Our European Correspondent Gets His '64 Shot In A London Studio
There is something seductive about almost any city in the springtime, and London rates among the best with its carefully maintained mature trees and extensive parks. It is an anti-car city, with the equivalent of a $12 per day "congestion charge" for entering its large central zone between 7:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. We can see city towers from 30 miles away and sometimes the light reflecting on the Thames River from our farm on Kent's North Downs, but it's a painful two-hour drive at peak times. For me, driving should always be a pleasure, so when I have business in London I take the new Javelin train, which reaches the central London St. Pancras station in just 18 minutes. This Hitachi-built electric train travels mainly underground at an astonishing 140 mph, using the same high-speed tracks as the 180-mph London to Paris Eurostar.
My trip on this spring morning is to Plough Studios at Clapham in south London. It's less than a month until my '64 will be in the Drivers Parade in downtown Le Mans on the evening before the 24-hour race, representing the different years of Corvette on the 50th anniversary of the remarkable eighth place and class win for the Fitch/Grossman C1 in 1960. This will be a two-hour cavalcade at walking speed-a test of both the 327's cooling system and my clutch leg on the three hills on the route. So this trip into London in heavy traffic is a good test for this, too.
The '64 has done more than 10,000 miles since I dropped the body back onto the restored chassis five years ago, but I have been suffering an occasional misfire at engine speeds in excess of 3,500 rpm and a roughness low down, too. This had got so frustrating, particularly with my tall 3.08:1 rear axle, that I left it with a friend with a rolling road to investigate and gave him a pile of service parts just in case. He returned the car to me running better than it ever had and just said "plugs" before dashing off for his next assignment. This was a real surprise, as these had been replaced when I fitted re-worked heads 5,000 miles back, but plugs it was. Modern Corvettes don't need plugs until 100,000-plus miles, assisted by perfect computer-controlled mixtures and lead-free gas. But I had forgotten how a 5,000-mile service used to be points, cap, rotor, plugs, oil, and filter. Check the owner's manual, and that is the spark plugs' confirmed service life, so in the future I will go by the book.
Against my better judgment, and to the annoyance of my wife, who likes my company in the evenings, I have agreed to write another Corvette book, my tenth, and this one a Buyers Guide on the C2 for English publisher Veloce Ltd. It needs the cover image even before I sign the contract, so I am off to the studio to meet my long-term photographic collaborator James Mann, who is using Plough's infinity studio for his second book on Classic Grand Prix cars. I love good car photographs, and the best and most detailed have to be shot against the entirely neutral background of the infinity cove. There are no corners or angles in the room; every surface junction is filled and smoothed to a two-foot radius and painted matte white. Part of the ceiling lifts out for overhead shots, ideal for shooting restored '53-'82 rolling chassis, and the coffee is free. If a black background is needed, then black cloths are rolled.
I arrive in good time and we slip my '64 into the studio before the arrival of the day's subject-a stunning Ferrari Dino Grand Prix car that won the Italian GP at Monza in 1960 in the hands of American Phil Hill. This was the last time a front-engine car ever won a Formula 1 race; five years later the British invasion saw the end of front engines at the Indianapolis 500, too.
I reverse the car into the white void with two watchers to guide me, because once in, there is nothing to give a clue to where the end wall is, like skiing in a whiteout with frozen goggles. The publisher needs a particular angle to match the other cars in the series. I remove the front license plate trying not to mark the white-painted floor, James has the shot within five minutes, and I am out of the studio before the Ferrari is even unloaded from its covered trailer.
I set off back to Kent in brilliant sunshine and on London roads lined with cherry trees in full blossom. When I got my '64 it was red, a great color for Ferraris but not for my Corvette. I was thrilled when I saw the color code showed it to be originally white with a red interior. Since I repainted it correctly, white has also become the only color to have for top-line German performance cars; more than a few of them flash their lights or wave as I pass. And I "forgot" to replace the front license plate. The car looks so nice without it!