For two weeks now, I’ve been living with a beast. Each morning, I’ve nervously checked its health before waking it from its slumber, a twist of the key bringing something primeval roaring to angrily to life. Almost immediately, the bark settles to to a grumbling idle which becomes happier as it warms up, coarseness and recalcitrance being banished as its core heats, like some some prehistoric reptile sunning itself at the start of the day. For 3,000 miles, this beast has propelled me across Europe, droning along motorways, bellowing up hills and setting off car alarms, it’s offbeat warble begging me to abandon the sluggish Rolls and push on to the higher RPMs where a racy cam really brings it to life. And in this time, its character has really shown itself. A simple kind of character which shuns the overt histrionics of the Italians or the self-conscious sophistication of the Germans and produces power and excitement the old-fashioned American way – unashamedly and without pretense, through the application of sheer, overwhelming size. 8 cylinders and 5.7 litres in this instance.
For when I refer to ‘the beast’, I am of course referring to the heart of the Corvette – its engine. The small block Chevy V8 dominates the character of the car so completely that from the driver’s seat, it sometimes feels as if the raison d’etre of the whole Corvette brand must be simply to provide a means for the engine to be enjoyed; 4 wheels and a couple of seats which enable the intoxicating V8 warble and torquey acceleration to be felt at the whim of its lucky owner.
And ‘lucky’ is the key to all this, as being someone whose life is currently totally intertwined with the foibles of their small-block Chevy, it’s exactly how I feel. Lucky that I have the opportunity to set off around the world on a trip of a lifetime and share the experience with one of the all-time great V8 engines, at a time when it sometimes feels as if the age of the simple, over-engined enthusiast’s car is coming to an end, lost in the flood of overly complicated, marketing-driven eco-vehicles. Lucky that fuel prices haven’t quite managed to make such a trip impossible and lucky that for an intense 12,000 miles and 3 months of my life, I will be living with that spectacular engine, my senses primed to its rasping exhaust, charismatic vibrations, rumbling soundtrack and slingshot power.