enough already, in my view!  So, what was there to see?  Obviously Corvettes of all seven generations were present.  The National Corvette Restoration Society (NCRS) had taken over a building that was formerly a car dealership and had a number of top-level cars on display, going back to a red 1954 car.  The NCRS is famous for being very, very fussy over details of restorations and the goal is to have the cars as close to factory stock as possible.

The NCRS represents one end of the Corvette continuum; walking around the grounds (and the fairgrounds are very extensive!) you see plenty of Corvettes that have been modified to suit their owners' tastes, or, in some cases, strange whims.

Of course, for really stock cars the place to go was the elaborate Chevrolet tent, where a whole collection of current model Corvettes was ready to try on for size.

The LeMans GTLM class-winning Corvette C7R was present and a skeletal C7 as well.

The cutaway C7 was a nice counterpoint to another interesting car: the 1965 World's Fair Cutaway Corvette.

This car was in a building housing a number of other top-rated restorations and I was particularly taken with this red C1, which featured mirrors on the floor so you could see just how perfect the chassis restoration was.

It was fun to wander around and look at so many beautiful cars.  But they were not just beautiful: Corvettes at Carlisle offers many Corvette-related events, including maintenance lectures, autocross sessions, and in front of the main grandstand there was a burnout competition.  We watched as Lance Miller, one of the event organizers, brought his gorgeous C6 ZR1 out and made a whole lot of smoke.
The car is a one-year only colour, Carlisle Blue, and there was a special parking area for cars painted like this.  

Also at the burnout competition was this young lady in her Carlisle Blue car as well.

There is a big trade show element to Corvettes at Carlisle as all kinds of parts, new and used, and accessories are available.  I purchased a set of stainless steel engine covers, control knobs, lettering and taillight trim but there were elaborate workshops set up in the tents for people wanting to have new exhaust systems, headers or even more expensive things installed.  And don't forget all those cleaning products! 

Cleaning products!

Adding a noisier exhaust!

Lots of stainless steel here!  I liked the alternator cover so much I have gotten one too!

Useful things to have for every Corvette owner

Hoods 'R' Us

Famous custom car designer Chip Foose was present to sign autographs and a long line formed quickly when he arrived at the Magnaflow exhaust stand.

It was great fun if a bit overwhelming.  We caught up with fellow Corvetteers from our club in Ottawa, who had established themselves in a visible location (the club President had come with an RV) and there was lots of cold beer.  And here are some additional photos which should give some indication of just how big and varied Corvettes at Carlisle is.

Replica 1963 Corvette Grand Sport

Matching His and Hers Corvettes

Having spent half of Friday and all day Saturday at the event, we felt that we had pretty much seen and done everything we wanted to.  A Saturday highlight is a drive through downtown Carlisle en masse and 450 cars took part this year but as someone who prefers not to have to drive a manual transmission car in stop-and-go traffic I was satisfied to let this one pass.  But we did enjoy terrific weather, lots of great cars, and the chance to meet some interesting people--although I was somewhat saddened to have missed seeing the Ms. Carlisle bikini competition.

On Sunday we would get back on I-81 for the trip northwards, accompanied by a lot of other Corvettes.