Sometimes, Corvette projects go way over the top. Whether it's a Top Flight–quality restoration, or a custom build that looks like it can turn 8-second quarter-miles and run flat-out at Daytona for 24 hours, some cars are studies in excess. Chris Thole's C3 took a different route. Thole started with a '69 Stingray coupe that wasn't a numbers-matching original. It was also not in the greatest shape, as he discovered right after he bought it. "When I approached the first stoplight and put my foot on the brake, the pedal went all the way to the floor." Thole used what little brakes he had--plus the Muncie M21's gears--to get the car home. Not only were the brakes largely ineffective, the C3's fuel consumption was downright abysmal. Thanks to its non-original 327, M21, and 3.73 rear gears, the car was turning 3,000 rpm at 60 mph, and Thole could watch the gas gauge drop as he drove along.
As the factory-issue 350 was long gone, Thole felt free to put in any engine he wanted. "My first thoughts were to go with an engine like a stroker 383," he says. "In talking with people, right away everyone was like, 'Why stop there--why don't you go for this?' Next thing you know, we're talking about 427s." Specifically, he was talking with Benchmark Performance in Lindenhurst, New York. Though the shop specializes in Bloomington Gold and NCRS Top Flight-quality restorations, it was up to the challenge of a resto-modded Corvette like Thole's shark.
Benchmark looked into the modern, 427-cubic-inch LS7, but back then there wasn't much aftermarket support for it. "Our thoughts were that [I would] go to a show, open the hood, and people would say, 'Oh, you put a stock LS7 in,'" says Thole. "So, we looked into building our own engine." While researching, they got in touch with Kinsler, which had just introduced a cross-ram electronic fuel injection system for LS-series engines. As Thole puts it, "We took a look at it, and boom! That changed everything."
The look of that carbon-fiber system with eight individual intake runners was as exotic as anything out there--and as rare. "We got what I believe is casting number two in the world, after the one [Kinsler] took to SEMA," says Thole. That went on top of an LS7 long-block. Minus the OEM fuel-injection system and other external parts, it still had the same alloy block and heads, 11.0:1 compression, titanium rods, and other high-tech hardware as the production LS7, and it was also built by GM's Performance Engine Build Center. With the Kinsler injection setup and a custom Kooks/Billy Boat exhaust system, it's estimated that the LS7 puts out around 575 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque. Thole plans to dyno his '69 in the near future, to see what the true numbers are.
As the LS7 replaced the old 327, an up-to- date gearbox replaced the M21. "We went with the Tremec TKO600, because Keisler had a package that put the shifter in the stock location."
Benchmark Performance also added VBP monoleaf composite springs and Wilwood brakes, '80 Corvette sport seats, a Momo steering wheel, and a Kenwood sound system to an otherwise-stock interior; it did the bodywork and paint as well. That color scheme looks to be inspired by colors found on factory LT-1s or L88s, but Thole says that's not so. "It's one of those things where we started messing around with tape on the body," he says. "That's what it evolved to, we all liked it, and we sprayed it like that."
Thole can't say enough about the job Benchmark did in working with his vision. "I have to give them full credit for all the work they did on that car." Does it drive as good as it looks? Ask Thole. "It's beautiful to drive," he says with pride. "I cruise along at very low rpm, at 70-75 miles an hour." He adds, "With all that power, and as fun as it is to drive on the open highway, sometimes the biggest thrill comes simply from driving as slow as possible down Main Street, where everyone gets a chance to see it."
The combination of the Kinsler-injected LS7, Forgeline wheels (whose silver-and-chrome finish, Thole says, echo the Rallys that were standard back in '69), and coordinated colors haven't gone unnoticed by those who saw it at the cruise-ins Thole took the car on after it was completed. "Every place it's gone, the highest compliment that we've been getting is that it's ‘tastefully done,'" he adds. By now, more than a few Vette builders have added LS-series power to their early-generation Corvettes. If you're thinking of going the way Chris Thole did, with a Kinsler EFI system like his '69 Stingray has, he says, "Be prepared to work very closely with Kinsler. You've got eight individual intake runners, and each needs to be tuned separately. It takes patience, and a very stick-to-it-ive type of attitude."
The payoff, if it's anything like Thole's Stingray, will be well worth it.
|Owner||Chris Thole; Bayport, NY|
|Block||Stock LS7 cast aluminum|
|Heads||Stock LS7 cast aluminum|
|Valves||Stock 2.200 titanium/1.610 sodium-filled|
|Camshaft||Stock LS7 hydraulic roller|
|Crankshaft||Stock LS7 forged steel|
|Rods||Stock LS7 titanium|
|Oil System||Stock dry sump with a Peterson oil tank and breather|
|Intake Manifold||Kinsler cross-ram for LS7x applications|
|Fuel Injection||Kinsler electronic|
|Fuel Pump||Kinsler electric with dual filters|
|Ignition||MSD electronic with coil packs mounted underdash|
|Exhaust System||Kooks headers, Billy Boat C6/Z06 Fusion (bi-modal) mufflers|
|Transmission||Tremec TKO600 five-speed with Hurst shifter|
|Clutch||Ram dual-disc hydraulic|
|Suspension||VB&P transverse composite monoleaf (front), VB&P transverse composite monoleaf with offset trailing arms (rear)|
|Brakes||Wilwood four-wheel discs, components from Revolution Brakes|
|Wheels||Forgeline ZX3P aluminum; 18x8.5 (front), 19x9.5 (rear)|
|Tires||Michelin Pilot Sport PS2; 245/40ZR18 (front), 285/35ZR19 (rear)|
|Current Mileage||Approximately 104,000|