In other words, what you notice when driving is a switchblade-quick shifting experience. You actually enjoy hitting a series of stoplights just so you can accelerate through the gears again. And fast corners on two-lane blacktop feel really racy, with just the right gear always available for good braking into the turns and acceleration out. It can make an average driver much better, and a good one possibly great.
Add to that a significant improvement in fuel economy. Although Gear Vendors switched the differential gear to a Unitrax 3.90:1 (stock was 3.15) to enable a monster launch, in top gear with the overdrive, it's as if the car has a 3.04 rear cog, which improves mileage by five percent in cruise mode.
The shorter gear also increases torque multiplication by 23.8 percent, the final result being a 4-12 percent improvement in virtually all acceleration criteria, while also achieving gains in both city and highway mileage. Overall, the package met all of its objectives and was a great success at SEMA, where it took home a Best Engineering Award.
Summing it up, Moss noted that, "The eight-speed semi-automatic was a ball to driveùa real enthusiast's transmission with the tight ratio spread that makes [it] a real joy through the gears, and yet still cruised down the road with low rpm when that was what you wanted. You could see this one car pleasing both the automatic- and manual-transmission guys."
Given the success of the project, why didn't it ever become a production-car option on the Corvette? Not for lack of effort or investment, that's for sure. During the months leading up to SEMA, Gear Vendors had been given OE proprietary pricing on the torque tubes, driveshafts, lower-durometer rubbers, and bigger components of the manual car from GM supplier Unidrive in Australia. The orders had been placed for a 1,000-unit run, but just after the show, Johnson got word that the order had been cancelled and GM would no longer allow the supplier to deal with Gear Vendors directly.
"What the hell?" was the obvious question. Well, unbeknownst to Gear Vendors during the project build, Hydramatic was working on the six-speed automatic for the upcoming C6 Corvette. Johnson surmises that GM felt it was counterproductive to bring out an eight-speed, limited-edition gear setup ahead of its own factory offering.
Looking back on the whole deal, how does Johnson view it? "My experience with GM [was like] shaking hands with a friendly dinosaur 100 times your size," he relates. "When the giant turns around to shake hands with someone else, his tail wipes you off the face of the planet and he doesn't even know it."
But why not offer it as an aftermarket upgrade for the C5? With a target price of $4,000 for the kit, the project became impossible because all the beefed-up GM hardware that was to be included would now cost more than $3,500 on its own.
Alas, within two short months of finishing the project, the entire enterprise was mothballed. How expensive was it for all the engineering, testing, prototypes, tooling, manuals and press books, and more? "It was up there, something near a million," Johnson admits with a wince, trying to remain philosophical. "I really try not to think about itùjust a good lesson."
What remains is a car that's a complete blast to drive. And there's some satisfaction to be had when pedestrians on the sidewalk and drivers in the next lane yell out (after spotting the "8-Speed" badging on the car), "Is that really an eight-speed?" It sure is, as they soon learn when the car accelerates away through twice the typical allotment of gears.
Other eye-catching mods include a set of Colorado Custom Slater wheels, specially made for desired offset and wrapped in Goodyear Eagle F1 rubber (265/35ZR18 front, and 275/35ZR19 rear). The car was lowered by just over an inch using the factory adjustable leaf settings to give it a more aggressive stance.
What are Johnson's plans for the car? "I drive it to work once in a while or out to dinner, but try not to put many miles on it so it can stay pretty," he laughs. "I would like to see it go into a Corvette or GM collection where it will be preserved."
The eight-speed C5 is fully documented and DOT legal, so unlike some one-offs, this one loves to be driven. It's an interesting piece of history, and while GM may someday offer its own eight-speed Corvette, this one will always be the first.