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Supercharged 1999 Chevy Corvette - Mile-High Testbed

Who Says A Guinea Pig Can't Run Fast Or Look Good?

Rob Wallace III Feb 1, 2002
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It's not every day that you meet someone who actually wants to blow up his Corvette's engine. Yet, that's exactly what Rich Lenhart is trying to do. As head man at Corvette Connection in Denver, Rich and his '99 coupe are taking one for the team in the name of R&D. But being donated to science has been anything but a death sentence for this C5, as all sorts of new toys-and wretched amounts of horsepower-have the Vette teeming with life!

Rich and his wife, Denise, have been avid members of the Corvette hobby for quite some time. When they bought a C5 in April of 2000, it was immediately destined to be the "Baddest Vette in town," according to Rich. After a year of playing, tweaking, and modifying the potent and eye-catching coupe, Rich has taken the Colorado high country by storm, but the upgrades continue. "My personal goal," asserts Rich, "was to build a show-stopping performance vehicle that can be street driven (Never trailered!) to all shows and race events." It runs 12.2s and 117 mph in the quarter at 5,280 feet elevation (equating to high 10's at sea level), can take a corner like it was on rails, and is civilized and legal on the street. "I have hit that goal, and have plans to go even faster!"

The Vette is currently powered by the original LS1 block, but that's not to say it's anywhere near stock. Underneath the custom-painted GM Performance Parts carbon fiber engine cover lurks an '01 LS6 intake manifold being force-fed by an 11-pound ATI Procharger DI-SC supercharger. Being dissatisfied with the quality of existing installation kits for the blower, Corvette Connections designed their own kit for a clean and efficient fitment. They also have tried many interesting tricks, like reconfiguring the windshield reservoir into an aftercooler system. Thirty-pound injectors feed fuel to the engine, and 1 3/4-inch HPC-coated headers allow spent gases to escape out the other end via a four-inch exhaust system. With the addition of some extremely precise computer tuning, Rich is squeezing 594 lbs-ft of torque and 547 rear-wheel horsepower out of the LS-1 at 5,280 feet elevation-that equates to 635 horses at sea level!

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All that power is coming from a stock LS-1 short-block, and going through a 4L60-E with a 2,800-rpm torque converter, and 3.73:1 gears in the transaxle give the C5 even more snap. In addition to RPO F45 Real Time Dampening, Bilstein shocks help to plant Weld Racing 18x9.5-inch front and 20x9.5-inch rear wheels, which are wrapped in P275/40ZR (front) and P335/30ZR (rear) Bridgestone Potenza S-02 Pole Position tires. The C5 has GM Racing T-1 anti-roll (stabilizer) bars both front and back to straighten out the curves, and Baer Brakes' drilled and slotted rotors with massive four-piston calipers on all four corners to match the Vette's excessive acceleration capabilities.

As much fun as the "mild" engine is, it is only a testbed. Rich wants to find out just how much stress an LS1 with a stock bottom end can handle. He wants to kill it, and is ready to build a really bad engine if-and-when the current configuration gives up. He estimates the Vette would be back in commission within three or four days time, and better than ever! When the time comes, Rich's guys will machine the LS1 block, and then take it from the stock 346 out to 383 cubic inches. A Lunati crankshaft, 6.125-inch rods, and cam will help fortify the bottom end, along with forged Ross 9.00:1-compression pistons, Total Seal rings, Clevite bearings, and hardened pushrods. On top, a set of Stage II Flowed aluminum heads have been ported, polished and CC'ed, and are awaiting their turn with titanium 1.82 ratio rocker arms and titanium retainers.

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The harness bar for attaching the shoulder belts of a five-point racing harness setup is a smart idea in a Corvette with this one's speed potential.

And the C5 is a real eye-full, too...when it's going slow enough to get a good look. An RK Sport high-rise hood lets the motor breath a little easier, while a carefully crafted C5-R-style rear wing helps to keep the rear end planted at speed. After Rich finished with the bodywork, Corvette Connection's Jason Hunyadi sprayed the Vette in white and Passion Purple Pearl from House of Kolors. It also wears black graphics and yellow pinstriping, guaranteeing that the Corvette does not get lost in a crowd. To further the ensemble, the cockpit is finished with matching, custom-colored leather, and Simpson five-point harnesses, as well as many other purposeful goodies.

As a high-altitude testbed for Rich's research and development, this C5 guinea pig is halfway to Heaven with a return ticket-and it is taking its pilot along for the ride. Indeed, that much power is almost existential, and it is certainly a contender for the "Baddest Vette in Town" title! But the show is far from over. Rich will continue to experiment and play, the Vette will keep getting faster, the trophies and awards will continue to pile up.

Vipers indigenous to the Rocky Mountains will never be safe again!



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