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1998 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible - Bright Idea

The Story Behind One Of The World's Most Uniquely Finished C5s

Christopher R. Phillip Apr 26, 2007
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Aurora Borealis: A display of brightly colored lights in the sky, also called "Northern Lights," caused by the interaction of particles from the sun with the upper atmosphere.

Australia Borealis: A display of brightly colored tints on a Corvette, also called the "Rainbow Six," caused by the interaction of an Australian Vette owner with his passionate imagination and inspiration from a Tom Clancy novel.

People are known to flock like North American migrating birds to the Rainbow Six, and it's no wonder. Even in anything-goes Australia, there is nothing that compares to Tim McCarthy's '98 C5 convertible. Most people enjoy their Corvettes one color at a time. Tim is decidedly different. His wildly designed Vette encompasses a Pantone plethora of custom colors and personalized design touches.

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Tim is an importer who specializes in bringing sporting goods into Australia, so it was no problem for him to use his job skills to also import a sporty Corvette. In 2000, he browsed the Corvette and Chevy Trader and found an 8,000-mile, ex-rental-fleet, theft-recovery C5. Enlisting the help of his friends at Doug Rippie Motorsports in Buffalo, Minnesota, Tim had the burgled Vette thoroughly evaluated. The DRM crew then outfitted the semi-stripped car with used, non-matching replacement body panels-one door, front and rear bumpers, a boot lid, and a Rippie "extractor" hood. Trusting DRM's professional opinion (Tim was unable to get in contact with the auto thieves to ask them their take on the Vette), Tim had the car shipped from Minnesota to Queensland.

Once the car was in Australia, a government-mandated obligatory conversion to right-hand drive was performed by Peter Winston, of Corvette Clinic in Victoria. Peter is something of an Aussie celebrity in his own right. He specializes in converting '90s Corvettes to right-hand drive, and he is often featured in Australian newspapers for his knowledge of these modified rarities.

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To say Tim was taken aback by the condition of the car when it arrived would be a grievous understatement. Originally, the Vette had been finished in Arctic White with a red interior. But with its pastiche of cast-off body panels, it looked like a 4-year-old trying on her mother's makeup for the first time. The front bumper was black, the driver and passenger doors were Sebring Silver Metallic, the fuel cap was Torch Red, and the rear bumper was Navy Blue Metallic. Is it any wonder Tim considered buying a five-car garage just to house this one Corvette?

Tim always knew he wanted something special for his C5, far beyond its variegated condition. Starting with a scale model of a white '98 Vette, he and designer Jason Youd of Impact Graphics "drew up, discussed, and voiced different concepts until four different design drawings" were produced.

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The first and original design called for a white gloss color up front, melding into a purple hue near the back. But Tim's wife, Karen, hated the idea of purple, so the design was refined until both McCarthys agreed on Karim Blue. Along with their designer, the couple then changed the front color to silver to better complement the new paint scheme.

Using Tim's scale model and color mock-ups for reference, Ray Bischard of Gulf Coast Auto Restoration created the car's mind-blowing paint job. A Dupont base of blue pearl and silver was applied to the Vette's body, followed by a color-enhancing clearcoat. Then came the laborious duty of hand-painting an assortment of one-of-a-kind graphics on the exterior, sill panels, and doorjambs.

Next, airbrush artist Rick Pacey went to work highlighting and adding depth to the graphics. Then, it was back to Ray Bischard, who painted the flames on the hood, waterfall, doors, rockers, and rear fenders before performing the final rubdown and clear. Not surprisingly, the job consumed some 300 hours, not including the necessary body-prep work.

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The murals on the Rainbow Six are also hand-painted. A Corvette-headband-wearing skull figure (Is it the Red Skull from Captain America or Dr. Doom from The Fantastic Four?) appears underneath the bonnet, and on the underbelly of the decklid is painted a battle-worn image of the American flag against a checkered-flag backdrop. Both murals were professionally airbrushed by Stuart Vimpani, from Ultimate Airbrush in Gold Coast. There are no stickers, decals, or precut graphics anywhere on the car.

Anvid Upholstery, of Capalaba, undertook the daunting task of transferring the outr exterior theme to the cabin. The bolstered seats were covered in three solid colors-yellow, blue, and silver-and black, silver, and red Corvette logos were inset on the headrests. A raised-flames motif was integrated into the design of the center console, and the door-panel trims were airbrushed to match the exterior paint scheme. The stock carpet was replaced with a Corvette-logo-embossed custom design. Even the seatbelts are bespoke.

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Underneath the heat-extracting DRM hood is a stock LS1 aluminum block displacing 346 ci. Doug Rippie Motorsports designed, provided, and installed one of its "top-end" kits, including CNC-ported factory heads, upsized Manley Revver valves, a moderately aggressive Lunati cam, and Comp Pro Magnum 1.6-ratio steel rockers. The crankshaft, pistons, and rods remain stock, as does the 4L60E automatic transmission.

The exhaust also had to remain least until the C5 cleared Australian customs. (The country has strict laws prohibiting the modification of exhaust components prior to importation.) Once that was out of the way, CES of Queensland fabricated a set of headers that lead to a 2 1/2-inch custom stainless system.

A pair of 17x8.5-inch Z06 Motorsport chrome wheels wrapped in BFG g-Force T/A KD rubber hug the front, while 18x9.5-inchers sporting wider BFG Drag Radials provide superior straight-line traction out back. DRM performance shocks, stainless steel brake lines, and front and rear sway bars also help the car exploit its newfound power.

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Unlike many show-car owners, Tim enjoys the quarter-mile in his C5, and he has blasted down the straightaway on numerous occasions since the car was treated to its attention-getting paint job. Although not a dedicated race machine, this Vette's best dragstrip pass to date is a none-too-shabby 12.87 at 107 mph.

The Rainbow Six holds many top-notch trophies, including the Best Paint and Best Convertible awards given at the Queensland Corvette Club Concours and the First Place Street Machine Convertible honors from the Brisbane Hot Rod Show. So formidable is the Corvette's reputation that the car has even attracted its share of celebrity attention. Premier of Queensland Peter Douglas Beattie and 2003 Indy Car champion Paul Tracy have both ridden along in the Rainbow Six during low-speed parade laps at the Australian Lexmark Indy 300.

Like the "Northern Lights," this Australia Borealis is not an everyday sight. Rather, one must be patient and allow the Rainbow Six to stage an appearance. The best place to catch a glimpse of the car is at Australian concours Corvette events, the Brisbane Hot Rod Show, or the Gold Coast Indy race meets. If you travel to Australia, look not to the Southern sky for the world's most spectacular light show. Instead, just feast your eyes upon Tim McCarthy's celestially beautiful '98.



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