Installation Photographs by Ken Adrianse When Ken Adrianse's '65 convertible was first featured on the pages of VETTE in September 1996 ("Drop-Top FUELIE," pg. 38). It was "just" another beautifully restored, one-owner mid-year roadster with a 375hp factory fuel-injected 327 small-block.
My how things change! The '65 is still every bit as gorgeous as it was seven-plus years ago, and Ken is still the Vette's only owner--but it's no longer totally stock. Ken, a now-retired school teacher living in Burbank, California, with his wife Ann, has been careful for 38 years to personalize his Vette without cobbling it up. Now he's truly taken it to another level by adapting a Vortech supercharger onto the NCRS-type Vette. Ken's been no stranger to tinkering with his Corvette over the years, but engineering a blower onto the Rochester mechanical fuel-injection system (without cutting or modifying any original parts!) has got to be his crowning achievement with the car.
In April of 1965, while Ken was completing his last semester of studies at Western Michigan University, he ordered himself a brand-new Corvette convertible from C. Bell Chevrolet in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Ken indulged in the typical options for his new sports car, like power brakes, Posi-traction, a close-ratio four-speed, tinted glass, and an AM/FM radio. But as a soon-to-be college grad on a relatively slim budget, Ken could not yet afford the premium option he wanted so much: fuel injection. Instead, Ken settled for a carbureted 327/300hp motor, one step up from the standard 327/250hp engine.
Ken took delivery of his new convertible on June 30, 1965 and, "I can vividly remember watching the salesman drive the car down a ramp and park it on the street in front of the showroom," he tells us. "It was a dream come true!" In August, Ken moved to Southern California to begin his teaching career. "I made the trip to California in about four days with all my possessions in the Vette--including a two-drawer file cabinet. Burbank has been my home ever since arriving in 1965."
Ken settled into his new home, new career, and new Corvette quite nicely, but he never forgot about the fuel injection. "I was fascinated by the various magazine articles back then that featured the mechanical F.I. unit as the ultimate induction system." In the late '60s, Ken went hunting for an F.I. system and finally heard that Dick Guldstrand had a complete unit for sale. The induction system had been used on one of Dick's race cars. "After one visit to his shop in Culver City [California] to look at this unit," Ken recalls, "I was hooked. Dick had completely restored every piece of the system to look like new." At a price of $275 for the complete F.I. unit, less air cleaner and "S" tube (roughly half of the cost for an RPO L84 in 1965), Ken couldn't go wrong.
About two weeks later, Ken had installed the fuel-injection system, along with all the other components (including pistons, camshaft, lifters, exhaust manifolds...) necessary to create a factory-spec 327/375hp Fuelie. It took several months, however, to work out all the little gremlins. Ken eventually realized that Dick had modified the injector nozzles for his racing application. A new set of nozzles made the car run perfect. Ken was now extremely satisfied with his toy.
Ken continued to use the '65 as his daily driver for 15 years. "After our daughter was born in 1978, it didn't get much use for several years." Ken pulled the mid-year out of mothballs in August 1988 to begin restoring it. "Little did I know that this would be a huge undertaking that would require six years and 3,800 hours to complete!," he admits without regret. After a complete frame-off restoration where all the work--save for paint and engine machining--was done in his garage, Ken had himself a fantastic "Sunday driver."
For 10 years, Ken was happy cruising around in his stock roadster, attending six to eight car shows a year, and collecting his "share of trophies." When Ken retired from the Los Angeles County Office of Education in April 2001, he threw down the gauntlet. "I wanted to do something unique to my dream car. Because superchargers were becoming popular on modern EFI engines, installing one on my mechanical Rochester F.I. seemed like a challenge I couldn't resist...the 327 small-block was rated at 375hp in 1965, so why not add five or six pounds of boost to increase that number by 45 or 50 percent? With the Rochester design utilizing an air meter, fuel meter, and plenum to vent the air into the cylinders, it appeared to be a natural fit for a modern centrifugal supercharger." Ken invested many hours researching the prospect, but couldn't find anyone who had successfully attempted such a feat.
