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1998 Chevrolet Corvette - Rad, White, And Blue

An Aircraft Engineer Launches A 500-Horse Patriot Missile

Christopher R. Phillip Apr 8, 2010
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When America's founding fathers approved of the first American flag in May 1776, and used the same colors to create the Great Seal of the United States at the Continental Congress in 1782, they had no idea how good the three hues would look on Corvettes centuries later. Their intentions were to symbolize the traits of their new country: valor and hardiness (red), purity and innocence ( white), and vigilance, perseverance, and justice (blue).

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The Corvette's use of America's trademark color triad marks another series of famous moments in history; the first was credited to Corvette racer John Greenwood, who campaigned his red-white-and-blue "Spirit of ..." Corvettes at various venues, including Le Mans and Sebring, in the 1970s. Even as recently as May 2006, this tricolor scheme provided the palette for the '06 Corvette Indy 500 Pace Car. "These color choices were based on a patriotic theme as America's sports car," Corvette Product Manager Harlan Charles says.

So there's no doubt that American-based Corvette owners have employed the colors and imagery of the flag on their cars to show their patriotism for decades. But what about Corvette enthusiasts who have never been to America? What would prompt them to put the Stars and Stripes on their vehicles?

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"I have always had a love for American muscle cars since I was a young boy, and I love Corvettes," Kevin Mafrici, a 60-year-old aircraft engineer in Chipping North, Australia, tells VETTE magazine. "I am the proud owner of a '98 Corvette coupe that clearly shows its American-born allegiance."

In 2000, Mafrici was celebrating his sixth year of Corvette ownership with a '92 Polo Green C4 convertible, but it was time for a change. "I had modified it immensely, but my wife had issues getting in and out of it, so I looked to replace it with a newer model," he says. "My intention was to import a C5. Back then, the late-model Corvette choices in Australia were rather limited; we didn't have a lot of options for color, transmission, or extras, so I purchased a Torch Red '98 coupe sight unseen; it had emigrated to Australia shortly after it was brand-new, sometime in 1999, and when I found it, there were only 4,000 miles on the odometer."

The '98 Corvette marked the second year of the C5 generation. A total of 19,235 coupes and 11,849 convertibles were produced, for a grand total of 31,084 units. All production models came with the then-new Gen III LS1 engine featuring 346 cid and 345 hp. Two new performance options were added for the model year: the JL4 Active Handling System and the Z51 Performance Handling Package.

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After converting his Vette to righthand drive (RHD) to meet Australian regulations, Mafrici got to work "changing things." In 2002 he began cosmetic upgrades and light mods. "I focused on making the engine bay and underbody show ready, then added 13.5-inch drilled-and-slotted brake rotors and polished factory wheels, modified by Mag Wheel Repairs and Polishing, in Sydney," he says.

The next year he added a C5-R-style rear wing, carbon-fiber fender trim, stainless-steel brake lines, and interior accoutrements consisting of Simpson five-point racing harnesses, polished-aluminum gauge surrounds, a red-and-black-leather steering wheel, a billet shift knob, and a cockpit-mounted camera.

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In 2004 he sent his Corvette to Advanced Airbrushing in Penrith for custom graphics born straight out of American history. "The thought of airbrushing was there from when I first bought the C5," he says. "The problem was what to paint. Most of the show cars had naked women on the bonnets; it looked great, but I never felt comfortable with that idea for my car. I had the idea of a racing winner's flag-black and white checkers-[but] it's been done many times before, on many different cars. Eventually, I came up with the idea of an American flag. I had to wait until the big car shows were over for the year, and then I booked my car in for the airbrushing. By chance, the painter at Advanced Airbrushing was American, and he had some great ideas; I finally agreed to the three-dimensional look."

Afterwards, Mafrici revamped the interior cabin again, this time with custom red-and-blue-leather door panels and trim to match the new look of his Corvette.

