Don't tell a guy from Philadelphia he can't do something. At least, that's what Bob Lima says. Bob owns Philadelphia Motorsports, which builds custom race cars and street rods. While the shop has produced many cool rods, it had never taken on a project like this.
"I've always been into mid-years and sharks, and we were working on a C4 conversion," Bob says. "But we said, 'Why do that when the C5 is the best thing out there?' We wanted to do a C5 conversion for a shark, and we started looking around for people who had done it and couldn't find anyone who did. Well, after that, we had to do it."
The result of the determination of Bob and the Philadelphia Motorsports staff is this C5-chassis, '69 Corvette T-top. "We've built a lot of street rods," he adds. "But this is the most awesome thing we've done so far."
Now that Bob and his crew have successfully completed a C5 conversion, it opens the doors for other C2/C3 to C5 conversions. "The '69 is a prototype," Bob says. "Right now, we're working on a '64 conversion." Bob added there has been a lot of interest in buying the car, but he wants to hold onto it right now because it serves as an example of the possibilities.
The engine really packs a wallop. It's a ZZ-502 GM Performance crate motor. The "502" applies to both the published horsepower and torque ratings. But Bob says those numbers are a little conservative. "We put it on an engine dyno and got 559 lb-ft of torque," he says. "At 4,700 rpm, it gets 550 lb-ft. This motor never stops. You won't need a seatbelt to hold you in, either. It's the wildest ride you'll want to take."
Getting the crate motor to fit required shortening the torque tube and driveshaft. But other than that, it nestled in pretty well. The engine features an L88 cowl-induction air-cleaner assembly. March Performance supplied the polished-aluminum serpentine pulley system with a polished-aluminum reverse-flow water pump and a Sanden A/C compressor. The 304 stainless steel step headers were handmade by Philadelphia Motorsports' Sal Donato. "We put merge collectors behind the headers," Bob adds, "so this thing breathes unbelievably."
While Bob owns Philadelphia Motorsports, Sal is the man who runs the day-to-day operations of the shop and was the fabricating force behind this incredible shark.
"I own the shop, but I'm Sal's helper," Bob says. "[The '69] was my concept, but he made the whole thing really happen. He designed the chassis one piece of tubing at a time. If I had built the thing, we'd be lucky if it rolled."
Along with the custom chassis, custom sway bars had to be made because the car's stance is narrower than a factory C5's. Still, the suspension is fully adjustable. All the welding is TIG-style.
While the car took over a year to design, it took a mere three months to build. Bob and Sal wanted to have it ready for the '03 Corvettes at Carlisle. "We never would have tried to do it in three months if it hadn't been for that deadline," Bob says. "We worked 20-hour days seven days a week to get it finished."
While the chassis is all DOM mild-steel tubing, the body required almost as much piecing together. It began as nothing more than a rear clip, but a solid one at that. The floor is a two-piece fiberglass fabrication (firewall to bulkhead) designed to accommodate the C5 components. The front and rear ends have each been molded together into a solid piece. The front grille is also one piece, hand-molded from perforated thin-gauge steel. The L88 hood arrived from Eckler's, and the Sebring headlight covers are courtesy of Dick Guldstrand. "He was a big help to us," Bob says. "The man is a wealth of information."
The Sebring headlight covers are especially important. Bob has always been an admirer of the Sebring road racers of the late '60s, and he wanted to build this car in their image. The interior reflects this intent, with Auto Meter Phantom gauges, a carbon-fiber gauge pod and tunnel area, an Old Air Products A/C, and Kirkey aluminum road-racing seats with an M&R five-point harness.
For the exterior, PPG black was mixed with red pearl to give the car a "black cherry" appearance. Then, a similar blend with more red was used to paint the cowl. "I had no idea what it would look like before we put it on, but I think it came out great," Bob says. "The [cowl] has a ghost stripe-sometimes you see it, sometimes you don't."
Another achievement in bodywork came in the form of scoops built into the side T-top panel. These scoops feed air through a duct to cool the rear brakes. The brakes are Wilwood units (six-piston in the front and four-piston in the rear). "The original C5 brakes are very good," Bob says, "but we needed an upgrade. We plan on beating this thing to death, and we have to be able to stop it."
Bob and company plan to start delivering that beating this summer. While the car is meant to be a street rod, it will see some dragstrip passes as well. The car will be entered in three RCCA events and the Delaware Valley Corvette Club's Corvette Challenge. Great effort was placed on getting the car's weight distribution to nearly dead-on 50/50. Sal estimates the car will run e.t.'s in the low 10s. "If it doesn't," Bob adds, "We'll use nitrous."
"I've never been this excited about a project," Bob says. "The interest and acceptance Sal and I received at Carlisle was a great experience."
Who knows what will come out of Philadelphia Motorsports next? It could be something unbelievable. All it takes is someone to tell them they can't built it.