Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Elder's Tricked-Out 61 Vette

Not long after I arrived at Scripps Research back in 2008 I met Professor John Elder, a scientist there.  John and I struck up an instant friendship fostered by the fact that he owned a 1961 Corvette and I had a 1962 Corvette.  Here is a photo our cars on "National Drive Your Corvette to Work Day" back in 2009.


Over the years we have had some good adventures.  John is a regular at my Burger Run events and other Corvette parties.  One of our favorite activities was installing disc brakes on his '61. John had his car painted locally and kept making continuous improvements to it.  But the best was yet to come.

John watched as I finished restoring Nan's 1956 Corvette and was intrigued with the GM crate engine with the RamJet fuel injection system that I installed.

Another Corvette friend, Bill Connelly, had a GM RamJet crate engine installed in his 1957 Corvette by TRONAMECH Custom Automotive in Temecula, California.  Bill is particular and keen for precision and accuracy.  When his car was completed he trumpeted high praise for Bill Lohmiller, the owner of Tronamech.  That fact gave me peace of mind in recommending my friends to the shop.

At one of our Burger Runs, John got a good look at Bill's '57.  Both cars (Bill's and Nan's) start easily, run well, and are trouble-free.  Here is a photo of the RamJet engine in Bill Connelly's car.

John was hooked and began exploring a GM crate engine for his car.  After examining all the possibilities, and surveying repair shops to make the engine swap, John decided to follow in Bill's footsteps and contracted with Tronamech to upgrade his car to fuelie status. 

The engine swap was pretty straight forward -- Bill Lohmiller did his usual great job.  Rather than just yanking the old engine out and installing the new one, Bill methodically assessed the full power train in John's car. The rear end had recently been restored by Pro-Gear of San Diego, so that was in good shape.  Bill made sure that the engine mounts were perfect (and machined to fit the new engine), replaced the aging copper radiator with a better aluminum one, coated the exhaust manifolds, notched the underside of the hood to clear the RamJet unit, installed an in-tank-fuel pump, and customized a very attractive set of Corvette finned aluminum valve covers whose satin finish compliments the RamJet unit.  Here is John's car in Bill's garage with a few other beautiful projects.

Bill is so meticulous, he scoured the car for any additional tweaks. To accommodate the custom rear end ratio and enable the speedometer to read correctly not only did the driven speedo gear need to be changed, but also partial disassembly of the transmission was required to change out the drive gear as well. The original mechanical tachometer internals were replaced with an electronic module to accommodate the change from a generator to a modern alternator. The entire pedal and throttle setup was replaced to accommodate the Ram Jet throttle assembly.

All of the above would have constituted a superb engine swap.  But John and Bill went for more.  John isn't a fan of the big 17 inch steering wheel on older Corvettes and the difficulty of turning or parking the car at low speeds.  Bill recommended a system I had never heard of to cure this problem.  Bill had discovered a kit that could be retrofitted to an old Corvette (or other car) that provides a power assist for steering, but with an electric motor rather than a hydraulic steering assist.  

The unit is manufactured by EPAS Performance.  It is electric motor assisted and computer controlled; the degree of assist can be adjusted by driver to suit their exact taste and driving environment.   The power unit is integrated into the steering shaft and both it and the computer control are completely hidden under the dash area with no evidence in the engine compartment. This is a more invasive installation than the norm because the Corvette steering column needs to be removed from the car (and cut in half!!!) and the steering box needs to be disassembled. Also, for this steering box type, extreme care needs to be taken to ensure proper worm gear mesh, position and bearing preload upon reassembly. Bill tackled this mini-project with enthusiasm and the result is fabulous!  


Bill topped it all off with a beautiful 15 inch replica Corvette steering wheel wrapped in leather that matches John's interior.

Bill's attention to detail through the engine compartment is evident -- even down to shortening the RamJet wiring harness to exact lengths for the Corvette installation.

John is so pleased with his car, and I'm pleased for him.  Expect to see this beautiful 1961 Corvette cruising the streets of San Diego regularly.


