My Corvette Z06: my own gilded cage

Over Easter weekend, I traveled to Louisville, Kentucky to pick up the latest car to join my fleet, a bright red 2003 Chevy Corvette Z06. I’ll admit, the purchase was a spur-of-the-moment thing, as I really wasn’t considering a Corvette until a friend’s example popped up for sale. Now, about a month later, I’m coming to grips with the decision I made to put the fastest car I’ve ever owned into my garage.

Buying the car

For the longest time, I wanted to buy a track beater. Why not prepare your autocross car for the track, I hear you ask. Well, my autocross cars for the past several years have been Miatas, and as someone who has ambitions to compete Nationally, the thought of adding the weight of a roll bar to my autocross car was too much to bear. As a result, my old STR car, which was an absolute blast to drive on the track the few times that I was stupid enough to run Spec Miata times around Hallett without a roll bar, never got a roll bar installed, despite the fact that it would have been an absolutely awesome track day car. I would know the car inside and out, brake pads, rotors, and tires would be affordable, and it would be quick around a race track.

On track with my Miata at the 2012 Miatas at Hallett.

I still have the roll bar that was destined for that Miata sitting in the basement of my house. I bought it with the intention of retiring the car from autocross competition and turning it into a NASA time trials car, but I sold the car before that happened. Shane, the new owner, intended to autocross the car, so the roll bar stayed behind while all of the other spares made their way to the East Coast.

The Miata I bought to replace the NC, my ND, has the Brembo brake package, which includes, as one could guess, large Brembo brakes on the front axle that do an excellent job of slowing the car down on the race track. As far as I know, it’s the exact same brake package that all of the global Spec MX5 Cup car has. There already exist roll bars in the aftermarket that will bolt in to the ND and still have the hoop fore/aft bracing necessary for track day use without compromising the use of the top or eliminating the ability to carry a passenger. The ND would make an awesome and fun occasional track day car. But the last thing I want to do is saddle my now-C-Street car with the weight of a roll bar.

Therefore, the answer I came up was simple: get a car destined for track day use and don’t give a damn about its competitiveness in autocross.

I had considered a couple of cars before the Corvette idea popped into my head. The easy button would be to buy my friend’s NA Miata, lightly prepared for STR but equipped with a roll bar. I could buy the car with suspension and a roll bar for $3k, have a car with extremely cheap consumables, and of which would be cheap enough to be disposable if I slammed it into a wall. But the problem was that 1) I’ve already tracked NA Miatas before, and 2) I knew from experience that they were slow — not a problem around a small club track, but not exactly the machine I’d want to be driving at a dream track like Road America.

Then I thought about just buying another NC Miata, or stepping into its slightly larger cousin, a Honda S2000. I could reasonably afford to buy those cars and track them, though they wouldn’t be disposable unless I found a really cheap example. I also briefly considered a BMW M3, both the E36 and E46 cars. All of these cars would be able to carry similar speeds around a race track.

But then I thought, what if I went full retard and tried to buy the fastest car I could for track days? What out there has the best speed per dollar ratio that wouldn’t require a shit ton of work to make track ready? For cheap speed, nothing beats a V8. And of all the things powered by V8s, there’s probably no easy button easier than a Corvette.

So when Josh Owens, former fellow STR competitor, posted his A-Street prepared Chevy Corvette Z06 for sale, I decided that that car would become my track beater. For one, being prepared for Street class, the car was stock but had the minor modifications I would have done — shocks, front sway bar, and exhaust — that add a bit of juice to the car’s handling and awesomeness without disrupting the stock OEM hopefully reliable goodness. Throw in a set of 18″ wheels, red interior panels (a driving consideration for buying this specific Z06 over a bunch of other ones, admittedly), and bright red paint on the exterior that wasn’t faded, cracked, or excessively chipped, and I was sold.

I paid Josh $18,500 for the car to squeak the car into the budget for $20k all in, with Michigan tax and license.

Bringing the Corvette home.

Bringing the car back home proved to be more of an ordeal than I had expected. Originally, I had planned to fly to Louisville by way of Chicago, leaving Detroit at around 6am. My flight made it into Chicago just fine, but when I landed at 7am, I learned that my flight’s departure time had been delayed due to “awaiting aircraft.” It was almost 2pm when I, tired of waiting for a plane to show up, bailed on the flight, called United Airlines customer service to demand a refund for a plane that never showed up to the gate, and grabbed a rental car. I spent the rest of the day hanging out around Chicago, visiting my friend Kevin before I headed south to Champaign to spend the night at my folks’. The next day, I finished the drive to Louisville, dropping off my rental car and picking up the Corvette, driving it back to Michigan by way of Illinois, spending the rest of my weekend with my folks before returning to Dearborn to park the car in my garage.

Using the car

Boy, I had underestimated the strain and toll that 95k miles take on Corvettes. I quickly learned that anything above 50k miles on a Corvette counts as “high mileage,” which is something, coming from Mazdas and Toyotas, that I simply couldn’t fathom before.

As a result, I blew the budget for the car almost immediately. Turn signals were acting up, so I replaced the hazard light switch and the right front turn signal socket. Replacing the turn signal switch meant removing the center console and disassembling the center stack, so I took the opportunity to remove the crappy old AC Delco radio and replace it with an aftermarket head unit with Bluetooth capability. The climate control unit display was extremely dim, so that was removed for refurbishing as well.

Replacing the hazard light switch.

