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russ_mill New Reader
10/14/18 5:45 p.m.

Hi all, 

I've been following GRM and many of the builds here for years, and I finally have something to contribute. I have a new-to-me 2003 Z06. Recently owned by a relative, who owned it for ~10 years, and put ~3000 miles on it. Yep, 3k. Because of this, the car had 13500 miles when I bought it. It was stored in a barn and in "greatish" shape, so it seems like we're in line with 90% of corvette owners so far lol. However, years of nearly ZERO use take a toll on a car. 

I'm posting on GRM and not corvetteforum because I am not the typical corvette owner: I was late 20's when I bought it, I realize mass produced cars will depreciate no matter how cool they are (therefore... USE them like they should be!), and I don't think Corvettes are the best thing since sliced bread. I like anything cool, and any car that people put their heart into. I recently advised a good friend to buy a Mustang GT or ND miata when he was asking about what new car to buy. If I were to have bought a newer car, I would be in a Fiesta ST right now. I own a 2008 civic SI as a (now) winter car/when Bettie is being repaired car, but it was my year long DD for 5 years before the corvette. Oh and Bettie got her name when my girlfriend asked "so what did you name your car?" and I instinctively yelled "Bettie the Corvettie!" as that's the first name I could make rhyme.

Anywho, this will be a chronicle of the adventures I get into with this car. My plan is that basic maintenance/fixes/drivability upgrades will come first, then driver upgrades (autocross next year!), then I'll see where I want to take the build. It will be slow as I have lots of hobbies and can't stand to sit still for long.

And this first section will be long as it covers about 2 months of ownership. The photos will get better, my phone camera is broken now lol

First thing's first: there was much maintenance to catch up on, as many of the fluids were original to the car. Tires came first with some nice new Nitto Nt05s all around. Fifteen year old tires aren't something I really want to mess with!

Next came new air filter, new coolant, new transmission fluid, new diff fluid, new clutch fluid, and of course, oil. Then some real basic upgrades like a front hood seal, stubby antenna, cue ball shifter (stock shifter sucks and is SUPER ugly), and skip shift eliminator.

First issue: the pop up headlights stopped retracting... on the day I bought it lol. Great, I have airbrakes constantly on! No worries, I'm not a fan of pop-ups and I'll be buying some fixed headlights shortly- add that to the list!

Second Issue: the bakelite/cheap e36 m3 power steering pulley exploded on me.... on day 3 of ownership. At least day 2 was nice smiley. Left me stranded 20 miles from home with no warning. OK.... tow it to the workshop... wait a few days for parts, and fix it all up with a refurbished unit (bearings seized in original unit) and metal ls2 pulley. Except, the refurbished unit is E36 M3 (not unusual), and I have power steering usually, but not always. Yes, it's been bled properly. So, new turn one power steering pump is on the list (Aka, not done yet)!

Third Issue: Harmonic balancer wobble. Yeah, I looked for this, and it wasn't bad when I bought it, but a few, uhh, "high RPM" runs later and it's a noticeable problem. These are the same high RPM runs that likely caused my P/S pulley to explode lol. I've already been stranded once by pulley issues, so it's park the car and hit up Summit for my Powerbond Racing balancer. And may as well throw a pin kit and front main seal in there while we're at it! This install was... lengthy. Lots of removing parts before I could get to the problem, and I found other things while in there that caused more time suck, like a cracked timing cover, etc. Since I had to take so much off, I got new gaskets, and a new thermostat. Whew! now that that's done- time to drive!

