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1998 Chevy Corvette - The Greatest Spectacle In Racing

1998 Marked A New Corvette Pace Car And A New Way Of Life For Walker Bower

James Miles Oct 1, 2004
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When the C5 rolled out of the Bowling Green assembly plant for the first time and replaced the Fourth-Gen. Corvette as the new toy, the attention it got was tremendous. With the new Vette speeding down the roads of America, it took little time before a certain group of people living in the Crossroads of America took notice and named the new Corvette as the next Pace Car for the Indianapolis 500. And so, on November 6th, 1997, Chevrolet made the announcement at the annual Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) meeting in Las Vegas that the Corvette would indeed pace the 82nd running of the Indy 500. This marked the 11th time a Chevy had been picked to lead this prestigious event-the fourth for Corvette since its first appearance during the 25th anniversary in 1978. The Pace Car was piloted around the track by golfing great Greg "The Shark" Norman-a perfect match if you've even seen the green next to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

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The pilot Vette used on the track was an essentially stock beast. A few minor modifications included the addition of a steel rollbar along with strobe lights behind each seat. This latter add-on was done with the aid of slight bulges in the tonneau cover. The strobes themselves were then encased in a tinted plastic shell through which the flashing lights were visible when activated. The Pace Car also included the new RPO JL4, Active Handling System to help "enhance Corvette's already nimble handling with added accident-avoidance capabilities." Backed with a Competition Mode for more "aggressive driving" on such places as the track and autocross, GM couldn't have picked a better place to unveil the new option than at Indy.

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With exception to the yellow wheels, Radar Blue paint, and Indy graphics package, the outside was as expected for the C5 with no major modifications made. The interior was also left alone (if reworking the seats with yellow seat covers counts as "left alone"), and the engine remained as an off-the-shelf LS1 that produced 345 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. Linked to a 4L60-E four-speed automatic transmission, the track-used Pace Cars were the same reliable vehicle Chev-rolet offered the previous year-and just as stock. However, "stock" is not how we'd describe Walker Bower's Pace Car replica, number 884 of 1,158.

With Chevrolet planning to release near 1,200 replicas of their newly designed Indy car, this Harrison, Tennessee, resident was quick to act on what would be his first Corvette. And in February 1998, what would become Walker's C5, job number 19,450, rolled out of the assembly plant and into his garage that April. What were his reasons for picking this particular Vette as his first? "It's the ultimate street-driven Indy Pace Car and a convertible with no compromises," Walker, now a NCM Lifetimer as well as member of the C5 Registry, told us. But it wasn't too long before the new owner decided his ultimate street ride needed to be something more.

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Over the next six years, Walker reworked his '98 in a way that would make even the most jaded enthusiast sit up and take notice. Starting with the engine, he had the original LS1 yanked out and replaced with a 7.0-liter (427-cid) Lingenfelter Performance Engineering C5-R Twin Turbo. With a little build-up work using Lunati and LPE, Walker's Pace Car now makes 729 hp at 5,100 rpm with a torque rating of 800 at 4,300. It's amazing what a race engine packed with goodies, such as ported and polished '03 LS6 heads, will do. But all of this would be moot without a way to get this power to the back wheels. So for this, Bower backs his engine up with the help of the Borg Warner T-56 six-speed that points to a Getrag factory-built rear with a set of 3.73:1 gears. Under the chassis you'll find Hotchkis front and rear anti-rollbars, shocks out of an '04 Z06, and '98 Z51 springs.

To help get air to the powerplant, a '02 Z06 intake using K&N's finest cleans the incoming breath that rushes through the Garret twin turbochargers with 5-psi maximum boost before making its way out the Corsa Performance exhaust made pretty with a set of Corsa Pace Car Edition tips. Sitting just above these tips is a Specter Werks Group 5 rear bumper, while further forward is where Austin Corvette of Austin, Texas, installed a Caravaggio Pace Car deck lid hiding LPE mini-tubs so that the HRE 845 19X12s wrapped in a pair of Michelin Pilot 345/30-19 would fit. The front remains unaltered and sits on a set of HRE 18x9.5 845Rs wrapped in 265/35-18 rubber of the same make. As for stopping this monster? Well, the Baer Pro Plus kit helps up front, while the rear is slowed down with by the original '98 C5 brakes.

The interior was decorated with a few details, like a Caravaggio steering wheel and shift boot and an Autometer shift light, decorate the otherwise original interior.

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While some may argue that all this power is too much for the road and Walker agrees that the top speed is "faster than he'll ever need," he's not afraid to drive it long distances-2,400-miles being his best trip yet. As for the fuel economy for drives to the NCM Labor Day, Birthday Bash, and Pace Car Reunion, Walker gave us a quick, "Who cares?" And who would with a C5 that has walked away with many awards at such events. Not to bad for a Corvette Walker Bower bought without even sitting down in. Buyer beware? Certainly so!



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