Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
For $5k, Chevy Will Let You Assemble Your Corvette Z06’s Engine Yourself (2015) (caranddriver.com)
121 points by rmason 11 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 64 comments

When I did the rebuild [1] of my 1987 Land Rover Defender 110, I did it through a shop that ran a special program where owners could rebuild/repower their Defenders under the tutelage of the shop owner. In fact, the build was so dependent on my labor that I, as the customer, had to sign a contract that I would complete my part of the bargain in a timely manner or else I would have to pay him his hourly rate to complete it for me.

It turned out to be an amazing experience. I stripped the truck down to a bare frame and built a brand-new rolling chassis [2] with new motor [3], transmission, transfer case, and suspension. I moved the old body over onto the new chassis, which gave it a sort of retro look with proper period-correct gear but the reliability of all-new parts. The shop owner was there to direct me what to start on next, to answer questions when I got stuck, and to help me lift the really heavy things, but for the most part, I wrenched alone.

Over eight weekends of work, I went from knowing how to do only the most basic of maintenance (oil changes, etc.) to being quite confident that I could do another project just like this entirely on my own. The cost was about the same as paying someone else to do the work but I can be confident that everything was done right--every bolt torqued correctly, every dirty thing cleaned, every broken thing replaced. I take my truck out to the desert for multi-week camping trips and the experience gave me much-needed confidence in my ability, my tools, and my gear.

[1] https://www.flickr.com/photos/defender90/albums/721576407048...

[2] https://www.flickr.com/photos/defender90/13052224614/in/albu...

[3] https://www.flickr.com/photos/defender90/12399960314/in/albu...

I'm super intrigued by this -- almost surely over my (non oil-changing) level by far, but would still be interested in more info on it.

Is it something that is advertised by the shop? In what location (or region) was this? What was the expectation in terms of timeframe, and how many hours were you typically putting into the project in any given week? If you're comfortable, shop info/specifics would be great but no worries if not.

Awesome outcome BTW, and is something you can be very proud of and continually enjoy -- love it!

The build was done at Defenders Northwest [1] in Gig Harbor, WA. I was fortunate to live in Tacoma at the time, just across the bridge, which made the process easier. It took eight full weekends to get the truck on the road and back to my house. That's an 8 or 9AM start on Saturday and Sunday, working until 5 or 6PM. It was done over a PNW winter and there were lots of days spent out in the rain, as you can see in some of my pics on the previous post. Tough work but so worth it.

Once the truck was rolling, I took it back to my house to finish up the non-essential things, like wiring up the speedometer and aftermarket things like my winch and bumper. There were a bunch of little things that needed to be solved and the last 5% of the build took at least 50% of the time, mostly due to having to air-freight less common parts from the U.K.

Defenders Northwest is owned by Brian Hall and he's a great guy to work with. However, if you're seriously interested in Defenders, take some time to do the basic research on your own before calling a builder. I run one of the big Defender forums, NAS-ROW (NAS being "North American Spec" and ROW, "Rest-of-World" spec). https://nas-row.com - lots of info there.

[1] https://www.defendersnorthwest.com/

I'm not Op but I'll bet that this was probably a shop run by an owner big in the Land Rover/offroading community. Working on Land Rovers is probably his favorite hobby and he can cut breaks for people that will probably get into the community more.

The offroading community is huge and tight knit.

In my case, the shop was still very new and the owner wanted to get into restorations (he was in the parts biz). After my project, he took on a few more owner-builds but now primarily focuses on doing resto jobs himself for his customers.

I recently wondered about this kind of system. Lots of people aren't happy about devices they don't understand and can't really fix. Repair shop can be very expensive and often scammy.

This could be a nice thing to try.

anecdote: I remember when I bought my first laptop (2nd hand on ebay... foolish) I was very very nervous at every sign of failure. After a few years of dabbling in electronics (rpi fad helped) my fears are almost all gone; I know I can intervene easily on a third of low level issues (blown component, broken trace/wire/contact), and may hack on other things. It's not a bad feeling.

