Love of Corvettes knows no boundaries—or borders. That's why you see America's Only True Sports Car owned, collected, restored, and enjoyed on every continent on Earth (except Antarctica).
That includes Australia, where owning late-model Vettes (or anything less than 30 years old) has a special condition. Australian law dictates that, in order to be legally registered, all cars imported into the country must either be righthand drive when they land, or must be converted to RHD before they can get an Aussie title, registration, and plates. (Cars more than 30 years old are exempt, but are limited in how many miles they can be driven every year).
Les Kernya had wanted a C4 for years, and the need for a "mirror conversion" didn't stop him. "I wanted a C4 Corvette with a difference," he says from his Baulkham Hills, New South Wales, home. "It has a lot of aluminium in the engine bay and around the running gear, so it can be polished to give it a nice shine." And to this long-time car enthusiast (who'd been building and enjoying V-8–powered Yank and Aussie muscle for more than three decades), the L98 engine was a big selling point. "It's the last of the computerized engines that a home mechanic can fool around with."
After a two-year search, he found this one—imported into Australia by its second owner, who'd had it converted to RHD. At first he thought the Turquoise Metallic color was too loud for him. "I thought about it for a couple of weeks, then flew down to Geelong a couple of times to look at it again," he says. "I bought it, and I'm so glad I did."
Though there may not be many Vettes painted the same color as Kernya's C4 in Australia, Turquoise Metallic was one of the most popular '91 Corvette hues, with 1,621 coupes, convertibles, and ZR-1s painted in that 1991-only shade at Bowling Green Assembly. (Only Bright Red, White, and Black went on more '91 Vettes.)
Kernya's '91 was well-equipped with the RPO FX3 Selective Ride and Handling option, among others. But he didn't plan on keeping it all OEM. "I thought the engine needed more ‘get up and go', but I didn't want to go crazy on it," he says. "I wanted the V-8 sound and a nice street car, so I ordered a bunch of stuff from TPIS in America." Thanks to TPIS, Kernya added a ZZ9 hydraulic roller camshaft to the L98, as well as a new intake manifold, headers, and higher-flowing "sport cat" converters. He also upgraded his C4's brakes, adding PBR's Grand Sport upgrade package. The rest of the car, except for the RHD, is fairly stock. It still has the new-for-'91, ZR-1–inspired bodywork (intact save for a larger air inlet in front to help the L98's breathing), and Kernya does plan on replacing the rubber suspension bushings before long.
In all, Kernya had the C4's engine apart for about four months. "A couple of times I got the feeling that there was no way that I'd be able to put it all back together," he recalls, "but several beers and lots of thinking later, I managed to." However, the now-modified L98 needed help, as its ECM was not happy with the changes from stock. A call to Steve Rosenfels at S.R. Performance in Ancliffe led to a re-programming and retuning of the '91's electronic brain.
It was also in need of a gearbox retune, after a Corvette Club of Australia track day at Wakefield Raceway (after these photos were taken). "My transmission only just lasted the day," says Kernya, "and my faithful car still managed to travel the 210 kilometers [130.49 miles] to get me home with the clutches slipping." A call to Global Auto Transmission in Blacktown led to a rebuild of the 700R4 automatic gearbox. "He took it all apart, showed me the standard rebuild parts, and laid out the upgrade parts," says Kernya of his consultation with the transmission expert. "One look at the difference, and I forked out the extra dough to beef it up." The upgrade also gave Kernya more-direct and quicker shifts.
Since he's had it, Kernya's '91 has been on the cover of at least one Australian car magazine (Unique Cars), and he's won class-champion trophies every time he's shown it at events in Canberra, Brisbane, Melbourne, and Sydney. He even scored a Best In Show with it at the '09 Darling Harbour Corvette Show.
What's it like to drive? "I love the instant response when I hit the throttle and, of course, that it is still easy to drive in traffic," says Kernya. "When I first got it, every time I drove it, or even thought of driving it, I got an automatic smile on my face." That "inner smile" continues, according to Kernya, after all the time he's owned it (some 10 years now), and after all the upgrades.
Does Kernya have any advice for potential Corvette owners anywhere in the world? "When you are looking for your car, it should reflect your personality," he says. "When you have made your choice, you will be welcomed into a circle of Corvette lovers, where you can share your story of how you got to get your pride and joy. Choose carefully, and don't keep putting it off."