I also decided that I would attempt to secure a full set of 18×10.5″ wheels for the car so I could run a square tire setup. The A-Street set of wheels that I got from Josh consisted of a pair of OEM 18×10.5″ rear Z06 wheels, and a pair of OEM 18×9.5″ magnesium non-Z06 rear wheels to run on the front axle. I bought off of eBay another complete set of OEM Z06 wheels, giving me another pair of 18×10.5″ wheels for a complete set of four. I also bought a set of Hankook RS3V2s off a friend with a STU Corvette to use as track tires.

However, I didn’t use the square setup for my first track day. I ended up running the car exactly as it was originally set up, right down to the A-Street set of wheels shod with Dunlop Direzza ZII Star Specs. I ran the 3 Balls Racing track day at Gingerman with some friends, getting a feel for the car’s power and grip across four 20 minutes sessions.

The Corvette survived, which was the good part. The bad part was that that single track day exposed all of the weaknesses that stock Z06s have when it comes to track duty. I definitely need an oil cooler and good oil for the car if I’m going to keep beating on it. I’d much like a race bucket to replace the floppy drivers seat. There’s a serious whine coming from the torque tube, so that will need to be dropped from the car and rebuilt. And if the torque tube is coming out, I might as well replace the clutch, too.

Add in maintenance items like the crank pulley that will need to be replaced soon too, and I’ve got a lot of money that has been sunk and will be sunk into this car — more money than I had originally thought I’d spend. Then again, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised; almost never can one bring a car home and not expect that the car needs care and feeding, just like all of the other cars in the fleet.

Good thing that this Corvette is silly fast and fun to drive on track. Otherwise, it’d be extremely hard to justify keeping this car…

The cage

One might ask, where does one have $20k and more just sitting around doing nothing, waiting to answer the call to buy Chevy’s fastest street car from the turn of the century?

Most of that money came from one place: the Fuck You Fund.

What is the Fuck You Fund? It’s an investment portfolio that originally started out as my savings for retirement, but eventually transformed into my rainy day fund as I funneled immense sums of money into my company 401k. It was the money that, if I ever felt the desire to tell someone “fuck you, I’m outta here,” could get me the hell out of my current situation and on to somewhere new and exciting.

I had $29k in the Fuck You Fund at one point last year. I sold a bunch of equities last fall in order to lock in the gains I had made in the past decade, and then liquidated my holdings in one of my index funds as the market stumbled earlier this year. I took out $20k in order to fund the purchase the Corvette. The portfolio is currently sitting at $8k, having suffered a $1k drop in value in the past year.

While $8k is nothing to scoff at, it’s nothing like the $29k I had before. My Fuck You Fund is no more. It’s been downgraded to Basic Emergency Fund, sitting alongside the rainy day funds parked in my savings account.

The way I see it, my Fuck You Fund is trapped in the body of my Corvette Z06. It also means that while I call it my track beater, I really don’t want to lose the car. That means the car gets fully insured for each of its track days, such that in the event that I stuff it into a wall, I get my $20k Fuck You Fund back out of the car. It’s an additional track day cost that I never would have considered if I was just running a cheap NA Miata for track days.

I weakly convinced myself that I was secure enough financially to buy something as stupid as the Corvette in cash without taking a loan out for it. Of all the cars I could chose, the Corvette Z06 is special enough that it will never depreciate to a value of zero, and old enough to be at or near the bottom of its depreciation curve. And since I’m not wildly modifying it — no roll bars, no changing springs, no touching the engine with headers and whatnot — the car would be easy to return to stock and I’d be able to get a good price for the car.

Financially, you could argue that I’m in a pretty good place. As someone who got to enjoy the rapid growth of the stock market in the past five years, the vast majority of my net worth is in my retirement funds. Outside of my bank accounts, the only other assets I keep track of for my net worth calculations are my investments (formerly known as the Fuck You Fund), which sit at the aforementioned $8k, my house, and my collection of classic cars, of which I’ve counted the Corvette as one. Across the ’66 Ford Mustang, the ’03 Chevy Corvette, and the ’86 Subaru XT Turbo, I have $34k on the books. (The ’14 Focus ST, despite having been paid off, is not counted as an asset by my this-is-not-quite-GAAP accounting rules as I immediately expense upon purchase any car that will eventually depreciate to nothing. That also means that my ’16 Miata is also not counted as an asset, just an expense.) I’m only on year 2 of my 15-year mortgage for my house, so there isn’t much equity in the house.

Add in the $8k I currently have in the bank accounts, and my net worth currently sits at over $150k. Looking at numbers like that, why not buy a Corvette and have fun with it?

The counter to that is the fact that I don’t have much cash on me right now. Year to date cash flow is -$11k, primarily due to the Corvette and the associated work I’ve done to it. My safety net currently sits at around $10k, and is projected to grow to $15k if I don’t spend any more money on the Corvette, which I will.

Because, ultimately, I’m a worry wart that is always thinking about Plans B, C, and even D. I’m not willing to cut out my retirement savings rate in order to rebuild my Fuck You Fund, and I have so many things that I want to do and spend money on that it’s hard to find things to cut in the budget to rebuild the Fuck You Fund.

What I’ve just done by buying this Corvette is anchor myself to the Detroit area until I sell the car. As of right now, I don’t see myself going anywhere, as I’ve got a good career going for me at Ford, a house close to work, and a group of friends that I can race with and eat copious amounts of Mexican food with. But I no longer have the option open to me to pack up and move somewhere else on a whim, like California or Colorado, and that loss is something I mourn.

Gingerman under the stars.

Good thing that this Corvette is silly fast and fun to drive on track. I suppose that, as gilded cages go, a 405 horsepower plastic car isn’t a bad way to go. I’ll find out over the next year or two if it was all worth it.