This year marks the 20th anniversary of the first Callaway Twin Turbo Corvette, a limited-edition, factory-endorsed supercar sold by GM dealers from 1987 through 1991 under RPO B2K. Over that period, some 500 Callaway Vettes were delivered to power-hungry C4 aficionados throughout the U.S. and beyond. As we pass this important milestone in B2K history, a couple of questions loom large: Where are these cars now, and are any of them more valuable than others?
The answers are pretty clear. Many of the B2K cars are still in active service, regularly driven and enjoyed by their owners. And, yes, some are more valuable than others. But since all 500 cars shared many of the same features, the question of value depends, to some extent, on history, condition, and the story that goes with each car. This is one of those stories.
Corvette collector Roger Abshire is the current owner of this particular Callaway Twin Turbo. He found it in Hemmings Motor News in late 1998, during one of his periodic searches for cars and parts. The car was being offered for sale by Joe Roebuck, a real-estate professional based in the Chicago area. Joe was knowledgeable about Corvettes, and when the car had been offered as part of a property deal years earlier, he knew that it had value.
The Vette was originally purchased by Dr. Domenic Esposito, of Valdosta, Georgia. Esposito bought it from Corvette specialist and dealer Malcolm Konner Chevrolet, in Paramus, New Jersey. Abshire's research shows that the warranty was listed as starting on December 7, 1987, with zero miles on the car's odometer. When purchased, however, the Vette was recorded as having 1,200 miles on the clock. A temporary transport tag issued in Old Lyme, Connecticut, suggests that most of those miles were accumulated during the car's delivery to Dr. Esposito on December 18, 1987.
In June of 1994, the car was sold to Gregg Bell, of Jacksonville, Florida. Bell drove the car extensively, racking up at least 40,000 of the 50,000 miles that currently show on the Vette's odo. And unlike Dr. Esposito, who drove the car very little, Gregg spent a lot of money on maintenance and performance enhancements.
In 1995, the car was sent back to Callaway for a number of additional modifications. Abshire is still searching for records to indicate how extensive these mods really were, but for now, the only external evidence of the work is a set of siamesed L98 intake runners. Nevertheless, he suspects that his might be one of the most highly modified Callaway Twin Turbos in existence. The proof? Right now, it's just in the seat of his pants.
Abshire does have the original receipts for some of the other modifications commissioned by Gregg Bell. The most significant of these was the replacement of the Doug Nash 4+3 manual transmission with a 700-R4 automatic unit. Bell also had the rear-axle ratio changed from 3:08 to 3:42, at a cost of $853. Obviously, he was very interested in maximizing the performance and driveability of his car.
At this point in the car's history, the details start to get a little fuzzy. Abshire has put together several pieces of the puzzle and deduced that Bell and Joe Roebuck were involved in a real-estate deal. As part of the deal, Bell offered up the car as partial payment. Roebuck knew what the car was worth, took it, and put it up for sale at D&M Corvette, in Downer's Grove, Illinois.
As Abshire tells it, he saw the ad in Hemmings and started his usual pre-purchase research. Once he knew what he was buying, he and a friend flew to Chicago to pick up the car. They then took turns driving on the way home, making for what Abshire describes as "a pretty good trip."
Since that time, Abshire has found another '87 B2K car, this one a convertible. The drop-top isn't in quite the same condition as the coupe, but it's fully documented and quite presentable. And, like the coupe, it has the highly desirable ducted hood, an '87-only feature that feeds cold air directly to the intercoolers.
It seems that Roger Abshire is learning what untold other Corvette devotees have discovered over the years: Once you've driven a Callaway, there really is no going back.
Reeves Callaway on the History of the B2K Program
When I last spoke with Reeves Callaway, he agreed to an extensive interview on his Corvette-building career. During that interview, Reeves made a number of statements that surprised me, the most notable being that he didn't view the engine development for RPO B2K as being all that significant. As far as engines are concerned, he said, it just wasn't that big a deal. But as a vehicle-production exercise, it was instrumental in transforming Callaway Engineering from a supplier of turbo kits to a full-fledged specialty manufacturer.
Reeves had his eyes on niche manufacturing long before he was approached about the B2K project in the mid '80s. He had studied the failure of other specialty manufacturers and concluded that the most important factors in ensuring a company's success were its ability and willingness to offer a quality product. Reeves felt that, to be successful, Callaway would need to target an engineering standard rather than a price point.
