World-class performance, high-production numbers, and varying gradients of available options make the Corvette the true American sportscar. These flexible parameters drive home the fact that our domestic-built, Porsche-eating, favorite car is almost always easily obtainable and reasonably priced. The exclusivity of Corvette ownership is somewhat lax compared to the scarcely raced and rarely abused Aston Martin, Ferrari, and Bentley super cars, with some cashing in at more than seven figures. Corvettes, on the other hand, especially the most recent factory race-bred machines, are quite comfortable being thrown sideways through turns, launching hard off of starting lines, and consistently delivering wins on race day. The Corvette constantly raises the performance bar with each new model, while still surviving as one of the longest-lived American vehicles still in production. But racing Corvettes doesn't come without its cost.
Many of us have walked local salvage yards and swap meets and seen the shattered remains of previous Vettes laid to waste. Merlin Erdner, proprietor of his own Enid, Oklahoma, body shop, stumbled across this '00 Vette in January 2003. Back then, the convertible was a coupe, but a badly damaged one. Brandishing its original Millennium Yellow paint, the tail of the '00 was crushed so badly that the rear suspension was distorted beyond normal repair. Undaunted, Merlin bought the car, stripped the yellow coupe from the dashboard back, and gutted the interior and injured fiberglass from the stern. Merlin had the tail removed from the factory floor seam back, thus splitting the coupe in two.
An equally hurt convertible was found, but its injuries were sustained in the front, thus making it a perfect donor. As Merlin-accompanied with shop staffer Raul Gallardo-began to match the portioned rocker panels, an idea hatched in his mind. Merlin would widen the Corvette's rear nearly four extra inches. The task would require serious skill and customization that would begin from the front door frames aft, incrementally spreading the Vettes lines and contours. A RK Sports rear fascia was purchased and promptly sawzalled in half. Fiberglassing a new center section, Merlin would have his template for how the completed tail would look like. With a master touch, Merlin abbreviated the original "Corvette" inscription to read merely "Vette." The same touch would be made to the front license plate cover before the build was over. ZO6 rocker inlets were also integrated, just to add to the Corvette's racing pedigree.
Merlin chose to carry on in his wave of modification by chopping the windshield 211/42 inches and laying it down another 111/44 inch. The new severe rake forced Merlin to recalculate the convertible top dynamics. The original mechanics of the collapsing roof were taken apart, and a crash course in applied geometry quickly took place when Merlin and crew trial-fitted the top several times before getting it right. While Larry Bishoff of Larry's Seat Covers in Enid, Oklahoma, was recovering the top, Merlin tackled getting the right wheels and tires for the custom roadster. Factory stock 17x911/42 ZO6 rims were used upfront, while two 18x1011/42 factory ZO6 rims were cut and ringed to a widened 18x13 rim wrapped with BFG G-Force drag radials. The factory suspension remained in place, but lowered a single inch all the way around.
With the modified '00 rolling, the body was pushed into the spray booth. Millennium Yellow is a striking color, but Merlin opted for the more signature Torch Red. Merlin assigned his shop's veteran paint foreman, Randy Nunley, to spray the Corvette. Once cured, buffed, and wet-sanded, the stock interior was put back in place. Since the body widening didn't affect the cabin, all factory stock components were compatible. The black interior is just how the Bowling Green, Kentucky, factory first applied it, even down to the original Bose stereo system.
After it was completed and running, Merlin enjoyed mashing the pedal down to the floorboards time and time again before growing somewhat antsy to cajole a little more power out of the factory 5.7 liter LS1. Though potent, the small-block kept much of its potential buried. Merlin researched possible power adders before deciding upon the ATI ProCharger (Model P1-SC). Merlin picked up the giant hairdryer from Ed Wright Automotive in nearby Tulsa, Oklahoma. Once the dual intercooled supercharger was installed, Ed Wright Automotive would tune the blown small-block and dyno the machine for final rear wheel horsepower numbers. The LS1 would unleash 443 ponies and 516 lb-ft of torque, making for some serious motion to the pavement. Flowmaster provided the aftermarket exhaust system, adding to the power, while a TCI 2,800-stall torque converter and a B&M transmission cooler keeps the gear box working even better than the factory engineers intended.
Satisfied that he had a beast by the tail, Merlin jumped in behind the wheel, turned on the A/C, and cruised the 90 miles to the closest dragstrip. Merlin was able to make several passes in the supercharged Corvette before coming home with a best of 11.44 at 121 mph with a 60-foot time of 1.60 seconds, running a 7.34 in the eighth-mile.
Amazingly clean and wickedly unique, this year and a half build resulted in one of the wildest mod Vettes we've ever seen.