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As you close in on 200 mph, telephone poles do not rush by like picket fence posts. Objects in your peripheral vision don’t blur, and there’s no difficulty inhaling a breath of fresh air. All the hyperspeed myths fostered by comic book writers and Star Trek movies go poof in the wake of a real Callaway C16 racing to its terminal velocity.
Your pupils do close down to pinholes, however. Concentration filters out all but the most critical data–the tach needle’s agonizingly slow sweep toward 6000 rpm, the rhythmic beat of combustion, the center line of the two-lane road ahead. With right leg locked, I wait patiently while the Vbox digital speed-ometer display ticks up one tenth at a time: 198.1, 198.2, 198.3.
Wish as I might, the digits will not budge past 198.3 mph. The 200-mph gate is locked tight. When I yank the shifter from fifth to sixth, speed and revs sag. Only a fraction of the horsepower available at 6000 rpm is on tap at 5000 rpm. For today at least, the 200-plus-mph Callaway C16 is a 198-mph automobile.
The Callaway C16 is the answer to the question, “What runs like a Porsche 911 Turbo, is priced like a Ferrari, and stirs the libido like Scarlett Johansson?” Buried deep within this glowing tangerine bolide lies a Chevrolet Corvette, but not the one that General Motors manufactures. The sixteenth project to leap from Reeves Callaway’s fertile imagination is the American Idol relishing its trip to Hollywood.
Among scores of independent tuners and factory upgrade divisions, Callaway stands out as an outer-orbit upfitter. Like David Brown in the 1940s, Briggs Cunningham in the ’50s, and Peter Monteverdi in the ’60s, this son of a wine and golf-club magnate is a true patron of the specialty-car business, driven more by the desire to sign his name to meaningful projects than by profit motives.
In a nutshell, the C16 is a base Corvette coupe dressed in a custom-tailored suit, lined with fine interior furnishings, and loaded with comprehensive powertrain and chassis modifications. No major component has escaped Callaway’s machinations. Because of his obsessive attention to detail, you must take a seat before pondering the price–the 616-hp car you see here costs $192,180. Add a five-piece set of fitted Schedoni luggage ($8800) to crest the $200,000 waterline. The 560-hp C16 package for the stripper Corvette coupe checks in at $116,675. Engineering and building 150 exotic cars annually at three different locations on two continents–Callaway’s aspiration–is not a pocket-change project.
The C16’s 6.0-liter V-8 is a bundle of nervous anticipation at idle, the result of a polished supercharger and intercooler system that force-feeds the tuned and tweaked innards. Two engine options are available. The base C16 engine is hyped from the stock 400 hp to 560 hp by 7 psi of boost. Step two, which we tested, adds new cylinder heads containing larger valves, machined ports, altered combustion chambers, and new rocker arms. The finishing touch is a more aggressive camshaft. To provide a clear path for Callaway’s Honker air intake funnel, the Eaton/Magnuson blower is spun from the rear by an offset belts-and-jackshaft drive system. A heavy-duty clutch and flywheel pass on the 582 lb-ft of torque.
Callaway uses a clever belt-and-suspenders approach to fortifying the C16’s suspension. Instead of replacing the factory composite-plastic leaf springs, a coil-shock unit is simply added at each corner to provide the desired higher spring and damping rates, as well as adjustability. Home tuners can alter the ride height, pitch angle, damping (in both directions), roll stiffness, and corner weights. The Eibach remote-reservoir dampers offer twenty click-to-adjust settings, so switching from road to racetrack mode is a snap.
Callaway’s Le Mans endurance racing experience taught him the virtues of having powerful brakes. The C16’s Alcon stopping system features twenty pistons (six per wheel in front, four each in back) squeezing nodular iron rotors that match the Z06’s brawny front-rotor dimensions at all four corners. The exotic Dymag nine-spoke wheels marry forged-magnesium centers to carbon-fiber rims to save approximately 25 pounds of unsprung weight. The ultralow-profile Michelin Pilot Sport tires–275/30YR-19 in front, 325/25YR-20 in back–are, for the time being, placeholders. The larger rear rubber that Yokohama is tooling up for the C16 won’t be ready for a year.
Paul Deutschman, Callaway’s stylemaster for twenty years, created the C16’s voluptuous wrapper, starting with modeling clay added to a 1:10-scale Revell model. The surfaces were transferred to a computer and finished using modern CAD (computer-aided-design) tools. New fiberglass panels cover every square inch of the body except for the roof, the deck lid, and the mirrors, which are stock parts. Rid of the donor Corvette’s creases, the C16 looks great. The only major dimensional change is length, which has been increased by 6.8 inches over the stock Z06.
Callaway was able to complete this ambitious makeover in just six months, because GM generously provides digital surface data to legitimate aftermarket users and because the stock Corvette skin is attached to its substrate by screws and bolts. Mustering the courage to purchase expensive molds before any full-scale representation of the finished product existed also trimmed months from the project.
A luscious layer of hand-stitched leather, upgraded carpet, and Alcantara covers the cost-conscious interior surfaces that are in the Corvette when it leaves GM’s Bowling Green, Kentucky, manufacturing plant. The french seams (sewn in Germany) and color coordination are superb. Two gripes: it’s a difficult climb over the foot-wide door sills and tall seat bolsters, and access to the seat adjuster is blocked when the door is closed.
The negative side of tuning someone else’s well-engineered automobile is that weight inevitably is added. The addition of a supercharger, wider tires, heavier dampers, beefier brakes, a larger volume exhaust system, and a new interior bulks up the factory Z51 Corvette by 150 pounds, bringing the C16 to 3420 pounds. While the more powerful engine has no difficulty eclipsing the base Corvette’s performance, leapfrogging the illustrious Z06 (505 hp, 3147 pounds) is a taller order. Both the C16 and the Z06 struggle to staple their horses into the pavement when launched from rest. Light the fuse in either car with more than 1500 rpm registered on the tach, and the rear tires melt down while you wait for evidence of forward momentum.
Walking the fine line between bogging the engine and frying rubber flings the C16 to 60 mph in four seconds flat and through the quarter mile in 12.2 seconds at a heady 125 mph. Z06s, 911 Turbos, Ford GTs, Ferrari F430s, and Dodge Vipers prowl this part of the jungle, so you’ll need to practice your footwork before mounting a hunting mission with your C16.
Of course, there’s a lot more to life than drag racing. Our measurements show that the C16 can’t match a Z06’s crack cornering and braking moves, but it does top the Z06 in third-gear passing by more than a second.
Figures aside, Callaway’s rendition of the Corvette conducts itself with gentlemanly composure most of the time. The quivering idle and the supercharger’s howl when you leg the throttle add a character overlay to the stock car’s mild manners. We could, however, do without the booming exhaust resonance that peaks between 60 and 70 mph and then fades away once you reach 75 mph. The C16’s brakes feel supremely confident and secure, even when applied at twice the legal speed limit. The steering and chassis balance are well-coordinated and support crisp turn-in moves and near-neutral, hammer-down tight-bend exits.
Thanks to the belt-driven blower beneath the hood blister, there’s no waiting for the spurt of torque that’s so handy for squirting through temporary holes in traffic. Cocking the tail wide on cue is mere adult’s play. A day spent lapping two road courses at the Willow Springs International Raceway revealed a happy-go-lucky chassis that loves to drift through life with smoke boiling off both rear tires and the front wheels twisted to full opposite lock.
Sandwiched neatly between the Z06, which arrived in late 2005, and the factory’s 600-plus-hp Corvette SS, due in 2009, the Callaway C16 is another grand chapter in the growing book of enthralling Corvettes.