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Then it was time for even more fun-squeezing more power out of the factory LS1. "In 2005, I decided to upgrade the engine with LS6 power," he explains. "There were a few websites that walked you through the changes, and I knew that my engineering background gave me the skills I needed to do the work myself. I retained the stock LS1 bottom end and upgraded it with a GM Performance Parts Hot Cam. Then I added GMPP LS6 racing heads with 61cc combustion chambers-which raised the compression to 12:1-Lunati pushrods, and Harland Sharp 1.8:1 roller rockers. I also changed the timing chain and the oil pump, and replaced the stock valve covers with C5-R units to give more clearance," he says.

Other engine mods include a Holley/John Lingenfelter Series polished EFI manifold with ported intake runners, modified coil mounts, Aeromotive billet fuel runners, and an Aeromotive EFI fuel regulator set at 60 psi.

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Exhaust gases are exhaled through Bassani heat-wrapped long-tube headers (1 7/8-inch primaries) mated to a custom 3-inch exhaust that was designed and installed by Liverpool Exhaust in Moorebank. The nicest feature of the system is an electric bypass unit called the M5, which allows Mafrici to keep the exhaust mellow when he desires, or flip a switch and make it bellow. "You cannot believe the looks my Corvette gets when I drive it in full-bypass mode. When I back off hard, flames shoot out of the exhaust," he says. The suspension remains stock, except for polished A-arms, lowering springs, and Energy Suspension bushings.

What kind of power does this patriotic people-pleaser produce? According to Mafrici, his Vette spins the dial at 500 hp and 510 lb-ft of torque. That may explain why he's on the third rebuild of the factory 4L60E, its most recent incarnation sent to Craig's Automatics in Chipping Norton for bulletproofing; the rearend is a factory Getrag LSD outfitted with 2.73 gears.

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Though it has won more than 40 awards at car shows throughout Australia, this red, white, and blue Corvette's biggest compliment may have come from an American car club traveling Down Under. "When the graphics were finally completed, the Las Vegas Corvette Club was in Australia and joined my local club at a BBQ that we hosted," Mafrici says. The Yanks' responses? "They absolutely loved my Corvette. They wanted to take it back to America with them," he says.

That's easy to believe. After all, red, white, and blue has always been hard to beat, especially on a Corvette. As John Greenwood's C3 race cars proved time and time again in the 1970s, the spirit of the Vette and the spirit of America have always been one and the same: the determination to win, the desire to stand out from the crowd, and the love of the open road.

The same holds true today. "Most people in Australia love the look of my Corvette, too," Mafrici says. "But every now and then I get a few angry looks and comments [from Australian loyalists]. I don't care. My Corvette is here to please me, not them. If I ever get the chance to bring my Corvette to America, I will. I'm sure I can find plenty of people who agree with me that the American flag looks great on a Corvette...about 304 million of them!"

Car: 1998 Coupe
Owner: John Mafrici
Block: LS1
Displacement: 346 ci
Compression Ratio: 12:1
Heads: GM Performance Parts LS6
Valves: 2.00/1.57 (sodium-filled exhaust)
Camshaft: GMPP LS6 "Hot" (0.525/0.525" lift, 219/228-deg duration, 112-deg LSA)
Rocker Arms: Harland Sharp, 1.8:1 ratio
Piston: Stock LS1
Crankshaft: Stock LS1
Rods: Stock LS1
Intake Manifold: Holley Signature Series polished
Throttle Body: Polished stock
Fuel Injectors: Stock
Exhaust System: Thermal-wrapped, stainless-steel, 1 7/8-in long-tube headers; 3-in stainless pipes with dual polished mufflers and electric bypass valves
Transmission: 4L60E with HD rebuild
Torque Converter: Stock
Driveshafts: Stock
Front Suspension: Mid America Motorworks bushings, polished arms
Rear Suspension: Mid America Motorworks bushings, polished arms
Rearend: Stock with 2.73:1 gears
Front Brakes: Drilled-and-slotted rotors with polished calipers and red covers
Rear Brakes: Polished calipers and red covers
Wheels: Polished stock
Front Tires: Yokohama AVS, 255/35ZR17
Rear Tires: Yokohama AVS, 295/30ZR18
Fuel Octane: 98
Current Miles: 48,000
Miles Driven Weekly: Approx. 30



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