Those paying close attention to their monthly issues of Corvette Fever may recognize J.C. Cherry's name. This Dallas, Texas, resident is the owner of the super gorgeous '68 Baldwin Motion Vette that we featured just a few months ago. The commercial paint contractor has a hankerin' for ridiculously rare and unique Corvettes, and his personal collection of these cars verifies that addiction. Even at 62 years old, this speed freak never shies away from the gnarliest and fiercest of power outputs available for America's original sportscar. We hailed his '68 shark as being easily one of the meanest incarnations of a Corvette available to the general public in the late '60s, and the track records set by that Motion-modified Corvette confirms it.
Yet, times have changed. Multi-port fuel-injection systems have replaced carburetors; titanium and aluminum have replaced cast forged steel; and in the case of this supremely tailored Callaway C12, specially molded carbon fiber, Kevlar, and S-glass have taken the place of factory fiberglass.
Reeves Callaway shook the Corvette world like the 1906 San Francisco quake with the introduction of the "Sledgehammer." The Sledgehammer was the once factory stock '88 Corvette that was transformed into a twin-turbo supercar that rocketed racing driver John Lingenfelter across Callaway's Connecticut headquarters' test track at a mind blowing 255 mph. Sleek, low, and slender, the rebodied C4 Corvette revolutionized the potential expected for the American machine. When Corvette dumped the L98 in 1991, the LT1 and the LT4 quad-cammed ZR1 became the new darlings for Callaway to modify. In lieu of the double power-adders, Callaway opted to squeeze, coax, and nudge as much power out of the LT1 and Lotus-designed Mercury Marine-built wonder plants. The result was a series of Callaway "flagship" performance cars that could only be named "Supernatural." The Supernatural series featured a line of naturally aspirated 383ci refined powerhouses that propelled not only Corvettes, but also Camaros, Firebirds, and Impalas from 1992 through 1996. In 1997, the new LS1 powerplant was the next engine to get the Callaway Supernatural moniker.
Reeves Callaway, a true car enthusiast, directed the bearing of his company by the whim of his personal tastes. it was his personal drive that birthed the performance-bred relationship between he and Corvette that is so ingrained in the Corvette-world psyche today. Reeves grew weary of the untamed, rough behavioral characteristics of most supercars, including those of the Ferrari, Lamborghini, and McLaren F1s category. He claimed by his 54th birthday that, "I'm done with supercars," stating that most, though striking and impressive, lose their appeal shortly thereafter, citing that most are unruly, uncomfortable, temperamental, and require too much constant attention from the driver. That is why the introduction of the C5 was so paramount to the Callaway team. The redesigned chassis, engine, and transmission placement, and rigidity allowed for a wide breadth of modifications that would not only allow for drastic width and girth expansion providing substantially greater suspension upgrades, but also far superior ride characteristics and drivability that would befriend even the least professional driver.
This particular '99 C5 was purchased by its original owner Joe Montana (not the famed quarterback), who had the full intention of taking it to the extreme limits that Callaway Cars could deliver. Among the production list of available combinations, color schemes, and interior accommodations, Joe, a close friend to Reeves, opted for the Corsa Red C12 to be built as a hardtop with black and red interior trim, making it the single most unique C12 ever made. Marking off the C12 modification, the '99 was selected for all of the performance upgrades from the Callaway team available for the C12R LeMans race car. The Corvette was skinned of its fiberglass body like a prized kill and stripped of all its suspension components. The underpinnings were replaced with long, stamped-steel units from Callaway's own design team, which swelled the Corvette's wheelbase for greater handling prowess. The factory-built transverse leaf springs were retained, but now worked in conjunction with Callaway's sport-tuned, coilover gas shocks. With the wheel offset altered, the suspension geometry was "performance optimized," as the wishbones and rear independent driveshafts were replaced with Callaway's longer pieces. In fact, the only original components that were left, aside from most of the interior trim, were the framerails, chassis, and basic engine and transmission placements.
Callaway's Old Lyme, Connecticut, facility replaced the original body panels with components fabricated by Callaway Competition's Leingarten, Germany, development engineers. These parts were hewn from bermodern materials, such as bulletproof-vest-grade Kevlar, intricately formed carbon fiber, and a special grade of fiberglass called S-glass. Only the factory windshield, side and rear glass were retained from the original Corvette, though portions of the rear greenhouse are covered with aerodynamic carbon-fiber C-pillar wraps, offering a superior cohesive driver-surround.
Reeves was adamant about retaining his C12's road-friendly manners, and sought to improve upon it. The widened C12's wheelbase offered near-perfect sport handling, chassis composure, and absent body roll. Near magnetic grip is achieved via massive 295/30R-19 Pirelli P Zero Rossos developed specifically for the C12. Giant cooled Alcon brakes slow the rotors down with a visible orange halo glowing under hard braking circumstances. The Callaway was designed to excel in every road course application, and excel it does with legend-worthy gusto.
Satisfied with the reconfigured LS1 powerplant now producing 440 horses at 6,300 rpm, Joe took possession of the Callaway C12 shortly thereafter. The engine was treated with enmity under the CNC's porting tools-the cylinder heads were gorged open for greater flow. The factory block was fit with a new camshaft, and the factory computers were wiped clean and reprogrammed with new fuel curves and timing maps. Under the personal direction of Reeves, each C12 powerplant was to not only perform but also meet reliability, durability, and emissions standards established by himself and the 50-state smog laws. The factory manual six-speed was amazingly up to the task of handling the boost in power, but not before being outfitted with a lighter flywheel and a more durable single-disc clutch and pressure plate.
Joe enjoyed his one-of-one Callaway for several years before selling it to J.C. Cherry a few years ago. Knowing that the new 505-horse Z06 was fast approaching, J.C. refused to have his near $200,000 Callaway beaten by anything available on the showroom floor. So he first turned to Callaway for a 427ci plant, but was met with a backlog of waiting patrons who were in line before him. Unwilling to sit on his hands for that long, he took his C12's destiny into his own hands.
Eventually J.C. decided to deliver the C12 to 21st Century Muscle Cars in Dallas, Texas. An authorized dealer of the Decatur, Indiana, legend Lingenfelter Performance Engineering, 21st Century began to piece together one of the single most impressive powerplants imaginable. The original 5.7-liter engine was pulled, cleaned, bagged, and set aside in J.C.'s garage, while a Darton 7-liter block was parked on the porting bench. The block was gutted to an impressive 4.1250-inch bore and filled with Manley 6.125-inch rods, JE pistons with only .005-inch worth of clearance, a Callies 4-inch stroke crank, and a GM Performance-ground roller camshaft. LS1 aluminum heads were port-matched, opened, flow benched, refitted with new, larger valves, hardened seats, retainers, and prepped to yield well over the near 600 hp that the engine has been blueprinted to produce. Loosely labeled as a "street" build by the Lingenfelter crew, 21st Century pieced together a 427 worthy of the famous cubic-inch label.
Editor Alan Colvin was present when Jerry Heasley shot JC's C12 and was able to climb behind the wheel for a quick spin, of which he could only describe as "stupid fast." And we think that's just fine.