>Repair shop can be very expensive and often scammy.

Yep, this is why it's frequently more economic to dispose of or resell something old and buy a new replacement, rather than to repair it. Factories are far, far more efficient at making things than repair shops, and also don't have the problems of doing things incorrectly (it happens in factories but a couple of orders of magnitude less frequently), or running a scam.

Repairing things frequently only really makes sense if you're doing the work yourself.

Factories are especially better at outputing when the market asks for that. Designing for repairability adds complexity.

After repairing a few appliances and laptops I think there's potential for less difficult products to repair. But it requires cultural shift (very difficult) into crowds that like poking into things. It's not all good, it kills some of the magic of buying a box. But it's not devoid of pleasure either, there's beauty in how minute things are done and done well; it's just a different kind of pleasure.

Designing for repairability adds some complexity, but it depends on the application. The modularization needed for easy assembly (which helps the factory, particularly when using parts coming from many different suppliers) can also make it easier to repair things. However, at a factory, all the parts are brand-new and quality-controlled from their suppliers, so the process in assembling them is pretty smooth. With repairs, the process isn't so clear-cut: the problem could be different things, there's a diagnosis step involved, and it could be wrong if there's a cascading failure involved (one failure caused another one, and fixing the obvious problem doesn't fix the root cause). Also, doing repairs generally requires more intelligence and training than doing initial assembly; you can automate assembly usually, you can't easily automate repair.

Because of all this, repair ends up being disproportionately expensive. It doesn't help that it's usually not done by the original manufacturer, but instead by others seeking to profit on failed devices.

You seem to be arguing for DIY repair, which I only partially addressed before. I'm not talking about that. Most people cannot repair their own devices: many simply do not have the aptitude for it, and many other have no desire to do so. Repair can be dirty work, or even dangerous, and also require special tools. Replacing an axle on a FWD car, for instance, can be very difficult for backyard mechanics because getting the axle nut off is extremely difficult as it's a large nut and torqued to a high degree, and after years of age and corrosion gets even tighter. I've seen videos of people using 6-foot extension bars to break them loose, and even then failing sometimes, and sometimes they resort to using the car's starter motor to assist, which is just plain dangerous. But a handheld air impact wrench can usually get them off pretty easily. But most DIYers don't have air compressors and impact wrenches like this; they're not that cheap. Aside from difficult axle nuts, car repairs in general can frequently be dirty, and a good way to get your hands cut up. There's nothing wrong with doing this stuff yourself (I do), but to expect for instance some 50 year old woman who has zero mechanical skills and very little arm/hand strength to take on this stuff is silly, and even with more able people, many people these days don't even have a place where they're able or allowed to work on cars (apartment/condo parking lots for instance usually don't allow this).

That's automotive repair, which many people at least are able to grasp intuitively, and the simpler jobs are able to be done with some simple hand tools (wrenches etc.). How about electronics? I'm sorry, you can't expect someone with a background in law (for instance) to be able to use an oscilloscope to diagnose a failing electronic part. People go to engineering school to learn about that kind of thing, it's not something just anyone can be expected to do. Even doing simple electronic repairs with a soldering iron is out-of-reach for most people; I've taught laypeople how to solder, and it's like welding: there's a lot of technique, and not just anyone can master it. It's easy to do a poor job, or to even damage the thing you're repairing.

