On those rare days when CXI Racing's 1,000-hp, 421-inch LT1-powered '95 Vette gets a break from the grind of commuting in Houston's traffic and goes racing, Jay Schuster is the driver. Today we're doing a photo shoot and Jay is following tight on my pickup's rear bumper as I lean out the back, shooting the car at 55 mph on a two-lane highway. Further behind, in Conversion Xtra's other test mule-a 2000 C5-owner Phil Twardowski is running interference to keep other traffic safely out of the way. Traffic is beginning to thicken behind the C5, and one of the trapped vehicles is a black Porsche Turbo Carrera, whose driver is showing definite signs of impatience
I snap another photo, freezing the C4's image at 1/30 of a second with a nice road blur through my Canon T-90's wide-angle lens. Suddenly, above the roar of the wind I hear the unmistakable shriek of a high-output engine, and through the lens see the black Porsche leaping out over the double yellow lines to pass the traffic. I signal my driver and our three-car convoy exits the highway into-of all things-the entrance to the biggest outdoor shooting range I've ever seen. This must be the Wal-Mart of gun ranges.
My driver makes a U-turn around an island, followed by the two Corvettes. Without warning, the Porsche flashes by with a nasty blare of fiercely revving German engine crackle and turbocharger whistle, accelerating toward the shooting range-and the driver raises a fist with a single digit pointed skyward. Man, this guy must need a bigger gun, or something! I glance back at Jay in the red C4, with its 650-horse-on-the-motor LT1 under the hood and the two-stage nitrous system's bottles hidden under the hatch, and catch the look on his face as the jerk in the Turbo escapes unscathed. Jay's expression is like something you might see on a big tomcat that hasn't eaten in a long time as it stares at a fat pigeon on the wrong side of a window. The look a predator has when its brain is jacked full-on to a setting way beyond kill-maybe torture to death-and you know that pane of glass is gonna melt away any second. There's a promise, a mission, in Jay's expression, and I figure that the clown in the Porsche better join a Witness Protection Program, or trade the black Turbo on a Geo Metro and take a five-year road trip to Siberia, because there's gonna be a 1,000-horse street Vette looking to blow him into the next dimension if they ever meet at a stoplight! This has to be the first time I've ever felt sorry for someone in a Turbo Porsche.
The ConceptAmerica's real sports car, says Conversion Xtras' main man, Phil Twardowskij, is the Corvette. Okay, there's a thing called a Viper, but where do you see one except occasionally on the cover of a magazine? Daimler-Chrysler has only sold a few thousand of them, and there are only a couple of shops in the country that even know how to hot rod one of 'em, much less make a decent living at it. No, Phil figures that the Vette is still the Real American Sports Car, and CXI's strategy is to focus on tuning '92-and-newer Corvettes and their LT1 and LS1 small-block V-8s with performance parts and packages, and building turnkey street racer tuner cars. The red '95 C4 is a CXI concept car, designed to showcase the company's abilities to build an ultimate street car out of any '92-and-up Vette. Says Jay Schuster, "We give the customer a Corvette where basically he can go out and carve up a 'built' Viper."
The idea behind the 421 C4 was to preserve the Vette's basic appearance, character, and independent rear suspension, while stacking on plenty of big stroke, a ton of nitrous, and all of the key suspension and drivetrain upgrades needed to make 1,000 reliable rear-wheel horsepower in a balanced package that gives up nothing in the way of street manners, and has the cojones to kill anything else on the pavement, be it in traffic, on a road course, or down thequarter-mile.