Corvette Road Trip to Maggie Valley
A high-horsepowered, drop-top initial drive down Memory Lane
Andy Bolig - August 01, 2011 09:00 AM
Jim’s car steals the show on Beale Street.
This station was marketing directly at Jim. We DREAM of those prices today!
Borrowing a jack from Pro-Tire and Lube, Jim re-attaches the oxygen sensor knocked
loose by the re-tread. Mr. Bill supervises.
Jim power-parks the Corvette. The store manager scolded ME for Jim’s parking ability. He had the keys with him, in the restroom – HONEST!
Priming the ignition in a rainstorm.
The group convened at Chris Petris’ shop in Scottsboro. From left to right are Jim, Charlie Mornout, Chris Petris, Patrick Flournoy, Doug Plette, Sean Hosmer, Dorle Hosmer (Sean’s Mom), Abe Farchi and David Farchi (Abe’s Dad).
The group lines up at the Jack Daniel’s Distillery in preparation for the day’s tour.
The 860-horse engine ran fine through the back roads, in-city driving, on the highway and even sitting in traffic.
Jim in his element.
Jim and Chris giving the cars a good scrubbing.
Vettes in the Valley judges checking over Jim’s car.
The Vettes in the Valley show is a family atmosphere, and clubs are encouraged to enjoy the event as a group.
“If you speak to Jim, he’ll describe the camshaft in his Corvette as a ‘weenie’ cam, leading you to imagine an idle similar to a stocker with huge vacuum numbers at any rpm.”
We keep pressing home the fact that the best way to enjoy your car is to drive it. That said, we occasionally need to put our money where our mouth is and put a few miles on our own rides.
In doing so, enthusiasts can have the ultimate enjoyment of using their car for its intended purpose and make memories that will last a lifetime.
The plan was to join up with the self-appointed, Supreme Commander and resident AE tech-head Jim Moore at his home in Fort Worth, Texas. Together, we would drive his 1967 Corvette convertible to the Maggie Valley, North Carolina, event called Vettes in the Valley. If you’re amazed that someone would consider driving their prized ’67 Corvette that many miles, keep in mind that Jim usually uses his car for much smaller trips, one-quarter mile at a time. At last count, his best time was a 9.90 at 141 mph, and he drives the car to the track! He just completed the two-part buildup of a 555ci engine for his car (5-Cubed, May and June 2011 Auto Enthusiast), and as if the 40-plus dyno pulls hadn’t seated the rings enough, he felt that the drive would do the car some good.
My trip started out by getting on a flight to Texas, where Jim picked me up at the airport. Jim mentioned, “We need to get back to the house.” He then informed me that even though he’d been working for the past two days, thrashing to get the engine back in his car from the dyno, he still hadn’t heard it run in the car! If we were to leave first thing in the morning like we planned, we’d best hear it run tonight.
We got back to the shop and got to work running wires and hoses to bring the beast back to life. Jim trusted me with wire clippers and a soldering gun, while he found new and exciting ways to run fuel to the newly installed Holley Dominator EFI system. His car was originally fueled through a huge Aeromotive A1000 fuel pump and a massive Dominator carb, and he did already have a -10 line feeding it with a -8 return. We had to use a -10 adapter fitting to a -8 “Y”, some new short lines and a regulator to plumb it all up for the EFI. Somewhere around 3 a.m., we ran out of hoses, wires and sensors to hook up and decided it was time to try to start the engine. Since Jim’s engine had been dyno tested, most of the electronics had already been optimized; it was just a matter of making sure we hooked it up right. Hearing that lumpy, solid-roller cam through a set of 3.5-inch exhaust pipes was music to our ears at 3 a.m. I doubt Jim’s neighbors had the same reaction, so we decided that it ran and that was good enough for the night.
Somewhere around 7 a.m., we found ourselves back out in the shop, checking fluids and finding room for all the necessities for the trip – you know, suitcases, tools, an extra A1000 fuel pump, additional 2,000cfm throttle bodies, a distributor (in case the DIS system gave us any trouble) and, of course, our camera gear. Even with cramming as much as possible into the car, we STILL had enough room between the required stuff and the rollbar to drop the top and get some sun along the trip. With that, the car’s first trip out of the driveway with its new engine was destined for Memphis, Tennessee, our planned stopping point for the night.