The point to all this is that we have specialization of labor for a reason (some people are better at certain tasks than others), and that repair specialists exist for a reason: because there's a market for them because many people can't/won't repair things themselves. But by its very nature, repair is not and never will be as efficient as factory assembly. Also, technology improves: repairing a 1965 vehicle might be fun for some, but it'll never have the fuel efficiency, reliability, or safety of a brand-new vehicle (unless maybe you severely modify it, which brings us to a Ship of Theseus argument). At some point, except for a museum relic, it just makes more sense to dispose of the old and buy new. I know I, for one, do not want to be involved in a crash in any pre-2000 vehicle rather than my mid-2010s car. And given how inexpensive many manufactured products are, compared to the labor rates of qualified repairpeople (plus the risk factor of them doing it wrong, intentionally or not), there's a certain point where it just doesn't make economic sense to repair. However, when you're DIYing (or paying a friend with beer), that calculus changes. I will say that YouTube videos and other sources of information on the internet have really helped a lot here too in making repairs more accessible and feasible for many things.

There is also the factor that when you're bolting modules together you benefit from the fully engineered assembly process vs. when you are trying to repair something.

Say for instance that the alternator plug breaks (because it is made of cheap plastic), but a new part is available. But this means potentially removing everything that was installed after the alternator, and even then you may need to remove more stuff to get at the correct bolts. Some of the stuff you remove may be plastic clips that were only intended to be installed, never removed. Some of it may be rusty or had been replaced by some other third party part that wasn't exactly the same and now interferes. It's so easy for a simple part swap to eat up many hours of labor and additional parts due to the design of the engine.

I'm actually doing this, albeit as a programmer, i'm not as alienated by electronics or physics than other fields.

I did realize how much complexity [1] there was, but at the same time I'm not sold on the possibility of people capable of repairing. Designing would be another level, but repairing .. maybe.

[1] also there's a human element of going to see someone to service you. You get to enjoy the result, he gets to enjoy producing happiness through something complex he/she wanted to master and earn a living through it. Before that i had zero interest in letting others benefit from this and wanted to do everything.

Sweet baby jesus this sounds excellent. I don't suppose you have any reproducible tips about how you found this? Ie, what kind of keywords I'd need to search for, etc?

Establish cultural capital within the landrover community, such as by participating in a popular online forum. This proves you have the interest, motivation and free time to complete the project once you start it.

Your many new friends will alert you when opportunities like this come up.

I visited the Bowling Green, KY factory for a tour. It is one of the most interesting tours I've ever attended. Some other tidbits about the Engine Build. You get to build as much or as little as you want of the engine. They'll put a metal decal on the engine saying it was built by the owner with your name.

Also if you visit the factory make sure you visit the Corvette museum across the road. The most interesting thing about that museum is a good section of it was swallowed up by a sinkhole. Many corvettes were swallowed up. Most were restored but several were totaled to disrepair. You can see them on display and shed a tear. There is a good section of the museum dedicated to the sinkhole mishap.

Just as a word for people interested. The factory tours will be closed until 2019 while they retool for the new models.


It's the generic trouble with museums - concentrating all the irreplaceable stuff in one location. Like the Library of Alexandria.

The alternative is that information is not discoverable, like old letters found in attics and ancient Egyptian tombs. Finally, with the advent of a the digital age, we can make data easy to find and have off-site backups. Still no good solution for physical artifacts, though.

Yep, but there aren't any good alternatives. Locking things up in private collections doesn't help society, and doesn't let professionals manage the relics and also ensure they're genuine, and research their place in our history.

What should be done is to make sure museums are located in extremely safe places, both from natural forces (like sinkholes, hurricanes, etc.) and also from political problems (this means putting valuable artifacts in certain countries is probably a bad idea).

Herman Goring and other Nazis pillaged the Louvre once France surrendered. Many of the pieces were found in their personal homes after the war but many went unrecovered. Aye..

Which can also be a problem with Libraries.

Ironic that the DIY option is more expensive. I'm reminded of the British "kit car" scene, which started as a tax dodge for the Lotus 7: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lotus_Seven

"Under the Purchase Tax system of the time cars supplied as a kit (known as "completely knocked down" or CKD) did not attract the tax surcharge that would apply if sold in assembled form. Tax rules specified assembly instructions could not be included, but as the rules said nothing about the inclusion of disassembly instructions, they were included instead and all the enthusiast had to do was to follow them in reverse.[citation needed] However, once the UK joined the EEC on 1 January 1973, the VAT system was adopted instead so the tax advantage of the kit-built Lotus Seven came to an end."

