Ever since Zora Arkus-Duntov first dreamed of making the Corvette a mid-engine supercar, Vette hobbyists have anticipated the day the car would graduate from the front-engine paradigm that has dominated the domestic performance scene. Though Chevrolet has experimented with mid-motored concept and engineering Corvettes over the years (specifically, the '68 Astro II, the '70 XP-822, the early-'70s XP-895, the '86 Indy Concept, and the '90 CERV III), none has reached production.
That elision has allowed Factory Five Racing in Wareham, Massachusetts, to offer the public what Chevrolet has not: a lightweight, tube-steel-chassis, Corvette-powered, mid-engine monster that's quicker to 60 mph than a Ferrari Enzo, a Saleen Twin-Turbo S7, a Ford GT, or a Lamborghini Murcielago.
"The idea for the GTM began with the C5," says Factory Five president David Smith. "If you look at Chevrolet's C5-R race car, you can see the Corvette's welcome transformation into world-class status. We developed the idea of taking the well-engineered parts from the C5 and dropping them into a tube-frame chassis with a superlight composite body. Imagine a Corvette 1,000 pounds lighter than stock, with the optimized center of gravity and weight distribution of a mid-engine placement. That's what the Factory Five GTM is in a build-it-yourself package."
Factory Five began the GTM's design process in 2002, starting with Smith's vision and progressing to CAD drawings, clay models, prototypes, and finally test cars. Along the way, it bought three Corvettes: a wrecked '99 coupe, from which it extracted the engine, fuel tank, full front suspension and brakes, rear control arms and brakes, steering column and rack, and a few miscellaneous pieces; an '02 Z06, which donated its engine to the cause; and a brand-new (at the time) '07 3LT-trimmed coupe, which was used to benchmark the final product. By 2007, pilot-line "beta" cars were rolling off of the assembly line, and the word on the street was that the GTM had the heart and soul of the Corvette-and its attitude, too.
Before full-scale production began, Factory Five enlisted the expert advice of General Manager Ken Thom and Chief Instructor Mike McGovern of the Bondurant Racing School in Chandler, Arizona. "The Bondurant School knows Corvettes," Smith explains. "It keeps the cars on the track, day in and day out, in challenging conditions. It put an LS6- and an LS7-powered GTM through two weeks of rigorous track testing, which allowed us to collect a wealth of data for chassis setup and wheel/tire selection. Based upon the testing results, we increased chassis rigidity, added power steering, evaluated sway bars, optimized tire sizes, and fine-tuned cockpit visibility and comfort, all before we began earnest production."
For its first magazine test, which appeared in Car and Driver, a pilot-line LS7 GTM clocked 0-60 times in 3.0-seconds, the quarter-mile in 11.0 seconds at 132 mph, and 1.05g of lateral force on street DOT-approved tires, as measured on C&D's 300-foot skidpad.
Production went into full swing in 2008, and as of May 2010, 350 GTMs have been sold, mostly to Chevrolet hobbyists and domestic custom-car builders. As validation of its success, the GTM won the Best Domestic award from Sony PlayStation at the 2007 SEMA Show.
Keith Bentzel, a mechanical contractor in Port Richey, Florida, is a proud owner of a GTM, which he built himself. "I fell in love with the styling of the car the first time I saw it," he says. "In 2008 I took the plunge, and I'm glad I did."