They say that in America, you can be anything you want to be. True enough. And from where we sit, that even extends to Corvettes. Svelte sports car, big-block superpower, pedigreed road racer, street profiler, sparkling showstopper, vintage classic, dragstrip terror, world-class supercar, top-end speedster, kitschy street machine-Corvette does 'em all. For that matter, Corvette can beautifully blend any of the two.
Take this '61 that we're calling "Z Whiz." Have you ever seen vintage styling and modern technology so perfectly blended? Richard Carlson had the original vision and commissioned Time Machines in Hudson, Florida, to build the car. Corvette rodding being a personal thing and all, it's easy to color outside the lines, so to speak, and lean a bit too far one way or the other, causing the car to be off-balance. But we don't have that problem here. In fact, if there's an award for the best Corvette rod (we should start one if there isn't), this '61 should be a finalist.
Maybe we shouldn't be that surprised, given that Time Machines is a veteran builder of vintage cars with modern chassis and drivetrains. This shop specializes in this sort of thing. For this project, the crew started with an SRIII Motorsports' round-tube chassis made specifically for C4 components. SRIII specializes in custom frames for just such occasions.
Next came the 375hp LT5 engine and driveline out of a '92 ZR1 Corvette. In case you've been backpacking in Botswana for the last decade, the LT5 is the DOHC four-valve 5.7L V-8 out of the exotic, limited-production ZR1. It was renowned for its wide powerband and the way it would pull way up into the high revs. Chevrolet has marched relentlessly forward in the quest for ever-greater horsepower, but those relative few who've had the pleasure of piloting a ZR1 know it was something special. Stainless Works headers feed into a Flowmaster exhaust with rear dumps.
To squeeze even more power and driveability out of the engine, it was fitted with an Accel DFI computer and wiring harness, allowing custom fuel mapping, which was programmed by injection ace Bob Ream from Imagine Injection in Phoenix. To keep the engine in the sweet spot of the powerband, a genuine GM-issued Tremec T56 six-speed out of an LS1 Camaro was chosen as the transmission and fitted with a Hurst shifter. It was reworked inside and made ready to handle the ZR1's power. The clutch being a key component between a high-powered engine and six-speed transmission, a McLeod clutch and pressure plate were selected, along with a hydraulic throw-out bearing.
Most of the rearend is stock C4, but the center was rebuilt and fitted with 3.73:1 gears, a bit steeper than the stockers, for even better acceleration. With the basic chassis configured, it was time to add some details. Stainless Steel Brakes' 14-inch slotted rotors and calipers were used up front, with 13-inchers rear. A Hydratech power booster provides brake boost by tying into the power-steering system rather than using engine vacuum.
Wheels blend period five-spoke design with modern size and flash. The model name is Alcatraz, from Colorado Custom, and the dimensions are 18x8 inches front and 20x8 inches rear. Tires are BFGoodrich g-Force KDWs. Tire size had to be kept reasonable to fit into the factory wheelwells.
All of these goodies reside beneath a '61 Corvette body. As with the rest of the project, it had its tweaks, too. A '58 grille replaced the fine-mesh '61, and fresh trim from Corvette Central added that special vintage sparkle. Time Machines is set up for high-end paint jobs, and once the body prep was complete, the fiberglass received a luxurious coat of PPG Ferrari Blue. Coves were painted in custom pearl white, a shade developed by Time Machines.
Inside, the Corvette was modernized, but not so much that it would lose its vintage vibe. Redline Gaugeworks converted the instrument cluster to all modern, white-face instruments, including a 6,200-rpm redline tach. They also calibrate them so that the readings are accurate. Seats were rebuilt and covered in genuine leather-black edges, and white inserts-that was cut and stitched up by Time Machines' interior and upholstery department. The dash was treated to a matching leather cover, while door panels were updated with a matching black/white leather design. Polished metal panels surround the door latch handles, and a skinny consolette tops the transmission tunnel. Specialty Power Windows supplied the electric-window lift kits, and a Classic Auto Air heater/air-conditioning system, designed for this vintage Corvette, was installed.
