This isn't Art Richards' first rodeo, but it's his first new rodeo. He took time out from Art's Corvettes to raise a family. During that hiatus, Art says, "We went go-kart racing and RC racing."
He's back and bigger than ever if his plans go, well, as planned.
"We used to sit around the campfire and talk about what we can do, what we could invent. We said, 'Nothing if it ain't big.'"
Art teamed up with Louis Zember to form ASAP. The bottom of their business card reads "American Supercars and Prototypes, LLC."
We ran across Art's crew in November of 2004 at SEMA, the huge annual Specialty Equipment Market Association show in Las Vegas, Nevada. Their display car was obviously a Corvette by the badges, but obviously far from stock with its cantilevered doors lifted high in the air and a body like no Vette we had ever seen.
Of the rolling sculpture, Art explained, "The only thing left Corvette is the inner structure of the doors and the cleavage in the hood."
Really drawing attention was the large PC screen flashing in the middle of the dash, just above the console. Plus, another screen, in front of the passenger, broadcast images for rear vision. Basically, tiny cameras took the place of side view mirrors. The car was attracting a great deal of attention. We wanted to get the scoop. After some deliberation, the crew agreed to drive the car on the desert after the show was over so we could take pictures in the real world, outside of the glitz.
Art's Corvette career began, he explains, in 1967, "When I got out of Vietnam."
He'd been fooling with Vettes back home in Indiana. He recalled a trip driving a '69, an L71 427 tri-power with L89 aluminum heads and a four-speed.
"I was pulling a '63 split-window," he says. "In Missouri, what started my career was, we slid off the road on an on-ramp. The wrecker guy came out and said, 'Man, that's the first time I've seen two Corvettes hit each other.'
"I said it's worse than that. There's a tow bar between us. 'Cause we had everything we owned and moved to California. That's when I decided when we got to California and set up we would build Corvettes. 'Cause I had to do my own. Of course, I messed with them before that, too."
Art opened up two shops, one in Santa Ana, "for a bunch of years" and then he opened one "on the beach for a bunch of years."
He "retired" in 1985, to raise his son, Drew. Now, he's back, and Drew, now 26, is part of the business.
ASAP is kicking off the ambitious enterprise with this supercar, which it might name Wolverine.
Why The PC In A Car?
PC's are routinely used to program engine management systems in high performance cars.
Art explained, "The laptop would be sliding around on the seat. So I started to talk to my partner about building a PC in the dash of a Corvette, a stationary one, kind of a personal project. And it started out as a really small 286-style with a 6-inch display and we just kept thinking the idea was a good idea, so it just grew from there. We got rid of the 6-inch. We did away with the 8-inch. Now, instead of just a 286 for data acquisition and tuning engines, we came out with a full blown, touch screen PC that does as much as a laptop or most desktops."
In addition, the PC has an Internet hook up. One could imagine this scenario for the future. You pull into a refueling station and log onto the Internet via its wireless connection. There, you receive and send e-mail and get directions.
One step further is Internet everywhere, while driving, same as you do with a cell phone, real Buck Rogers 21st Century stuff.
"We felt like we needed an eye candy car to show the aftermarket industry and the public that we could do the best," Art says.
When we spied this sleek convertible at SEMA, we figured it was based on the C6. Actually, it's a "send-off", Art says, for the C5. ASAP, in the true spirit of its name, just couldn't wait.
"We wanted to get to SEMA this year, so we built our car on a C5. We decided to go out of the C5s with a boom, to come up with something trick."
The starting point was a '98 convertible. The chassis is recognizable. The body is basically a prototype. "My son and I sat down and sketched it up," Art says. "Drew has a little Pasadena Art Center in him. He's got some little bit of Autocad training, solids modeling training. So, we both kind of dreamed up the design."
We figured a 26-year-old was responsible for the scissor doors and super exotic styling. Art is no less a dreamer himself. "I've always been into that," he says.