The car is still sold as the Caterham 7, still available in kit form.

FYI, Auto manufacturers still have S/CKD plants, where a previously assembled vehicle is re-assembled.


There's an interesting contrast between the (traditional) automotive and today's consumer electronics industries; ever since the early days of cars, manufacturers have tolerated and even encouraged the growth of a large aftermarket parts industry, to the point where you can build an entire "Chrysler", "Ford", or "GM" driveline from the engine to the wheels with entirely non-OEM parts. Of course, the manufacturers themselves will sell parts to anyone who wants to buy them.

Contrast this with companies like Apple and Tesla, who attempt to maintain tight control over their products and use legal action against those who want to "open them up".

(From what I've seen, European and Asian automotive companies are somewhat less open, but once again there is still a large aftermarket.)

Yes and working on cars is a heck of a lot of fun as a result. Car modding and tinkering is a huge hobby and from what I can tell only supports these brands and the OEM sales. You need a Chevy in the first place to outfit it with 3rd party high perf parts. Something will break as a result and you'll be back buying more parts and investing even more in the GM/Chevy ecosystem. It's the opposite of how record labels try to attack music 'pirates' who also tend to spend more on music too. (Perhaps their love of music is what correlates high piracy and high purchasing? Hmm)

It adds to the romanticism and involvement. The original GT40 Le Mans car from the 60s that originally beat Ferrari was built from parts that you could go to your local Ford dealer and order. Maybe I'm wrong but I think that if you had enough money at the time you could actually buy all of the parts to build the same .427 they were using in the professional races. Pretty cool.

Do you have a source on this? It seems like an exceptional claim.

The GT40 was a bespoke race car built to settle a grudge. Henry Ford II wanted to beat Enzo Ferrari at his own game after the sale of Ferrari to Ford fell through. Ford failed to beat Ferrari in their early attempts with the GT40 and the entire car went through several revisions to reach the LeMans winning form. These were not typical parts and I would be surprised if they were widely available.

Also, domestic US engine displacements were given in cubic inches. In this case a Ford 7 liter engine is 427 (whole) cubic inches. A period is not prefixed because it is not a fractional measure.

The 427 is an FE family engine, which was used in NASCAR. The engine used in the gt40 was based in a NASCAR build of the engine (modified to handle right turns ;) ).

Back then, you could order performance parts from dealerships and whole engines. Could you walk in and order a gt40 engine? I have looked and have not found a part number. However, some race engines did not have part numbers because they were aftermarket parts.

You still can, and they have warranties.



http://www.chevrolet.com/performance/connect-cruise-powertra... up to 727 horsepower, with transmission and electronics included and ready to go. Connect and Cruise.

Those crate engines sure are a great deal. Back in the 90s you had to get an aftermarket block, heads, crank, pistons, and rods for four that (not adjusted for inflation) to even consider reliably making over 400hp on anything. I remember saving money for an A4 Ford block sold by SVE. Never got it cause it was about $2k and came bare and unfinished.

Nowadays, an LS crate engine and a smallish turbo can get you 600 wheel horsepower on pump gas.

Crate engines are nothing new but are any of those the engine for the GT40?

Not sure about the entire car but bob riley’s Art of race car design backs up that the gt40 mk1 had a lot of off the shelf parts in it https://www.amazon.com/Art-Race-Car-Design/dp/191058410X/ref...

This intrigued me enough to peruse car makers' web sites, and the result was worth creating an account to share.

Chevy has an extensive offering of "crate engines", given equal billing with its performance car models. Ford also has a "performance parts" site selling everything from engines on down. I had no idea.