Thursday, October 15, 2020

Happy 90th Birthday, Bob Vollmar!

It's not every day that you can take one of your Corvette buddies to breakfast for their 90th Birthday, right?

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of taking my good friend, Bob Vollmar, to breakfast at his favorite restaurant, Harry's Diner, in La Jolla.

I picked Bob up at his nearby house for the short drive to Harry's.  Bob has been eating at the same La Jolla landmark since the 1960's when he moved to California.  Bob personally knows the family, including the real Harry, and his son Harry Jr. (who now runs the restaurant with other family members.

We followed all the COVID safety regulations and opted for a table outside.

We decided that this was a special occasion, so we went "big" and got the pancake stack (I opted for the additional blue berries and walnuts -- which makes them "healthy", right?!).


We spent our morning reliving our Corvette escapades.  Bob has owned Corvettes a bit longer than me -- his first Corvette was a 1963 Split Window Coupe which he purchased new in 1963 -- so he beat me by a few years (I bought my first Corvette in 1966).  Here is the story of Bob's acquisition of a Corvette back when you could write a letter to General Motors to ask questions!

Bob's 1963 Corvette Purchase 

 Over the years Bob has owned five Corvettes, but his favorite (and mine too) was his 2009 yellow Z06.

It was Bob who was instrumental in helping us secure our 50th Anniversary Corvette back in 2002.

Everyone at Harry's knows Bob, so it was pretty easy to get him a surprise birthday goodie!

 Good grief!  More pancakes!

It never ceases to amaze me at the fondness I have for the relationships I have with my Corvette buddies!

Happy Birthday, Bob!  Let's get back to Harry's again soon!

Monday, July 20, 2020

The Coke Machine is BACK!

It is a happy day in Cary's Garage.  The Coke machine is back in working order!

In 2003 Nan gave me a surprise birthday present - a vintage-look Coke machine, with modern electronics inside (you could think of it as a "Resto-Mod" of vending machines)!

It has a switch so that you can get a beverage out of it without inserting coins -- "Free" mode.

The handle on the front can be pushed to the left -- which dispenses a chilled "Mexican" (real sugar) Coke in a glass bottle, or you can push it to the right -- which dispenses a Corona beer in a glass bottle.  Sorry, Dexter, no Budweiser.

A few years ago the refrigeration unit stopped working.  I tried in vain to find anyone that would fix it and struck out constantly.  Then this month I was rescued by Richard Mason of  California Comport Control who removed the refrigeration unit, took it to his shop, overhauled it, and reinstalled it in the machine.  If you need air conditioning service, Richard is the best.

I waited until my good friend, Wayne Cowie, stopped by to enjoy the first wonderfully chilled Coke.  We "social distanced" on Corvette bar stools in the garage enjoying the first Cokes in many years.

Who wants to come by for a Coke or a beer?

Monday, July 13, 2020

GM Discovered Spying on Corvette Owner

OK, this is spooky.  I know the technology in new cars is amazing, but this feels like going too far.  Here is the story . . . . .

Everyone knows how much I love my Z06 Corvette!

Nan and I drove it to watch the Daytona Corvette race on Saturday July 4th at Don and Shirley's house.  That evening we drove it back home.  Everything was fine, especially since the #3 Corvette finished first!

The next day, John Elder stopped by to show me the finished product on his tricked-out 1961 Corvette. 

While walking around the garage on Sunday with John, we saw something that was not good!

A 5/16" lock nut, attached to a bolt shaft was sticking out of the rear, driver's side tire of the Z06.  Damn!

Did it penetrate the nearly-new (and expensive) Michelin Pilot Sport A/S 3+ tire?  Only one way to find out!

So Monday afternoon I pulled the bolt out to discover . . . . . sadly, it did!  After the air rushed out I used a floor jack to raise the car just enough to take pressure off the tire.  Even though they are run-flats, no sense in stressing the tire, right?

So now it is Monday night.  The tire was full of air all day Sunday and through mid-day Monday. The car has not been started since Saturday night.  It is sitting in my garage, shielded from satellites (as far as I know).

