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Custom Declaration: Full Custom '98 Corvette

Sixty-five thousand dollars worth of sponsored Corvette parts? Whybuddy, you better have a ...

Christopher R. Phillip May 1, 2007
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The Concept

Of course, everybody knows that Prince sang about a little red Corvette.But until now, far fewer have realized that Prince's former bodyguard,Chuck Bradley, of Tampa, Florida, actually drives a customgreen-and-white C5. You see, when you have protected famous celebritiesand taken the top trophy in the 2002 Amateur Body Building (ABA/INBA)Natural Body Building Competition, driving a Hyundai simply isn't anoption.

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Here's what was left of Chuck's C5 when the thieves got done with it.The wheels, throttle body, and even cylinder heads were snatched.

What is an option, as Chuck found out, is to work with the aftermarketindustry, pitching your Corvette's unique story to receive sponsorbacking. While some Vette owners might think that getting a compedmuffler or a free set of wheels constitutes sponsorship, Chuck took theidea to the extreme and tallied up an estimated $65,000 of support frommore than a dozen companies. Engine components, suspension parts,interior pieces, body and paint work, scissor-style doors, show-carmurals, and a thumping sound system--all were provided gratis in exchangefor the promise of exposure at car shows and in the publishing world'smost august Corvette magazine.

Chuck is a large guy--after all, he is a professional bodyguard--and hehad a similarly large idea for a one-of-a-kind custom C5 Corvette. Hetells VETTE, "I got a vision of this car in my head, and then started tobuild it so others could see what was in my thoughts." Just listening toChuck's description of his vision for the car is fine, but seeing whathe actually accomplished with his C5 is fantastic.

The Challenge

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Shortly after his car was forcibly "decontented," Chuck sketched outthis rendering to serve as a design template during the rebuild. Thecolor scheme changed along the way, but many of the basic stylingelements were retained.

Chuck's tale is a long but unfailingly entertaining one. First, he founda Light Carmine Red Metallic '98 Corvette (Prince would have been proud)listed in his local Auto Trader. Although Chuck's immense size can beintimidating, he tells us that he and the car's elderly owner hit it offimmediately. "I bought the car off a 72-year-old, recently widowed lady.It belonged to her husband. I looked the car over and told her I had todrive it. She threw me the keys and said she had to come along. Weapproached an empty side road. I asked her if I could get on it alittle. She nodded 'yes.' So I got into it some. She pushed down on myknee and told me, 'Stand on it, you pansy.' I stuck it to the floor. Thecar went sideways. I looked at her, and she looked at me. I told her Iwanted it."

But Chuck's dream was stalled when hoodlums vandalized the C5 and robbedit of its heads, intake, throttle body, wheels, and tires. An averagehuman might have given up right there, but as you will see, ChuckBradley is no average human. He contacted VETTE and informed us hewanted his Vette on the cover. Editor Heath told Chuck the car needed alot of work, and besides, its dark-red paint wasn't exactly the idealshade for a feature vehicle. "Don't you worry," Chuck replied. "I'll beback with a car you'll definitely want to put on your cover."

The Execution

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Much of the car was disassembled to facilitate the installation of theCorvettes West/C5 West body kit. Here, paint-and-body man Caesar Ruizchecks the alignment of one of the Vette's aftermarket front fenders.

His goal set, Chuck contacted Caesar Ruiz of Southeastern Customs, inValrico, Florida, and persuaded the auto-body painter to help himrealize his creative vision. Caesar got to work on the car's custom bodykit and hood, then installed vertical "Lambo" doors (more on those in amoment). Then the paint work began, detail by detail. Caesar laid down awhite basecoat, followed by the placement of sponsorship-decaltemplates, donated by Riz Graphics, in Oldsmar. Next, a neon greenbottom was sprayed, followed by a pearlescent white top. All paint camefrom House of Kolor.

Caesar continued by painting the inside of the stickers with HOK candypurple. He then removed the decals completely to reveal sponsorshiplogos rendered in 100 percent paint. "The process took a lot longer, butthe results were worth it," he says. Finally, Caesar wet-sanded andreassembled the Vette to create a mind-blowing showcase for hisconsiderable customizing talent.

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Rather than plastering the Vette with sponsor stickers, Ruiz used customtemplates (left) to permanently apply the suppliers' logos in House ofKolor candy purple paint...

Caesar explained to VETTE why he decided to participate in the creationof Chuck's custom Vette: "At first, I wanted exposure for my newcompany. But also, I love to do things that blow people's minds whenthey see them. In talking to Chuck about his dream car, he got meexcited [about the project]. I told him, 'We can do this, but theresults must be first-class and a show-stopper.' He agreed. With ahandshake and a couple of smiles, we started."

Next up, nationally recognized LS-performance expert RevXtreme in Tampaset to work on increasing the horsepower of the Vette's powerplant. Theengine assembly was fortified for forced-induction duty with Diamondforged pistons, Callies forged rods, and a Callies forged crankshaft. Apair of L92 aluminum heads were ported and polished to Stage 5specifications by CNC Cylinder Heads of Pinellas Park, Florida. Stock GMrocker arms work in conjunction with a custom forced-induction cam todeliver 224-/228-degrees duration, .582-/.588-inch lift, and a114-degree lobe-separation angle.

