The idea was simple: Assemble a platoon of god-awfully powerful street Corvettes and pit them against one another on the quarter-mile strip at Atlanta Dragway. The event was conceived as an invitation-only adjunct to the YearOne Experience-a mammoth, three-day customer-appreciation event put on each year by the Braselton, Georgia-based restoration- and performance-parts retailer. To make things really interesting, we decided to invite entrants from sister magazines Mopar Muscle, High Performance Pontiac, and Corvette Fever. And to ensure that none of the participants rolled in with an alky-swilling, tube-frame ringer, we incorporated a 25-mile city/highway drive into the program.
Of an initial short list of 10 candidates, only 4 showed up in Atlanta on race day. The quartet completed the street drive unscathed, but one of the cars suffered a mechanical problem on its first dragstrip pass and was pulled from the competition. That left us a with a terrible trio of road-going ber-Vettes representing the third, fourth, and fifth generations of the car. How did they fare against the clocks, and the competition? Keep reading.
With gas prices on the rise, and inflation hovering somewhere in the troposphere, Russ Buckner's LT4 coupe serves as a heartening refutation of the idea that outsize performance requires a similarly outsize investment. Hewing closely to a results-oriented build plan, the 38-year-old active-duty airman managed to accentuate the strengths of the factory-tweaked LT4 engine and create a car capable of holding its own against all but the most formidable competition.
A GMPP Hot Cam and a set of Hooker long-tube headers are the prime movers in the powertrain package, while a set of 4.10 gears enhance the C4's off-the-line urgency. Beyond that, the car remains largely stock, right down to the original throttle body and OptiSpark unit.
While the dragstrip was the venue of choice for our little get-together, Buckner regularly presses the Vette into service in a variety of competitive environments. In fact, just one day after its Atlanta Dragway appearance, the car placed Second in a YearOne-sponsored autocross held a few miles away at Road Atlanta. (The winner of that contest-a road-race-prepped C5 Z06-is featured on page 30 of this month's issue.)
After conquering the street drive with the A/C blasting ("I even got 22 mpg," said Buckner afterward), the car laid down a string of mid-12-second passes at between 111 and 115 mph. Buckner's best run of the day clocked in at 12.38 seconds at just under 115 mph-right on par with a stock (if exceptionally well-driven) C5 Z06. Now that's the kind of transportational efficiency we could get used to.
Regular readers may recall Kevin Helmintoller's '01 Mallett Z06 from its appearance in our Aug. '06 issue. For the rest of you, the car played the tricked-out foil to a stock C6 Z (also Helmintoller's) in what was the magazine world's first published dragstrip test of the new LS7-powered model. Since then, Helmintoller has further upgraded the C5 Z's Cartek-built 436 with a rev-friendly top-end package from Tampa-area tuner (and regular VETTE coconspirator) AntiVenom.
The new setup comprises a heavily modified set of LS3 heads, a super-secret AV camshaft, and a custom sheetmetal intake manifold. The freshly invigorated stroker cooked up an unholy 570 hp on the AV chassis dyno, some 40 more than the previous combo and theoretically enough to punt the lightweight Z deep into the mid-10s. And as you can see from the accompanying photo, it's a guaranteed conversation-starter any time the hood's up.
We were all surprised, then, when the car failed to better the 10.930-second pass it recorded during our '06 test session. A couple of factors were likely at work. After the event, AV's Greg Lovell diagnosed an insufficient high-rpm fuel supply attributable to the Z's overmatched factory pump. It also bears mention that our original test took place in Richmond, Virginia, during the winter, and was attended by temperatures some 40 degrees (F) cooler than those registered at our outing in Hotlanta. With a new Racetronix fuel pump and some better weather, a half-second improvement in e.t. seems fully within reach.
As a side note, Helmintoller-who is now officially our hero-should be taking delivery of a red '09 ZR1 right around the time you read this. While it never pays to play seer, the odds of a track test do not seem remote.
We know what you're thinking: 600 ci, a parachute, tires the size of Godzilla's thumbnail. No way is this thing a legitimate street car. While we were initially inclined to agree with you, a closer look at the '73's specs revealed a vehicle that was far more at home on the open road than its strip-forged mien might suggest. Sure enough, the car completed our 25-mile street slog without incident, this despite the aforementioned heat and a cruising speed that topped 65 mph on the highway portion.
The C3's powertrain is as simple as a boxful of claw hammers, and just as effective. The concussive force in this case comes courtesy of a monstrous big-block Chevy inhaling a snootful of nitrous oxide through an NOS Pro Fogger system. A dragstrip regular, owner/driver Steve Haynes ratcheted up the nitrous throughout the day just enough to keep the Vette comfortably out in front of the competition. The strategy proved a winning one when the second-fastest car in attendance-a ProCharged '71 Dodge Challenger-eviscerated its transmission in a vain attempt to keep up with Haynes' screaming red C3.
Impressive though it was, the Vette's winning time of 8.741 seconds was nearly five tenths slower than its previous best e.t. of 8.29. The problem wasn't with the car, but rather with the Atlanta Dragway track surface, which had lost its top layer of traction-enhancing VHT to a vicious rainstorm the previous night. "I was getting some tire spin on the top end at around 150 mph," reported Haynes after one pass, "so I thought I'd better call it a day."
Perhaps not unexpectedly, there was some minor puling from a few (non-Corvette-driving) competitors who felt the mountain-motored '73 violated the spirit of the event. That's too bad. After all, Haynes' car met all of our criteria, did everything we asked of it, and still covered the field by a good half-second. Factor in that Haynes regularly pilots the C3 to cruise-ins near his home in Mechanicsville, Virginia, and you have a car that is the very essence of the street-driven super-Vette. Until next year, anyway.
Interested in participating in the '09 VETTE Magazine/YearOne Challenge? Send a brief a description of your car and a few low-res images to Vette@sourceinterlink.com. We'll contact the selectees several weeks prior to the event.