Fourth Issue: I keep scraping the front radiator support when my approach angle is too steep. Like too steep as in a speedbump lol. Anyways, this is another common problem. I could buy this for $80 w/ shipping: See the source image
OR, I could buy some $8 UHMW strip from amazon and JB plastic weld it on. I chose the UHMW strip, which actually looks like a factory part (and there's still plenty UHMW left!):


So I started driving it... and it's loud. Not in a good way, but lots of squeaks and rattles from the front of the engine. Better get that sorted. You know how I had pulley problems before? Turns out that after years of being stressed in one location by a serpentine belt, bearings begin to wear. And when you start driving it regularly, those bearings start to die. So, new idler and tensioner pulleys on the main serpentine belt and A/C belt, along with new Gatorbacks. Now most of the squeals and squeaks are gone! Still a few though- more to come on that.

I've been through about 10 fresh tanks of gas now, and I threw in some seafoam in one tank, and Techron fuel injector cleaner in the next because I figure that the gas that sat for so long could have caused some problems. I can't tell if I'm actually right, but it feels like it pulls harder and sounds better at idle now. 

I'm not a big audiophile or technophile, and I especially hate messing with wiring, but I wanted to hook my phone up to the radio. KISS answer was a $15 bluetooth to FM transmitter:

This thing actually works great, and is so small I don't even notice it is there! Sound is equal to the best radio reception I get so I'm happy.

You may notice the sealed cupholder. As a stock piece, it is 1 inch deep and useless. I glued a magnet to the inside of the folding part and sealed it up so I could use it as a magnetic phone mount. It looks better in person that in the photo, and even if it does look bad, there's always a phone over it. Magnet is strong enough that the phone never moves at any acceleration.

So, here are a quick to-do list and to-done list to keep things in check:



Harmonic balancer (pinned for possible power add-ons later!)

Fresh oil, coolant, tranny and diff oil, clutch fluid, and power steering fluid

New metal power steering pulley (P/S may work intermittently but at least the pulley won't break and leave me stranded!)

New idler and tensioner pulleys on both belt systems

Acid-neutralizing mat and paste beneath battery tray (the computer, wiring harness, frame and one vacuum hose for the A/C
controls are beneath the battery and the battery tray is open in the center, and will direct the acid straight onto your computer - horrible design!). I should probably just get a leak-free battery.

small upgrades: stubby antenna, new shift knob, skip shift eliminator, UHMW strips on radiator support, aluminum jack pads, FM transmitter, removed safety stickers from sun visors, and cupholder phone mount


To Do:

Turn one Power Steering Pump and Moroso aluminum reservoir install (plastic reservoir is on it's last leg)

Alignment- don't know how I missed this with the tires, I think I was too excited to drive it!

Plugs, wires, and wire heat shields

Alternator Squeal- will get it rebuilt with new bearings as it charges great (digital readout on dash reads 13.9-14.0V, I'm just getting noise from the bearings)

Fresh Brake fluid (last factory fluid left frown)

Fixed headlights!

Maybe an internal frame coating on the frame rails? I don't know. The main frame rails are "Two-sided Galvanized Steel", and then they're painted black. And this car will never/has never seen snow or salt. BUT, it will see plenty of rain, and I f*cking HATE rust, so we'll see. Going to get my endoscope up in the frame rails and decide then I guess. I see NO reason why I should be worried, but I am paranoid lol.

So that's the last 2 months of ownership for me. Thanks for reading!


russ_mill New Reader
10/14/18 5:58 p.m.

I always have a long to-do list (in general, not just the car), and I make sure I get one thing done every day.

Today, I pulled the alternator to take it to a rebuild shop after work tomorrow, and I pulled the seats to do the "tall guy" mod on my seat.

Floors were dirtier than expected, but I got a dime, so it's basically paying me to drive it: 


Remove the 2 circled springs (EDIT: a month later I came back and removed the other 2 springs):


Clean the floor: 


Reinstall, and boom! gained another inch of headroom or so. I'm not convinced I will keep it, but I think once I wear it into my body, the seat will feel better. If not, I kept the springs and can always put them back!

Oh, and while I generally budget 3 times the amount of time I think I'll need to do a job, this actually took less time. 20 minutes in total. But in keeping with my "hammer and grinder" mechanics skills, I did break a trim piece lol.