I couldn't find anything similar for Toyota or BMW; their "performance" parts catalogs seem to consist only of superficial accessories like steering wheel covers.

> I couldn't find anything similar for Toyota or BMW

Not quite true. Toyota Racing Development (TRD) does sell performance accessories (superchargers) for some engines. BMW has M Performance and you could put some of the M Performance parts on a non M vehicle if you wanted to.

Other manufacturers also sell fully built race cars for customers to buy and race (Blancpain GT Race series).


I've built my last few performance "Apples" almost entirely from non-OEM parts.

Apple has been pretty lenient with the Hackintosh community -- but that may be coming to an end, if Apple moves away from intel.

for what its worth, automotive third party parts are protected by law in the USA due to similar shenanigans, back when the government wasnt quite so blatently pro entrenched interests.

I have some degree of empathy for Tesla here because of the current state of media coverage of self driving vehicles. Any self driving vehicle is isolated, magnified, and repeated ad nauseam.

If accepting that people can die if they make poor decisions, which they ought be allowed to, was a thing - I would be right there with you. But today everybody wants somebody to blame for everything, especially with new technologies, and when freedom enables people to make bad decisions that can hurt a manufacturer much more than help them.

While their primary motivation might be greed, I'm not convinced it is. Apple on the other hand...

There is a massive aftermarket parts industry for Japanese cars.

You can get aftermarket non-OEM versions of practically every part except for the chassis for old Nissan Skylines and Silvias.

speaking as a former drive train and engine mechanic for a luxury dealership, this is a bad idea at best. Granted, the LS series engine is just a simple pushrod iron behemoth, you're still asking for trouble.

My last place of employment wanted to do something similar, but it was shot down by the owners once they determined that practically every shop insurance provider flat-out said no. That $5000 fee is likely just for OSHA and your insurance company to look the other way in a state where regulations arent so stringent. All of us as vehicle techs also said no.

The average luxury customer isnt qualified to do much more than sit in the waiting room and watch an episode or two of Ricky Lake. Luxury customers betray an absolutely criminal lack of self control sometimes. Ive had customers wander back into the shop to stand over my shoulder demanding to know everything im doing and why. Ive had an old persian customer who demanded to drive his car home that day and wouldnt leave the shop until I completed the week long work. Ive also had wealthy couples leave their kids in the car. Another customer demanded I never drive the car or sit in it. Point being: anyone stupid enough to waste $5000 on the chance to work on an engine they couldnt possibly understand on their own, isnt going to be someone you want in a shop. Dynastic wealth leaves you with a Reaganomic level of competency.

The z06 is only an $84,000 car, but If i were the mechanic who had to deal with $5000 tourists chasing piston return springs across the shop floor and pulling main bearings out of their kids mouths, I'd do everything I could to find a new job.

Tell it to Tavarish ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fuaOvUJOMa4 ). :-)

This isn't targeted at the "average luxury consumer", it's targeted at someone who is willing to spend $5K to do this as a vacation. I used to see a lot of Corvettes at the autocross events, and that average owner knew more than a thing or two about mechanicals.

Now, if this program was "You can SAVE $5K by assembling your own engine.", you are probably going to get a lot of idiots. The people willing to pay $5K are probably going to be intense enthusiasts, and in my experience those people could do this job.

Not all of them, of course. The kids that brought a GTR and a Sylvia to the track for open track day, and then proceeded to be trounced by pretty much everything else on the track, I wouldn't want putting together my engine. :-) They weren't happy at not being able to keep up with Miatas in the hands of very skilled drivers with R compound tires. :-)

The Corvette isn’t a “luxury” car like a Mercedes S-Class, even though it’s in the same price range. It attracts a different group of people and those who pay for this program and go to Kentucky for a weekend are probably >80% going to actually try to at least learn from it and assemble it correctly. After all, it’s going into their own car.

I bet they do get some terrible customers but that’s what the $5,000 is for — to make it worth it for them.

