Just a few months after finishing restoration work on his '90 C4, Ron Johnstone began a driveline rebuild that would transform the concourse L98 coupe into one of Australia's hottest street machines.
Ron, from tropical Brisbane in Australia's northeast, bought the C4 in September 1998. The car had arrived in Australia via a rather roundabout route.
It was delivered new to Tokyo in 1990. When it reached the five-year-use-by date imposed on cars in Japan, the low-mileage coupe was exported to Australia in 1996, converted to righthand drive, re-painted, street registered, and put up for sale.
Ron paid $25,000 (U.S.) for the car. It was his first Corvette, and for the first year, he just drove it-everywhere. After attending some local car shows, Ron began a tidy-up which would transform the daily driver into a top show car.
Working in his garage at night, Ron started his restification by rerouting wiring, hiding pipes and hoses, and hand polishing any part he could get close enough to his bench wheel.
Eventually he dismantled the car, polished the suspension and driveshafts, and detailed the undercarriage. He also rubbed back the underside of the hood and painted it and the engine bay in the same soft blue pearl that flows over the rest of the car.
The Vette was an immediate success, picking up the People's Choice award at the Corvette Nationals in Melbourne in 1999. But Ron wanted more than a show car, so he began researching go-fast mods.
Ron's objective was a streetable car that could go hard at the Saturday night street meets at his local drag strip in Willowbank (in Brisbane) and still win awards at static shows-in his words, he wanted a "show car that goes."
Working late into the night via Internet and e-mail, Ron researched and planned a motor and drivetrain install that he hoped would take the car down the quarter in under 12 seconds.
He spent 18 months compiling the parts for the new small-block sitting on the engine stand in his garage. The 383 stroker would run 10.5:1 compression with GM Hi Performance heads and a compatible camshaft, 1.6 roller rockers, 58mm throttle bodies with Lingenfelter induction, and an octet of high-volume injectors and fuel pump. All this was to run through a modified 700-R4 with a 2,800 stall torque converter and a 3.45:1-geared Dana 44 ZR-1 rearend.
In November 2000, Ron pulled the complete, original L98 from the car, and just a few months later on Australia Day (the 26th of January 2001), he drove a very different C4 out of the garage. Within weeks Ron's Vette ran a 12.7-second quarter on street tyres at Willowbank.
With the car on the road again, tuning the engine and suspension was the next step towards a sub 12-second run.
Ron knew the C4's computer management system would need an upgrade, but with nobody in Australia able to do it, he got back on the Internet where he hooked up with Corvette tuning experts Eileen and Jeremy Formato of Fasterproms in Tampa, Florida.
Ron downloaded the performance data onto his laptop using Diacom software and e-mailed the information to the Formatos who worked with him-FedEx-ing computer chips across the Pacific until they got the right one for the job.
The Formatos introduced Ron to Howie Cronce, also from Tampa, who worked with Ron by e-mail on a series of modifications that would get maximum traction through the Vette's 11-inch-wide rear wheels.
Ron's a little cagey about how he and Howie actually altered the car's rearend, but it really hooks up on the strip-Ron ran an 11.63-second quarter the last time he raced at Willowbank, and the car travels from 0-60 mph in 3.8 seconds.
There's no doubt that Ron has built the show car that goes. The pearl blue C4 picks up awards at any show it goes to, and the quarter-mile times speak for themselves.
But, if you ask Ron what he likes best about his Vette he'll tell you, "I can drive it to the race track on a Saturday night, jack it up, change the rear wheels, run an 11-second quarter, and then drive it home."