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1999 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible - Rich Boy's Corvette On A Poor Boy's Budget

Bill Kelly's Creative Corvette Building

Jerry Heasley Nov 1, 2004
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Bill Kelly's secret to success is picking out the parts that work for a tasteful build and no more. According to him, building modified cars isn't so different from the styling thoughts Chevrolet engineers have when they fashion a special-model Corvette such as the 50th Anniversary. Sometimes restraint is the hardest part of the job-not to go overboard.

"Most people who have these kinds of cars," Bill says, "have open checkbooks and they can just do anything they want. We can't do that. So we're trying to personalize our '99 Corvette convertible within our means and make it work. I wanted a car so I could just stand back and watch [someone's] jaw drop, [one] that is just totally magnificent. This is that beautiful car."

With Bill's '99, restraint worked right into his budget. Limited financing has its positive points, as efficiency is not always a word used in the creation of show Corvettes.

Bill says, "We're poor Corvette owners. We just do a little bit at a time. We don't try to impress everyone. We just try to satisfy a few needs or wants at a time."

The first want involved clearing the new-versus-used barrier. The Kelly family's previous three Corvettes were used, so it was time to buy a new Corvette ... sort of. Bill's Torch Red '99 convertible was new with a few miles. It was a salesman's demonstrator.

"To me, if you spend that kind of money, you buy a luxury car," he says. "So I put the woodgrain trim inside to give it a luxury feel 'cause these cars have a luxury-car ride compared to the old ones. I didn't want to ruin the seats, so I put on those neoprene seat covers (Wet Okole) to protect the leather. If you replace the leather you're talking what, $1,500 to $2,500?"

With the shifter and brake boots, Bill went with red, like the Z06. He got a deal on the matching, custom, two-tone steering wheel from a lady in his Corvette club. Bill saw another C5 in Corvette Fever with a painted side cove and decided he liked the idea. This slash of white would be the most daring modification on the whole car. His neighbor, a body-shop owner, did the job.

Under the hood, the red paint matches the exterior. Bill's neighbor painted the fuel-rail covers, body tanks, and fan housing. Bill purchased the chrome "here and there on sale."

The two mechanical upgrades are the addition of a twin K&N airflow system and a MagnaFlow after-cat exhaust system. "It's not real loud," Bill says. "I didn't want something to sound like a race car, but it's got that old '60s and '70s rumble in the cockpit."

His '99 buildup was impressive enough to win a celebrity award at the 2004 C5 Bash at the National Corvette Museum. Teresa Rich, Performance Car Team human resources manager for GM, picked Bill's Corvette out of all the C5s at the Bash. Her evaluation: "Beautifully acknowledged Corvettes of the past. Superb personalization and pristinely clean."

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