Texas is a BIG state, and they say that no matter where you’re headed, if you make it out of Texas, you’re halfway there! We weren’t even that far before gremlins located us. While hitting the highway, the car ran like a champ, and we could even feel the EFI fine-tuning the engine’s diet along the way. However, while we were working our way through one of the towns on our route, something pulled the wind out of our sails (and the fuel from the engine) at the same time. If you can imagine an EFI system vapor-locking in the middle of traffic, you have a very good image of what we were experiencing. The engine would start, run for a second and then shimmy to a stop as the last remaining fuel was consumed. Granted, it was hot (we were in Texas in the middle of the summer), but this was EFI; it shouldn’t do that! We checked everything under the hood and noted that the fuel lines were hot to the touch. We went to the back of the car, and thanks to the midyear Corvette’s gaping fuel-tank opening, we could see the fuel seeming to boil as the fuel pump ran. We hadn’t even run through the first tank of fuel in the car yet! As we sat along the road, sipping on our Big Gulps and letting the engine and the fuel in the tank cool, Jim mentioned the possibility that since the car had sat for a while as he built the engine, new fuel might help.
If you speak to Jim, he’ll describe the camshaft in his Corvette as a “weenie” cam, leading you to imagine an idle similar to a stocker with huge vacuum numbers at any rpm. In fact, just firing up this car with its huge solid-roller .788-inch camshaft will draw a lot of attention. As soon as it fired up again, Jim made a beeline for the nearest fuel pump as innocent bystanders watched and stared. You may think that something this radical needs to be fed some super-powerful concoction of mixed fuel and additives, but in reality, the entire trip was made on 93-octane fuel. Since we were already stopped, we decided to grab a quick bite to eat, and as an impulse buy, I picked up a hitchhiker. I figured that a six-inch tall Mr. Bill would feel right at home on our adventure. Growling stomachs appeased and some fresh go-juice in the tank, our stoplight stalling woes were behind us for good, and it was clear skies and open highways – almost.
Somewhere around Texarkana, we started seeing some ominous clouds on the horizon. Except for that short stint of stalling, the ride was going great, so what could a little drizzle do to dampen our spirits? Almost instantly, somewhere in the middle of Arkansas, the storm surpassed drizzle and went straight to torrential downpour – with hail. That’s when Jim remembered he needed to unplug the wiper motor connection to get his hand in to hook up the coil packs on the DIS ignition. When he went to turn on the wipers, he remembered that he didn’t hook the motor back up again! The only thing worse than tearing down the highway in the middle of a rainstorm in a convertible Corvette without wipers is STOPPING in the middle of a rainstorm to put up the top. Jim decided that if we kept moving, the windshield would get the most of the moisture, and if we positioned our heads and sun visors properly, we’d stay relatively dry. We can only imagine what folks must have thought about these guys who had prepared for the worst with a rollbar but hadn’t thought ahead enough to make sure the wipers worked!
You can make a case that if the wipers worked, we hadn’t needed to wipe the water from our faces with regularity, and the car was set up for something other than drag-racing, we might have been able to avoid the re-tread in the middle of the road. Jim was driving and made the executive decision to try and straddle the road gator instead of attempting a hard turn. Midyear Corvettes are known for lifting their front ends at speeds over 130 mph, but we were going much under that, so the re-tread went under the car with a thunk, leaving its mark on the Milodon oil pan with great authority. In the middle of the storm, Jim kept a watchful eye on the gauges, looking for any indication that we should stop and risk getting soaked as we looked for problems. None were given, and we continued on. After a few miles, the skies cleared enough so that we felt we could stop and pop the top without needing a bilge pump for the interior. The engine was hot, so getting behind it to hook up the wiper motor wasn’t an option. We were confident, however, that with the top up, we were ready for the rest of the trip – should the car decide to start.
