At the beginning of a new year I really enjoy a trip to the U.S., to the NCRS in Florida, particularly to the event which used to be held at Cypress Gardens, or later to Pennsylvania's Dutch Country for Spring Carlisle. But as your European correspondent, this year I took a long weekend in Belgium to visit the American Excess show, which is held on the old dockside in Antwerp. The United Kingdom is an island, so a sea crossing is required to reach the rest of Europe. The Channel tunnel has been open for ten years now; cars are loaded onto special double-decked railroad cars that make the 27-mile undersea crossing in 35 minutes. Customs and immigration formalities are completed before the crossing, so that on arrival you start your motor, drive up the ramp, and straight out onto the French autoroute system.
Heading up the A16 towards the Belgian border, I notice new speed and ANPR spy cameras integrated into the top of the lighting posts in the median, but the speed limit here is a reasonable 130 kilometers per hour, about 81 mph. Once into Belgium, we are quickly on the Jabekke highway, the legendary length of unrestricted early freeway where Jaguar proved to journalists in 1961 that their new XKE coupe would exceed 150 mph, and where later the '66 Corvette 427 would be tested by United Kingdom magazines. Jaguar claimed the XKE was the world's fastest mass-produced car, but one must wonder whether a '60 Chrysler 300F with the 400hp solid lifter 413 and Ram Induction might not have been the real holder of this record if the two had gone head to head down this road.
Gas in Belgium is even more expensive than the UK at $6.45 per U.S. gallon, so the majority of cars here are diesel powered. Even driven hard, most modern diesel cars will do better than 45 miles per U.S. gallon and the less taxed heavy fuel costs about $5.75. In Belgium, the limit drops to 110 kmh, about 68 mph, but with no obvious speed cameras, the faster cars are running at 85 to 90 mph, and after just two hours I arrive in Antwerp.
Although 40 miles from the ocean, thanks to the deep and wide Scheldt river that connects it to the North Sea, Antwerp is the world's fourth largest harbor and the eighth largest container port by volume. The American Excess show is located around an old warehouse right on the old dockside, with the new port now north of the town towards the Netherlands border. Although bitterly cold, Sunday morning was clear and bright as cars started to arrive from four countries to this dramatic location with immense barges passing in the river. A small catering truck offered perfectly cooked french fries, with a choice of different sausages, and there was a warm room with seating serving real coffee.
In England, the car trend is for originality and restraint, so it is surprising how many of the cars here are heavily customized. That suits me fine because, in the end, custom cars are much more interesting to look at. Talking to most of the owners is tough because while the language in southern Belgium is French, which I can manage, in the north it is Flemish, closely related to Dutch, but still incomprehensible to me.
Of the older Corvettes, a full custom Belgian 1970 was particularly striking with beautifully executed flares and stunning paintwork, all set off by chrome sidepipes, mirrors, luggage rack, and some great wheels, and it was driven to the event, of course.
In the enclosed swap market area was an '04 C5 Z15. While this Corvette had the Le Mans Commemorative paint option package, this particular car has been further customized with an aero kit, high-rise hood, and the Le Mans paint theme extended.
Outside there was a genuine European Le Mans Commemorative Z18, of which I believe only 46 were made-all solely for export. Launched at the Paul Ricard Circuit near Marseilles, France, in the fall of 2003, the Le Mans Blue with white and red graphics was based on that year's Le Mans cars. It was the only time the C5Rs had not turned out in yellow; the blue was to celebrate Corvette's 50th anniversary. The Z18 is a subtle mix of regular coupe and Z06 elements. Motive power was the 350hp LS1 engine because the LS6 was not homologated for Europe; it had the Z06 carbon-fiber hood panel, which we call a bonnet, and the six-speed manual transmission with no automatic option. it came with the big rear reflector/foglamps, amber turn signals, amber side-markers, and side repeater lamps as well.
Alleged to have been developed at Germany's Nurburgring, the Z18 used a modified FE4 suspension with Z06 brake calipers and Goodyear Eagle F1 non-EMT tires. This was to address criticism from many quarters that the EMT run-flat tires were too hard and too noisy. They were also heavier. There is no doubt that any C5 rides and handles better when fitted with conventional tires. the stereo can be turned down because tire noise is much reduced, but my own research shows that when the time comes to replace a full set of EMTs, most United Kingdom owners will stay with them, despite the noise, for the convenience and security they offer. The Euro Z18 came with a tire fix kit in the back, just like its sister ZO6.
The only interior color for this Corvette was black with a commemorative embroidered logo in the seat back, a typically conservative choice when the Germans are involved in the marketing.
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