When do you know if you've done just enough modifications to your Corvette, or if you've been cursed with the insatiable compulsion to continue its customization, even beyond all reasonable boundaries of sense and sanity? That is the question VETTE posed to Michael Burton, a 60-year-old Boeing electrician in Strasburg, Virginia, who is on an all-consuming campaign to continue metamorphosing his Corvette until the day he dies.
"My Corvette is a Z06 'wannabe,' and I proudly proclaim it on its license plate," Burton says. "I owned an '01 C5 Z06 and loved the power of the 405hp LS6, but I was blown away when the C6 was introduced in 2005. For the first time since 1962, the Corvette had fixed headlamps. I had to buy one."
Of course, after owning a C5 Z, Burton was disappointed that the Z06 was not offered for the 2005 model year. Despite the pain of not moving significantly forward in horsepower, he wanted a C6 that would allow him to see the sky overhead. Patiently, he waited the entire model year, then found a Velocity Yellow Chevy Corvette convertible built with the Z51 performance option and the LT3 trim package, which he bought from Criswell Chevrolet in Gaithersburg, Maryland, in August 2006.
"I was pleased with the factory performance of the LS2 convertible, until a trip to Corvettes at Carlisle in 2007 changed my life," Burton says. "It started simple enough; I just wanted an engine tune to wake up my LS2. I thought it would be an easy mod, and something inexpensive that I wouldn't get carried away with."
That's when something strange happened. Though the engine tune's task was to elicit performance gains by modifying the Corvette's air, fuel, and spark tables, it had a psychological effect on Burton, too. "I had intended to keep the Vette stock, but once I got the tune, I realized that it was destined to have more power than a C6 Z06...a lot more power," he says.
He stayed in touch with tuner Corvettes of Westchester, based in Westchester, New York, and discussed with shop owner Chuck "Cow" Mosello how the convertible could become unconquerable. Before long, Burton was making the 800-mile round trip to Mosello's shop-first for a VaraRam cold-air intake, a custom-grind cam, and 4.10 gears-then later for a Callaway/Magnuson 122 supercharger package, followed by a Z06 rearend (also equipped with 4.10 gears), a Zoom dual-disc "Science Friction" clutch, a DeWitts aluminum racing radiator, Kooks headers (1 7/8-inch primaries and 3-inch collectors), an '08 Corvette NPP exhaust system with a NakidParts Mild 2 Wild conversion, and Pfadt competition coilovers and "Pfatty" sway bars.
Along the way the LS2's 6.0L bottom end remained stock, though the valvetrain was upgraded with Comp 981 springs and titanium retainers. The sum of the mods was significant: a whopping 513 hp and 463 lb-ft at the rear wheels, measured on Corvettes of Westchester's dynamometer.
That brings us to part two of our story.
Have you ever opened one door that led to another, and then mysteriously to another? That's how Burton describes how his car received so many body and appearance mods, and, in the process, was transformed into one of the wildest-image C6 convertibles ever featured in VETTE magazine.
"I bought a Lingenfelter CES hood because I liked its aggressive look, then I commissioned Layne Designs in Middletown (Virginia), for the 'small' project," Burton explains. "The problem was I was not well at just doing 'small' projects. After seeing how the owner, Chris Layne, had developed a 'true fire' motif and applied it to motorcycles, I asked him if he would customize the underneath of my hood as well.
"He did a great a great job on the hood, and all would have been fine, until I added the Magnuson 122 supercharger," Burton continues. "The hood wasn't tall enough for it, and I had to take it back to him and add 2 inches to the hoodscoop height, then fill in the grilles with aluminum. Then, of course, he had to repaint the entire hood, including all the airbrushing."
"That's when the mods really starting getting crazy," Layne says. "I was in my shop, and Mike came to me with an insane idea. He said that if Chevrolet didn't make a C6 Z convertible, he was going to make one-or, rather, I was going to make one for him. To make things even more difficult, he said that I could only use GM parts. Starting with the stock parts on the convertible, I removed the rear bumper and the quarter-panels, then cut off the tops of the Z's quarter-panels, molded in and smoothed the lowers, applied primer, and then reinstalled them."
Sound like a great idea?
It sure seemed to be, until Layne looked at the Vette's new body lines and came to the conclusion that the Z06's rear fenders stuck out much farther than the base Corvette fronts. It gave the Vette a mismatched look.
"You may as well install Z06 front fenders, too," Layne recalls Burton saying. Before long, the convertible's front fenders were ditched, too, and carbon-fiber Z fenders had taken their place, followed by some subtler, owner-requested mods, including filling in the "Corvette" logo on the rear fascia and shaving the door handles.
Prep and paint followed. Layne applied the Velocity Yellow basecoat, followed by more airbrushing. "Mike liked the flames on the hood so much that he wanted to put some more on the rest of the car-some coming out of the vents in the fenders and more coming out the back across the trunk. He asked for other custom brushwork, too-the flag on the front bumper and a bigger flag on the rear bumper are the two most noticeable examples," Layne says.
With both men pleased with the look of the graphics, Layne applied three coats of clear, followed by block-sanding, buffing, and polishing. The result is eye candy of the highest magnitude-an aggressively sensual show car that the factory could never have produced on the production line.
Afterwards, the engine compartment was treated to the same motif. Velocity Yellow and flames were painted on the engine covers, the air ducts, and elsewhere throughout the bay. Chrome was added wherever possible to complement the look. Other appearance mods include an aluminum upper-radiator support and a custom stainless-steel panel (adorned in flames, of course) for three fans that are lighted by LED.
For the cabin, Layne continued the theme by adding Velocity Yellow wherever possible, airbrushing flags on the door panels, and applying flames to the center console and gauge faces. Other than leather trim furnished by Down South Vettes in Brownsville, Texas, the interior still retains its stock components. "The theme is really in-your-face. That's what I like about it," Burton says.
Finished? "Not yet," Burton says. "There were still more mods to go." After fitting the Vette with Z06 wheels and fatter rubber, Layne turned his talents to a complete customization of the hatch area and the installation of a show-quality sound system. "I started in the trunk by moving the battery to the rear and added another battery, both of which are housed in a custom-built aluminum battery tray. I installed a piece of 1/4-inch plastic panel over the carpet in the rear, which I painted yellow. I built speaker boxes out of aluminum and polished them, followed by an amp rack elevated off the plastic panel, under which I installed LED lights. Like elsewhere throughout the car, Velocity Yellow, flames, and flags were used to define the look," Layne said.
For most Corvette owners, it would have been time to stop, admire the work, take in some car shows, and collect the trophies, but Burton's mission may never be over. "I'm going to continue my mods in perpetuity because of the all the positive feedback I receive from other Corvette owners. They can appreciate the modifications that have been made and recognize when new mods have been added to the car. Every year I try to add to the theme of the car...and it's not done yet!"
The question remains: will Burton ever stop modifying his Corvette?
"It's doubtful," he says. "Since the photography for VETTE, I've purchased 'Lambo' doors and an underbody light kit. I also plan to cut the hood and install a clear Lexan window, like the ZR1, so that you can see the engine when the hood is closed. At this rate, I don't think the mods will ever stop. This is a work in progress and I'll continue to add things to make this a one-of-a-kind Corvette...even if it takes forever."