Friday, December 25, 2015

Taillight Mods

I got some Christmas presents yesterday that were upgrades for the Corvette. The first one is some kick panel pieces that are made out of polymer that protect the lower forward portion of the door panels. This area is titanium grey and is difficult not to hit with your shoes when exiting the car. The new pieces snap into place and require no modification to install.

The second item was replacement LEDs for the trunk lights in each corner of the hatch area along with some additional LED lights that mount under the hatch lip around the opening. Again no modifications needed to install.

The last item was something I have been looking at for some time. The taillights on the Corvette were tinted when I bought the car, whomever did it actually did a very good job. They are coated with some sort of translucent tint which gives them a black look but if you look at them up close you can see the red taillights. Tinted taillights are very controversial, I can only speak for my own experience of having them on the car for over 7 years, and putting over 40k miles on it during that time. Tinted or not I was looking at a way to add to the taillights, LEDs were one option but LED does not necessarily mean brighter and making the taillights brighter may only make it look like the brake lights are on. My solution was Orion SMD halo rings, the cost ($75.00 a ring) was what kept me only looking at them for the last few years. Two weeks ago I found them at a much reduced price so I bought a "kit" for my Corvette.

The kit consisted of no instructions for anything other than a generic wiring diagram basically explaining that LED's are polarity sensitive, who would have known!

The taillights on the Corvette are chemically bonded together so the only way to open them up is to cut them. For this I used a 1" dremel cutoff wheel with an arbor adapter that allowed me to use my pneumatic high speed. Once I had the first one open I noticed the taillights aren't actually round they have a slight oval to them.

The rings had 3M tape attached to them but there was nothing to attach the rings too. Instead I added a dab of 3M taillight repair adhesive the same thing I used to put the taillights back together.

The picture below is with the rings installed in the two left taillights. These are just taillights and independent of the brake light which is bright enough make the rings look like they shut off when the brake lights are on.

The last shot is of all four lights finished along with the new LED license plate lights I installed,

The camera on my iPhone really does not do them justice the difference is fairly dramatic.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve

Yesterday reached a record high for this area of 64 degrees. Because it has been so warm here the last few days a good friend of mine contacted me to let me know he was going to do some shooting today. He has a nice 100 yard range in his back yard and lives just a couple miles from me, I haven't shot my pistol in a while so I grabbed Matty and we headed over this afternoon.

After we shot pistols for a while some other people stopped by with rifles and we set up a shooting bench at 50 yards. My friend had purchased some rimfire sensitive Tannerite that came with containers that look like the ones you would keep ear plugs in. These containers are just over one inch in diameter and put out a good boom. The video below is Matty shooting a Mossberg AR 22 at one of the reactive targets, its the yellow dot just to the right of center on the backstop.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Vacation - Chattanooga

Tania and I have been discussing vacation options, I was looking at a driving trip up the Atlantic coast visiting Civil War sites and ending in Washington DC. This is still a trip I want to do, but we chose to do a shorter trip for now. Since I hadn't been looking at anything else I basically did an "eeny, meeny, miny, moe" and landed on Chattanooga. Twenty minutes on the net showed there was some interesting local activities and knowing we would pass through Bowling Green, I ordered some tickets to tour the GM assembly plant.

Our first stop was the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, I have driven by it many times but have never stopped to see it. The museum has many beautiful cars on display some in diorama type settings and some of the concept cars were neat to see, but the thing I really wanted to see was the sink hole display. I'm not going to write about it or post pictures, its documented all over the net and there are much better pictures than the ones I took. If your interested further you can read about it here. I will say though it was cool to see the "Blue Devil" in person.

The surprise winner here though was the Corvette Assembly Plant, unfortunately they did not allow photography inside. I've never been in an auto plant before and was surprised how close we could get to the actual assembly line at times we were 5-10 feet away. We didn't get to see was the paint shop due to contamination concerns. The frame assembly area is highly automated so we could only see it from a distance and the engine assembly area is behind glass which we just walked by. The base coupe engines are not assembled on site, only the LS7 for the Z28 Camaros and the LT4 for the new Z06, for only $6,000.00 on top of the cost of a new Z06 you can build your own engine there. The plant had an overall dingy look, not what I expected.

