As a member of Washington, D.C.'s ultra-elite United States Navy Band, Andrew Wheeler has played saxophone for six presidents, from Ford through Bush, and has performed at three presidential inaugurations, including, most recently, President Barack Obama's.
Given this impressive resume, perhaps it's no surprise that one of America's most talented military musicians also owns a Corvette. "I was in search of a low-mileage, bone-stock C5 Z06 for my next adventure," Wheeler says. "I had owned several LS1 F-bodies over the years, and even a Lotus Esprit S4. They were all great in their own ways, but I was ready for a car that could deliver more. I wanted the handling of the little British exotic, as well as the quarter-mile performance and dependability of the late-model F-bodies. That's why I decided on a Corvette."
Wheeler found his Corvette in 2006 through a local classified ad. "It was owned by a longtime enthusiast couple who would purchase a new Vette, drive it for a few years, and then buy a new one again," he explains. "The C6 had just been introduced, and they were looking at a new coupe, so their '01 Z06 was for sale. I bought it with 21,000 miles on the odometer. They were able to go purchase a C6, and I had the Z06 I was looking for."
Real Power In Washington
Describing his stock Z as "a blank canvas," Wheeler set out to customize it to match the excitement of his high-profile career. His vision was a Corvette that packed "real, usable power [and] looked good doing it."
He began his project as do many Corvette owners, by opening up the exhaust with a set of headers and better-flowing pipes. "I chose American Racing headers with 1 3/4-inch primaries, an x-style crossover pipe, and a 3-inch stainless steel B&B Bullet system," he says.
But these bolt-ons were simply the prelude to a more sophisticated plan to achieve real power in the Capital City. "I decided to pull the trigger and add a supercharger," Wheeler says. "I contacted A&A Corvette in Oxnard, California, and realized that owner Andy Green's intercooled, Vortech-equipped C5 system was exactly what I was looking for."
"Because air management is the key to an effective intercooler system, A&A utilizes a 'ram air' design that allows for the largest intercooler possible, while not impeding airflow to the radiator," Green says. "The intercooler has an aluminum enclosure and an interchangeable 3-inch street or 5-inch track scoop to grab cool air and force it through the core. Additionally, our heavy-duty, CNC-machined bracket-and-tensioner system offers maximum belt wrap and grip to prevent slipping issues, the nemesis of many supercharger systems."
Wheeler installed the A&A blower kit himself, a job that took around a week and was completed in his garage. To safeguard his engine's stock block, he then added a trunk-mounted 2-gallon methanol-injection setup sourced from Alcohol Injection Systems (AIS) in Columbus, Ohio. An AIS progressive controller and cabin-mounted control switch activate the methanol at a user-specified boost level. "It offers fuel stability under higher-boost conditions, and I run it from 3 to 10 psi," he explains.
The system is located in the Corvette's hatch area, where it reposes beneath a 1-inch-thick Plexiglas-and-vinyl cover fabricated by Neil Jurik of Two Brothers Customs. The methanol is routed via braided lines that run under the rear of the car, through the driver-side rocker panel, and into the engine compartment. "I drilled and tapped the throttle body to accept an AIS brass fitting and connected the lines so [the methanol] sprays directly into the top of the throttle body," Wheeler says.
To optimize the Vette's power potential, he sent it to East Coast Supercharging of Cream Ridge, New Jersey, for tuning and dyno testing. (Additional tuning was performed by Larry Hasty in Washington.) Surprising both the dyno techs and Wheeler himself, the Z06 easily pulled 547 rear-wheel horsepower with a stock block and heads, and a modest 8 pounds of boost.
Beautifying The Capital
"I was extremely careful to pick parts that worked together, because I really appreciate a well- thought-out build," Wheeler says. "I started with a Motor City Mold [MCM] carbon-fiber hood with a cleared center section. The dark colors of the carbon gave the car a distinct look without being too over-the-top. The hood complements the lines of the C5 very well."
Next, he added a set of West Coast Muscle Car carbon-fiber brake ducts in the rear. "A lot of enthusiasts were just slapping carbon fiber over the top of their existing ducts, but I pulled the stock ductwork out and removed the outer shell. I epoxied the new carbon piece to the inside half and sanded the new ductwork to sit perfectly flush with the body. I can't tell you how much difference a small detail like this makes in terms of the overall appearance of a build," he says.