Art explained the styling was inspired by several different kinds of cars. As for the doors, he says, "The Ferrari Enzo commercial kind of tripped that switch for us."
Art and Drew watched the Bridgestone tire commercial on television. It shows the Enzo in all its glory. This exotic supercar retailed for $645,000, but sells for over a million dollars on the open market. Their desire was to build an affordable supercar.
The Enzo inspired the cantilever doors. Basically, the rest of the styling, plus the paddle shifter on the steering wheel, come from various facets of race car design. First, Art went over the paddle shifter.
"My son and I were watching a Formula 1 race," Art says. "The cabin shots, the on-board shots were real exciting, just little things that trip your switch, like the electronic shifting of the Formula 1 cars. They are all really high tech. We like that type of racing."
Thus, ASAP developed a paddle shifter. The paddles, in F1 style, fit on the steering wheel. The driver can change gears without lifting his hands. In race cars, heel and toe downshifting is accomplished electronically, moving a clutch. ASAP's paddle shifter is for automatics only. The paddle shifters are hand made in Art's shop. The application is more than Corvette.
"We can run them in '55 Chevys, anything that's got a detent in the transmission," Art says. "What I mean by detent is like 1-2-3-4, Park. Some of the foreign cars we've not experimented with yet, but we can put it in almost any type of car, SUV, motor home, for anybody who wants a little excitement. And we've also designed it for the physically handicapped."
ASAP's project car is more than a supercar for the masses. It is a rolling test bed of products (One is a "baby-cam" for SUVs where the driver keeps an eye on the baby in the back seat). ASAP is a serious venture. It designed and built its own supercar body from scratch.
"We take blocks of foam, glue the blocks of foam, and hand sculpt it with clay and some body fillers. And after we do the foams, clays, and body fillers, we take a mold off the buck. The buck's really heavy and not desirable to drive on the street. So, we pull some molds off it to reproduce it."
With this technology, ASAP put its drawings into three dimensions. Basically, they went wild. The front end definitely looks Ferrari 360 Modena.
Art admitted, "Yeah, there's a touch of that and a touch of the way we think it should have been. We put some down force in it. We put some diffusers and air exciters in it. I think style begins in Europe and moves this way. And there's a little bit of the side vents, the 1990's GT-1 Mercedes look and the lower skirt package is a little bit of Trans-Am racing look. We put some more styling in the rear bumper, sort of a little bit of a Ferrari taste. At the same time we still want to wear Corvette badges." Sharp Vette people will notice the taillights are C5 "exports," with yellow reflectors.
The exotic body rests on a C5 chassis, which has no mods except for a set of Wilwood brakes, Kinesis wheels, and pulling the active suspension for fully-adjustable Bilstein racing shocks.
"Nothing if it ain't big" may be right. Art says, "We're going to build a lot of these...maybe."
The car attracted loads of attention the day of its debut. ASAP got 8,000 hits on its web site the first day of the SEMA show." Exactly where the project goes is not clear at this point.
Art explained, "We're after the affordable super car. I guess you could put it that way. It's the all-American new muscle car, I wouldcall it."
The engine they use could be one of several different configurations. At SEMA, offers flowed from engine builders for turn-key packages utilizing superchargers, turbochargers, you name it. Whatever engine is chosen for the job, you can bet it'll have lots of American firepower. Art is leaning towards 427 C5-R power. He's also looking into an 8-speed transmission.
"We think that will enhance the paddle shifter. We were given an overdrive from Gear Vendors to do the 8-speed project. Our electronics boards will already shift aftermarket overdrive systems."
Art and ASAP are bristling with ideas. The car must have a name. "We were thinking about Wolverine because of the shapes of the front fenders. My son came up with that."
Once the drivetrain is set and the car is finalized, they are thinking of entering the Silver State Classic. "That's flat out, as fast as you can go. They close the roads down for that."