Oxymorons-those odd combinations of opposites like "jumbo shrimp" or "controlled chaos"-come naturally to some Corvette owners. After all, it's their car, so they can mix things up anyway they want, right? Steve Katonis and his C5 supercharged 2002 Chevrolet Corvette fit this attitude to a "T." Reflecting Katonis' own contradictory nature, it's a car with a serious supercharger under the hood, but engine covers embellished with the Looney Tunes' twirling Tasmanian Devil. (And we haven't even gotten to the electric wine rack in the back yet.) But these jumbled elements all seem to fit together in some strange way, just like what he does for a living.
By day, Katonis machines precision fittings for NASA's space shuttle, along with other high-tech aerospace applications. Odd thing is, he also makes beverage dispensers for liquor bars. (We can just imagine him staring at a titanium valve for rocket fuel, and, in a sudden, crazed moment of paradoxical logic, saying to himself, "Hey, wouldn't this doohickey be a heckuva way to pour a shot of scotch?")
Getting back to his Vette, when we saw all these different aspects tossed into a bundle and shaken, not stirred, we went with it. Not only that, his daughter Tracy was a good sport about posing with a rifle on her hip (we just happened to have one in the back of our photo truck, but that had nothing to do with the car, other than making for a catchy title).
This unusual combination just seemed to fit after we saw the motorized sliding rack deploy a bottle of vintage wine from "Rolling Audio," the name of the shop that installed the car's home-theater-quality audio/video system. We also got a kick out of the emergency corkscrew mounted behind a pane etched with the words "In Case of Good Times, Break Glass."
All of which brings us to our title, "Guns n' Rosé" (actually, the bottle was Merlot, but you get the drift). It's a jungle out there in the performance world, but all for some fun 'n' games, as Axl's lyrics suggest. To make sure his C5 had a wild streak for taking on the great outdoors, Katonis went to Roseville, California's, Motor Sport Image (MSI) and selected all the parts he could think to give his rocket a speedy liftoff. (Alert students of English, like our esteemed editor, will spot the mixed metaphor that's entirely fitting in this case.)
"I was looking to build a Pro Street, but wanted an American car that handled-good, fast, and dependable," says Katonis. "This yellow C5 was the fit for me."
After purchasing the car new in 2002, he got that Pro Street firepower by having the capable crew at MSI feed more airflow through a Halltech Trap intake to a Magnuson intercooled blower. MSI has done more than three-dozen engine installations like this one, so its techs knew how to make the most of the package.
"We've found that the larger TPIS headers create more backpressure," explains MSI's Terry Fong. "So we went to a slightly smaller Magnuson pulley, from 3.3 to 3.5 inches, in order to compensate." Since the LS6 internals are still stock, the boost is set at a streetable 6 pounds.
In addition to a Superchips reflash of the factory computer, Romans Designs optimized the tune to squeeze out an extra 30 horses, for a grand total of 490 hp at the wheels, along with commensurate torque figures. Fong says the standard tune from Magnuson is fairly conservative, with a fat, rich fuel map for the included 50-lb/hr injectors. This allows for additional tweaking by Romans, which requires a few extra hours of data-logging and drive time.
Igniting the pressurized mix of fuel and air is a set of Taylor Thunderbolt 50 HP wires. Once lit, the exhaust gasses flow furiously through the TPIS long-tube headers and into a GHL exhaust with an X-style pipe. A Griffin radiator with oil cooler keeps a lid on the temps, while the hot fluids flow through stainless-steel braided lines. The six-speed tranny is factory, but upgraded with a Hyper Single Disc clutch and a B&M Ripper shifter.
For a hunkered-down look with a dropped coefficient of drag, MSI adjusted the factory suspension a half-inch lower by adding longer bolts for the rear monoleaf. Behind those chrome-plated Z06 rims are Baer Eradispeed Plus rotors, measuring 13.8 inches in front. The rear rotors are stock sized but slotted, drilled, and zinc plated. Both wear Friction Z-rated pads, bringing the whole shebang to a crisp stop. Goodridge stainless brake lines ensure a firmer brake pedal feel when running hard.
To give the slippery C5 lines a more provocative bulge, Katonis swapped out the stock hood for an ACI Radical High Rise piece. At the suggestion of his wife, Sharon, he also added a complementary MSI rear spoiler and trimmed out the body with duct screens and polished lettering. Kniesel's Auto Body did all the exterior embellishments.
As for the cartoon character, credit that to daughter Tracy, and the artful airbrushing of Offbeat Productions. There's a play on words with this lively imagery, since "Looney Tunes" could refer to both the sound system and the sweet sounds of a blown engine at full chat. Speaking of sounds, Rolling Audio owner Neil Kostka provided a few tech tips on what it took to upgrade the fidelity of this C5.
"Corvettes are actually pretty loud," he notes, "so we insulated the entire car with Dynamat Xtreme. We also had to open up the original radio area of the dash, to get the head unit and monitor to fit, and re-texture it to match the factory finish. We also had to fit two speakers inside the vent system."
Other challenges included maintaining a steady 14-volt current, so as not to interfere with the performance mods. That meant adding a Kinetik battery behind the passenger seat and low-resistance, heavy-duty, 0-gauge cables as thick as your thumb. This audio/video setup boasts a pair of Diamond Hex amps rated at 1,400 watts each-one for the two 10-inch subs, and the other for a component set of woofers and tweeters. A crossover filters out the signals to the woofers and tweeters for a more discrete, studio-grade sound with a true 5.1 Pioneer DEQ-P8000 Sound Processor. Fitting all that equipment without sacrificing trunk space took a bit of head scratching, but the wine rack was easy by comparison.
So how does Katonis handle all this power and style? Well, he enjoys bombing through the winding roads of the Sierra foothills near Sacramento. Occasionally he lifts off the throttle to coast into a vineyard for some wine tasting-but not too much, so he gets home all in once piece. After all, we've seen this buttoned-down company exec get as crazy as that "looney" whirling dervish on his engine covers, firing off some fishtails and frying the hides. That all might sound like an oxymoron to some folks, but it makes perfect sense to us.