After the tour we were on the road and had some good mexican food just outside of Chattanooga that night.

The next morning we went to the Tennessee Aquarium just off the Tennessee River in downtown Chattanooga.

This is a shot from the tropical building of the Tennessee River, with the fresh water building just entering the picture on the left. (I was actually just checking on my car).

When it opened 20+ years ago they claimed it was the largest fresh water aquarium in the world. The whole fresh water thing did little for me as the fish are generally dark muddy colors unlike tropical salt water fish. Fortunately they have another building that is tropical salt water themed. The thing I enjoyed the most was actually in the fresh water building a exhibit called "Rivers of the World". They had displays or large tanks from Amazon, Congo, Volga and Fly Rivers as well as from tropical African and Eurasian waters. Not just fish but plants, frogs, salamanders or anything aquatic, it was very interesting.

Next we headed to Ruby Falls on Lookout Mountain just a few miles from the aquarium. Ruby Falls is a 145 foot waterfall in a cave 1200 feet under the mountain. Apparently in the early 1900s a railroad tunnel being built intersected the entrance to Lookout Mountain cave blocking it from public access. In the late 1920s an elevator shaft was drilled to regain public access to the cave. During the course of drilling the shaft another cave was found and within it the underground waterfall.

This is a picture of the "castle" built from the limestone removed for the elevator shaft and now the entrance to the cave.

After a very quick ride in an small elevator (much like you would ride in any office building) that holds around 12 people. It was about a .5 mile walk through the cave to the falls. The cave itself had much the same look as any other wet cave. The falls themselves were very impressive and during our time at them they turned off all the lights and had a music and light show to showcase the falls. Overall it was a nice stop and well maintained attraction.

After leaving the falls we took the top off the Corvette and drove around Lookout Mountain for a few hours enjoying a beautiful day that we ended with a ride on the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway.
This is a one mile railroad that was built to service a luxury hotel resort in the late 1880s, at its steepest point it reaches an incline of 72.7%. At the top are the electric motors that pull the cars up the side of Lookout Mountain. Leaving the upper station puts you within walking distance of many Civil War sites related to the Chickamauga Campaign.

 This picture was taken from the upper station right before we entered the car, the lower station can be seen in the upper left of the picture.

We left on the last train down and finished out the day with some very good Thia food just across the street from the aquarium.

The following morning we decided we had seen what we wanted to in Chattanooga and headed towards home with one planned detour to Lynchburg Tennessee.

Tania doesn't care much for whiskey but on the rare occasions I do drink, I drink Jack Daniels and being Lynchburg wasn't that far out of the way I wanted to take the plant tour. When we entered Lynchburg the first thing we came to was the Jack Daniels facility, we easily found a parking spot and walked inside. The lobby was very impressive with a lot of historical items and displays to look at while we waited for the next tour. After a short wait our tour started with us riding a bus to one of the nearby barrel houses, where the whiskey is aged. We were not allowed inside the barrel house but they did let us go up and look through the windows. I didn't have an opportunity to take a picture of one even though they were literally all over the countryside hills. The picture I have below is from someone that was more motivated to get a shot of them than I was. Needless to say they are massive and placed randomly all over the place.

After seeing the barrel house the bus took us back to the back side of the facility where the walking tour started.

Outside were shops where these stacks of wood are burned to create the charcoal for the filtration process.

This REO Speedwagon was one of two historic fire trucks they had on display.

This is the mountain spring that supplies the water used for the facility, the water literally runs up to and along side of the buildings. Apparently this spring was why this location was chosen generations ago.

Our next stop was a small building that was the original administrative building in the 1800s, They were in the process of doing some upgrades to the stills so we did not get to see that area of the plant.

This was a room showing everyone that has bought a barrel of Jack Daniels with the display in the center showing how many fifths are in a barrel. A barrel is between 240-250 fifths depending on evaporation (angel's take) during ageing and costs between 10 and 12k dollars depending on the angel's take and taxes. You can buy a barrel through some major retailers but if you buy it at the plant they bring in three barrels based on your tastes and you choose from them. They fly a flag with your name on it and put up a plaque in this room. The people / companies that have bought more than one barrel get stars added to the plaque and when they run out of room for stars they add colored ones to indicate I believe 5 barrels purchased.