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...It's a subtle touch, but its execution wastime-consuming.

The intake and throttle body are stock, but the fuel injectors arehighly unusual--get ready for this--Ford Motorsports 42-lb/hr units.RevXtreme's Dino Clark says he went with the Blue Oval injectors because"they pump more on an LS1 system than quoted." In fact, the tuner usesthe Ford squirters exclusively in its LS1 build-ups. The stock ECUremains, but features custom programming by RevXtreme's in-house tuningguru.

To ensure his custom Vette could hold its own at the track as well as onthe show field, Chuck selected a ProCharger D-1SC intercooledsupercharger with a maximum boost of 10 psi. A Texas Nitrous Technology(TNT)-sponsored progressive wet kit is employed for quarter-mile use.

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Mid America Motorworks provided the car's ostrich-style seat covers,custom-dyed carpet, carbon-fiber dash trim, and various other dress-upbits. Too outre for you? No problem. The company offers all of thesepieces in a variety of colors, styles, and materials to suit virtuallyany taste.

The transmission is the original GM 4L60E, rebuilt to heavy-duty specsby Mad Dog Transmissions of Tarpon Springs, Florida. Additionaldrivetrain mods include a TCI torque converter with a 3500-rpm stallspeed and a hardened Unitrax output shaft for the 3.42-geared rearend.The vicious-sounding exhaust system comprises 17/8-inch Kooks long-tubeheaders, Random Tech high-flow cats, and Borla Stinger mufflers.

The C5's wheel/tire package consists of 18-inch HRE Performance rimswrapped in ultra-high-performance Michelin Pilot Sport rubber. The brakeand suspension components remain factory stock for now, but consideringChuck's ravenous appetite for customization, we wouldn't be surprised tosee that change in the near future.

Getting by with a Little Help...

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American Car Craft created an assortment of one-off, stainless steelembellishments to enliven the Vette's engine compartment. Under all thebling is a ProCharged LS1 making over 600 hp.

Creating a custom Corvette worth around $90,000 takes a lot of effort.Fortunately, Chuck had a lot of help. Mid America Motorworks providedthe Vette's radical, ostrich-style seat covers and door panels,carbon-fiber dash pieces, and full custom carpeting. Mid America's SteveWiedman tells us the company was genuinely pleased with its sponsorshiprole and the results Chuck achieved.

"We value these opportunities to expand the range and scope of theinteriors that we produce here in our Performance Choice manufacturingdivision," says Wiedman. "We are thus able to go far beyond thestock-replacement interiors commonly found on the market. Corvetteowners enjoy making their own individual automotive statements. Theseexercises allow us to explore new ideas, materials, colors, and styles.Many of these are then incorporated into the interiors that we market inour catalogs and on our Web site."

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Chuck gave us this picture of himself, taken during hiscompetitive-bodybuilding days. He said he wanted "to give equal time tothe VETTE ladies who want to see some beefcake in the magazine."

For an equally extreme exterior look, Corvettes West/C5 West provided aGC5 ground-effects kit, a C4R wing, and a C5-R race car hood. "Chuckcalled me on several occasions to keep us updated on the install of thekit," says Corvettes West/C5 West's Michelle Peterson. "He said it wasan easy install...and the body shop complimented us on the quality of thekit and the workmanship that went into it. The car looks fantastic andwill certainly be a head-turner."

Vertical Doors of Corona, California, kicked in a set of its highlyregarded scissor-style "Lambo" doors for Chuck's C5 custom. "[The car]wouldn't be as good without Vertical Doors' participation," Chuck tellsVETTE. "They really went out of their way to make my dream car cometrue."

American Car Craft of Spring Hill, Florida, created the Vette'sincredible stainless steel engine compartment, among other items. "Wedressed up the engine bay with a one-off, radical design concept," saysACC's Ricardo Rivera. "We rewired and reconstructed the engine bay;assembled the interiors; added custom, powder-coated diamond-plate floormats; and completed the front-end grille design with prototype conceptsbeing developed for market."

Asked about the inspiration for all this custom underhood work, Chuckexplains, "While building the C5, I went to a car show and saw a carthat had its hood up. Under it was the most beautiful thing I'd everseen. It had polished stainless covering 100 percent of the enginecompartment. It looked like jewelry. I didn't want to be outdone, so Igot some jewelry of my own. Now, if I can just figure out how to drivethis baby with the hood up, I will be completely satisfied."

Unitrax Drivetrain of Anaheim, California, provided the Vette'sheavy-duty left output shaft--a necessary upgrade for any high-powered C5that sees regular drag-strip duty. "We were honored that Mr. Bradleyselected our 300M left output shaft for his car," says companyspokesperson Devin King. "We appreciate the confidence Mr. Bradley hasplaced in our product and are confident the output shaft will exceed hisexpectations."