The bottom lip is supposed to loop under a part of the seat rail, but I fat fingered it and ripped it out. I'm not good with delicate.

I'll order that piece tonight


wheelsmithy GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
10/14/18 6:09 p.m.

Um, this is great. Definitely the best C5 body style, and mostly just cool. 


LimitedTimeOnly New Reader
10/14/18 7:36 p.m.

This is a car that I was looking to buy for much of the last 12 months, but I have decided to now resist the temptation for painfully practical reasons. And you come along with one in the right color and aren't even sure if you want it? Life is amusing.

Anyway, enjoy the journey and maybe you'll find that it is a good match for you. Plenty of people really enjoy them in the autocross environment. And if you don't want it, you should have no issue finding a new home for it.

I'll be following along, thanks for sharing.

russ_mill New Reader
10/14/18 8:08 p.m.

Oh, I can see how it sounded that way, but I DEFINITELY wanted the car! I just wouldn't feel comfortable spending more than what I did on any car, and a newer car in that price range that I would choose would have been the fiesta ST. 

Can I ask what the practical reasons are? I'm assuming kids, because a family would not be practical with this. Basically I'm going to convince you to keep looking for this car because I do really enjoy it lol.

And today I was in a hurry so I only cleaned under the driver side seat. Seeing it that way makes my OCD want to tear out the pass side seat and clean under it. So that's a project for this week, when I get my alternator back!

Oh, and thanks for the warm welcome guys!

LimitedTimeOnly New Reader
10/15/18 8:24 a.m.

I've momentarily talked myself out of having a toy in addition to my DD, not liking the idea of having to store and manage something that wouldn't get much use. I'm still enjoying running my 2016 GTI as my daily and for autocross (the car is generally not the limiting factor, it's me) and I do not want to get into track driving, so there is no need. But I have driven the C5 Z06 and also the first-gen Cayman and just want either of those. Or both would be fine, too.

Because of ground clearance on the Vette and also my getting used to all of the luxury features of my loaded modern GTI, I wouldn't rush to daily a C5 Z06. And I'm not comfortable regularly driving a car that people (both clients and friends) perceive as being very expensive. Fortunately the GTI is very good at all things, which makes it hard to justify getting something else.

So, I'll continue to live vicariously through folks like you and friends with fun cars, and once in a while get a drive in a proper sports car. I know this isn't the setting for making a statement like that, but I'm confident that it will work for me in the long run. (Countdown starts now for when I break down over the winter and start looking again . . .)

russ_mill New Reader
10/15/18 9:22 a.m.

I totally get that. The GTI is a great car in the first place. And I understand what you mean about perceived expensiveness - I've had to explain that it costs less than almost any new car a few times. 

In a similar vein, I stayed with the Civic SI for 5 years for a lot of the same reasons. It's not luxurious by any means, but it is good at quite a lot of things. It's slow, but could be considered quick, and the clutch and shifter are amazing by all accounts - Bettie's shifter feels like a tractor in comparison lol. In 137k miles of ownership, besides regular maintenance, I have had to replace 1 idler pulley. I'm not kidding, that is literally all the SI has needed. When I eventually sell it, I expect I will be rather sad.

russ_mill New Reader
10/15/18 8:02 p.m.

Today, I took the alternator to the rebuild shop. The guy was very honest and tested it and it made no squeal. I guess the rest of the squeal is coming from the blown PS pump, which is easy to believe. 

So I got impatient and put it back in the car and took out the seat:


And cleaned underneath:


And my OCD is now cured. I felt, uneasy? I guess until I got that done. But all better now!

Harvey SuperDork
10/15/18 10:07 p.m.

Cool stuff! Good to see another z06 brought out of the dark. I vote leave the pop up headlights!

clutchsmoke SuperDork
10/16/18 8:30 a.m.

Following along as I am likely picking up a 2002 Z06 next year since my aging father hardly drives it anymore. 