If you look closely you can see plaques with multiple stars on them.

Not a good picture but this is the original barrel house just outside of the bottling area.

The tour ended with us in a nicely finished, large room to sip some of the various whiskeys they produce. As I indicated earlier Tania does not care for whiskey so I was forced to taste test hers too!

During the tasting our guide recommended we visit the "Business District" of Lynchburg, so that's where we headed next. It wasn't terribly difficult to find, turn left at the only stoplight for miles. The business district consisted of a court house in the city center with shops in a circle around it. It made the city circle on the Dukes of Hazzard look massive. Luckily we found a parking spot right away and walked through all the shops that basically all sold the same thing that said Jack Daniels on it. We had some excellent barbecue pizza for lunch and our last stop was in the "Official Jack Daniels Store" which was in the past the general store / pharmacy the family used during the times the plant had been legislated closed. They had some very unique items including reasonably priced furniture (porch swings, bar stools etc.) made from old whiskey barrels, none of which would fit in the back of a Corvette.

After leaving the :"Business District" we filled up with gas and and headed home, finishing a short and very enjoyable vacation.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

HPDE at Putnam Park Road Course (followup)

I had time today to tear into the Corvette and look at some of the issues I had last weekend.

First on the agenda was to clean up the car, it had rubber marks all over it along with rubber behind the wheel wells. I put the car up on jack stands and removed the wheels because I needed to look at the front end and brakes anyway and its easier to wash the wheel barrels when they are removed.

When I removed the tires, I noticed the buildup of rubber on them. This could have been the cause of the push, its also a lot of buildup still on them after driving the car all week putting almost 200 miles on it since the track.

There was also still a ton of brake dust inside the wheel barrels, I wash these weekly on or off the car.

Looking a bit further I found the passenger side forward sway bar bushing had migrated out of the mount making the forward sway bar ineffective causing the push. The mount bolts were torqued properly and I cannot find any history on the net of this ever happening so the only conclusion I can make is I installed it incorrectly possibly not getting it set in the groves of the subframe and bracket.

You can see the bushing still on the bar in the lower center of the picture.

As for the spongy brakes I was able to figure a lot of that out before I left the track. Apparently bleeding my brakes a month before the track day was a bad thing to do, I should have bled them the day before. I wont go into a ton of details but basically brake fluid is very hygroscopic, the water it absorbs when heated turns to steam, steam compresses and you get spongy brakes.

The problem compounds itself because the brakes are weaker you use them longer and they get hotter.

Beyond even this is the brand of brake fluid, the better fluids cost more and the advantage of them is they raise the boiling point of the fluid some by more than 100 degrees.  Nearly everyone I spoke with was running Castrol SRF making it seemingly simple to just switch to using that. The problem is Casterol SRF is $60.00 for a 1 liter bottle, meaning it would cost $120.00 to flush and fill before a track event. Some of these guys are flushing their systems once a month and at a minimum before every track day they attend. I read some positive information on another fluid, Motul RBF 600 which has a slightly lower boiling point but costs only $15.00 a bottle, I will try it first.

Lessons Learned:
Track Days are fun!

Track Days are expensive!
  • $325.00 Registration Fee
  • $220.00 Insurance
  • $050.00 Fuel (approximate)
  • $350.00 wear on brake pads and rotors (approximate)
  • $500.00 wear on tires (approximate)
Right at $1500.00 considering incidentals 

Flush the brakes and use good fluid

Take off center caps

Driving position
The entire day I felt like I was fighting the car, I generally drive with the seat fairly close but I had the seat back reclined too much. With it in a more upright position it put my arms at a more favorable angle and would have made it much less tiring.

As much as Id lke to do it again I don't know if I will due to the cost, there is probably some things I could do to cut out some of it but registration fees, fuel, wear and tear are pretty fixed. I may try some autocross, its cheaper, easier on the vehicle and less chance of wrecks and damage. 

Monday, September 7, 2015

HPDE at Putnam Park Road Course

A few months ago I stopped by my neighbors house and he invited me to join him for an HPDE (High Performance Driving Experience) at Putnam Park Road Course. Its something I had thought about trying but didn't really know where to start.

