1999 Chevrolet Corvette - Thunder Road

With an 8.1 Liter Big-Block for Propulsion, Every Drive In This C5 Is a Run Down...

Bob Wallace Mar 1, 2002 0 Comment(s)
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Some people are never satisfied. These sorts of people would probably get tired of having Wolfgang Puck for a personal chef, Nicole Kidman for a girlfriend, or a C5 convertible for an everyday driver. In some respects I can relate to that; my personal credo is "wretched excess is barely adequate." However, thinking large is one thing, living large is something else. It's like going from the Triple A minors to the Big Leagues of extremism.

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Most people find a C5 to be an impressive sports/grand touring car as delivered. Add an exhaust, a higher flow induction setup, maybe some custom wheels and stickier-than-runflats rubber and it's close to perfect. The more outr elements will congregate around the Z06-it's hard to beat that extra 40 to 55 horsepower (depending on which years of Z06 and C5 we're comparing), plus recalibrated and substantially better suspension, bigger and much grippier tires-more than adequate for almost everyone, but...

There's still that lunatic fringe. We know of one SoCal extremist who is currently putting the wraps on his seven-liter (!) '02 Z06. Katech is now offering a 585hp street version of the 7.0L race engines they build for the C5-Rs. Then there's San Diego, California's Larry Hofer and his personal vision of Big League extremism-an 8.1 liter (that's 496 cubic-inches for the metrically-challenged), big-block-powered '99 convertible. Looks like extremism just got ratcheted up a notch or two.

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There's no way to disguise the Vortec 8100's cut-apart and re-configured intake manifold so that it looks like a factory-issue LS1, but by utilizing the LS1's plastic fuel rail covers, a semi-stock look is maintained.

If Larry's moniker or this trait of shoehorning big-blocks into late-model Vettes sounds familiar, it's because one of his earlier endeavors, a Rat-motored C4, found its way onto the pages of VETTE about four years ago. And like that prior escapade, the work was done almost entirety at Hofer's business, fittingly (but not especially creatively) named The Corvette Shop.

This latest bout of madness began in June of 2000 when Hofer bought a slightly used '99 C5 from a customer. The ragtop packed an MN6 six-speed, was painted Navy Blue Metallic, and trimmed with a Light Oak interior and soft top. A nice, elegant combination. It proved to be, in Larry's words, "a very nice driver, very quiet, smooth, and would go quick as long as you buzzed the engine." The downside, at least from this extremist's perspective, was, "the lack of acceleration in fifth and sixth gears. No torque. After driving a C4 with 500hp and 450 lb-ft of torque for several years, the C5 was boring."

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The Light Oak interior is all stock, in keeping with this car's "sleeper" persona.

Then, through a friend, Larry heard about a new derivative of the venerable big-blocks that dated back to 1965, an 8.1 liter monster that was destined to be a 2001 offering in Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra heavy-duty pickups and medium-duty trucks. In their 2001 model year Powertrain press releases, GM described the Vortec 8100 V-8 as "a new, highly refined big-block V-8...the legendary GM big-block for the new millenium." Hofer saw the same sort of individual coil-near-spark-plug ignition setup as on the LS1, meaning some sort of crank or cam sensor for igniting the fuel and air charges, and thus the possibility of computer compatibility-a major, perhaps insurmountable, problem with a conventional 454 or a 502 like Performance Parts markets in several forms. As a result, he saw the potential of swapping one of these torque monsters into his C5.

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