On July 24th, my 2016 Camaro SS was totaled. It took a while for the dust to settle but I received a much larger insurance settlement than expected. And I walked away from the accident without a scratch, that is the most important thing. By the end of August, after the note was paid off, I netted a tidy sum to do something with, possibly something smart even. Having gotten my high school graduate off to university and with a busy work life, I put another fun car out of my mind for the time being. Maybe I was tired of the expense and storing it in the winter months. Maybe the idea had run its course.
But the Corvette has always caught my eye. Not everyone likes them or their image, but I think all of them, all generations, all years, are cool. How many products have a 66-year uninterrupted legacy, much less an automobile? And an American car, no less, with our fickle tastes. And I happen to be a Detroit guy who grew up a mile from the General Motors Warren Technical Center.
When I was a kid, it was the split window 63 that I wanted. Then the late C-3s. Then in high school, the new C-4. My brother Phil has a yellow Malaise Era 1975 L48 with 165hp, the lowest horsepower year ever. He got it when I was 14, a rebuilt wreck he fixed himself. Most modern minivans are faster than this car, but it was, and still is…cool. A dream…always.
But always a dream that did not seem would be attainable at any point in my life. When I was shopping for the Camaro in 2017, C-7’s were out of my budget, and the C-6’s did not represent a good value for the asking price. But with a large down payment and maybe with C-8’s coming out, it seemed like the C-7’s were now within reach. They were getting more …well, affordable isn’t the right word, but more reasonable.
In my search, what pushed me over the edge was an evening in October. I had dinner with my sister, brother and cousin…seven, ten and eleven years older than me. Great to see cousin Ted, always a gentleman. My two local siblings and I talk often, no drama, and always get along. The first 45 minutes of this long-standing evening engagement was taken up by talking about the dead, the dying, the sick, medications and various health issues some of us had, or would likely have.
All this was a major downer, and made me reflect: I only have a limited time in this mortal coil. When am I going to do some of the things I’ve always wanted to do? When I’m 79? If I live that long? With cash in hand, I decided to strike while the iron was hot, without taking away from more important financial considerations. In a year, six months, the window might well slam shut. Forever. I could swing it, now. Mrs. C was on board; I absolutely wouldn’t have done it if she wasn’t. I was encouraged by my sister in law, owner of a mid-year Corvette and project 1964 GTO.
I became fixated on a red one with red interior and a manual. Nothing else would do. Something about the red interior, Ferrari-ish. I wanted one with as few miles as possible. I thought I had to have one with the Z-51 package. Some Corvette people I know felt I had to have the Z-51, which has handling upgrades, and a small horsepower bump and other power train bits my pea-sized brain couldn’t fathom the benefits of, in engineering terms. I decided in the end I would never make use of those capabilities, not even close. I’m the guy with the right turn signal on for 30 miles on the interstate, after all. I don’t want to track it. I just want to drive it.
I found my dream Corvette down in Ocala, FL at a Toyota dealership. This process took some time. So inquiries were made, then guilt would set in, and I’d back off. About 3 weeks passed and it must have been meant to be, as it kept showing up for sale. It had 6400 miles on it and checked off all the boxes. They shaved a whopping $400.00 off the price for me, and I took it hook, line and sinker. They must of thought: SUCKER! The sales process was fairly smooth other than I had to have 15 documents notarized and sent back to Florida. Fun fact: many UPS stores have Notary services for $10 a stamp, but they were open to a quantity discount.
The pickup and delivery had more drama than I cared for. I was told the car would arrive on a Thursday between 12 and 2PM. On Thursday morning, I called the driver and he was 5 hours northeast of here, and he had no idea he was supposed to be in the Detroit area at that time slot. I was getting on a plane at 9AM the next morning so I told him he was welcome to delay the drop until three days hence. That wouldn’t work for him, and I truly felt bad for the trucker at that point. He had 500-600 miles to go in 11 hours, plus drop off’s and pick ups of other cars along the way. A lot of miles to cover.
We ended up meeting in a snowy parking lot at 6AM. It was 25 degrees. Great Corvette weather. We had a very early November 12” snowfall this year. A buddy, Chris, a certified mechanic, Mustang owner and insufferable early riser, agreed to meet me to look it over and he was there before me, all giddy. I chose him because he is very particular and refused delivery of his last Mustang for paint flaws. And there he was, in the dark, giving it the once over with his flashlight. He gave it his thumbs up. The driver went back in his cab for a few more hours of sleep. And I drove off, put the car in the garage and went to the airport. The car looked and felt…Flawless!
And here is where the stupid is as stupid does thing comes in. I’m an equal (and sometimes unequal) measure risk averse and crazy impulsive. I’ve, ahem, ridden in a C-7 once for about 10 minutes three years ago, but never drove one. Brother Phil is always a bit stingy with the keys to his cars. I think I might have driven his Corvette. Once? Come to think of it maybe not? I did briefly drive a friend’s ’71 Corvette convertible, a long time ago. And I drove a C-5 (2002?) way back. But that’s it. Gulp. Was it the ideal of the Corvette that I was really after? I read Tom Halter’s article on his afternoon with a C-7 in California a few months back and took it to heart.
What the hell was I thinking? What if I’ve made a terrible mistake? Was this a lemon? Never meet your heroes, remember? Buyer’s remorse and pangs of self loathing set in; how self-centered and…stupid am I to have such an indulgence? And how stupid to get a Corvette only to have to immediately store it for six months?
So a few nights later the next week, I finally was able to drive it. It’s…fabulous. And a totally different driver than the Camaro. It’s quieter, more refined, more comfortable, and a has a better ride. As GM’s halo vehicle, there are a lot of clever features here. The interior is miles ahead of any previous generation. But the cheap police hit hard too on the base trim LT-1. It had few option boxes checked, which means no navigation system, heated or cooled seats, and no heads-up display, all things which my Camaro had. And the alloy wheels, although not out-and-out dreadful, look a tad dated and low rent. But all in all, I think GM got a lot right on this car.
I would not say it’s light years faster than the Camaro, but it seems have a more usable power band. The shifter feels great and it feels extremely balanced. And oh brother, does it have a hammer. With it cooling here in Michigan, the summer tires are almost dangerously slippery, so I have not flung it around. I drove it 100 miles to the Lansing area last weekend, where it is now snug inside a pole barn until probably mid to late April. The drive was great and I could see it being a great road trip car, and hopefully a car we will enjoy for years to come.
I’ve had some pretty crappy days of late in my working life; a series of endless dumpster fires on projects to put out, some of which we didn’t even cause. It’s been a grind, with no end in sight. Holidays are the busiest time of the year for me, and it brings out the worst in people. I’ve going to leave about a week of vacation on the table. By all measures, I’m a lucky guy and I’ve accepted that I have to make some sacrifice; it’s part of the gig. In the midst of exasperation though, I stop and say to myself: I have a Corvette…and if only for a moment or two, it makes me smile.