In late 2000, Alex Kawana had become tired of driving a rental car while his Mazda was being repaired. His frustration eventually spilled over to his two Southern California medical group partners who cured their impatience by ordering three new Corvettes. While his partners were content with their stock vehicles, Alex went the full-mod mode. His strategy was to build a streetable but race-bred Corvette that plays hard on the track yet is docile enough for a nighttime cruise.
Alex's black '01 features a coil-over suspension, bigger brakes, rollbar, fire-suppression system, body modifications, stroked engine and, of course, wheels and tires. It was Alex's interest in new rolling stock that started this ongoing project. His driving route often led past By Design Automotive Group, an upscale Los Angeles customizing shop best known for selling and modifying Porsches and Ferraris, but which also has experience with most late-model performance cars. Stopping by one day, Alex started talking about purchasing bigger wheels and tires, and ended up walking out with a $19,000 bill. "They have very good salespeople there," he jokes.
Up front, By Design wrapped P245/35ZR19 Yokohama AVS Sport rubber around 19x9.5 HRE wheels. The rear received P285/30ZR20 around 20x11 wheels. By Design also installed 14-inch Brembo brakes on the front wheels. Engine breathing was enhanced with a Halltech cold-air intake, short-tube headers, a Bassani X-pipe, lightweight Z06 exhaust pipes, and a Magnaflow muffler. With this setup on the dyno jet, Alex's Corvette recorded a best of just over 313 hp at the rear wheels. Peak torque came in at 320.6 lb-ft.
In the winter of 2001, disaster stuck. Alex was driving through an unfamiliar hospital parking lot during a torrential El Nino nighttime storm. As he tried to make his way to the unlighted doctors' area, he hit a wall of water in a drainage area.
"The water came up to the windshield. I could hear it being sucked into the intake as I was reaching for the ignition key," he says.
Remember that lesson from physics class that teaches liquids can't be compressed? The LS1 snapped a connecting rod that cut holes in both the oil pan and the side of the engine block. The car was towed to a Chevy dealer, which informed Alex that a replacement crate engine would cost over $12,000.
"I figured if I had to pay that much, I'd have a custom engine built," says Alex, who had the Corvette towed to Morgan Motorsports in Reseda.
Starting with a new block, Mike Morgan installed a 4-inch-stroke Scat crankshaft, Ross 0.010-inch-over pistons, and Callies connecting rods. The first cam choice offered 219 degrees at 0.050-inch lift, then Morgan went with a 229-degree camshaft. Total lift with stock rockers is 0.578-inch, and the lobe separation is 114 degrees. The heads hold 2.02-inch intake/1.57-inch exhaust valves, and were given a Stage II porting treatment. Final compression ratio is 10.8:1. Lubrication modifications include a blueprinted oil pump, cooler, and a 1-quart accumulator that pumps oil into the system should there be an unexpected loss of pressure, such as during hard cornering. Morgan left the stock injectors but added a Granatelli Motor Sports mass airflow sensor, an 80mm BBK throttle body, and long-tube B&B headers. Morgan's technicians recalibrated the engine-management computer during rear-wheel dyno testing. Final numbers: 431.4 hp at 6,000 rpm and 424.3 lb-ft of torque at 4,700 rpm.
Unbeknown to Alex, when the engine coughed up the connecting rod the violent action put kinks in the driveline. Uneven power transfer between the engine and torque tube eventually destroyed two clutches at the track. The problem was discovered when Alex was having the third clutch installed. He noticed a bow in the torque tube while twirling it as it rested upright against a wall, so a stiffer torque tube from a Z06 was installed along with a Star Performance (SPEC) Stage III clutch.
Although Alex had the Hypercoil coilover suspension installed at another garage, Tillack Race Shop of Redondo Beach made it work right. Renowned for restoring Ferraris for shows and vintage racing, Tillack first made a stabilizer plate for the rear shocks, then custom-valved the Koni shocks at all four corners. Using four-wheel scales and dummy weights to simulate the driver, Tillack set the ride height and adjusted the springs (rates: 700-pound front, 500-pound rear) for a near perfect balance of the 3,405-pound car. Front-wheel weights are split 887/832 (left and right) and the rear wheels are split 844/841 (left and right). Tillack also installed 14-inch Brembo brakes on the rear. A Hotchkis antiroll bar and polyurethane bushings round out the suspension hardware.
REBS Specialties of Reseda fabricated the four-point rollbar and installed it after applying the red powdercoating. REBS also installed Simpson belts, relocated the battery to the rear, and installed an oil-vapor catch can in the engine bay. Tillack installed the fire-suppression system.
A Wheel-to-Wheel front fascia and chin spoiler ordered from Corvette Garage enhance the body. Alex worked with his local body shop to install the kit, which he says, "fit perfectly." The rear-brake cooling ducts came from ACI, while the non-popup, clear-cover headlights are from Breathless Performance.
As it sits, Alex's Corvette looks as sharp as a hot street machine, with the distinctive body kit and bigger wheels. But on the track, the C5 truly shows its prowess and abilities. Alex often goes to Southern California tracks for club events, including Willow Springs and Buttonwillow. He's a member of the Vette Set club based in Torrance (see www.thevetteset.com), and he often attends open-track days sponsored by Alltime Racing. Here, a group of car owners pitch in to rent the track for a day and get in as much seat time as the tires, engine, or clutch can handle (see www.alltimeracing.com for more information).
Alex tows or sometimes drives his Corvette to the track, then switches to Hoosier race tires (305/30ZR18 rear, 275/35ZR18 front) mounted on XMS wheels from Corvette Garage (9.5x18 front, 11x18 rear). A little bit more negative camber is dialed into the suspension settings, but Alex keeps the other settings neutral. Alex will reach 140 mph down the long front straightaway at Willow Springs and has recorded lap times in the low- to mid-1:30s. For those looking for comparison, full-on '60s Trans Am race cars like Mark Donohue's '69 Camaro ran in the 1-minute, 35-second range at that same track.
Alex's '01 Corvette coupe is the full complement of performance and handling. He's thought of everything, a fact that proves out every time it takes to the track. Now if he can just stay away from those parking-lot downpours, his enthusiasm would be unsinkable. From our vantage point, his Corvette fun appears watertight.