When it comes to the Corvette’s aesthetic mods, it is clear that Balducci is a fervent admirer of Atomic Orange paint. The front spoiler was removed and painted that bright hue, as were nearly all of the black exterior trim pieces.
The nuclear color has also spread to the cockpit. Large swaths of the instrument panel and center console have been painted Atomic Orange, as have the top cap on the shifter, the parking-brake button and even the door release surrounds. Since our photo shoot, Balducci has added more orange items, all from DSVettes. “I was at a car show in Atlantic City and Geraldo [Astorga], the [DSVettes] owner, was there,” he says. “We started speaking about my Vette and he showed me the first Atomic Orange steering wheel they created—after negotiating a deal, it was mine.”
Balducci then proceeded to order leather upholstery items from DSVettes, including a Jake-themed center-armrest cover, transmission-tunnel covers and door panels—all with orange stitching that contrasts sharply with the black leather.
Pop Goes the Piston
Despite the color-matched interior bits and the engine’s shiny chrome valve covers, this Z06 is no mere show car; Balducci drives it, and drives it hard. During a charity event on a closed highway, he cracked the 200-mph barrier on several occasions. Unfortunately, on his last 12-mile run, during which he reached a terminal velocity of 205 mph, the engine let go. “The car was running flawlessly the whole time, speeds between 150 and 200 mph,” says Balducci. “Temperature, oil pressure—everything was all good. Then, suddenly, the head-up display read ‘engine power loss.’ As I started to pull over, I could see white smoke in my rearview.” As it turned out, his #7 piston was toast.
While it would be reasonable to assume that a cammed-up engine with raised compression is more likely to burst a seam than a stock one, Balducci isn’t so sure. “I don’t think it was a result of the run, but rather that GM allowed this weak link in the motor,” he claims. “After looking into this and speaking to other Z06 owners on the Corvette Forum, it seems that this #7 piston is blowing on many LS7s, even stock ones. I’m not 100-percent ruling out that my performance parts may have contributed to it. It may have been old, stale gas, too.”
In April 2009, with the car’s odometer reading 2,967 miles, Balducci returned his Corvette to Vette Doctors—not to complain, but to get prescribed an even stronger, more powerful engine. As his reasoning goes, “If you wanna play, be prepared to pay.” And that he was, because this time Balducci ordered a more thoroughly upgraded engine. “I wanted to build this motor with all the best, strongest and most reliable parts,” he says.
Vette Doctors’ first step was to remove the engine and strip it down, including the removal of the cylinder liners. It was at this point that the broken #7 piston was discovered, as well as a cracked cylinder wall. New liners were installed, and then machined in preparation for a set of slightly larger forged Wisco pistons. The overbore would expand the displacement from 427 to 434 cubic inches. The rebuild included a Callies crankshaft and Compstar rods, and to make sure everything was buttoned down tight, ARP main studs and head bolts were used.