According to Reeves, the B2K project began with a phone call from then-Corvette Chief Engineer Dave McLellan. McLellan indicated that although GM's in-house turbo program still had a lot of support from the people who had done the development work, the corporate decision was to go with a four-cam engine instead. He asked if Reeves would be interested in keeping the twin-turbo program alive. GM would share the results of its R&D work, assign the finished product an RPO, and even help sell the cars. Reeves agreed, and the project moved forward.
According to Reeves, developing 500 complete automobiles in tandem with the automaker was quite an experience. There were a multitude of issues to be considered. For example, some GM officials were nervous about the price impact of the conversion. To make matters worse, they were asking Callaway to be ready for production in just a few months, with very little development time. Reeves estimated that a proper conversion would add around $20,000 to the Corvette coupe's base price of $27,999.
Reeves was then asked to estimate customer demand. Considering the huge projected markup over list price, Reeves guessed that around 50 copies could be moved yearly. GM agreed, and approval was given to tool up and start a production run of 50 cars.
The problems started almost immediately. The initial test engines failed, and failed quickly-literally within a few minutes of run time on the dyno. This was surprising, since years of research from the GM turbo program indicated that the stock L98 engine should have taken the stress. It turned out, however, that the development work may not have been done on the latest version of the L98. A big portion of GM's development work had essentially proved useless.
Reeves could have proposed a production delay, but instead he decided to take advantage of the knowledge he'd gained through many years of hot-rodding the small-block Chevy. He used the best components, regardless of source or cost, to build an absolutely bulletproof engine.
In the beginning, Callaway used 4-bolt truck blocks instead of the standard 2-bolt L98 unit. Eventually, the company learned how to convert the L98 to a 4-bolt main configuration. The point, however, was that the program had taken a significant left turn: By building specialized engines, Callaway had taken its first step toward becoming a specialty manufacturer.
The '88 B2K cars provide another example of how detailed engineering was required in order to meet Callaway's performance expectations. Starting with the '88 model year, all Corvettes used a new crossmember. The improvement to chassis torsional value was so significant that GM engineers took to calling it the "Wonder Bar."
Unfortunately for Callaway, the new bar was in the way of the air-intake system. The company's solution was to cut the crossmember out of the car, hollow it out, flange the ends, and add brackets to it. Callaway then bolted it back into the car, where it served as an air duct. Although complex and time consuming, this modification added almost 40 horsepower to the car's already impressive output.
The B2K program spawned a succession of Callaway turbo Vettes, most notably the 880hp Sledgehammer. Reeves recognized that part of the beauty of boosted cars lay in the fact that, when properly built, they could essentially have an adjustable top speed. Engineers could dial in whatever power level might be needed for a given test, without ever showing a car's full potential.
And so, together with Chevrolet, Callaway decided to build a Corvette capable of dominating any of the top-speed contests popular with car magazines at the time. In this regard, the Sledgehammer proved an unqualified success: In October of 1988, it reached an astounding 254.76 mph at the Transportation Research Center in Ohio.
The Sledgehammer also prefaced the end of the Twin Turbo era. By 1991, the program had grown into something much larger than just an engine package-adding wheels, tires, suspension work, a custom interior, and the stunning Paul Deutschman-designed AeroBody. The price of a fully loaded car had climbed to almost $90,000, just as the U.S. economy was taking a turn for the worse.
Other factors were also at work. All of Chevrolet's marketing muscle was being thrown behind the "King of the Hill" ZR-1. The new-for-'92 LT1 base engine-with its revised architecture and reverse-flow cooling system-was proving to be a less-than-ideal candidate for turbocharging.
Callaway was approaching the 500 mark for total B2K production, but by 1990, orders had shrunk to fewer than 50. So, together with GM, Reeves decided to cease production at 500 units. The decision resulted in a huge outcry from performance-minded Corvette fans, some of whom had been saving for years in the hopes of sampling a boosted Callaway Vette. Despite numerous requests to extend the run, Callaway built its last B2K car during the '91 model year.
Today, the Callaway Twin Turbo cars represent a very special piece of Corvette performance history. Looking back to 1987, it's hard not to marvel at how the whole project came about.