Getting Hitched

How to Tow (With) Your Corvette

Bob Wallace Oct 22, 2003 0 Comment(s)

Although it's a topic that's open for debate, in this instance, I really am not crazy. And while I'm setting up my '00 coupe to be used for light-duty towing so that I can take my '03 Harley-Davidson Night Train with me to places where I want to ride but not necessarily ride to, there are plenty of reasons that Corvette owners might have for using their Vette as a tow rig.

No one in his or her right mind is going to use a Corvette for any sort of heavy towing. But a late (C4 or C5) Vette is completely capable of towing things like one or two jet skis, a lightweight fishing boat, a couple dirt bikes, or, in my situation, one or two cruiser-type Harleys.

At least two companies--Draw-Tite and Reese--manufacture light-duty hitches for C5s, and Reese also offers a similar unit for all C4s. And numerous companies offer an incredible variety of motorcycle haulers--everything from basic open-top boxes with a tilt-down gate to monstrous devices that'll carry several big bikes, as well as provide comfortable vacation living quarters for two to four people.

To do something as absurd as tow a Harley (or two) behind a Corvette requires, in addition to a quality hitch, a fairly small and lightweight motorcycle trailer. Seeing as how Harleys aren't exactly inexpensive (from slightly under $10K for a basic Sportster to $30K-plus "out the door" for some of the limited edition Softails and Touring models), it only makes sense to get a well-engineered and well-built trailer that's designed specifically for toting a big bike.

Whenever a trailer is not in use, it has to be stored somewhere, and even the smallest "dedicated" cycle hauler that's capable of carrying a Harley is going to take up a space measuring 8-10 feet by around 5 feet. At least two reputable trailer manufacturers offer carriers that can be stood up on end when not in use, which reduces the floor space to park one from 8-10 x 5 feet to 2-3 x 5 feet--a relative sliver of garage space that almost all of us can spare.

With those factors in mind, I went off the deep end and ordered a Reese Class II "receiver" hitch and electrical connector (PNs 105346 and 101569) from Corvette Central, then placed a call to H & H Trailer Co. to order one of their new and really trick SM1 stainless steel, stand-up, open-bed motorcycle trailers. It's a neat-looking little rig, constructed of brushed-finish stainless steel channel with aluminum diamond plate decking, and an easy to stow stainless and aluminum diamond plate ramp. I opted for the optional chrome-plated 13-inch slotted steel wheels and radial ply trailer tires, and a polished aluminum diamond plate removable front rock shield.

A couple caveats need to be mentioned. The Reese hitch is intended to fit '97-99 Corvettes. The hitch was engineered to fit with a stock exhaust system. And on page 4-33 of my owner's manual, GM states, "Your Corvette is neither designed nor intended to tow a trailer." What do they know? My car's a '00, but as far as I could determine from the GM product and information guides (a.k.a. press kits) we have in the office, The General made no changes to the frames and other rearward components between '97-03 models except for the exhaust tips in '01 and, of course, the titanium pipes and mufflers on all Z06s. If there's any interference between the hitch and my coupe's MagnaFlow pipes and mufflers, well, a little massaging (with a hammer) should resolve that issue. And C5s are damn near bulletproof, so I don't see any reason that the car can't pull an extra 850-900 pounds once in a while. (I am going to add a transmission fluid cooler as soon as possible, but that's about the only area that I can see the C5 needing help in.)

We installed the hitch at the Primedia Tech Center. The instruction sheet claimed that an installation should take approximately 40 minutes--add an hour or two and you'll be in the ballpark. And this is with the car on a shop hoist! Whether the car is still running the stock Cat-Backs or has an aftermarket system, the entire Cat-Back system must be loosened and dropped out of the way as the hitch bolts (through two to-be-drilled holes per side) to the rear portion of the frame's side rails, and there is no way to get to that region with the mufflers in place. I have no idea how well (or if) the Reese hitch will fit with stock mufflers, but a LOT of "massaging" was needed to make both the hitch and the previously-installed MagnaFlow "Wide Open" system fit on the same car.

Hooking up the four-wire/four-pin electrical connector was extremely straightforward. By pure coincidence, the H&H SM1 trailer was delivered about an hour after we'd finished the installation, so we did our first road test on the commute home. It towed perfectly and, thanks to a well-engineered torsion bar axle, didn't even bounce around on the freeway or surface streets with no load. Unhooking the trailer, rolling it back into the garage, and standing it up on its four-caster rear was a simple and easy solo task.

As long as the trailer and tow vehicle are on level terrain, loading and tying down a 650-pound Harley can also be handled solo. After buying a pair of ratchet-style cycle tie-downs and sheepskin-wrapped "U" straps (to loop over the handlebars or "triple trees"), I gave it a test run. With the ramp in place, I slowly rode the Night Train up the ramp--modulating the throttle and front brake--using my legs to "walk" it upward. At slightly under 5'9", I had no problem touching the ground as I eased the bike up the ramp and into the wheel trough in the center of the trailer bed. Once I had the bike's front wheel resting against the chock, I was able to rest the bike on its kickstand, carefully climb off, and hook the straps in place. With the pair of straps loosely securing the bike, I released the kickstand and slid a piece of scrap 4x4 lumber wrapped with some old carpet under the center of the bike, and then snugged up both tie-downs. The reason for the wood beneath the frame is so the force holding the bike tightly to the trailer is applied to the frame instead of entirely on the forks, which are basically big hydraulic shock absorbers. Put the entire load onto the forks and there's the potential of damaging or destroying one or more of the fork seals.

