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Illustrated Corvette Series No. 141 - Specialty Corvette Files:
"Mallett Cars, LTD."
Every generation seems to have its own crop of enthusiasts who aren’t satisfied with the status quo. Even though the godfather of Corvette performance, Zora Arkus-Duntov, made sure Vette buyers had plenty of hot hardware to play with, for some, it still wasn’t enough. Carroll Shelby was the first performance tuner to make a big splash in the muscle car era. And what Shelby did for the Mustang, Joel Rosen did for Chevy fans with his Phase III Supercars. After the performance thaw in the mid-’80s, Reeves Callaway stepped up to provide exhilarating speed-tuned Corvettes for monied enthusiasts. Then, in the mid-to-late ‘90s, two new names surfaced in the specialty-Corvette arena: Chuck and Lance Mallett.
The introduction of the C4 in 1983 ushered in a new era of racing Corvettes that simply dominated their competition. The Vette was so fast, in fact, that it was booted out of the SCCA Showroom Stock Series at the end of the ’88 season. The car came back for ‘89 in the marque-exclusive Corvette Challenge. Chuck Mallett worked as crew chief on several of the Challenge cars and developed an intimate knowledge of how to enhance the performance of the C4. He went on to build the full tube frame and roll cage for Tommy Morrison’s ‘91 Daytona 24-Hour EDS ZR-1. When the C5 was released in 1997, the Mallett brothers were ready to take the already hot new Vette to new levels.
The introduction of the all-aluminum LS1 engine essentially leveled the playing field for small-block-Chevy engine builders. The traditional SBC had a reputation for responding well to modifications, and the LS1 would prove to be no different. With an outstanding new chassis and powerplant to work with, the Mallett brothers, along with partner Dave Sarafian, founded Mallett Cars, Ltd., and started outlining plans for a bumper-to-bumper specialty Corvette. Mercedes had its Hammer; the Corvette world would have a Mallett.
Even a performance car like the Corvette embodies a collection of compromises made to achieve acceptable levels of ride comfort, interior noise, and fuel economy. Specialty-car builders, on the other hand, get to do things the big manufacturers would never dream of trying. It took a year for the Mallett team to sort out its first Mallett package—the 435. It’s a magical number that harkens back to the days of the L71 427. Because of the LS1’s tight bore spacing and iron cylinder liners, boring out the engine for extra cubes was out of the question. But there was room for a .3-inch-longer stroke, enough to bump displacement by 26 ci and yield 372 cubes. Compression was raised to 11:0:1 with Wiseco pistons. The stock LS1 heads were excellent as delivered, needing only minor porting and a set of stiffer springs. The intake tract received a K&N air filter, and the stock exhaust manifolds were used with barrel-type mufflers wrapped in carbon fiber. On the dyno, the modified LS1 produced 435 hp and 450 lb-ft or torque—increases of 90 horses and 100 lb-ft over stock. The factory transaxle was left alone, but the shifter’s rubber bushings were eliminated for improved shift action.
The Z51 suspension option was used because it came with a power-steering-fluid cooler and a larger rear anti-roll bar. The car was lowered 1.25-inches, but the stock springs were kept. A larger front anti-roll bar was installed, along with Penske manually adjustable shocks. Mallett-designed alloy wheels on Goodyear Eagle ZR-S tires and a set of fade-resistant brake pads completed the mechanical mods. “Mallett 435” emblems on the front fenders and headrests wrapped up the package.
So, how well did the performance mods work? Zero-to-60 times were a full second quicker than stock, at 4.1 seconds. Quarter-mile times, meanwhile, plunged from 13.6 seconds at 106 mph to 12.5 at 116. Top speed saw a 17-mph increase over stock, up to 188 mph.
Mallett Corvettes have competed in several One Lap of America competitions, coming in Second overall in 1997. The company went on to offer a line of C5 and C6 performance packages and recently took delivery of an ’09 ZR1 that will get the full Mallett treatment. Could a 250-mph Mallett ZR1 be in the offing? We’ll see. - K. Scott Teeters
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Illustrated Corvette Series No. 105 - 1998 Corvette
"Praise Comes Pouring In"
Perhaps it just took a year for Corvette fans to get used to the new C5. Sales more than tripled over the '97 model, making the '98 edition the best-selling Corvette since ‘86. With total sales of 31,084 units, the C5 Corvette was finally beginning to show returns on GM’s $250 million investment in development costs. The buyers were back, and they were loving what they saw.
