Imagine the plight of all those '85-'91 Corvette owners who have poured their pride and passion into their Vettes' perfect presentations, only to be stymied by the severe power deficit of the TPI L98 engine. As they hold on to old-and-tired technology, newer Corvettes whiz by them with their Gen III and Gen IV small-blocks. The owners of these newer Vettes look so confident and happy with all the power at their command.
But with the C4's value ranked the lowest among the six generations of Corvettes, many owners of these beautiful stuck-between-classic-and-late-model cars find themselves in a genuine predicament. They don't want to spend a king's ransom to make their cars perform, but they don't want to be left out of the horsepower wars, either.
In this month's quest to find a C4 that addresses both these issues, we tracked down one Corvette owner who was able to swap out his car's long-in-the-tooth L98 for a cammed-up LS1. Even better, he did the entire project for less than $5,000.
"I bought my '87 Corvette in 1997; it was a one-owner car and it gave me a lot of joy at first," says Steve Hardy, a maintenance supervisor in Brandon, Florida. "As the newer Corvettes got faster and faster, I had to make my C4 keep up-not only in speed, but in looks, too."
Hardy added mods as he could afford them, starting with a Toledo Pro 2-inch high-rise hood, a Greenwood-style rear spoiler, an ACI chin spoiler, taillight and parking-light blackouts, and ZR-1 polished wheels. Inside, he replaced the Saddle interior with custom red/black leather seat covers, black door panels and carpet, a painted console, and a custom-stitched console lid. He retired the digital dash in favor of an Auto Meter Pro Comp gauge set-including speedometer, tachometer, oil-pressure, water-temperature, voltage, and fuel readouts-which he mounted in a custom-made diamond-plate dash bezel. For better braking, he added C5 calipers and C6 rotors in the front, along with drilled-and-slotted rotors in the rear. The car's original 3.07 gears were swapped for a set of cryo-treated 3.73s, while the stock suspension was dropped 11/2 inches.
Hardy wasn't afraid to push the L98 to its limit, either. He installed a ProCharger P600B 8-psi supercharger and a Holley Stealth Ram TPI intake, which allowed him to reach his output goal of 340 horses-albeit with a permanent caveat. "The TPI cars have a burn-chip [E-PROM], and it makes them nearly impossible to tune. Every day, I'd have to wonder about what was going to go wrong with the engine system next. The car was no longer fun for me to drive," he says.
Through DigitalCorvettes.com, where he is an administrator, Hardy got in contact with a forum member who wanted out of the hobby and was willing to offer the deal of a lifetime: two complete-but non-running-LS1s; a plethora of C4 parts; an extra box of LS1/6 intakes, coils, and miscellaneous parts; and even a complete 700-R4 rebuild kit. The buy-in price: $750.
"When I got home, I realized all these parts had great potential, but I didn't know what do to do next," Hardy says.
That's when he turned to Greg Lovell of AntiVenom in Seffner, Florida, a Corvette speed specialist. "I looked at the two LS engines. One had come from a very-low-mile wrecked '98 Corvette; it had a cracked block, but the internal components were in like-new condition," says Lovell. "The other came from a '99 Corvette; it had internal damage, but its block was unaffected. I knew that if I took the block from one and the crank, rods, pistons, and heads from the other, I could easily put together a monster-running LS1. The only new parts [Hardy] would have to purchase would be rings, seals, and gaskets. That meant the cost to him would be insanely cheap."