And the weird thing is I also own an 8th gen Civic Si. 

Go_Gators Reader
10/16/18 8:47 a.m.

Looks like a nice example of the best optioned C5s. Like i love to tell vette owners looking at my LS1-KART, drive carefully out there (and not on 15 year old tires) or someone will do 'this' to it!


russ_mill New Reader
10/16/18 5:33 p.m.
clutchsmoke said:

Following along as I am likely picking up a 2002 Z06 next year since my aging father hardly drives it anymore. 

And the weird thing is I also own an 8th gen Civic Si. 

Haha well, they're both great cars! I'm sure you've driven the c5z then? Part of what compelled me to start looking for one (I never thought the relative would sell the car, but when they heard I was looking they told me they were ready to sell it as they don't use it) was that it is almost at the complete opposite end of the automotive spectrum. FWD high strung 4 cyl. sedan to RWD torquey v8 coupe.  And honestly, I sometimes miss the SI shifter and clutch when I'm driving the vette. But I ALWAYS miss the v8 when I'm driving the civic lol. Well, until the gas station, that is crying.  So, a little down the line will be an aftermarket shifter, but there's lots on the table before that, and to be honest, I blew through a lot of cash just making the vette roadworthy again.

russ_mill New Reader
10/16/18 5:39 p.m.
Go_Gators said:

Looks like a nice example of the best optioned C5s. Like i love to tell vette owners looking at my LS1-KART, drive carefully out there (and not on 15 year old tires) or someone will do 'this' to it!


Haha, tires are the first thing that went! I was nervous even to drive it to the tire store, to be honest. But like I said on your thread, you've got one of my favorite builds here. I make sure I catch up on Irishj44's thread and Lof8's thread and yours whenever I get on. And because of that, I still see a vettekart in my future. I hope that nothing happens to this one of course, but long term, who knows? 

There's three things on my list before that though, in terms of an automotive bucket list: Autocross Bettie, buy and race a lo206 kart, and start rallycrossing. I won't know which I like most until I do them all!



russ_mill New Reader
10/16/18 5:41 p.m.

Today, I did break down and order some more parts.

I have a turn one P/S pump on the way, my aluminum moroso reservoir is here, and I broke down and ordered an oil catch can. Also on the way are spark plugs and spark plug wires. Once those are here, there will be more updates! And I hope I get stickers with them all - I like them for my toolbox and rear window lol. Besides the fixed headlights, I'm hoping that's the last of my large expenses for awhile - I think my credit card is on fire!

clutchsmoke SuperDork
10/16/18 9:46 p.m.

In reply to russ_mill :

Hah! Your Si is a sedan too?! Great minds and all that. They are very different cars and I find myself wanting to add torque (supercharge probably) to the civic so I don't *have* to wind it out, but then if I want torque I could also just grab the keys to the Z06.

Shifter in the Si is quite good, but not miata/RX-8 good. Years ago when I drove the Z06 often I snagged a used Hurst short shifter and threw that on. That was an upgrade from stock, but I think installing a C6 shifter is probably the best option. I have yet to try one. It's a cheap upgrade so you can throw just a little more gas on that credit card fire. 

russ_mill New Reader
10/17/18 7:01 a.m.

In reply to clutchsmoke :

Ok, that's good to know. I've heard great things about the Hurst but hearing it's maybe not my best choice from someone who has the same automotive history weighs heavier. I guess everyone at least agrees the stock shifter isn't great lol

clutchsmoke SuperDork
10/17/18 10:21 a.m.

With the Hurst there is definitely increased effort to change gear. I've heard the action of the shifter likened to operating a bolt action rifle and I pretty strongly agree with that. 

badwaytolive Reader
10/17/18 10:57 a.m.

Great thread, thanks for sharing.