I haven't yet had a chance to do an extended tow, but in several local test runs with my H-D on board, including doing over 65 mph on the freeways, the package seems to work beautifully. A Corvette is not and never will be an ideal tow vehicle. But, if you don't have a pickup or SUV to use for light-duty (keeping it under 2,000-2,500 pounds) towing, a late Vette does a pretty good job. And nothing compares for eye appeal to a Corvette pulling a purpose-built motorcycle trailer with a Harley-Davidson strapped in place.

11

Tow with a Corvette? It's not as farfetched as you might think. This is a Reese Products Class II bolt-on hitch for C5s. Class II indicates that it's rated by the manufacturer as being capable of handling up to 3,500 pounds of towed load and 350 pounds tongue weight.

The entire rear portion of the exhaust system must be removed before starting the hitch installation. The Reese hitch bolts up to the rear sections of the left and right framerails. This should be clear from this view of the right rear rail (arrow), with the mufflers out of the way. The round thing at the bottom of the picture is the right-side over-the-axle section of the exhaust.

Chad Vogele eyeballs the fit of the hitch, then holds it in place while Brian Alva marks the drilling points with a centerpunch.

Next, Brian drills the four holes for the hitch bolts. The high-strength, hydro-formed rails require starting off with a small bit followed by progressively larger bits until each hole is the specified size.

Now comes the fun part--getting the bolts and support plates inside the framerails, where the threaded portions of the bolts can stick through the previously drilled holes. Reese provides a little wire gizmo with a loop on one end and a threaded section at the other. The procedure is to carefully feed the coiled end through the bolt hole and forward to an access hole in the frame several inches ahead of either bolt hole. Then, slip the support plate over the bolt and thread it (the bolt) into the coiled end of the wire, very carefully feed the bolt and support plate through the access hole in the frame, pull it back to the bolt hole, and ease it through the hole. It's a good idea to attach a nut loosely onto the bolt to keep it from getting knocked out of the hole for any reason while the other three bolts are worked into place.

The operative word here is still, "Carefully!" So, carefully, Chad loosens the two bolts on one side while Brian holds the bolt threads so they cannot get bumped back inside the frame. Chad carefully positions the hitch and starts threading the nuts onto the ends of the bolts. Once they're done on one side, Chad and Brian move to the opposite side and repeat the process.

And here's the result--one Reese Products (Corvette Central PN 105346) securely bolted to the rails of a '00 Corvette coupe. But we're far from finished; there's still a pair of MagnaFlow mufflers and pipes to be rehung, and the four-pin electrical connector to be spliced into the C5's wiring.

The hitch fits very neatly and relatively unobtrusively behind and below the rear bumper.

We can't say for certain, but it's pretty likely that a stock exhaust system would clear the Reese hitch. However, Chad and Brian had to do a lot of trial-and-error fitting to get the larger diameter pipes, differently configured mufflers, and MagnaFlow's billet aluminum center plate around the hitch. Here Chad finishes notching the center plate for clearance around the receiver portion of the hitch...

...before Brian test-fits it. At this stage, the exhaust was very loosely fastened in place, allowing the installers to make adjustments as needed.

Among the casualties were the upper "ears" of the center plate mounting tabs. The line indicates where the top of the left tab needs to be cut off for clearance. This is looking from the center of the car towards the left inside exhaust tip.

After a couple hours, Chad and Brian wrapped up the hitch installation. By contrast, hooking up the four-wire/four-pin electrical connector promised to be relatively simple. The instructions were clear and everything needed (except for basic splicing tools) was included.

We opted to run the connector and harness through the openings above the license plate and splice the connector wires onto the wiring going to the right and left inner taillights. After removing the two light assemblies, followed by the bulbs, Brian selected the appropriate wires and grafted them together with the supplied line clamps.

The connector is a universal part--you know, a sort of one size fits all. We had to improvise a little with the new harness' ground connection. Brian spliced a ring-type connector to the end of the ground lead then affixed it to the rear of the frame at one of the muffler hanger attaching points. When completed, we'll roll up the connector harness and stuff it in the recess above the plate; when we're going to tow, we simply reach up above the plate, pull it out, and hook up to the trailer.

We met up with Craig Hull (one half of H&H) just a few blocks from the Tech Center to pick up our trailer. Craig was on the last leg of a trip to see dealers in the Southwest and to show off samples of H & H's new products. The little SM1 stainless steel motorcycle trailer is a great looking unit and is beautifully crafted. That's a second SM1 in the background ready to be delivered to another lucky owner.

Before we parted ways, Craig showed us how the SM1 stands up on end and can be rolled around and out of the way for indoor storage. It's best to remove the aluminum diamond plate rock shield before standing the trailer up.

The ramp stows neatly along the right side of the trailer and is held securely by one single retainer.

Loading a bike is a no-brainer--even a middle-age magazine guy can do it. Attach the ramp (one full-width tab into a matching slot at the back of the trailer bed) and carefully ride the scoot up and onto the trailer. There's a recess running down the center of the trailer, from front to back, that's wide enough to handle even the widest (270-plus millimeter cross-section) chopper and pro street motorcycle tires.

Once I had the Night Train in place and held loosely (but not in any danger of tipping) with a pair of ratchet-type tie-downs, I slipped a scrap chunk of 4x4 lumber wrapped with a scrap piece of old carpet under the bike's frame. This way, I'd tighten it down against the frame and wood rather than the hydraulic front forks and risk damaging or destroying the fork seals.

I used sheepskin-wrapped loops around the upper forks, between the two "triple trees," and hooked these up to the ratchet tie-downs that are also connected to the tie-down brackets on the SM1's frame. Why not run the loops over the handlebars? The forks and triple trees are much stronger than the handlebars, which are just sections of bent and chrome-plated tubing, thus very prone to being damaged. Now we're ready to tow our Harley to locales where we want to ride, but might not want to ride to because of factors like long distance or lack of carrying capacity on a stripped down cruiser-style scoot.

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