Is This the Coolest C3 Corvette Ever? Signs Point to Yes
Form and function, with no compromises.
If you show up to almost any corner-carving competition these days like an autocross, the most competitive cars are typically late-model C5 and C6 Corvettes. Why? They're relatively cheap, light, and come equipped with easy-to-modify LS engines straight from the factory. Their performance-per-dollar ratio is pretty much unbeatable. On the other end of the spectrum there are the guys that bring out their cool restomod classics. They have style but rarely put up a fight compared to the newer rides. But what about when someone combines the best of both worlds?
Enter Bob Gawlik and the folks over at Detroit Speed Engineering. Gawlik is a Corvette enthusiast and all-around gearhead who loves to spend his weekends out competing in said competitions. He's owned C1 and C2 Corvettes and tracked a C6 Z06, but for his next project he wanted something a little different. "This Corvette came available in South Carolina and it was a nice car, so I decided I would buy it," Gawlik told us. Continuing on, he said, "I spoke with Kyle Tucker, the owner of Detroit Speed, and it was good time because they were looking for a project car to work on and do tech." If you've seen any of Detroit Speed's builds, you know they go all-out, so Gawlik was in for something special.
The car he found was a mostly stock 1969 Corvette in good condition. The goal for the build? He wanted a Pro Touring car/restomod. "Everyone's got their definitions of this stuff," Gawlik adds—and for him that means it would be competitive but not lack modern amenities like A/C. "I live in Arizona and it's nice to flip the switch and put the air on," he admitted. Even with the added weight and complication from such creature comforts, Detroit Speed still planned to build Gawlik an all-out performer.
Having a reasonably nice Corvette to start with, Detroit Speed could dig right in and get to work on the fun stuff. The body would be left mostly stock with the exception of Trackspec Motorsports louvers in the hood and custom fender flares installed in-house by Austin Moore. The flares, according to Alex Stivaletti of Detroit Speed, were added to "fit both wheel-and-tire packages and offsets." Wait, both wheel and tire packages? Yup. We'll get to that a little later. With the bodywork completed, the car was handed over to Michael Neighbors to be sprayed in PPG Jetstream Blue. How the color was decided was pretty simple: "Blue is my favorite color," Gawlik told us. "My '09 Z06 was Jetstream Blue and I have a '72 Camaro that is Jetstream Blue with a pearl additive."
Underneath the body, Detroit Speed utilized the stock C3 frame but bolted (and welded) on its latest parts. In the front, it installed the Detroit Speed SpeedRay suspension kit along with weld-in coil-over shock mounts. The kit utilizes tubular upper and lower control arms, forged aluminum spindles, rack-and-pinion steering, and a splined anti-roll bar. The coil-overs used are comprised of JRi double-adjustable dampers with remote reservoirs and 550-pound coil springs.
The rear of Gawlik's Corvette received an equally trick suspension upgrade in the form of Detroit Speed's DECAlink independent rear suspension (IRS). The DECAlink system is made to work with a GearFX Hammerhead third member. The same double-adjustable, remote reservoir JRi dampers and 550-pound springs were used here, too, and are paired with Detroit Speed's tubular rear anti-roll bar. AP Racing brakes were fitted at all four corners with six-piston calipers and 14.6-inch rotors in the front along with four-piston calipers and 13.4-inch rotors in the back.
If the 1969 Corvette was truly going to be competitive, it was going to need a dream of a drivetrain, which is exactly what Detroit Speed had planned. The engine chosen was an aluminum LS7 built by Automotive Diagnostic Specialties in Chandler, Arizona, making 675 crank horsepower. With 427 cubic inches of displacement, there was no need for forced induction of any kind. Instead, they just took advantage of the cubes by fitting the LS7 with high-flowing Brodix BR7 cylinder heads ported by West Coast CNC. Between the heads was installed an MSD Performance Atomic AirForce intake manifold and Nick Williams Big Mouth 105mm throttle body. Holley supplied a Dominator ECU along with two in-tank fuel pumps and a front drive system. Then, to get the spent horsepower—a.k.a. the exhaust gases—out of the engine, a set of Detroit Speed LS Swap Sidepipes and Hooker Show Tubes were bolted on with 1.875-inch primaries on the headers and 4.0-inch outlet on the side pipes.
Behind the LS7 sits a Tremec T-56 Magnum six-speed manual transmission from Bowler Performance. Specifically, the Magnum is their Stage 3 unit outfitted with a 2.29:1 first gear and 0.50:1 sixth gear. Then, a Dynotech driveshaft spins that GearFX Hammerhead rear end. The third member is packed with 4.11 gears and a limited-slip differential while a set of CV axles from Driveshaft Shop send power to the wheels.
Speaking of wheels, we mentioned that the Corvette was specifically fitted with custom flares to fit two sets of wheels. Gawlik wanted the option to run different wheel-and-tire combos depending on the event he would be competing in. For that, the car has two sets of Forgeline GA3R wheels chromed by Advanced Plating and measuring 18x11 or 19x11 in the front and 18x12 or 19x12.5 in the rear. For tires, Gawlik has the option of BFGoodrich Rival S (315/30 front and 335/30 rear) or Kumho Ecsta V720 (305/30 front and 355/30 rear). And, just in case those tires want to break loose in slick conditions, the guys at Detroit Speed installed a Davis Traction Control system.
The inside of Gawlik's C3 is simple yet completely functional. A Bluetooth-controlled Alpine sound system was installed along with a custom set of Classic Instruments AutoCross gauges. As for seats and upholstery, the Corvette got a full leather and suede treatment, which include a Momo quick-release steering wheel and, Gawlik's favorite part, a set of custom-covered and bolstered Kirkey aluminum race seats. The seats were done by M&M Hot Rod Interiors and gave Gawlik the bolstering he wanted without sacrificing overall comfort. In his words, "The original seats were modified to where they are bolstered well but they are pretty nice to sit in. The C3 Corvette is not that big, but it's actually pretty comfortable when you're in there." Finally, the carpet is a custom layout done by Robert McCarter.
While Detroit Speed may have had some leeway in building the Corvette the way it saw fit, Gawlik requested a few specific additions, one of which was a fire-suppression system. "I've had three fires, so just about everything I have has a bottle in it," Gawlik told us. His other request was a little parking-brake trick (or lack thereof) he's done in the past: using a line-lock. "I've been doing this for a number of years," said Gawlik. "It's just a waste of weight using the old-style parking brake. I just use, like, a line-lock, press the brake, and hit the button. I've been doing it well over 10 years."
How the Corvette actually performs is yet to be seen as the build is pretty fresh and Gawlik hasn't been able to drive it much. So the question remains: Will his no-compromise 1969 Corvette actually put up a fight against stiff competition? We're thinking it will.