In the last article on our upcoming Route 66 road trip across the USA, we made a decision to stick to looking for one type of car only; a C4 Corvette from the years 1990-1996. 

The C4 Corvette fits our criteria and our budget of US$5,000 (hopefully), and so the hunt was on to find the perfect C4. More days and weeks of trolling Craiglists and other USA car websites went past, finding the odd car worthy of a second look, like these ones:

Looks great, but too pricey for us
Another nice one, but over $9,000

Then one day, a 3-owner 1990 model appeared, finished in Polo Green Metallic, and shock-horror – it had the rare saddle-coloured interior. The good news? The car had only done 28,000 miles, and the seller was asking US$8K. Yes, it’s way over our budget of $5K, but still, is it too good to pass up?

And the cruncher? The advert says, “I’d drive it to New York tomorrow.” Since we will be taking whatever car we buy to New York, I’m not sure the flags could wave any higher.

The last line says, “This is the unicorn you’ve been hunting!” So that was it then – time to contact the buyer.

Alarms bells rung in my head, but I couldn’t get my hopes up. I had to keep in mind Craig from Kiwi Shipping’s statement that 90% of cars he looks at on Craigslist are rubbish and would never get compliance in New Zealand, without spending a boat load of cash.

But 28,000 miles? Surely it would be good?

I started emailing the owner, asking more questions, and hoping no one else leapt in there before me and bought it. He’s had it for two years, and driven only 1,000 miles in that time. Since owning it, he’s only used it to take his wife out to dinner once a month-ish, and has never even driven it out of LA. Yes, he says, it’s as original as you can get, except that he replaced the original Bose stereo for a single DIN unit. The Bose’s are known to die, eventually.

I manage to get some more details from him; he still has both keys for the car, it’s had a new steering column and steering wheel installed (the dealer said that’d fix the airbag light that’s on), and everything works – the adjustable lumbar support for the front seats, the adjustable suspension control, and everything else.

Some more emails later, I sent Craig from Kiwi Shipping a message, asking him to go look at the car. After what felt like weeks, but was only days, Craig met with the seller, taking along his trusty trolley jack. The pre-purchase inspections that Kiwi Shipping offer includes a thorough check of the car, and around 80 photos, and of course a drive too.

Craig reports back that this is one of the best C4’s he’s seen. All the owners have looked after it, and it looks as good as in the 80 photos he sent me a link to. That’s not to say it is perfect. It needs new tyres (or tires, for American readers) for a starter. It’s that Catch 22; the tyres have heaps of tread, but are old. Craig says he wouldn’t trust them for a cross-continent trip, and neither would I. A quick check on Google and I can pick up 4 Goodyear Eagles for the Corvette for US$600 plus taxes. Not too bad, and at least I’d know they were brand new.

There’s some chips around the headlights when they are up, no doubt caused by hitting something under the bonnet. Not too worried about that, we can touch them up and you can only see them when the headlights are flipped up anyway.

Craig mentions a couple of oil leaks, looking like they are coming from the valve covers. Easy fix, and regardless we’d be getting the car fully serviced before our road trip, so can get things like this sorted out. Since it hasn’t been out of LA for years, we’ll also get the radiator flushed at the very least. We do not want an overheated Corvette at the side of the road in the desert somewhere.

The handbrake light is on all the time, but that’s more than likely a bad switch or just needs a switch adjustment. The headlining on the removable roof has drooped like it does on all C4 Corvettes, but this should be a matter of removing the headlining and applying some spray-on glue.

But there’s a worrying airbag light on, on the dash. I checked some of the Corvette forums, and it looks like this is a result of a bad connection between the chassis and a sensor. The contacts need to be cleaned, and it looks like it’s around a 4-hour fix. This is something I can do myself, and I can do this in the USA or when the car gets back here. I know I can’t get compliance here with that light on.

Other than those things, this car is an automatic. Not what I wanted, but originality was at the top of my list, and this car is surely original.

I rang the owner, and offered him US$7k, making an allowance for new tyres. He counters with US$7500, and I agree. I’m not about to let this car go.

Blown our budget? Yup.
Worth it? Totally.

The insurance pain begins

I arranged payment with him, and then started on the hunt to insure the car. Although it’s going to be in storage from now until September when we arrive, there’s no way I want it to be uninsured in that time, and many storage facilities in the USA will not store your car without insurance – you have to provide evidence of it.

Before I get to insurance, I have to update you on our travel plans. We had planned to do what’s left of Route 66, up in to Canada, down into New England, then New York and Philadelphia, then ship the car home. Since we’d only have a few days each in places like Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, my wife suggested we do that next year instead in a different car, and just ship the Corvette back at the end of our trip this year. Fine by me.

