Go quicker--go faster. That's been the goal of many a Corvette devotee since Zora Arkus-Duntov joined Chevrolet's engineering team in 1953 and set out to make the Corvette do just that. Six generations of production Corvettes have gone quicker and faster than their predecessors. But, in more than a few cases, it has taken an owner's urge, plus aftermarket hardware, to make it happen.
Which brings us to this '99 Corvette, a competitor in the '08 YearOne Shootout. Its current owner, Joe Underwood, says this was originally a "brass hat" car--owned by an executive with the General's Delphi Electronics Division. But, unlike the Marina Blue C4 we brought you several months ago ("Blue Mule," Sep. '08), this one wasn't used as a "test mule," as far as Joe can determine. "I could never find that out," he says. "I tried to do some research on it, and I talked with the previous user, but all I got was a bunch of red tape at Delphi--`We don't divulge that information'--and I finally gave up."
Still, the car had just 8,000 miles on it when Joe found it back in 2002. It also had a rare color scheme and options combination that he was looking for: Nassau Blue with a six-speed manual transmission. Joe and his friend Randy Hammons flew to Detroit to pick up the car, and then drove it back to Memphis. "We went from Detroit to Chicago, and we were running 100-120 miles an hour," he says. "We then made it from Chicago to Memphis in about six hours. We were flying at low altitude!"
That '99 didn't stay original for long. OEM parts started coming off almost as soon as the C5 was parked after its run to Joe's home. Many of those upgrades were of the simple variety at first. "It started with stuff as minimal as a shifter," he says. "In fact, I already had an exhaust sitting there, through the folks at Lingenfelter, because I had good connections with the folks at Hypertech. They were able to hook me up with some parts-vendor sources."
The anticipation of more power under the hood (a J&D Corvette scooped item that replaced the original hood) led to many of the other parts replacements and upgrades. "It had some breakage, and rather than have that opportunity rear its ugly head again, we just did it," Joe says. "It's more insurance than anything. I don't like to `half-fast' anything, so I've always tried to use the best parts that I could, within reason."
The result is the C5 you see here, which looks little changed from stock, save for the Boyd Coddington five-spokes, Michelin Pilot Sport rubber, and the above-mentioned scooped hood. It's under that hood where the big changes were made--starting with a new LS-series engine built up to 421 ci and filled with a billet-steel Lunati stroker crankshaft, Diamond 12:1 pistons, a specially ground Comp Cams hydraulic roller camshaft, ET Performance LS7-style heads, and a stock LS7 intake with 42-lb/hr fuel injectors, full-length Kooks stainless steel headers, and a GHL exhaust system.
About that engine, Jim says, "You know, some people hunt and some people fish. This Corvette's the `drug of choice' for me and my best friend Randy. We've done this stuff for 20 years together." He adds that they're now building a 440 LSX block for a car they haven't bought yet. "We're going to buy it in 2009, and as soon as it comes home, it'll be transplanted." He says they haven't decided if they'll drive it home from Bowling Green or trailer it back with zero miles on it, but either way it may get a Z06 body kit along with the engine they're building. And what of the '09-vintage stuff they'll be taking off? "We may actually keep all that," he says. "We're looking at maybe doing a '63-'67 Vette, kind of a Pro Touring project. At worst, it will make for some great decorations in my new 50 x 65-foot garage."
Meanwhile, how did the '99 Vette do at the YearOne Shootout after it cleared tech inspection and completed the 25-mile highway-driving loop before Jim turned it loose on Atlanta Dragway's quarter-mile strip? "I ran 11.20 [seconds] there. The car's run 10.80 at 129 miles an hour, on all motor."
But wait--there's more. As in more power (and quicker times), thanks to the Nitrous Express nitrous-oxide injection system that had just been installed, but not fully dialed in, before the Shootout. "We're hoping to spray it into the nines, but I haven't sprayed it yet," Joe says. "We were trying to get it operational for the Shootout, but we had some issues with the car even running. That's because while I was at work my buddy washed the car, and something got wet. It kept going into limp mode, and we literally had to let it dry out."
