Monday, June 20, 2011

Three Days After the Great Race: A Review of a 1966 Chevrolet Corvette From a Rally Driver's Perspective

As Dad and I found out rather quickly, the Corvette was definitly not the perfect car for the rally.  It struggled at slow speeds and it was wide and very awkward to park.  The car isn't exactly light on its feet (it has no power steering to boot) and when we had to make a few quick u-turns, they were never quite "quick" enough.  However, we did excel in some areas where other rally cars did not.  We never had any issue with power.  We could get up every hill thrown in our direction, speed changes were handled very quickly, and we always had enough power to get back in position whenever we made a wrong turn.  In conclusion, the Corvette was the perfect car for the trip to Chattanooga and back home from Bennington.  We had no problems cruising at 70-75 miles per hour on the highway, the car is comfortable and has plenty of luggage space (with the roof up).  If I were to do the Great Race again, I would not take the Corvette.  Even though it was the perfect car for a 2,500 mile American road trip, it was by no means the perfect car for the Great Race. 

During much of the rally, Dad and I would debate back and forth as to what would be the perfect rally car.  The Great Race had a variety of differnt classic cars that all seemed to work somewhat well.  We discussed many different options and could never come to a definite answer, so we started to ask some of the veterans of the Great Race.  According to them, what seemed to be the most sucessfull were Ford Model A's with flathead V8 engines.  There were a number of teams in attendance this year with Model A's and coupled with their low age factor and use of a seemingly bulletproof Ford V8, they seem to consistently win most rallies.

But for our simple and non-competitive (as of now) purposes, it wouldn't be the best option.  Since chances are that we're never going to win or be high up in the class rankings, we don't have to sacrifice comfort for age handicap and get a 1920-1940 model year car.  We'll never be competitive enough to need a support crew so we'll need a decent amount of luggage room.  We don't want a roof that leaks so we'd prefer a coupe.  The car would need a manual transmission and enough power and torque to get us up hill in a timely fashion, but also not too much as to make driving at 10-15mph for extended periods of time painful.  We want a car in decent condition, not a concours ready trailer queen, but a car enough miles on it to show that everything works.  The car must be reliable and easy for any mechanic to fix in a hotel parking lot if need be.  The car would be for future rallies, but not only for that purpose.  We decided on two viable cars that would suit our specific needs if we ever wanted a dedicate rally car to be used without a support crew that could also be driven regularly during good weather. 

1. A Porsche 912 Coupe (non-targa).  Dad wanted a Volkswagen Beetle but I manage to convince him that we need more power.  With the same engine as the fabled 356 and the body of the 911, the 912 combined the best of both worlds.  Sure, it wasn't as fast as a 911 from the same year, but it weighed a few hundred pounds less and could definitely out-handle a 911.

2. A early Ford Mustang Fastback with a V6.  Early six cylinder Mustangs are cheap when compared to their V8 powered siblings, and since the V8 in the Corvette was too much, I bet a Ford V8 would deliver similar results.  The trick would be finding one with a manual transmission.

However, before I start throwing all my money into a "new" car, we have one other viable option in currently in our garage:  my mother's 1967 MG B.

Yes, I know.  It's a British car, and most people believe is not reliable by definition.  However, our MG B is the best example of the model that I have ever seen (I'm not trying to brag, I don't think I've ever seen one in better condition).  It's only issue in my mind was its occasionally troublesome engine and gearbox, but since we had the engine and transmission rebuilt over the winter, it is now perfectly sorted out.  It's got all that the Corvette had in terms of luggage space, but it's got much less power (around 300 less horsepower), it's much lighter, and has a much smaller footprint.  That means that it travels a comfortably at 60 miles per hour as it does at 10 miles per hour, and can still fit two weeks works of two peoples luggage in the trunk and behind the seats.  The age factor is not great, however, I can live with that for now.

I drove the MG today (to deposit our winnings) and yesterday and it provides a vastly different driving experience from the Corvette.  Everything is much lighter on the car.  The clutch, the gearbox, the steering, the car itself, everything.  This makes it much easier to drive overall.  I drove on some roads near me that had big hills, and it did just fine there.  The car had no problem getting up the hills and easily accelerated while climbing as well.  I'm sure it will perform fine on the rally next year if I can take it. 

P.S. The Corvette died on us once more.  Dad and I were driving home from dinner and the engine just cut out on it.  Dad (who was driving) noticed that the lights on the instrument panel went out shortly before the car died.  It was running fine previously and would not even turn over after.  I suspect it's an electrical issue.  Thankfully, this happened three miles from our house and not on our way home on Saturday.  We called AAA and a rollback showed up to take us and the car back home.

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