Latest version of our route

And so the fun searching for insurance began. And the frustrations, let’s not forget about the frustrations. I emailed the large US insurance company State Farm, who we used to insure our new Dodge Challenger in 2016. That car cost US$500 a month to insure, but that was for a value of US$40,000. Surely, surely this car would be so much less, since we now had an insurance history with State Farm, and this car is valued at a much lower $7500?

State Farm emails me back, happy to insure the car for US$371 a month. That’s over half the value of the car in 12 months of premiums. I asked why this was, and how we could reduce the cost, but never heard back from them.

So Google it was. I stumbled upon some travel blogs of people doing the same thing, and they found that the massive insurance company Progressive would insure a non-resident. Perfect! I put a call into Progressive, and went through the process of giving them all the information they needed, and included the storage location as the address for the car. They came back with an email quote (a quote, keep that in mind) of $58 a month, including roadside assistance.

As you can imagine, I was so happy. I rang back to say, yes, I’d like it right now. This was the next day after I received the quote. The girl on the phone pulled my “quote” out, and told me that it was fine, they can insure the Corvette for US$113 a month. There was silence from my end. Once the shock wore off, I asked her how come I had a quote, and yet it’s gone up almost double?

I was told it’s not really a quote, but more an estimate as insurance costs change from day to day. For a New Zealander, a quote is a quote. But I had to bite my tongue, and say ‘that’s fine’, and went on. Then another stumbling block. When she put the VIN of the Corvette into the system, it came up with an alert, and I’d have to email their Verifications team, and supply some info. I’d already done a CarFax check on the Corvette, so I knew there was no money owing, and the title was clear. But still, I’d need to go through this verification process. At this time, the seller is waiting on me to organise the insurance, so I can get the car picked up by Kiwi Shipping.

So I emailed the Progressive Verification team, and waited. Two days later, I got a reply from them – it was nothing to do with the car, they wanted a huge list of documents to verify who I was, and so much more. Some of these were things like a driver’s license, but no more than six months from date of issue/renewal. There was a whole email full of requirements, and it wasn’t your average “pick three things from this list” scenario – they wanted everything on the list.

So it was a no go for Progressive, and I’d lost precious days of time. So it was back to Google, for far too long. But I did stumble across another blog, that said the huge US insurance company Geico not only insured non-residents, but they’d insure visitors as well. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but it sounded good. But if I’ve learnt anything so far, it’s not to get your hopes up when dealing with large US companies.

Nice and clean underneath

I put a call into Geico’s freephone number and got an extremely helpful guy on the end. I was totally straight up with him, saying I’m from New Zealand, we’ve bought a car and it’s going into storage, then we’ll drive it 6,000 miles in September.

The guy on the phone couldn’t have been more helpful, and told me that Geico is the only US insurance company that will take your driving record from your own country into account. This was sounding good, but still – no price yet and no commitment.

We chatted some more, I gave him all the details he asked for. The price? With roadside assist, US$73 a month. I can do that. This includes coverage for when the car is in storage (some insurance companies won’t insure a car in storage). But the deal wasn’t done yet, what was the next step to get this done?

“Give me your credit card number, and I’ll insure you right now.” So I did, and less than a minute after that I got all the documents on email, including my much-needed insurance card that I need to present to a cop if I got pulled over.

It was done.

This took almost two weeks to get organized, in between life and waiting on email replies. But it was over. Our Corvette had insurance.

It got picked up by Kiwi Shipping, and is now patiently waiting for us to arrive in September for our cross-continent Route 66 road trip.

(Almost) Time to spend some money

Once we land in LA, there’s no way we’ll be getting in the car, and driving across Route 66 to Chicago without a load of maintenance being done. I’ve started a bit of a list, and may add to it as I remember more things. So far, I intend to:

  • Oil and filter change
  • New tyres
  • Wheel alignment
  • Change of belts
  • Replace spark plugs
  • Replace spark plug leads
  • New air filter
  • Fix oil leaks
  • Radiator flush, or if it’s at all dodgy, buy a new one
  • Check/replace any hoses that look dodgy
  • Transmission service
  • Check all brake lines
  • Check all fuel lines

Some of these things, like changing the spark plug leads, may seem a bit overboard, but here’s the thing; parts prices in the US are still bloody cheap. There are multiple suppliers of everything, and things like parts for a Chevy small block are plentiful.

So for now, that’s it. We sit and wait for September to roll around, and then pick up our Corvette.

Can’t wait!

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How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm also an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.

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