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2005 Chevy Corvette - The Dark Knight

Transforming a debonair C6 convertible into a bulging, blacked-out street superhero

Steve Temple Jan 1, 2013

Blood is thicker than water, including with Corvettes. And Dustin Mileham's DNA runs deep when it comes to Chevy's flagship sports car, although it didn't show up right away.

"My parents had an '81 T-top, black-on-black Vette," he recalls. "I can remember my dad and I cruising in that, and I had such a good feeling riding around with him." That experience planted a seed, yet one that wouldn't germinate until years later. He promised himself that he'd buy a brand-new black-on-black of his own on his 30th birthday. Well, life happened, and the Corvette didn't.

Undeterred, much later he heard that a good friend was selling his '05 C6 convertible for a screamin' deal, so he finally obtained that set of Bow Tie keys he had desired for so long. Initially the plan was to leave the car stock. That lasted about six months.

Proceeding in baby steps, the project started out as a basic repaint. Later, feeling his oats, Mileham expanded his ambitions to bolt on an aggressive wide-body package, handled by Toby Goodman at Liberty Collision. This conversion provided the look of a customized Grand Sport, without the new-car buy-in.

"The panels were factory fenders, so they went on very easy. The hood was another story," Goodman admits. "It had to be primed and blocked three times." The fitting took some work as well, since it was an aftermarket unit.

To be fair, we've seen some occasional variation in mass-production chassis parts as well, so we're not going to point any fingers here. Actually, the greater challenge was just finding the right GS and Z06 pieces from the factory.

"It's like putting a puzzle together, getting all the pieces to fit," Mileham explains. "But it's confusing how GM does its parts numbers. I had the dealer fax me diagrams, and even the parts-counter guys were confused."

He had them send as many as three different parts in some cases, then returned the ones that didn't work. The inner fender liners in particular were a bear, but once Goodman found the ones where the holes lined up and didn't stick out beyond the fender lip, they fit just right.

While Mileham admits he saved a lot of money by doing a body swap, he still paid for it in nearly a week's worth of head-scratching and Web-searching to develop a list of part numbers. Fortunately, he's a stand-up guy, and he doesn't mind sharing them, if you ask nicely.

Overall the body swap was fairly straightforward—just time consuming because it all had to be done by hand. If any VETTE readers have plans to do a similar project, figure on around 40 hours in blocking, another eight hours in color sanding, and a final eight hours in buffing. (Remember, you can't rush art.)

Of course, to match the tough, dark suit of body armor with smoked lights and a ZR1 carbon-fiber rear wing, Mileham needed bigger wheels. Dub three-piece rims got the nod, sized 19x10 inches in the front and 20x13 inches in the rear. Those made room for a Corvette Z06 big-brake kit with cross-drilled rotors.

With improved stopping power, Mileham came to the inevitable conclusion that he could add way more go-power as well. But rather than relying on the top-secret military skunkworks of Lucius Fox, Mileham drew on the technical expertise and chassis dyno of his Reno, Nevada, shop, Street to Sand.

The name is actually a bit of a misnomer, as Mileham's brother handles the off-road projects, while Dustin does the street and strip cars. These include a large number of Corvettes, with custom tuning ranging from simple PCM reprogramming to aspirate the thin air of the high Sierras, to popular performance bolt-ons, to all-out,1,000-plus-hp race-car setups.

Since Mileham pilots his wide-body C6 around town, he eschewed competition-grade extremes in favor of street-friendly power enhancers. These include Dynatech long-tube headers feeding a '12 ZR1 dual-mode exhaust system. When the throttle is stomped past the 25 percent position and 3,500 rpm (which happens with some frequency, we assume), this setup diverts exhaust flow through an un-baffled path inside the mufflers. Mileham claims that the complete setup is typically worth around 40 extra hp.

Add to that a pair of Patriot CNC Stage 3 heads and a Trick Flow Stage 4 camshaft, and you get another 60 to 80 hp, for a total increase from a stock 330 to a positively superheroic 430 rear-wheel hp. Not content to leave well enough alone (do we sense a theme here?), Mileham got juiced with a 150-horse nitrous system from Nitrous Express. Allowing for a slight parasitic loss in the drivetrain, he's seen 570 rwhp on the dyno.

To properly harness the fatter powerband, he threw in a billet Yank 3,500-rpm-stall torque converter. And for hunkering down on mountain switchbacks, he included an Eibach lowering kit and sway bars (32mm front, 29mm rear), along with stiffer Z06 leaf springs. But he still had one more area that required more attention.

"Being in a convertible, the all-tan interior was an eyesore," he admits. "So I tore it out and upgraded most of it." He started by stripping down the OEM seats and installing the '12 Corvette padding and seat covers. Most of the interior was hydro-dipped in a carbon-fiber design by Hoggskinz in Reno. This procedure, called hydrographics, uses a hydrotransfer process by which the ink graphic is transferred into the paint to create a unique airbrushed appearance.

In addition, Mileham installed a custom-wrapped steering wheel and cockpit accents upholstered with high-quality black leather and tan stitching. He also removed the OEM tan carpet in favor of black, laying down sound deadener in the process.


The finished engine cranks out 430 hp at the rear wheels, without the nitrous. Note the carbon-pattern hydrographics on most underhood surfaces.

"From start to finish, I have about six months into the build, and I am very happy with the car now," he says. "I basically have a 600hp Grand Sport for half the price of a new one."

Problem is, now that he has the look of a Dark Knight, everybody bad-boy car guy in town now wants to take him on, sort of like when the Joker egged "the bat man" into a street fight. We don't have to tell you how that would end.


Street To Sand Off-Road and Performance



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