He regularly attends with 10 / 10ths Motorsports driving a modified, street legal 2007 Z06 with approximately 550 rwhp. Running in the advance group he is a skilled driver and very quick.

10 / 10ths had a HPDE scheduled at Putnam Park Road Course Aug 2nd, I had never been there before so Tania and I drove out to look around. The track and facilities are basically a country club for gear heads. The grounds and the garages are immaculate, there is a concession stand with good cheap food and a small set of stands to watch from. It also has a nice administrative building with classrooms and a members only clubhouse. During their lunch break we were allowed to take tour laps on the track (60mph max speed), that sealed the deal for me.

Over the last few weeks I had been preparing for the day, modifications to the car, researching safety equipment and insurance options. Fireproof driving gloves being recommended I bought a set of Impact Racing gloves last week and Saturday was debating purchasing one day insurance. The difference between driving on public roads and at an HPDE is you are responsible for damage to your car (regardless of someone else causing it) and any damage you do to the track, facilities, guardrails etc.

Sunday morning my neighbor stopped by at 5am and we headed to the track just over 30 miles from our homes. Stopping a few miles from the track to fill our tanks, we arrived at the gates just before the 6am opening. I parked on the main pit lane, unloaded the car and set up my canopy, the next couple hours consisted of a drivers meeting, classroom training, and instructor assignments. I contacted an insurance company recommended by 10 / 10ths and secured one day of insurance.

We were running the basic 1.766 mile Long Course (marked in red).

My first 30 minute session consisted of learning corner entries, where to accelerate, where to brake and getting comfortable on the track. Towards the end of the session I was growing in confidence until I closed a bit too quickly on a ZL1 Camaro entering turn 7 and went off track to avoid hitting him. This required me to enter pit lane while the track Marshall looked at the car for damage and gave me a short pep talk about staying on the track. The session ended with a reality check on my driving abilities and the realization of how long it had been since I had done this type of driving.

The second session of the day was by far my best, I had regained my confidence, was hitting my marks on the track and making consistent laps. Early in the session though my brakes felt spongy, this condition would plague me the rest of the day. When I returned to my pit area, I parked the car, chocked the wheels, opened the hood and grabbed something to drink. While we were sitting there I heard some strange noises from the Corvette. Walking around the car I found both front wheel center caps laying on the ground. The brakes had gotten so hot the heat that transferred to the wheels had melted the tabs on the center caps and they fell out of the wheels.

Session 2 video Tania took from inside the flagman tower.

Shot from the base of the flag tower:

A friend of mine stopped by and took pictures with his iPhone 4, the heat apparently was getting to it as well creating some interesting pictures.

Cool down after session 2.

My third and final session started very well, then the brakes started becoming spongy and the front of the car developed a push. My instructor thought my tires were the culprit, a low fuel light ended the conversation and we left the track.

Because the day went so smoothly they had a fourth session scheduled. I was physically exhausted after 119 laps, 90+ degree temperatures and had a gallon of gas left, so I chose to call it a day.

I learned a lot yesterday, I have some unexpected things to look at on the car, the brakes, sudden push in the front end and it looks like I just drove it 2k miles cross country. I had a total blast and cant wait to do it again.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Fire Extinguisher Mount

Thirty plus years ago I installed my first Holley carburetor. It was a used 850 double pumper going on my mild 331 small block chevy. The size of the carburetor vs the size of the motor tells you how little I knew about what I was doing, to further prove the point after getting it running and jumping in to drive it around the block, the float stuck causing raw fuel to dump out the vent tube on the intake starting a nice fire that took out the distributor, spark plug wires, firewall harness and windshield wiper motor. After spending over $300.00 to fix everything not including a new 650 Holley, I bought a fire extinguisher and mounted it in the car. That extinguisher got used a few years later when a car at the gas station I was filling up at caught on fire, and over the years Ive bought a few others for some of the cars I drove.

I decided since there was a simple way to mount one in the Corvette I would get one for it as well, its cheap insurance.

Again being a cheap ass I wasn't going to spend $90.00 for a flat piece of metal with a couple of bends in it, granted they are usually powder coated, maybe that's worth $75.00 or so.

Its really as simple as a couple of bends, the bracket mounts to the forward seat mount studs, they are long enough to slip the bracket over them and add another nut.