Jim turned the key and the engine spun with as much force as the high-torque starter could muster, but no more. There was clearly plenty of power in the battery; it just wasn’t getting to the spark plugs. Jim wanted to see if it did have spark, so he hopped out, pulled a plug wire (remember the rain storm we’re in) and inserted a screwdriver into the plug wire, holding it close to the valve cover. Jim had installed a remote starter button under the hood of his Corvette for when he adjusts valves or simply needs to rotate the engine a little. So, with screwdriver in his soaking wet hand, he pushes the button and the engine cracks to life – albeit beating on one less cylinder until he pushes the wire back onto the plug. Jim scratches his dripping head a little, drops the hood and heads back to the somewhat dry confines of his car. The next few miles were spent going over almost every scenario that could cause the no-start situation. The one we kept coming back to was the most unrealistic one of all. Each time the engine wouldn’t start, Jim would go out and stick a screwdriver in the wire and fire the engine up. We jokingly concluded that he needed to “prime” the ignition to get the car to start. Crazy? Yes, but it worked.
We rolled into Memphis after dark, and thankfully, the rain was a distant memory. The plan was to get some photos, go down to Beale Street to get something to eat, take in some blues music, and then find our hotel. We found a parking garage that afforded some photogenic shots and then parked the car. Since cars are not allowed on Beale Street, we walked down to one of the blues and food joints that line both sides of the street. Walking back to the car, we asked one of the police officers if we could drive the car down by the barriers that line the entrance of the street and get a photo or two. They agreed to that.
When we returned with the car, mandrel-bent tunnel exhausts announcing our arrival, another man entered in and told us that he’d spoken with the Chief of Police who said it was okay if we got some shots ON BEALE STREET! This was more than we’d ever hoped to get, so as he was moving the barricade, I began setting up my camera equipment and Jim positioned the car. He politely mentioned that a $10 donation dropped in a nearby trashcan would be payment enough for talking to the Chief. Imagine a nine-second Corvette thumping down a street where cars aren’t allowed to enter and people gawking and staring. We got attention – even the Chief of Police’s. Turns out, our “friend” HADN’T spoken to him and was now nowhere to be found. We did have some highly irritated officers that we had just asked permission from and then driven past, to back up our story of the mystery man’s participation. He asked how long it would take to get my pictures, and I said seven to ten minutes. He gave me seven; I only used six and a half. Did you ever try to discretely carry a toddler out of a store while they were throwing a tantrum? Jim and I were about as inconspicuous trying to work our way past the once-effective barriers and watchful eyes of several officers who had begun to congregate. To make matters worse, he again needed to “prime” the ignition before we could move the car! With all the musical talent that regularly graces the bars on Beale Street, the show that night was on the street itself!
Jim and I decided that the best thing we could do was get to our hotel and save some adventure for another day. We pulled into the parking lot of the hotel where Jim THOUGHT we had reservations, only to find out they never heard of us and were booked solid. So, somewhere around 2 a.m., we were searching for a hotel room with our names on it. Around this time the previous night, our biggest problem was that we didn’t have a running car. Things were looking up.
We woke up in our intended hotel. The sun was shining, and we were ready to hit the road, but only after we primed the ignition in preparation for the day’s travels. We decided to fill up the tank before hitting the highway, and Jim noticed Pro-Tire and Lube across the parking lot. Wondering about our run-in with the tire tread the day before, he asked if we could borrow a floor jack to check out any damage. We found that the tire tread pulled one of the O2 sensors loose and smacked the oil pan pretty hard. Had it been aluminum, we would have been walking and/or looking for a TIG welder in the rain.
We planned to meet up in Scottsboro, Alabama, with a group of Corvette enthusiasts who were driving up from Houston, Texas. Auto Enthusiast contributor Chris Petris has a shop in Scottsboro. The plan was to meet with him there, and the entire group would start out bright and early in the morning. The drive on the highway was very uneventful for Jim and me, but we couldn’t say the same thing for the other group. We were already at Chris’ shop when Jim’s cell phone alerted him that he had a message from the group headed in from Houston. “According to the Tuscaloosa, Alabama, County Sheriff, we crossed into his county at mile marker 55, and he had three phone calls on us by the time we got to mile marker 71. He wasn’t very happy with us ... but I have some interesting video for you!” It sounded like they would have cleared that tire tread without incident.
Everyone safely arrived at the shop, and a little bit of time was spent checking over parts and bench racing. Rides were given, and for the first time, we had secured a hotel room before the day ended. We WERE getting better!
