It's not unusual for Corvette owners to describe their cars in tongue-in-cheek fashion as their "personal savings accounts," but in VETTE's quest to bring you some of the most unique Corvettes in the world today, we've tracked down one owner who signed his late-model Z06 up for an automatic deposit, literally.
"Corvette hobbyists know that the 21st century Z06 doesn't come with an automatic transmission, and the option isn't offered from the factory," Thomas Heinrichs, a financial advisor in Tampa, Florida, says. "Though rare, there are Corvette hobbyists like me who don't drive stick shift, yet want to spend every day behind the wheel of a Z."
Heinrichs purchased his '07 Velocity Yellow Z06 from a dealer in Tampa, and describes it as "slightly used with 20,000 miles on its odometer." It was his fourth Corvette. Since he felt uncomfortable with the manual shift, he sat in the passenger seat and let the salesman testdrive it for him. He didn't even drive it off the dealer lot after signing the sales contract; instead, he had it trailered to performance-transmission specialists RPM Transmissions in Anderson, Indiana. RPM's automatic conversion is primarily requested by Corvette owners who have physical disabilities and can no longer use the manual stick, clutch pedal, or both. "It was a rare request to pull the manual trans out of the Z06 and do a full 6L80-E conversion on it for a person without a disability," RPM sales tech TJ Strange says. "It's one of only six that we've performed on the current-generation Z."
To begin the transmission transformation, RPM's techs extracted the Z's manual-shift-specific components--not just the T56 trans, clutch, flywheel, bellhousing, and shifter assembly, but the brake-pedal assembly and steering wheel, too. Then, using only brand-new GM parts, they installed all of the driveline components specific to the automatic C6, including Tap Shift. To make it work, RPM added wiring to the main harness to integrate it to the OE rear wiring harness, then custom programmed the Corvette's ECM to control the auto trans.
"The conversion package delivers the full factory functionality of an automatic-trans C6, while retaining the Z06's differential cooler and track package, including the 3.42:1 rear-gear ratio for performance purposes," Strange says. "A stock Z with a good driver versus a Z with our automatic conversion is almost identical in quarter-mile performance, with the advantage going slightly to the automatic for consistency."
The 6L80-E conversion takes approximately three weeks. That gave RPM's techs enough time to bolt a Lingenfelter Performance Engineering (LPE) cold-air intake, mass-airflow sensor, and 90mm throttle body onto the Z's LS7. Before they shipped the Z back to Heinrichs, they also documented its power on the dyno--452 hp and 437 lb-ft at the rear wheels.
Heinrichs says his Z was delivered to him in May 2010, but he wouldn't let it sit in his driveway for long. "From the day I bought my Corvette, I always knew the automatic-trans conversion was just the start of the mods I'd do for it," he says. "I already had a Brembo Big Brake Kit, HRE P40 wheels, and Caravaggio Daytona race seats on order."
He called upon Chris Chapas at C2 Design in Tampa (who had previously worked on his '06 Vette) for the next chapters in this Z's mod odyssey. "I wanted more power out of the car," Heinrichs says.
Shortly thereafter, Tampa-based Corvette tuner Jeremy Formato suggested and installed a head, cam, and intake package--Livernois Motorsports LS7 Ported Stage 2 heads, a custom-grind Comp hydraulic-roller bumpstick, and a ported LS7 intake. C2 Design then added Dynatech headers, a custom 3-inch exhaust, and CES mufflers for even more power gains, along with a Katech carbon-fiber chin spoiler and rocker panel side skirts, and a Breathless Performance C6 GT2 Rear 2 Tip Diffuser to customize the Z's exterior.
To add some tasteful upgrades to the Z's cabin, C2 Design installed LPE gauge faces, a Sic Motorsports carbon-fiber headliner, Apsis USA carbon trim components and a Sport Deluxe steering wheel, and Caravaggio stitched leather for the center armrest and trans tunnel.
Likewise, C2 installed a factory ZR1 rear spoiler and a Halltech Systems GT2 hood (both painted body color, with clearcoat applied to the hood's carbon-fiber center), and carbon side mirrors.
In November 2011, Heinrichs had his Vette dyno'd again. He knew it was making more power, but he was "extremely pleased" when the car's output registered 583 hp and 567 lb-ft on the rollers.
Since then, he's only taken it on the track once--at Sebring International Raceway, where his heroes at Corvette Racing have earned multiple wins since 2002. (Despite his instructor's estimated lap time of 2 minutes, 27 seconds for the auto-shifted Z, Heinrichs made it around the circuit in an impressive 2:22.)
Heinrichs also enjoys showing off his one-of-none Z, and he has driven home with numerous car show best-in-class awards, including two from Florida's famed Festival of Speed. "People freak out when they see it at shows--not all of that is necessarily good," he says. "Some folks their scratch their heads and ask, ‘Why in the world did you put an automatic in a Z06?' Others take a cursory glance at it and think I installed Z components onto a base Corvette.
"I wouldn't trade my automatic-shifting Z for anything in the world," Heinrichs concludes. "It makes logging 2,000 miles a month driving for work fatigue free. Every time I drive it, it puts a big smile on my face--automatically, of course."
|Spec Sheet: '07 Z06|
|OWNER||Thomas Heinrichs; Tampa, FL|
|BLOCK||Stock LS7 aluminum|
|HEADS||Livernois CNC portedand- milled|
|VALVES||Stainless steel with bronze guides (2.200/1.610)|
|CAMSHAFT||Comp hydraulic roller (228-/239-deg duration, 0.678-/0.688-in lift, 114-deg LSA)|
|ROCKER ARMS||Stock 1.8 ratio with offset intake|
|PISTONS||Stock hypereutectic aluminum|
|CRANKSHAFT||Stock forged steel|
|RODS||Stock forged titanium|
|INTAKE MANIFOLD||LS7 composite, ported by Jeremy Formato|
|THROTTLE BODY||Lingenfelter 90mm|
|ENGINE MANAGEMENT||Factory ECM, tuned by Jeremy Formato|
|EXHAUST SYSTEM||Dynatech 17.8-in longtube headers with highflow cats, custom 3-in pipes, CES mufflers|
|TRANSMISSION||6L80-E conversion by|
|TORQUE CONVERTER||Stock C6 with 2,300- rpm stall speed|
|FRONT SUSPENSION||Bilstein custom-valved shocks, stock springs|
|REAR SUSPENSION||Bilstein custom-valved shocks, stock springs|
|REAREND||Stock with 3.42 gears|
|FRONT BRAKES||Brembo BBK 15-in rotors with six-piston calipers|
|REAR BRAKES||Brembo BBK 14.2-in rotors with four-piston calipers|
|WHEELS HRE||P40 Monoblock Brushed Aluminum (19x10 front, 20x13 rear)|
|FRONT TIRES||Nitto Invo, 285/35ZR19|
|REAR TIRES||Nitto Invo, 345/25ZR20|
|BEST 60-FT. TIME||N/A|
|MILES DRIVEN WEEKLY||Approximately 500|