Here is the extinguisher on the bracket I made, notice the plastic mount, there weren't any metal ones available locally, I have since replaced it with one.

Here is a shot of it installed on the passenger seat.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Suspension Mods

Next on the list was the suspension. The Corvette handles great but the base coupe suspension compromises some performance for ride comfort. When we were at Bloomington Gold I specifically rode in the RideTech cars because I was interested in their coil over suspension. After researching more into what was available I settled on just replacing the sway bars and shocks.

I contacted Sam Strano (multi time SCCA Autocross National Champion), Sam is active on multiple forums and has a small parts business. Sam's business sells the coil over suspension I was looking at, after talking to Sam and describing what I wanted to do with the Corvette he sold me on his spec sway bars and Koni adjustable shocks. If they work for him on his Corvette and are less than 1/3rd the cost of the coil overs that works for me.

Sway bars from top to bottom: Old Rear Bar, Old Front Bar, New Front Bar.

Sway bars from top to bottom: Old Rear Bar, New Rear Bar, New Front Bar.

Koni Adjustable Sport Shocks

After I got everything installed I drove it for a few days and played with the dampening on the shocks. The difference is night and day over the factory equipment, the car is much more stable on small bumps during braking, it has significantly less body roll and the ride is only slightly harsher than it was before. The nice thing is, I can soften the dampening on the shocks in less than five minutes and it rides as nice as it did before I put them on.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Tow Hook

I plan to do a HPDE day this summer and decided to add a few things to the corvette. First on the list was a rear tow hook, corvettes do not have a good area to tow from in the event you run off track and end up in a sand trap or somewhere you cannot drive out of. Any strap or tow line to the suspension will most likely damage the bodywork because of how it wraps around the car and how low the car is to the ground. I also wasn't willing to pay $130.00 or more for something I felt I could make for a few dollars.

I looked up some of the installation instructions available online and pictures of tow hooks. From that I was able to ballpark the dimensions of the tow hook and fab one up. It only took a few hours with the hardest part being the hole in the bottom plate.

The tow lug simply mounts to the aft cross member using the exhaust hanger attach points.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Bloomington Gold

This year Indianapolis was chosen to host Bloomington Gold. This show represents for me all the things I dislike about car shows, chrome, cars that are never driven, wax type discussions, etc. I am interested in the performance side and while I respect the whole 1 of 3, 100 point car that is Bloomington Gold, I would not have driven 50+ miles to go.

I was not even aware that it was being hosted here this year, the advertising apparently was done mainly through newspapers, I saw nothing on the local news or heard any radio ads. One of my reports at work, left a newspaper on my desk which spoke about 1000+ corvettes participating in a "Gold Tour", After reading the article, the proposed route and it being at the brickyard I had a reason to go.

The event was scheduled Thursday - Saturday June 25-27 with the Gold Tour ending the event Saturday night. We arrived mid morning Saturday and were only there a few hours when the vendors started packing up to leave. There were rides being given by Ron Fellows group driving brand new Z06's but by the time I figured it out it was too late to participate. We did get to ride in the Ridetech Z06's on the autocross course.

At the autocross course Lingenfelter had a second display with this awesome Karl Kustom Z06. While there were a lot of very impressive corvettes there, this was among my favorites.

Couple of Z06's in the parking lot with handicap tags, the blue one is a stage one aero and the yellow a stage 2.  I did not see a stage 3 this weekend.

We waited in line for about 45 minutes to sign up for the Gold Tour, for some reason they did not allow online signups. That evening it took a little over an hour to get everyone lined up and start the Gold Tour.

The tour route was planned for just over 41 miles in which they had every intersection we passed through blocked off.  The police were very active in pulling stray vehicles out of the line of corvettes and actually had major intersections blocked off for well over an hour as a line over five miles long consisting of 1,000+ corvettes went through.

Once the tour started we entered the track and did one lap (limited to 65mph). I really had no anticipation of driving around the brickyard but admittedly once you are doing it, it is very cool.

The last two shots were taken by a co-worker as we entered the Metropolis parking lot.

There are a few videos of the Gold Tour posted on the net, this is probably one of the better clarity / views out there. Tania and I are center frame at 10:40.