How do you make a Magnetic Red Metallic C5 even more attention-getting?
In Reginald Baker's case, it meant adding artwork that pays homage to the United States Marine Corps, for what it did for him, during and after his eight years on active duty.
Baker's story with his '99 convertible starts in 2006. "I [bought] it as a gift to myself and for the wife," he says. "I started to do some things with it, and once I put the Marine Corps emblem on the front, out of the love for the Corps, it just expanded from that point on."
When he showed the car, he got good reviews from fellow Vette lovers--and fellow Marines. "As I started to go around to shows, I started to see the reaction from older and younger Marines," Baker says. "The reactions were so great that I started showing it for the recruitment offices up here in Maryland. As my ideas started getting a little larger, I started to put them on the car. I tried to do it in a respectful manner, in regards to the war efforts and everything."
That included the mural under the hood, the biggest part of the engine-bay upgrades that also include carbon-look accents on and around the '99's LS1, plus a K&N cold-air intake and filter. Baker originally asked painter Josh Smith in Mechanicsville, Maryland, to paint a mural of a 21-gun salute, but it grew from there.
"I'm a police officer here in Maryland, and I do the escorts for the Blue Angels when they come to town," says Baker. "I always talk to the sole Marine Corps pilot that flies for the Navy [in the Angels], and I wanted to put his jet on there. My aspiration was to do something that only counts for Marines. As I got talking to Josh, he asked me how I felt about the Bell/Boeing MV-22 Osprey, which is designated only for the Marines. We went through the ideas and put the mural together, and I think it came out wonderful."
Another idea that went on the mural: A Marine in his Dress Blues, intended to represent the Americans who step forward for their country when they join the Corps--but not any one Marine in particular. "I was real specific about where the medals, rank insignia, and everything go," Baker says. "Josh asked me to send him a picture of a Marine, and I sent him my picture, in my Blues. I didn't know that he was going to put my actual picture on the car! He said, 'I put a Marine on there--I did what you asked, and I hope that you like it.' I said, 'OK, not a problem. I trust you.'"
When Baker saw the completed mural, he realized right away that it was more than just an attention-getter. "When I went down there and looked at the hood, I almost passed out!" he recalls. "I didn't want it to look like I was trying to be flamboyant, or that I just wanted a picture of me on the car. It was supposed to be a Marine, with the face blurred out. But honestly, I've got nothing but rave reviews for it."
Also garnering rave reviews are the other mods to the drop-top C5, which include ACP wide-body rear quarters, Lamborghini-style "scissor doors," SLP's "Loud Mouth" exhaust system, carbon-fiber-look trim by American Hydrocarbon, and a set of fenderwell-filling Forgiato Vizzio billet wheels wearing Nittos in front, and Pirellis in back.
One big upgrade is the custom audio/video system in the '99's trunk. "I'd been to many shows with that and never turned it on," Baker says. "Then, in 2010, I went to the car show in Ocean City, Maryland, and met up with some Marine recruiters there. They all asked me the same question: 'Why don't you have your system on?' I said that I didn't have anything for the Marine Corps that I felt was honorable enough to play on the system. They gave me a recruiting tape of all the Marine Corps TV commercials, and that's what I play on there now. When I go out, I do the recruiting side for them, and I play the commercials on the system, and it's wonderful."
Are you inspired by this C5? Baker says if you're planning to upgrade a Corvette of your own, don't rush the project. (He didn't rush this one: What you see here took about five years to do). "Take your time and choose the things that you want on your Vette to go along with your personality, and have it mean something," he says. "Buy quality, and it will definitely make a change in your Corvette and how you present it. The year of the car doesn't really matter--it's how you put it together."
How Baker put his '99 Corvette together is not only a tribute to him and to America's Only True Sports car, but to all United States Marines--especially those whose sacrifice is symbolized by the car's sanguineous color.