I had an '03 Z06 for about 7 years that I alternately DD'd and tracked. It was a great car that was horrendously fast for the money (with no engine mods, I was running 1:42's on street tires at MSR Houston). I slowly "upgraded" a number things until it was practically undrivable on Houston roads, but it got so fast on track, I also worried about not having a cage and the LS6 blowing up, so I panicked and sold it.

I don't think I regret selling it. It was really a monstrous handful to drive. My favorite mods were the racing seat, quick-release steering wheel, CCA racing pedals, MGW short shifter, Penske coilovers, and AP Racing front brake calipers.

Make sure to suck out the clutch fluid from the reservoir (with a turkey baster or big syringe) and replace with fresh fluid frequently. It might help keep the clutch pedal sticking to the floor after hard runs. The proper way to fix the issue is a remote slave bleeder, but that's a really annoying install, so I never did it (I should have). I did install a Tick Adjustable Master to help combat the issue as well, and that definitely helped.

Anyhow, I was super deep into these cars for awhile, so please hit me up with any questions if you feel like it.


russ_mill New Reader
10/17/18 12:37 p.m.

In reply to badwaytolive :

Thanks Damen

That's a beautiful car there. I did the clutch fluid and I'll keep doing it every few months, and especially before and after autocross days.

On my long list of upgrades (after my initial break in/maintenance catch up period of making sure it's relatively bulletproof) is a shifter and the coilovers. Did the coilovers fix the bounce/unsettling of the suspension over rough surfaces? That, and the dead center of steering are what I would really love to cure.

badwaytolive Reader
10/17/18 1:15 p.m.
russ_mill said:

Did the coilovers fix the bounce/unsettling of the suspension over rough surfaces? That, and the dead center of steering are what I would really love to cure.

The coilovers were setup for the track, and I'd even go so far as to say a relatively smooth track. I'm not a professional, but even I would say it was too stiff for our bumpy Texas tracks. And then I'm not near good enough of a driver/engineer to be able to say with any certainty whether the damping was properly matched to the springs. I bought them used from a very serious C7 Z06 racer in Southern California and never did get the dyno sheet for them. Now that I'm saying it out loud, it sounds like some pretty half-ass work by me. Whoops.

So to answer your question, no, my particular coilovers didn't fix bounce/unsettling over bad surfaces. In fact, it's possible it made that worse. Now that I'm an old man, I like to think that I'd spend a bit more time backing into a proper setup given my desired ride frequency, the actual sprung mass, and the motion ratios of the suspension, then purchase the proper equipment.

They were, however, unarguably good for lowering the car to an undriveable height :)

That front lip took some serious abuse.


russ_mill New Reader
10/17/18 2:30 p.m.

In reply to badwaytolive :

I really love that look, I'm just worried about hitting the front even more - I've already had to touch up the UHMW strips twice with black paint lol. 

I don't know enough about suspension at this point, so I'll just have to keep reading. I want the aggressive handling, but not unsettled feeling across even small bumps, as Columbus has MANY potholes. Almost constant potholes, really lol. Is that possible? I guess I'll read up and see for myself!

Harvey SuperDork
10/18/18 12:03 p.m.

Some tips for you on the suspension and the car.

  • Get some Koni shocks for the car and skip the coilovers. The stock suspension is fine overall. Coilovers are a waste of money for pretty much everyone that just wants to have fun with the car at autox or the occasional track day. You won't test the limits of the stock suspension very often and if you do you're flying. You can upgrade the swaybars if you find that the car leans too much for your chosen application.
  • Don't lower the car. The car is fairly low already from the factory. If it is lowered now beyond stock then raise it back up. Lowering it more will just make it a worse riding and worse performing car and you will hit the front end on everything. If you go to coilovers just to lower the car and still want it to perform properly the springs will have to be a lot stiffer and your street performance will suffer. All those bumps you are complaining about will come back to haunt you tenfold.
  • Check that the front and rear swaybar bushings are not bound up and add lubricant to them if necessary. These can be noisy if dried out.
  • Check that your tie rods ends are in good shape. This can affect steering feel.
  • Check bushings and other rubber bits, including motor mounts and transmission mounts for wear and replace as necessary.