With that done, Wheeler added a stylish Caravaggio rear spoiler to lend some elegance and a little extra length to the profile of the car. That piece was followed by a carbon-fiber front splitter made by Adrian Assemi of Elite Custom Auto Center in La Mesa, California, along with a set of custom "Andy Wheeler" signature emblems manufactured by Austin Barnett Designs in Brainerd, Minnesota. To complete the theme, Wheeler installed a set of Modular Concept Carbon Concept 01 wheels, which feature a gloss-black lip, a Torch Red pinstripe, and a full carbon-fiber face.
"The wheels really made all the difference in the exterior for me," Wheeler says. "They pull the hood and brake scoops together and really gave the car a great outward appearance. To this day, this is still the only set of carbon wheels the company has produced for a C5, and I'm proud to have worked with them."
With the exterior redecorated, Wheeler turned his talents to the engine bay. "The blower looked great, but the engine compartment lacked the visual punch the exterior had," he says. "I started by having Tony Garcia at MPH Parts paint the LS6 manifold with a hydrographic carbon-fiber process, and it turned out amazing. Then, I switched to a Reichard Racing pulley to add a little more boost to the Vortech S-Trim blower. It's painted gloss black with a nice Torch Red pinstripe to match the wheels. It's a small detail, but it really brings the outside of the car into the engine bay."
Department Of The Interior
At this point, Wheeler decided the Corvette's cabin needed to get up to speed with the rest of the car. To accomplish that goal, he added red-and-black Sparco Roadster II thrones mounted to Arizen Racing Sports mounting brackets and stock seat tracks. This installation method allowed him to retain the factory seats' power accessories and memory functions. While he was at it, he also installed a Brey-Krause harness bar and TRW SaBelt five-point camlock belts to give the Vette even more racing cred. Other accoutrements include an American Hydrocarbon carbon-fiber-and-leather-wrapped steering wheel with red stitching; a Breathless Performance Products shifter; a Vette Essentials hydrocarbon center console, radio surround, and gauge bezel; a Redline Goods carbon-fiber-look shift boot, armrest, and emergency brake; a Z06 shift knob; and Lloyd Z06 floor mats.
Pride And Handling
To make good use of his car's available horsepower, Wheeler retained the stock Z06 suspension but lowered the ride with cut front bushings up front and longer bolts in the rear. He also added AC Delco slotted-and-drilled rotors to enhance the prodigious decelerative grip of the Pirelli P Zero Nero 265/35ZR19 front and 325/25ZR20 rear tires. "I designed my Z06 to be the best of all of my past builds," he explains. "It's a brawler on the freeway like the high-horsepower F-bodies, but it handles and looks the part better than the little Esprit Turbo. So I feel I finally got it right. This setup shows exactly what a blown '01 Z is capable of with stock internals."
Wheeler tells us he's extremely proud of his service to our country, and that every new issue of VETTE makes his job a little bit easier. He says, "For the last 10 years, I've performed hundreds of full-honors funerals for fallen shipmates at Arlington National Cemetery. During a typical day at Arlington, we'll have several breaks in between funeral services. One of the things we do is head up to the Fort Meyer Military Exchange to grab lunch or a quick bottle of water before the next ceremony. The first thing I do every time I visit is check for the latest issue of VETTE.
"I tell my co-workers that one of these times, I'm going to pick up the magazine and see my Corvette featured. They usually ask me, 'Is it in there yet?' For me, it's one of the best moments of the day. I get to slow down and read the features and tech stories before heading back out for another ceremony. It's been a really long process for me to get my car featured in VETTE, and it's an achievement that I will always cherish."
So the next time you watch the United States Navy Band in action, pay special attention to the saxophone player. It's probably Andrew Wheeler, one of America's proud servicemen and owner of one of the nation's most sensational C5 Z06s. And when he's done performing, you may find Wheeler testing the limits of his wild red Z on the roads around the nation's capital. Now that's a tune we can all agree is music to our ears.