The next morning, our group of enthusiasts, consisting of our blue ’67, two C5s (one supercharged), a C6, an LS-powered C3 convertible and Chris with his big-block ’69 coupe, met at Chris’ shop. We left Scottsboro, and instead of hitting the highway, we wound our way through the back hills of Alabama and snuck our way into Tennessee. Our next planned stopping point was at the Jack Daniel’s Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee. As we wound our way around the mountains and valleys, we were treated to some of the best driving roads this country has to offer. We passed through areas that haven’t changed in decades, and if you’re the type of person who thinks all the land has been gobbled up by speculators, this trip would certainly prove you wrong. As we traveled through the small towns that littered our route, it was obvious that such a string of Corvettes hadn’t been seen in these parts for quite a while, if ever. With the top down, the scenery was amazing and the drive exhilarating.
It wasn’t too long before we found ourselves pulling into the little town of Lynchburg. We worked our way through the small square in the middle of town and followed the signs to the distillery that made this community famous. The tour of the facilities was fascinating, and seeing how the process of making its famous product has remained consistent over all these years was intriguing. Once our tour ended, we were again headed toward the show at Vettes in the Valley. We arrived at our host hotel that evening and decided that we would have a nice sit-down dinner as a group and also a good night’s rest in preparation for the next day’s show.
At the Show
Vettes in the Valley is a great show (www.smokyevents.com). It draws Corvettes from all over in competition for trophies and awards in various classes. With the miles that we put on our cars, it goes without saying that we needed to do some cleaning before we entered the show field. We treated our rides to a gentle scrubbing at the host hotel and had the opportunity to speak with several enthusiasts about their cars. Many were impressed that we had driven this car so far and began to wonder about our sanity when we informed them how long the engine had been in the car. We spent the day perusing the 400+ Corvettes on the show field while Jim attempted to assure the judges that yes, the roll bar and EFI were, in fact, installed at the factory. They knew better!
The quality of cars competing at the Maggie Valley event is exquisite, and we had no delusions that we would ever be taking home any trophies; we were just there for the fun and to support the event. We had a great time talking with fellow enthusiasts and checking out the cars in attendance, which ranged from original, unrestored early models to tricked-out late-model Corvettes.
The awards are given away on Sunday, and we were surprised when they called Jim’s name for an award. Turns out that we had won the long-distance award for our trip from Fort Worth! That made Jim’s day, although the Houston contingent deserves honorable mention as well. We enjoyed some camaraderie with fellow enthusiasts. About the time that the ceremonies were closing, the skies began to open up and Corvettes and their owners began to head for shelter. We were ready to hit the road again, so we began our trek south to the airport in Atlanta, where Jim would drop me off for my flight back to Florida.
Along the way, we were hoping to adjust the fuel mapping to optimize the mileage for the story. With the Dominator carb, the car regularly got 10-12 mpg on road trips like this. If you were nice, you could get it into the 12 mpg range. After dropping me off at the airport, Jim was cruising at or above posted speed limits (70 mph) and the car got 13.7 mpg. Jim assures us there is at least a 15-16 mpg number in there with some tune time. You have to remember, it’s still got a 266/272 at .050 -.788-inch lift cam that makes peak power up near 7,000 rpm and a 1:1 ratio high-gear transmission that has a cruise rpm at around 2,750-2,900+. If he could find one that would hold up to the torque of the engine, an overdrive transmission would have an incredibly positive effect on the car’s mileage.
It was interesting that while I was supposed to be on a plane, whisking my way back home, Jim would be methodically weaving his way back home to Fort Worth. As it turns out, he was the one making great time comparatively. He was texting me of his progress through state lines, as my 20-minute flight from Atlanta to Charlotte was turning into a 2½-hour stay on the tarmac. When we did actually get into Charlotte, my connecting flight was already landing in Florida and Jim was in Mississippi. With some creative gate-hopping, I was directed to where I could wait for the last flight going anywhere near my home destination.
Jim had quite a bit more distance to travel than I did, and even with the delay, I made it home before he did. However, had we been driving the ’67 back to my home, we would have made it in the same amount of time that it took me on the airplane. The reason for the delay? It appears that while a high-powered ’67 Corvette convertible with no top and no wipers can manage its way through a torrential rain/hail storm, the threat of one in the skies over an airport in Charlotte can stop a 737 jet in its tracks on the tarmac. At least they didn’t ask me to get out and work on the engine before we left!