Imagine my surprise when, on Monday night I receive the email below from General Motors.

Is that weird? 

The next issue was to decide if the tire could be repaired.  I unbolted the tire from the car.  I went back to San Diego Motoring Accessories, here in Oceanside, which is the first-class place that sold me the tires for the Z06.  Don Petty, owner, took care of everything and by Thursday I had the repaired tire back at home.

Is that sucker big, or what?

Here is a shot of the brake cooling vent on the Z06, which is easily seen with the tires removed.

Using my click-torque-wrench (a gift from Wayne Cowie -- thank you Wayne!) I torqued the bolts to 100 foot pounds, and we are back in business!

If GM knows that the tire lost all its air, do you think they know that Herod Howard and I hit 130 MPH going up the Torrey Pines Grade a few months back?  I guess they know, right?

Monday, June 29, 2020

Buff and Shine Return To Riverside

Before the Pandemic hit us all, Nan and I took Buff and Shine back to the Adams Kart track in Riverside, California for the 2020 Vintage Karting Event. 

Here is the story that I wrote for the Vintage Karting Magazine:

RIVERSIDE SUMMARY by cary thomas
The Faye Pierson Vintage Kart Reunion (1/30 – 2/1)

To Riverside they came, just as they have for the past 16 years, to rendezvous with cherished friends, and to relive the excitement of Vintage Karting.  Genuine legends of the sport, many who were there from day one, sharing a bond, an affection and a passion, came and reveled.  They came to a family-owned track that has hosted Karting for more than 55 years – Adams.  And they came from as far away as Ireland, Maryland, Ohio, Indiana, the Southeast, and up and down the West Coast.  

The California weather (where “it never rains”) made amends for the incessant rains that soaked the 2019 event by gracing the 2020 event with clear skies, mild winds, and loads of sunshine. 

As is tradition in Riverside, the event began on Thursday and ran through Saturday.  So many people look forward to the Riverside event as “the” event on the West Coast, as evidenced by the attendance; 74 drivers; 52 race entries; and 115 karts.  

Like many VKA events around the Country, Riverside exudes history.  We can never say enough about Karting’s Sweetheart, Faye Pierson, who was in attendance and out on the track (at 92) sliding through the corners.  

Jimmy Yamane was in attendance again in 2020, this time with his “Yamane Special” that he drove to the World Championship in Nassau in 1959. Now that's history!

Other notable attendees were Vince Hughes, Terry Ives, Kim Livingstone (Duffy Livingston’s daughter), Tom Thorin, Junior Neal and several VKA Officers and volunteers  (Gary Wlodarsky, President, Louie Figone (of course), VP, Joe Swantek (of course), Treas., Lynn Haddock, Safety, Jim Donovan, Cook and Rolf Hill, Editor).   (I’m sure there were countless others.  Sorry if I missed you.) 

Even though Louie is furiously busy running the event, he always graciously greets me and Nan.

Vince Hughes reserves space for us and helps us in so many ways.

The early arrivers and long-distance travelers gathered on Thursday, so many that the Donovan/MaxTorque-hosted lunch was “sold out!”  The crowd increased to capacity on Friday for more practice sessions, a full-scale Kart Show, dinner hosted by the Adams family, some great raffle prizes and the evening awards ceremony.  Saturday brought morning and afternoon driving demonstrations with some really fantastic driving exhibitions. 

Again this year we left Sparkle home and took Buff (yellow Fox Kart) and Shine (blue Fox Kart).

Shine was making a repeat appearance and ran better this year than last due to some adjustments to the carburetors.

This event marked the debut of Buff to the track.  I can't thank Vince Hughes enough for all the parts, technical support, advice, and for even being my pit crew!

It felt really good being on the track with the twin MACs!

Shine came home with another trophy -- that's three in a row for Sparkle and Shine.

Special thanks to all the volunteers who supported Louie and Joe: Tom Corso, Jim Donovan, Scott Wigginton, Frank Weir, Vince Hughes, and Jack Murray. 
  Cary Thomas