I took the SCM 1963 Corvette split-window out for a spin last week, a shake-down for this year's running of the Monte Shelton Northwest Classic Rally.
I stopped to pick up my good friend Steve Sargent, who, although not a full-bore car guy, does drive a four-cylinder BMW Z3 convertible in addition to the practical Volvo and Subaru wagons his family of five requires.
He slid into the 'Vette, noting the "safety by Gillette" protruding lip over the glovebox and the nearly useless lap belts. I revved the car to 3,000 rpm and dropped the clutch, leaving twin bad-boy strips of rubber in front of his house, and no doubt being a less-than-ideal adult role model for his 18-year-old son Josh.
I was in the mood to demonstrate to Sargent just what makes these old muscle cars so desirable: the raw power, the primitive directness of the steering and the brakes, and the visceral sensations they offer as they gather speed.
Everything was working just fine until the throttle linkage fell off.
As I searched under the hood for the missing nut and washer that secure the throttle rod to the carburetor, Sargent asked me again to explain just how special these cars were. "Is being stopped on the side of the road with the hood up, burning your hands as you try to find pieces that have fallen off the car part of the fun?" he asked churlishly.
I replied that parts-shedding was just what old cars did, kind of like the way trees lose their leaves in the fall. And that if he didn't behave himself, I'd send him back to his little limp-wristed Z3 with its thimble-sized pistons. After all, it takes a real man to be able to walk up and down the street looking for a tiny washer amidst all the detritus.
Schooled by years of searching for similarly cast-off parts on the side of the road, I found the washer quickly. Sargent got some bailing wire from his basement and we fabricated a temporary fix to the linkage, which got us to a nearby hardware store. A few minutes later we had a Nylock 10/32 nut in hand, installed it, and were back on the road.
Far better to have had this happen before the rally began than to be stranded 200 miles from anywhere. We vintage car fanatics always say things like that. We don't say, "Oh, this car will never let me down." Rather, we are grateful when the inevitable breakdown is accompanied by the golden parachute of good weather and convenient location.
STING RAY ON THE ROAD
After nearly a year and several thousands of miles behind the wheel of the Corvette, it just gets better and better. SCMer Dave Stewart and I bought the car together from the Chevy Store here in Portland, OR, and spent the first few months getting the engine and suspension-especially the rear-sorted out. While the car had had a decent cosmetic restoration to a #2 standard some time ago, it had simply not been used enough to bring all the systems up to an acceptable level for regular driving.
I was at a breakfast in Portland with GM vice chairman Bob Lutz a few weeks ago, and showed him the car. He remarked that it was "just like the show car, Sebring Silver with a black interior, and spinner wheel covers." A few days later, I got this e-mail from him: "I still remember where I was and what I was doing when I saw the first published pictures of the Sting Ray. It almost single-handedly caused me to want to work for GM, which, nine months later, I did!"
With a 327/325 engine, the car is well-balanced and handles acceptably, although the independent rear has its moments of uncertainty. The drum brakes work well enough; current-day wimps who whine about the inadequacies of drums should grow up and realize that vintage cars are vintage cars. Drum brakes worked well for over 50 years, you just have to adjust your driving techniques to accommodate them.
I'm looking forward to the 600-mile Shelton rally, and if a car could dream, I imagine the 'Vette is as well. It will have the long, empty roads of the Oregon high desert as its own for three days, in search of adventure.
FIATS, THINGS, SAABS AND PACERS
The saga of the SCM Fiat 2100 sedan will resume next issue. Currently in the keeping of Dick Messer at the Petersen Museum in L.A., it is scheduled to be driven to Monterey by AutoWeek's Mark Vaughn and Fiat enthusiast Martin Swig. "I was looking for a vintage car to drive during the historic weekend," said Vaughn. "Messer suggested the Fiat, and since it's been driven all the way from Ohio, I assume by now it's pretty reliable and there's not much that can go wrong."
"Dream on," was our advice to him. Be sure your cell phone is charged and you've got the Fiat's Hagerty Protection Network towing service membership card in the glovebox.
It's housecleaning time at the SCM garage, so our fabled-or near-fabled anyway-VW Thing and two-stroke Saab 96 have to go. We'll be putting both on eBay in the next few weeks. We've got a few cars in mind to replace them with, ranging from a nice round-taillight BMW 2002 to a decent Ferrari Daytona. If you've got a line on either, please e-mail me, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The SCM Pacer has gone to a new home, or at least to a temporary holding pen. As we wrote a couple of months back, we found the 1977 wagon at a garage sale outside Tacoma, WA, in surprisingly good condition, and snapped it up for $1,400. The bidding on eBay was spirited, and we got more than a few e-mails from Pacer fanatics who had a lot to say but no money to spend. A common thread in their communications was that the Pacer was a great car that was simply misunderstood and ahead of its time, the Honda Element of its era. Our response was that both when new and today, 30 years later, it's the only car you look good in wearing a clown suit.
After 26 bids, the car sold for $2,750 to SCMer Doug Kelsay of Texas. He has stored the car with a friend in nearby Newberg, OR, and plans to fly up and drive it home. We hope he enjoys driving the car as much as we did, and has a fake red nose to wear along the way.