Texas Nitrous Technology sponsored the Vette's rear-hatch-mounted,twin-tank nitrous system, which helps push the car's rear-wheel outputto an estimated 650 horses. (Final tuning had not been completed at thetime of our story.) To give the system the visual punch to back up itshorsepower-enhancing might, Chuck had Armando's Murals of Thonotosassa,Florida, airbrush two sinister-looking court jesters, one on each of thealuminum nitrous bottles.

One thing Chuck didn't count on was the sheer aural ferocity of theExtreme Sound- sponsored custom stereo. Apparently, the 2,000-wattRockford Fosgate system with Eclipse GPS makes quite a stir around town.Chuck says his goal was to make sure his cruising music was totallyuninterrupted, and he feels he's accomplished that goal just a littletoo well. Indeed, Chuck has begun the task of reading lips so he won'thave to turn the stereo down.

Predictably, his early efforts have been somewhat uneven. For example,Chuck tells us he recently saw a beautiful woman at a McDonald's. Aftergiving her a wink and a smile, he lip-read her response: "The car is badass." Chuck was feeling pretty good about himself until his son told himthe woman was really saying, "You have a fat [expletive deleted]." Sincethen, Chuck has decided to either turn his stereo down or get better atreading lips.

What does Chuck like best about his custom C5? It's got to be what hecalls the "camera-phone reaction." Chuck tells us, "It's so freaky.Everybody takes out their camera phones and starts taking photos. I took[the car] to the NCRS Corvette Regionals in Kissimmee, Florida. Therewere more pictures taken of my C5 than any other car, and my car wasn'teven in the show. I play a game. I act like they're paparazzi, and I'mTom Cruise. Well, Tom Cruise without the hair and smile and good looks.I can't have it all, I guess."

While his Vette is packed with outrageous custom touches, Chuckprofesses to value the balance of the overall presentation more than anysingle feature. "I didn't want any one styling element to overpoweranother," he explains, "I wanted the car to be uniformly good-looking. Iwanted to be able to look at it from every angle and say, 'Yes...nice.'"

With everything declared on Chuck Bradley's custom C5, he now shows thecar regularly at national and regional Corvette events--as well as on thehighways and byways of Central Florida. If you should happen to seeChuck and his Vette cruising past, be sure to get out your camera phoneand snap a photo or two. It's what everybody does, after all, and Chuckwouldn't have it any other way. Model: Nina Bedolla


Car: '98 convertible
Owner: Chuck Bradley
Block: Stock LS1, bored .005" over
Displacement: 347 ci
Compression Ratio: 9:1
Heads: Stage 5 L92, ported and polished by CNC Heads
Valves: Manley steel, 2.02"/1.60"
Camshaft: Custom forced-induction grind; 224-/228-deg. duration, .582/.588" lift, 114-degree LSA
Rocker Arms: Stock
Pistons: Diamond forged
Crankshaft: Callies forged
Rods: Callies forged
Intake Manifold: LS6
Throttle Body: Stock
Fuel Injectors: Ford Motorsports 42-lb/hr
Fuel Pump: Walbro 255 lph, Kenne Bell Boost-A-Pump
Ignition: stock
Engine Management: Stock ECU with Rev Xtreme custom tuning
Power Adders: ProCharger D-1SC, Texas Nitrous Technology (TNT) progressive wet kit
Maximum Boost: 10 psi
Intercooler: Twin ProCharger air-to-air inter coolers
Exhaust System: 1 7/8" Kooks long-tube headers, Random Tech high-flow cats, Borla Stinger mufflers
Transmission: 4L60E, built by Mad Dog Transmissions
Torque Converter: TCI, 3500-rpm stall speed
Driveshaft: Stock torque tube
Front Suspension: Stock
Rear Suspension: Stock
Rear End: 3.42 with hardened Unitrax left output shaft
Front Brakes: Stock discs
Rear Brakes: Stock discs
Wheels: HRE Performance Wheels; 18x9.5 (front), 18x11 (rear)
Front Tires: Michelin Pilot Sport, 265/35 ZR-18
Rear Tires: Michelin Pilot Sport, 315/30 R-18
Fuel Octane: 93
Weight: TBD
Best 60-ft. Time: TBD
Current Mileage: 59,000
Miles Driven Weekly: Approximately 75



TCI Automotive
Ashland, MS 38603
Lenexa, KS 66215
Mid America Motorworks
Effingham, IL
Texas Nitrous Technology
Tyler, TX 75703
Vertical Doors
Corona, CA 92881
Rev Xtreme
Tampa, FL
(813) 628-0080
American Car Craft
Spring Hill, FL 34610
Armando's Murals
Thonotosassa, FL 33584
Corvettes West/C5 West
Salem, OR 97317
Explosive Sounds
Seffner, FL 33584
Riz Graphics
Oldsmar, FL 34677
Southeastern Customs
Valrico, FL 33594
Unitrax Drivetrain, Inc.
Anaheim, CA 92806



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