When you think of fast Corvettes, it's hard not to put the name Callaway near the top of your list. Team VETTE recently reported on the step-by-step development of the Carlisle/Callaway C36 in a six-part series. While working on this project, we learned about Callaway Competition, which is in Leingarten, Germany, and is directed by Ernst Woehr and partner Giovanni Ciccone. This part of the Callaway Company designs and builds composite structures for both competition cars and streetcar applications. During our recent trip to Le Mans, Callaway Competition Director Ernst Woehr invited Team VETTE to visit the facility. We, of course, were thrilled and accepted.
Leingarten is about 50 miles south of Frankfurt, Germany, and 7 kilometers north of Heilbron. Ernst and his partner Giovanni greeted us when we arrived. We learned they became partners in 1985 when they formed Woehr & Ciccone. Their company specialized in body fabrication, exotic-car repair, and race-car preparation. They became a Callaway distributor for Europe in 1988, and Callaway Competition was formed in 1994. Ernst has an extensive background in sports-car racing as well as mechanical and aero engineering. Giovanni is an expert karosseriebauer, or bodymaker. This is a perfect combination when it comes to designing and building exotic cars. During our tour, we discovered that Callaway Competition has all the necessary equipment to build an entire car out of carbon fiber. A fine example of the company's work, the Callaway C7 is on display in the Callaway (U.S.) showroom. The 2,450-pound, 650hp, 200-mph coupe was designed to compete at Le Mans in the GT1 category. Callaway intended to build many street versions of the Paul Deutschman-designed C7. However, a rule change prevented this fabulous car from competing at Le Mans. Sadly, production was cancelled after only two examples were constructed. Today, Callaway Competition builds body molds, lays up composite materials, and cures the finished products in its state-of-the-art autoclave.
Ernst received his early Corvette training from Dick Guldstrand in Culver City, California. His company serviced the Guldstrand GS80s that were imported to Europe in the mid-'80s. Ernst met Reeves Callaway through Guldstrand, and they became good friends. This friendship opened the door for Woehr & Ciccone to become a Callaway distributor for Europe in 1988. Ernst decided the best way to promote the Callaway name in Germany was to arrange for a magazine test. He contacted Sport Auto magazine and offered up an '88 Callaway twin-turbo to test at the Nuremberg Ring. In the summer of 1988, Sport Auto test driver Stefen Roser lapped the 14-mile course in 8 minutes and 10 seconds in the twin-turbo. This time was undefeated by a street Corvette for 16 years, until John Heinricy drove an '04 Z06 around the ring in 7 minutes and 58 seconds. The Sport Auto story put Callaway of Europe on the map, and business boomed. In 1993, Woehr & Ciccone built a Callaway SuperNatural C4 to compete in the ADAC Touring Car Series. Ten Touring Car races were held that year at circuits in Germany and Holland. Top factory teams competed for honors in the ADAC, including Audi, BMW, and Alfa Romeo. Ernst hired American driver Boris Said to drive the SuperNatural. Boris caused quite a stir with the German fans-his wild hair, rocker attitude, and amazing sideways Corvette driving antics drove them wild. Boris always ran in the Top 5 and almost won several races. Lessons learned from this amazing season helped convince Reeves Callaway to create Callaway Competition.
One of their first projects was the LM 250. This C4, named "Frieda," (all German race cars have names) was built in Leingarten. Callaway applied all of the lessons learned from the ADAC car when building Frieda. Its first outing was at the '94 24 Hours of Le Mans. Boris put Frieda on the pole of the S1 Class, and the team led its category until one of the drivers (not Boris) ran out of fuel. The next year, Frieda came back and finished Ninth overall and Second in class. The LM 250 also won the '96 SCCA World Challenge Championship. This amazing Corvette was displayed at the National Corvette Museum until a collector in Florida purchased it. Callaway Competition's next project was the C7, which we discussed earlier. The company's next big undertaking was building the body panels for the Paul Deutschman-designed C12. This remanufactured fifth-generation Corvette was a beautiful remake of the successful C5. Twenty-six examples of the C12 were produced, including the C12-R that raced at Le Mans in 2001.
Today, Callaway Competition continues to support the Callaway Company projects in Old Lyme, Connecticut. It also undertakes prototype carbon-fiber projects for European car manufacturers. Ernst is an excellent racing-team manager, and he continues to serve in this role for his good friend and Callaway customer Uli Martini. Uli successfully races a '65 small-block Corvette coupe and a '63 Grand Sport replica. Callaway Competition builds Uli's cars and provides trackside support at his races. Ernst and Giovanni have built a solid reputation in Europe for high-quality work with good customer service. During our visit, famed jeweler Nicola Bulgari's personal C5 was in the shop being fitted with a hot-rod engine. Who knows? The next piece of Bulgari jewelry you buy might help Nicola pay for his new engine.