When it's dry, the Nassau Blue '99 is capable of better than 11.20 in the quarter-mile--and that's with Joe not launching it hard. "I did that with a 1.7 60-foot time," he says. "I don't pull the 1.3-1.4 60-foot times like a lot of the guys do. Even though I've got some parts in the car, it's nice to be able to drive on home."
If you're looking to get your LS-engined Vette into the nines on the quarter-mile, or if you just want a little better performance than the stock setup delivers, Joe has this advice: "There's so much that you can do. We've worked on everything from the LT1 cars to the LT4s. These LS cars make such good power, even with just bolt-ons. You have to decide what level you want--but, like a small drug user who ends up a bigger drug user--how much power ends up being enough?
"Our goal was to create a nine-second car that we could drive anywhere with the air conditioner on, and that's what we've done. There's no doubt that, once we put the nitrous to it, it'll run some 9.80s-9.90s, and then we can drive it home."
Data File: '99 Corvette Coupe
Owned by Joe Underwood, Eads, Tennessee
Modified production '99 Corvette
Modifications: J&D Corvette Parts' high-rise hood
Paint: Mostly original (Nassau Blue), hood painted with Glasurit Nassau Blue to match rest of car; Paint applied by: Jerry Caudle at Smith Imports' body shop, Memphis, Tennessee
Frame: Production '99 Corvette
Suspension: Production '99 Corvette front and rear, with OEM front sway bar disconnected
Steering: Production '99 Corvette
Brakes: Production '99 Corvette with Brembo cross-drilled rotors
Wheels: Boyd Coddington "Timeless 5-inch billet aluminum, 17x9 inches front/18x10 inches (rear)
Tires: (Street) Michelin Pilot Sport 275/40R17 (front) 315/30R18 (rear) (Strip) 16x11.5-inch Mickey Thompson ET Street tires on rear.
Modified GM overhead-valve LS-series V-8
Machine Shop Work: Marian Performance, Marian, Arkansas
Assembly: Randy Hammons and Joe Underwood, Memphis
Modifications: Block line-bored, Lunati billet-steel stroker crankshaft, Diamond pistons, Lunati Billet Pro aluminum rods, ET Performance aluminum LS7 heads, Comp Cams hydraulic roller camshaft, 42-lb/hour fuel injectors
Displacement: 421 ci
Compression Ratio: 12.0:1 plus
Ignition: OEM GM electronic ignition
Induction: Vararam cold-air induction system
Power Adder: Nitrous Express nitrous-oxide injection system
Exhaust: Kooks full-length stainless steel system (catalytic converters removed), with 17/8-inch-diameter headers and 3-inch-diameter collectors, GHL 2-inch-diameter mufflers and 3-inch-diameter exhaust pipe
Horsepower: 552 at 7,000 rpm
Modified production T-56 six-speed manual transaxle
Built By: Rodney Massengill at RPM Transmissions, Daleville, Indiana
Modifications: "Level 5" upgrade, special Stage 3 clutch
Shifter: B&M Ripper shifter with stock-appearing shifter knob
3.90:1 final-drive gears, Moser hardened axleshafts and carbon-fiber driveshaft
Modified production '99 Corvette interior
Modifications: Four-point rollbar, six-point Simpson safety harness for driver
Seats: Production C5 Corvette sport seats
Upholstery: Black leather
Carpets: Production Corvette cut-pile
Instrumentation: Production '99 Corvette (0- to 160-mph speedometer, 0- to 8,000-rpm tachometer, plus voltmeter and oil pressure, coolant temperature and fuel level gauges), auxiliary Auto Meter gauges on left A-pillar
Sound System: Production Corvette AM/FM/CD
HVAC: Production '99 Corvette