Chevrolet rolled out one major variation and several very juicy options for the Corvette in '98. The biggest news was the return of the roadster. Although the roadster was a $6,930 option, it was a stunning package and was considered by many to be the best topless Corvette ever made. Next, there was the Indy Pace Car Replica, which added another $5,804 on top of the roadster's steep premium. Only 1,163 units were built, making it the second-most collectible of the four Corvette Pace Car replicas.
Although the Selective Ride and Handling option had been available since '89, ’98 brought a new suspension option, the $500 Active Handling System. This advanced system used traction control and anti-lock braking to maintain vehicle stability..
For the first time ever, Corvette buyers could order real magnesium wheels. These beautifully styled 5-spoke rims were similar to the 5-spoke aluminum alloys used on the ZR-1 in '94 and '95, as well as on the '96 Grand Sport and Collector's Edition. The new "mag" wheels were a $3,000 option.
Engineers are constantly making mechanical improvements to the Corvette. By deleting a brace on the rear of the alternator and revising the accessory-drive tensioner, they were able to eliminate a high-speed whine. A quieter electric fuel pump was installed, and clips were added to better hold the glass to the seals during high-speed driving, reducing interior noise. To improve tracking, the steering caster angle of the front suspension was slightly increased. Finally, the automatic transmission had a new second-gear-start mode to reduce wheelspin on slippery roads.
The more people got behind the wheel of the new Corvette, the more they loved it. Motor Trend gave the '98 Corvette its Car of the Year Award, a telling accomplishment for a car whose predecessor had long since fallen out of contention for such accolades. Former Corvette owners raved over the new car. "Makes me feel like a kid again!" was a typical comment.
And why wouldn't they rave? The new Corvette accelerated quicker, went faster, stopped shorter, and handled better than even the stoutest 427 Corvettes. One magazine ran a '98 Corvette to a top speed of 173.9 mph, with a 0-60 time of 4.8-seconds and a quarter-mile time of 13.2 seconds @109.3-mph. Further sweetening the deal, there was no price increase over the '97 model.
The base '98 Corvette went for $37,495, while the roadster commanded $44,425. While that's still not cheap, the new Corvette had tradition, unique styling, and did everything as well or better than sports cars costing much more. And remember, the C5 was just getting warmed up... many more amazing things were in the works. - K. Scott Teeters
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Illustrated Corvette Series No. 106 - 1998 Corvette Roadster
"The Roadster Returns"
In the early ‘80s when the C4 Corvette was being designed, a convertible version was not part of the plan. Convertibles had fallen out of favor in the ‘70s. When the decision was made to make a roadster C4 Corvette, an add-on, x-brace was needed for structural rigidity. The fix worked and it was great to have the Roadster back. But unlike the C4, the C5 was designed to be a roadster right from the beginning.
During the eleven-year run from 1986 to 1996, Chevrolet sold 74,651 Corvette Roadsters. This accounted for approximately 25-percent of the Corvette’s annual sales. Chief Engineer Dave Hill wasn’t about to let the new C5 Roadster be a second-thought version.
Magazine writers who road tested the ‘98 Roadster were astonished at how the car was just as rigid as the coupe version. The usual convertible “wiggle” was hardly noticeable. The new C5 Roadster weighed 114-pounds less than the ’96 C4 version and the chassis was 4-times stiffer than the C4. One magazine tested the car and found that the salon times were on par with the Ferrari 550 Maranello and the Jaguar XK8 Coupe. The cynics were almost speechless.
The aesthetics of the new Roadster were picture-perfect. Unlike most convertibles, a hard tonneau cover was already part of the body design. Lowering the top required releasing two latches at the top of the windshield, pushing a button to release the tonneau cover, then manually lowering the top into the trunk. It only took 6-to-10-seconds to get the top down. An electric system would have been nice, but the manual system kept the weight to just one-pound more than the coupe.
Except for a few noise reduction adjustments, the ‘98 Corvette was the same as the ’97 model. However, the Roadster had several very nice features. The convertible top was fully insulated and the rear glass was heated. A separate “trunk” with outside access hadn’t been available since ‘62. The storage space was slightly more than half of the Coupe at 13.9 cubic-feet, versus 24.8 cubic-feet. And with the top down, there was 11.1 cubic-feet of space. The stereo system was speed sensitive and would increase in volume at higher speeds with the top down.
For a roadster, the aerodynamics were excellent. The coefficient of drag was .33 for the ‘98 Roadster and .29 for the ‘98 Coupe. Considering that the coefficient of drag for the ’84 Corvette Coupe was .34, this was amazing.
