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    Jay Leno
    This past 18 July I woke up at 3.15 in the morning to drive to Tustin, California, home to two of the largest free-standing wooden structures in the world. They stand 17 storeys tall, are 1000ft long and cover about seven acres of enclosed space. They were built after the attack on Pearl Harbor as hangars for blimps, or LTAs (‘Lighter Than Aircraft’) as the Navy called them. These airships were used to patrol the California coast, looking for enemy submarines. The hangars were built entirely out of wood because steel was in short supply during the war.

    / #2020-Chevrolet-Corvette / #2020-Chevrolet-Corvette-C8 / #2020 / #Chevrolet-Corvette-C8 / #Chevrolet-Corvette / #Chevrolet /

    I was invited to this historic site because the new mid-engined Corvette was to be unveiled here. The official unveiling was going to be happening 13 hours in the future, but I was given the honour of being the first person to get behind the wheel of this ground-breaking new car. It really is ground-breaking for a number of reasons. Number one is the price, starting below $60,000.

    Like most people, I have envisioned that Corvette would become a brand in itself, with a number of cars in its line-up. We have just assumed that General Motors would continue to make an entry-level, traditional Corvette with a front engine and that a mid-engined C8 would be its high-end supercar. After all, isn’t that what most manufacturers do?
    Most manufacturers are afraid of alienating their fan base, so they keep making a new version of the same thing over and over. Think Harley Davidson and Porsche, for example. The shock of the new is not something most traditional car enthusiasts crave. To paraphrase Mark Twain, I like progress; it’s change I don’t like. Anyway, we were wrong. It’s going to be mid-engined or nothing. I immediately assumed, given the price point, that it would have some sort of torque-converter automatic transmission, with the usual excuse of ‘we did it because it’s lighter in weight’. But no, the transmission is bespoke and it’s a dual-clutch, just like the big boys have. And if you pull both paddles simultaneously you can rev the engine and dump the clutch.

    One feature that I love, and as far as I know nobody else has in such sophisticated form, is a front-end lift which has a GPS connection, and you can programme up to, literally, 1000 different locations to lift the front end automatically as you approach. How cool is that?

    My favourite thing about this Corvette launch was that everybody I spoke to, including the CEO, Mary Barra, is an engineer. Hers was a degree in electrical engineering. Mark Reuss, the president of General Motors, has a degree in mechanical engineering and is also head of the performance division. He’s been driving and testing the C8 from the beginning, and not just on Woodward Avenue in Detroit. On the Nürburgring, too.

    Talking with executive chief engineer Tadge Juechter and chief Corvette engineer Ed Piatek is like hanging around with your car buddies in Cars ’n’ Coffee. The only difference is that these guys actually know what they’re talking about. There were no marketing guys or PR people listening in over their shoulders, ready to jump in and correct some ‘mis-statement’. Another cool feature they’re very excited about is the electronically adjustable braking. Chevy calls it ‘eBoost’ braking. The driver can adjust the brake feel depending on what mode the car is in. It also saves space and weight by combining the master cylinder, vacuum booster, vacuum pump and electronic brake module all into one unit.

    Something I find truly fascinating is that with a normally aspirated 495bhp engine, this C8 is quicker to 60mph than last year’s top-of-the-line, 775bhp, supercharged ZR1. How is that possible? Once again, by some very clever engineering. In the old days it would have been done with cubic inches and massive amounts of brute horsepower. This time it was done with science and engineering. Moving the driver six-and-a-half inches forward and putting the engine behind him/her helps, as well as all-new suspension. Gone are the transverse leaf springs of old (albeit made of high-tech composite in later years), replaced with coil springs. Combine that with the eight-speed dual-clutch transmission and some cutting-edge Michelin tyres, and you have an extremely sophisticated sports car to rival the best of Europe’s at a third of the price.

    The last time GM moved the engine behind the driver, it was called the Corvair and was considered the most European car America had ever produced. GM is taking a big risk by bucking tradition with this C8. Among the Corvette faithful it has really upset the apple cart. Oh, and the top comes off too. So, how do you like them apples? Is there still Corvette in their cores?