To keep it lively, an elaborate Sony stereo rig was chosen, teamed with a dash-mounted DVD monitor, and a large trunk-mounted monitor. A pair of Sony Xplod amps provide abundant amperage, and two matching woofers in the trunk are wired together with speakers in the passenger compartment to make sure the entertainment has plenty of thump with decibels to spare. Stinger stereo accessories were used to hook up all the components. A black canvas top keeps the comfort in and the weather out.
The project comes together beautifully. The classic lines of the early Corvette remain intact, while beneath the skin beats the heart of a new generation of Corvette. This isn't a show car. It was built to drive, and it drives very well. Startup is quick, clean, and precise, just like new cars are known for. Idle is smooth as glass, and throttle response is quick as an F1 racer. But this '61 doesn't drive like a ZR1-it drives better, thanks to the improved exhaust, custom fuel mapping, steeper rear gears, upgraded brakes, and very light weight. As you might imagine, grin-factor behind the wheel is very high. Steering is razor sharp and grabs like you just drove into a swimming pool full of peanut butter. After the build, Bill and Becky Sefton took a fancy to the hybrid Corvette and bought it from Richard, relocating it to Arizona.
So there you are, smacking through the gears, top-down, chasing an Arizona sunset at 5,000 rpm through the high desert on the smooth roads out past the airport. You're amazed how the engine's power keeps building even at redline and beyond. The big, grippy radials grab the high-speed curves like hot glue, without so much as chirping. Grab another gear and pour on the coals. When you drive a car like Z Whiz, it's an experience that awaits every time the garage door is opened.
DATA FILE: '61 CHEVROLET CORVETTE STINGRAY ROD
Owned by Bill and Becky Sefton, Scottsdale, Arizona
'61 Corvette, with '58 grille
Paint: PPG Ferrari Blue, custom Pearl White coves
Frame: SRIII Motorsports round-tube frame for C4 components
Suspension: (Front) Reproduction OEM coil springs with unequal-length A-arms and tubular KGB shocks; (Rear) independent rear suspension with tubular KGB shocks and composite monoleaf rear spring replacing OEM steel leaf bundle
Steering: Stock C4 Corvette rack
Brakes: Stainless Steel Brakes calipers, 14-in slotted rotors (Front), 13-in slotted rotors (Rear), Hydratech power booster
Wheels: OEM-style Rally wheels, 15x8 in front and rear
Tires: BFGoodrich g-Force, 225/45ZR18 (front), 20-in (rear)
'92 Chevrolet Corvette LT5 350 V-8
Modifications: Accel/DFI computer system by Bob Ream/Imagine Injection, Phoenix, Arizona; Stainless Works headers w/ Flowmaster Exhaust
Displacement: 350 ci (5.7L)
Compression ratio: 11.0:1
Cylinder heads: OEM '92 LT5 aluminum DOHC four-valve heads
Ignition: MSD ignition with Mallory HEI distributor
Induction: Edelbrock four-barrel carburetor on OEM cast-iron intake manifold
Exhaust: OEM cast-iron exhaust manifolds and chrome-plated Hooker "Show Tubes" 4-in-diameter side exhausts
Horsepower: 375 at 6,000 rpm (Advertised)
Torque: 370 lb-ft at 4,800 rpm (Advertised)
OEM T56 six-speed w/McLeod Clutch, Pressure Plate, and hydraulic throw-out bearing
Built by: Tremec
Rearend: '92 Corvette IRS w/rebuilt third member, 3.73:1 rear gears
Custom Interior by Time Machines, Hudson, Florida, includes: custom console; power windows by Specialty Wipers; custom leather-wrapped, three-spoke steering wheel
Seats: Restored Corvette buckets
Upholstery: Custom black/white leather upholstery
Carpets: Black cut-pile
Instrumentation: Gauges modernized by RedLine Gaugeworks (0- to 160-mph speedometer, fuel level, coolant temperature, 0-to 7,000-rpm tachometer with 6,000-rpm redline, oil pressure, ammeter)
Sound system: Sony Xplod with trunk-mounted amps, DVD monitors
HVAC: Classic Auto Air heat/ A/C system designed for Corvette