Corvette Roadsters had long-since carried a premium, and the new C5 Roadster was no exception. The $6,930 option priced the car at $44,425 before any other options. However, this was $635 less than a ‘96 Roadster! A fully-loaded ’98 Roadster cost over $52,000 - not including the $5,039 Indy 500 Pace Car Replica package.
The ‘98 Corvette Roadster was bloody fast as well. One road test reported an automatic version with 0-60 times of 4.9-seconds, quarter-mile times of 13.4-seconds at 105.5 m.p.h., and a top speed of 167 m.p.h. with the top down. The Roadster was back and it was better than ever! - K. Scott Teeters
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lIlustrated Corvette Series No. 107 - 1998 Indy 500 Pace Car Corvette
"Pacing the 500... Again"
1998 was a spectacular year for Chevrolet’s Corvette. Not only did sales nearly triple over ‘97, but the convertible was back, the Vette was voted Motor Trend’s “Car of the Year,” and the car was even chosen to pace the 82nd Indianapolis 500—its second such appearance at Indy in only four years. And let’s not forget that there was no price increase for the base model. Could it get any better?
The Corvette’s fourth time pacing “the greatest spectacle in racing” was by far its most successful. While there were a lot of background changes—not least the race’s switch from the CART series, a move that left some purists less than thrilled—Indy was still the most watched auto racing event on the planet. Having the new C5 convertible, with its 200-mph graphics, leading a pack of 200+ mph Indy racers amounted to a multi-million-dollar, worldwide publicity event for Chevrolet.
Cars selected to pace the Indy 500 typically need some juicing up to handle the job, but this was not the case with the ‘98 Corvette. The car used to start the race was surprisingly stock, a fact that illustrates just how close a factory Corvette is to a legitimate race car. The exterior of the car was virtually the same as what any customer with $50,000 could buy at his local Chevrolet dealer, with very few exceptions. The pace car had built-in roll bars behind the seats and strobe lights integrated into the back of the tonneau cover. The Vette’s intake and exhaust systems were also slightly modified, netting an additional 25 horsepower and bringing the LS1’s output up to 370. The transmission was a stock 4-speed automatic.
Behind the wheel of the Corvette Pace Car was champion golfer Greg “The Shark” Norman. Some speculated that Greg was chose because of his historically appropriate nickname. Actually, Greg had been the Chevrolet trucks spokesperson since ’95 and was highly visible in many of Chevy’s TV ads. Prior to the race, Norman speculated about driving the Indy 500 Pace Car Corvette, saying, “Approaching the 18th green in a major tournament is exciting, but leading the pack of roaring horsepower in that new Corvette convertible—that’s going to be a special moment.”
While the ‘98 Corvette Pace Car was arguably the finest of the four Corvette Pace Cars to date, Chevrolet only built a total of 1,163 of them. The sticker price was $49,464 for the automatic version and $50,229 for the 6-speed-manual version. Of the 1,163 cars built, 616 were automatics and 547 were manual-transmission cars.
When the green light was given for the ’98 convertible to pace that year’s Indy 500, Corvette designers were told, “We want something that will grab people instantly. The goal of the package is to stand out.” Everyone was very pleased with the design. The car was painted “Radar Blue” (actually, more of a blue-purple) and had contrasting yellow graphics that blended into a checkered-flag pattern that wrapped up and over the rear deck. The hood had twin yellow stripes that also blended into a checkered-flag design. The stock aluminum-alloy wheels were painted with the same yellow used on the graphics. You couldn’t miss this car.
The rest of the package was more icing on the cake and included leather sport seats with yellow inserts, electronic dual-zone heating and air conditioning, an anti-theft locking system, digital clock, Delco AM/FM radio with a CD player, Bose speakers, and speed-compensated volume control. Also included were special floor mats with the Indy 500 logo, yellow stitching on the leather shifter knob, a performance axle, and fog lamps. The Z4Z Pace Car Replica option was only available on Corvette convertibles.
By 1998, Chevrolet cars had paced the Indy 500 11 times, with Corvettes pulling duty 4 times. Chevrolet built 6,502 ‘78 pace cars, 7,315 ’86 pace cars, 527 ‘95 pace cars, and 1,163 ’98 pace cars. Most vehicles that pace the Indy 500 are highly modified versions of what the public can buy, but not this car. While not the rarest of the Corvette pace cars, the ‘98 was definitely the fastest and most complete. Incredibly, 1999 would see actual factory-racing Corvettes! - K. Scott Teeters