It's pricey, but I love this. Now, if only someone would let me build a Merlin V12 :-)

I had the opportunity to attend a series of private classes at a local air museum. One of the sessions covered the engines in the planes and how they are maintained today. The class format included a lecture and a hands-on exercise. The hands-on exercise that night was a cam and rocker arm "replacement" on the museum's Merlin engine. Someone else got to tear it down but I got the chance to reinstall the cam and rocker arms. It was on a cutaway display engine so it will never fly of course but still, it was a wonderful experience. I can honestly say that I have installed the cam and rocker arms on a Merlin. Not many people can do the same :)

Which museum did you take the class at?

The Flying Heritage Collection in Everett, WA.

My taste runs more to Mustang's, I'd seriously consider buying a Shelby Mustang if they'd let me build the V-8. I'd have no problem flying out to Las Vegas to do it.

How about you buy it, I'll take it apart, and you can put it back together. Free of charge, even.

I imagine the idea is that you can't mess it up, as you inevitably would following your strategy, costing you more than 5k in the long run.

That was the joke. But in reality it would probably be a piece of cake if it was a new car and you had access to all of the custom tools. An older car with frozen bolts, charred head gaskets, etc. is a different story.

Though with an old car there is a moderate chance of you being able to reach the right nut and possibly even stand on the ground in the engine bay.

I'd personally go for the Vacuum Merlin myself.

900kN of thrust, and when the bell cracks you can just cut off the cracked part!

Does it hurt resale value if an engine was “owner built”?

My guess is the plaque and "professional photos" are a way of demonstrating that adequate and appropriate levels of attention have been paid to detail - and also politely but firmly making the statement "now be nice and just fix this."

So yes and no.

It will probably depend on a given recipient/vendor/repairer/whatever values making a fuss of the customer over plain technical competency or not.

For want of a better want to articulate this, I've just realized that it probably happens all the time for people with tons of money to like "helping" with things, and cause irritating damage in the process.

(And that's not including every-day micro-manglement in some large proportion of work environments everywhere in the world... or the client horror stories everyone has...)

It probably can’t hurt the value more than the price of the engine itself. It’s not like a kit car, where you have to worry about the entire body and drivetrain, it’s one (very critical) component which can be yanked and replaced or rebuilt. I suppose if someone really borked it, it might hurt the value of the transmission as well?

You can’t really mess it up - it’s an assembly line process like everything else. You’re not even turning single bolts like you would at a hot rod shop, they have all the tools for each station calibrated for that certain part.

Check out the Tonowanda engine plant online

With such a fast car, I'd be more worried about "owner driven." ;-)

Here's something I'm seriously tempted to do this summer. There's an auto museum near Kalamazoo that offers a course on how to drive a Ford Model T. I have no problem driving a traditional stick shift, but the Model T has three levers on the floor and two on the steering wheel so it's a challenge!


Does anyone know why "hand-built" is a desirable quality for an engine? Several automakers advertise this for their top-of-the-line vehicles.

I know it makes for very good marketing, but is that it?

Parts matching. Example, while the block and pistons are made to within tolerances, it's possible to put together an engine with parts that mate well.

> Pay more to mess with the product you are buying and be able to brag about it at the pub!

Why not buy it used and fix it yourself? Cheaper, more fun, puts hair on your chest, gives you proper bragging rights, puts marketing departments in their place

The cost could be considered as paying for the training and use of their facilities, since it's not a "here's a room full of parts and the manual, now do it yourself" type of thing.

I look forward to people doing this and putting the photos and (presumably) video online!

It's not quite the same, but each year Hendrick Motorsports and Automotive group have an engine building competition. You can watch some of the builds on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nn1E9HgEaKo

Factory five and superformance kits, i hear, are kind of a good experience to complete.

How about assembling a complete kit car, like K1 Attack?

Didn't they do this on Gas Monkey?

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact