Is it better to buy factory performance or add it yourself?
Well, if you ask Don and Tanya Pauley, it’s cheaper to do the latter. They took a standard C5 and gave it way more performance and personality than a factory Z06, and all for the same amount of money.
Before getting into the build details, though, a bit of background. They’ve owned a few Corvettes over the years, starting with a 1973 silver T-top back in 1977 purchased right after they were married. They owned that car for 10 years, but when kids came along they agreed to sell it since family came first. The buyer was an F-15 fighter pilot who flew from Boise, Idaho, to Indianapolis to check out the car, and promptly drove it back home.
Next came the Corvette you see here, a 2000 C5 purchased direct from the factory in Bowling Green. Initially, Tanya wanted a black one and Don a yellow one. They ended up getting a white one, though, with a view to giving a custom black-and-yellow paint job as a happy compromise.
Before that happened, however, they couple went on a road trip out West, and while driving through Utah, came upon an exit sign for the Bonneville Salt Flats. The Arctic White Corvette blended into the vast expanse of desert scape of the Flats, where Don was able to run the car up to 140 mph. This number would prove to be an important benchmark for him for evaluating an upgrade to the car’s performance, as we’ll see.
“That seemed to be about its upper limit—and it took half a day to clean off all the salt,” Don laughs. Upon their return, he decided the car needed some forced induction, and sought out John Lingenfelter for a boost. As in 12 pounds worth delivered by a Magnuson blower, along with a few other tweaks.
At Lingenfelter’s shop, the engine was lowered from underneath the car so it could be fitted with the supercharger, bigger injectors, Donaldson intake, Lingenfelter cam and long-tube headers and B&B cat-back exhaust and muffler. Just 10 days later, the car was back on its wheels and tearing up the highway.
For comparison, a factory 2004 Z06 produced 405 hp, but the supercharged Lingenfelter raised the stock C5 to 585 horses at the wheels. This substantial gain in power came with one caution, though. Since the transmission stayed stock, John advised Don not to go any bigger on the tires, so they acted as a spinning safety valve on the power delivery. He did, however, swap out the stock C5’s open-faced “wagon wheels” for some C6 rims, preferring their tighter style.
The custom paint and interior would take a whole lot longer than the engine mods, though, lasting through the winter of ’04 and ’05. As inspiration, Don came across a paint scheme on a Corvette owned by a well-known racer, Lou Gigliotti.
“I wanted my car to look like his,” Don relates. But with a few extra personal touches. He took some photos of Lou’s car to John Wargo of The Custom Shop to see if he could handle the detailed scallops. “Piece of cake,” John said. Easier said than done, though, as he shared some of the insider techniques involved in this intricate yellow-jacket color scheme.
One goal was to minimize “film build;” that is, too many layers of paint, especially on a composite Corvette body that expands and contracts, which could cause the paint to crack over time. Since it’s easier to paint black over yellow, rather than the reverse (which would require several extra coats), he saved the dark color for last. Even so, getting all those scallops right required disassembling and reassembling all the body panels a couple of times. Another challenge was keeping the lines straight all the way from front to back. He also persuaded Don not to do a straight copy of Gigliotti’s car.
“I prefer some creative freedom to make every car a little different,” John says. “I wanted to put a modern twist on an old-school look, to really make it pop.” So he added some “real-fire flames” airbrushed on the custom carbon-fiber covers in the engine bay, supplied by Mid America Motorworks, and on the taller Lingenfelter hood (required for extra clearance over the blower case).
Once done, Don says that Corvette owners who see the car at all the shows he’s attended enjoy the visually intense graphic treatment. And he laughs about one guy’s that quip about the complexity of the hues and fades: “Whoever painted that car is probably in a rubber room.”
As for the originally camel-colored cockpit, C5 interior specialist Vette Essentials supplied black leather upholstery with yellow piping, echoing the exterior’s color scheme. Mid America stepped up again with some additional trim items for the interior.
Once done, Don says the amount of money he invested in all the customizing added up to the same as the overall cost of a C5 Z06, yet with way more power to boot, as noted. For rolling proof, recall his original benchmark at Bonneville. He took a run out West again, where he fired off 170 mph, a substantial gain in top speed. He felt the car had even more ammo on tap, but “I ran out of nerve,” he admits.
That’s a dramatic difference behind the wheel, even compared with his 2014 C7 daily driver, which lacks the supercharged sting of his C5. Not to mention the colors of a yellow jacket as well.