With the Rochester fuel injection having been around since 1957, it seemed logical that someone at some time would have toyed with the concept. "I started by asking fellow gear-heads in Southern California, but few had any working knowledge of how the mechanical F.I. system worked, let alone trying to supercharge one," Ken tells us. Next he posed the question to several colleagues in his local NCRS chapter, but again to no avail. The Internet provided Ken with some answers to his blower questions, but the only luck so far was for carbureted motors. Ken found a catalog collector in the United Kingdom who sent him pictures from Paxton illustrating all the parts and pieces necessary to supercharge a carbureted '56 Corvette. But, again, the McCullough blower was designed for dual four-barrel carbs.
After months of searching but finding no answers, Ken almost gave up. Then he remembered a conversation he had several years before with Tom Lee of Lee Power Steering in Sun Valley, California, about his use of a Rochester system. Ken contacted him and was elated to learn that Tom had indeed designed a similar blower system on a '58 F.I. Corvette. He'd had many problems to overcome, particularly because he'd forced the boost through the air meter and that caused issues with the vacuum-controlled main diaphragm that determines fuel mixture. It was very fast in the end, but Tom hadn't saved any records or pictures of his achievement.
Talking with Tom encouraged Ken to continue his foray; so the search continued. Then another name from the past surfaced, and Ken called up Chris Wichersham of Corvette Specialty Parts in Monrovia, California. "In a call to Chris in early October 2002, I heard the words I'd been looking for: 'Sure, it can be done!' So we set up a lunch date to work out the design details. After two hours of lunch and discussion, we had solved most of the inherent design problems."
Chris and Ken decided the key would be to mount the air meter to the inlet of the supercharger, which would maintain the vacuum signal necessary to regulate the flow of fuel to the injectors.
Now that Ken was fairly convinced that it was doable, he went blower shopping. "Shawn Roberts of Extreme Automotive in Canoga Park, California, referred me to Todd Armstrong, CEO at Vortech Engineering, who suggested that I go to their facility to see if one of [their] head units would fit." He did so in November, and spent an hour with John Snee and Chris Wahley of Vortech test-fitting several different compressors in the Vette's limited space, and they finally opted for a V-2 SQ S-Trim supercharger. "Todd offered to let me borrow an old compressor unit to use as a mockup, and I gladly accepted his offer!"
Ken's installation process began the very next day, and he took extreme precautions to preserve the originality of the Corvette. "Even though it wasn't an original Fuelie, I did not want to modify, cut, or destroy any of the original parts like inner fender panels, underside of the hood, or any engine part. I was committed to fabricating all of the necessary parts using existing bolt patterns in the block or on the F.I. system, and I was successful in all but one area." Other than being unable to avoid tapping a 1/4-inch hole in the stock oil pan for a return oil line, Ken kept his word. Between November 23, 2002 and May 3, 2003, Ken invested 472 hours in the project!
The installation was a rousing success, meshing new technology to old without compromising either. Ken says, "I was surprised that drivability was just like it was without the supercharger, except for that sweet whine or whistle only a supercharger can provide." Ken notes that Vortech's SQ designation stands for "Super Quiet," referring to its helically-cut gears. As for performance, well, it really performs. Ken estimates 475-plus rwhp at 6,000 rpm and 500 lb-ft torque at 4,800 rmp. And he plans to verify these numbers soon when he dials in the motor's tuning on a chassis dynamometer.
Yup. Ken's defied the odds and guaranteed that his '65 Fuelie convertible is more than just another pretty face!
HOW HE DID IT
Though the Rochester mechanical fuel-injection system has been around since the '57 model year, and approximately 13,000 Corvettes were equipped with F.I. induction from '57-65, surprisingly few people have attempted to supercharge one, and even fewer have succeeded. The installation that Ken performed on his '65 Fuelie is marvelous. It looks natural under the mid-year hood and runs perfectly, and he managed to keep 99.9 percent of his commitment to not modify any original pieces.
Luckily for us, Ken carefully documented the process he took so we could share it with you.