    ‘GM IS TAKING A RISK WITH THIS C8. AMONG THE CORVETTE FAITHFUL IT HAS REALLY UPSET THE APPLE CART’
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    Jay Leno
    Jay Leno created a new group Chevrolet Corvette C8
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    CHEVROLET CORVAIR MONZA SPYDER

    RUN BY Martin Buckley
    OWNED SINCE August 2016
    PREVIOUS REPORT Nov 2017

    / #Chevrolet-Corvair-Monza-Spyder / #Chevrolet-Corvair-Monza / #Chevrolet-Corvair / #Chevrolet / #GM

    The Corvair is now running. In fact, I commuted to my shed in it for a whole week in November before a carburettor leak stopped play (probably caused by a blocked fuel filter and/or a rusty fuel tank). A few electrical things remain on the to-do list, and I haven’t worked out yet how to make the heater function – although warm air does waft in from somewhere.

    But the point is that the car is on the road after months – possibly even years – of frustration. You may recall that I destroyed the diff in 2017 and decided to give the engine some love, on the basis that it had to come out anyway. The diff turned up in the post one morning from Clark’s Corvair – a nice surprise for me, if not for the delivery driver.
    Meanwhile, I ordered a variety of additional parts (standard rings, gaskets, a seal for the turbo and engine-shroud seals) and sent the heads over to Gardias Engine Services in Witney to lap the valves and re-cut the seats.

    By the end of May, my master mechanic Gus had everything he needed and was all set to rebuild the #flat-six . But he’s a busy boy with his Mercedes work and it wasn’t until September that he called to say it was time to get the car back to him in Swindon. A month later, Gus drove the Corvair over to me with instructions to use it and see how I get on. It starts easily and is pleasant to drive – I’m not sure what I was expecting, performance-wise, but the vacuum gauge on the dash indicates that the turbo is working. What I can say is that it feels relatively sluggish in first and second but seems to get on its toes in third and pulls well. Reading contemporary reports, this sounds about right but I can’t tell you much about what speeds it gets up to – the speedometer is stuck at 90mph. Also, the rev counter seems to be running some way behind.

    The gearchange is on the stiff side but the clutch is light and the brakes are effective enough, if slightly wooden in feel. The engine has a lovely growl and, because Gus has had the various shrouds repainted, it looks smart. I still need to rescue its battery from a Datsun Fairlady (it’s a peculiarly long, tall shape) and Gus would like to tidy up the wiring and cure a small oil leak.

    One thing that desperately needed sorting was the window in the hood, which afforded virtually zero rear vision and was plain dangerous on the road. However, once my father-in-law had attacked it with a buffing wheel and fine cutting paste, a huge improvement was achieved. The hood is pretty good otherwise, as are the white plastic seats and red carpets.

    But what you really want to know about is the handling. The truth is, I have not had a proper play with it, but even without the important differential between front and rear tyre pressures it feels very acceptable. Dropping the fronts by 10lb gives a lot more weight to the light, low-geared steering, and even then you can virtually park the Corvair with one finger. You would have to be quite committed to get into trouble, but I’ll give it a try and get back to you. The car’s future on the fleet is still in the balance, but the more I look at it, the more I like the Corvair. It is cheeky-looking but elegant, with a pretty tail treatment. These aesthetic observations have gone over the head of my wife, who was traumatised by towing me back to the shed when the diff ate itself and has also been watching hours of YouTube films showing them flipping on their sides.

    However, she’s the sort of person who would drive a skip if you told her it was a convertible, so I predict a more positive attitude in this parish when the sun comes out.

    THANKS TO
    Δ Gardias Engine Services: 01993 703053
    Δ Clark’s Corvair: www.corvair.com
    Δ Gus Meyer

    All painted, the engine looks in fine fettle

    Gus Meyer rebuilt the engine, and gave strict instructions: “Drive it and see how it goes”

    The Corvair is back on the road, but its time could soon be up – unless it continues to charm
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