Once you have the various suspension and steering bits sorted get the car a good alignment from a shop that will corner weight it with you in the car. This can make a big difference overall in how the car feels to drive.

I run my C6 Z06 in solo AS, the two cars are not far off in performance for that application. The limits of both cars are extremely high with the stock springs and some Konis. If you are going past those limits you are either a really amazing driver or a really crappy driver.

The first inclination with anyone, including myself, is to throw things at the car for more performance, but honestly other than the durability of some of the stock parts there is not much that makes the car faster that doesn't heavily compromise it as a street car because the limits of the car are just that high. 

I don't think you're going to find that it will never be a great driver over rough roads. It's a low car with a fairly stiff suspension from the factory riding on wide relatively thin stiff sidewall tires.

A 401 CJ
A 401 CJ Dork
10/18/18 4:54 p.m.

I haven’t had any serious mechanical issues with mine.  The niggly little crap however is enough to drive one out of their mind.  Here’s what I’ve fixed on mine alone with help from the interwebs:  

1) traction control / ABS / active handling module failed.  Traded the core for a rebuilt one from some guy in the Midwest who has sent his kids to college by doing nothing else

2) steering wheel lock failed leaving the car immobile.  Internet to the rescue.  There is a way you can strong-arm it and defeat the locking mechanism until you get it home and do the necessary bypass.  Fortunately for me it failed at my house.  YOU NEED TO BYPASS THIS NOW¡  Google it!

3) AC started blowing out the defrost vents only.  Here the problem is that a vacuum hose that is key to operating the door that controls where the HVAC blows is routed in close proximity to the out gassing battery.  It becomes porous and then AC no es bueno.  Had to just about pull the fender to get at it.

4) check valves connected to the AIR pump (emissions) failed throwing a CEL.  Easy diagnosis since the DIC tells you exactly what the fault is.  Straight forward fix but the intake has to be pulled.  Actually a rather enjoyable job.  I wanted to wrench on it anyway that night.

5) windshield washer button stuck and not only emptied the reservoir but burned up the motor too since it was pouring rain and I didn’t want to try and stop to unplug it.   I have not fixed this.

6) the HVAC display is so dim it can only be read at night.  This is common.  There are some surface mount resistors that come unsoldered.  I have not fixed this.

7) they leak.  Say what?!  Yep.  Almost all of the FRCs will if it rains hard enough and the car isn’t parked perfectly level.  You may or may not have success by “milking the udders”.  Google that one too.


But to borrow a line from one of the hitchhikers Warren Oates picked up in Two Lane Blacktop, “..mister she sure does go some...”





russ_mill New Reader
10/19/18 6:59 a.m.

In reply to Harvey :

Thanks Harvey! I have checked most of that stuff, but will be doing a more thorough investigation when I do my brake fluid since I'll have some room to see. Thanks for the Koni suggestion - I am going to skip the coilovers, and it's not lowered/I don't have plans to lower it. I'll look into the konis, but that will be next year and I'll see how it behaves with a good alignment first.

russ_mill New Reader
10/19/18 7:10 a.m.

In reply to A 401 CJ :

Oh yeah, I've ran/I foresee running into all this little small stuff. I even bought the LMC5 bypass, I just haven't put it in yet frown. The stock bass on mine seems to rattle... everything. And I'm not bumping heavy bass stuff really lol. You can tell where GM spent their money on this one, and that's perfectly fine to me.

I like simplicity, so a lot of times when something fails, I'll decide if I can live without. So in your case, I would have ripped out the windshield washer motor and reservoir and wires and called it a day haha. I wouldn't make it a hack job, and I'd make covers for any holes, etc., I guess simplicity just eases my mind. I'd be looking at the windshield washer motor and wondering when something would fail again and I'd get anxious. 

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