When you hear the term "restoration," you usually think of a long-neglected Corvette's discovery and rebirth. You rarely hear it mentioned in reference to a C5, much less one that was customized before the restoration work began.
But that was before Adam Wahl's custom '04 Corvette coupe's encounter with salt water, one that led to a nine-month, off-the-frame restoration to get it to the condition you see here--back to the eye-grabber it had evolved into.
Customizing a Corvette wasn't in Wahl's plans, especially when he planned his first trip to Corvettes at Carlisle in 2006, just two weeks after purchasing this Magnetic Red coupe second-hand.
"I'd never been in Carlisle before in my life," he recalls. "As I rode up there, I told my son Tyler, who was about 10 at the time, ‘Now, these cars you keep totally stock. You don't do anything to them--it ruins the value.'" That was before the Wahls saw the variety of Vettes in the showfield, the rows of parts suppliers' booths in the manufacturers' midway, and the all vendors' wares in the swap meet.
"We started modifying it, and working on it, together," Wahl continues. "We combined my ideas, my father's ideas, and some from co-workers, and it just kept growing." Those ideas grew even more after a road trip in the bone-stock C5 included stops at Mid America Motorworks' Corvette Funfest, the National Corvette Museum, RPM Transmissions, and Lingenfelter Performance Engineering.
Those ideas included some serious hardware--most notably, a big power adder. "It's a Callaway/Magnuson supercharger. I got it through Lingenfelter, who got it from Callaway," says Wahl. "It was put on at Tom Oates Chevrolet in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, who's an authorized Callaway dealer. Boost-wise, it's running about 6 psi." That's enough to bump the LS1's output from the stock 350 to an estimated 495 at the flywheel.
Along with the MagnaCharger, a "Stage Four" automatic gearbox from RPM Transmissions went in, one that's s more than up to the job of handling the power from the otherwise-stock LS1.
More engine hardware, and tuning know-how, came from East Coast Supercharging, while Caravaggio Corvettes supplied the custom hood that topped the '04's dressed-and-upgraded engine bay. Other custom touches included "Lambo" doors, front and rear fascias from Specter Werkes, and "chameleon flake" flames by Noel Mercado at Autobuff in South Hampton, New Jersey. The tricked-out cabin features Vette Essentials seats and steering wheel, AutoMeter gauges, and an Autobuff "waterfall" between the seats.
But real seawater was to be the '04's downfall. After Wahl trailered the car to the big Vette show in Ocean City, Maryland, the town (and a good bit of the East Coast) was hit by a nasty storm that left as much as 6 to 8 inches of standing water on the streets and roads leading to the show field.
"We were thinking it was fresh water, but when we got to Ocean City and opened the hood, there was salt everywhere," Wahl recalls. "We really didn't understand seawater has to be chemically neutralized and not just washed off. We'd clean it, but it would come back. We'd get it clean again, and then months later, it would come back."
Fortunately for Wahl, he'd insured his C5 with Hagerty's, and a call to the company led to his filing a claim--one that bankrolled the '04's frame-off restoration at County Corvette in West Chester, Pennsylvania.
"I've got to take my hat off to them," he says not only of his insurer, but the resto shop too. "They redid the car underneath, and we also added a chrome transmission pan, among other things."
Less than a year later, this custom C5 was dazzling show-goers again, especially at Funfest in 2009, where it scored Lance Miller's Celebrity Choice award. It's since been joined in Wahl's garage by two other Corvettes: an '08 convertible that, while driven regularly, has 688 horsepower, courtesy of East Coast Supercharging; and a '72 Stingray he found at Carlisle last year.
How's the blown-and-flamed C5 car to drive? "It puts a smile on your face every day," says Wahl, who adds that Vette enjoyment isn't limited to him and his son. "My father used to tease me, saying, 'Ahh--it's just a car,'" he remembers. "He's always been into boats, and if the boat ever needed anything, the sky was the limit. "He ended up buying a Vette, and we now go to car shows together. He made the mistake of saying the Vette was 'his' one day…so now, my mom has one." As for any advice he may have (along with avoiding driving through salt water), Wahl offers this for anyone looking for his or her first Corvette: "Go to some car shows and talk to some enthusiasts. You're much better off [shopping with] private sellers versus dealers, because you can get more history, and the flavor of the car, by doing it that way." He adds, "I had just as much fun looking for a used one as I did trying to decide what to buy, and what color. "The Corvette is an American icon that many people buy and cherish, unlike a daily-driver car. It's something that they've always dreamed of." vette It puts a smile on your face every day!--Adam Wahl
- H. Adam Wahl III; Hockessin, DE
- Stock LS1 aluminum
- 346 ci
- Callaway/MagnaCharger supercharger, 6 psi boost (max)
- Stock LS1 aluminum
- Stock 2.000/1.550
- Stock hydraulic roller
- Stock 1.7 ratio
- Stock hypereutectic aluminum
- Stock nodular iron
- Stock powdered-metal steel
- Stock coil-on-plug
- American Racing headers, Corsa exhaust system
- RPM Stage 4 automatic transaxle, installed by East Coast Supercharging
- Precision Industries, 2,400-rpm stall speed
- Stock with RPO F55 Magnetic Selective Ride Control shocks and Hotchkis sway bars (front and rear)
- Baer discs with 12.75-in two-piece front and 14-in two-piece rear rotors
- CCW chrome; 19x10 (front), 19x11 (rear)
- Michelin Pilot Sport; 275/30ZR19 (front), 305/30ZR19 (rear)