Andy Williamson became obsessed with cool cars as a teenager, and he’s been designing and building his own high-end performance vehicles for 25 years. Predictably, the moment the North Carolina–based marketing maven laid eyes on Chevy’s seventh-generation Corvette, he began thinking about modifying one. “I wanted to design a youthful take on this platform,” he says. “Something that would be classic and timeless, yet menacing and fast looking.”
At first, Williamson spent a lot of time simply staring at his brand-new 2016 Z51 Stingray and thinking about a wide range of outside design influences for inspiration. One overriding goal was to create a look that would get people who loved European cars to stop and take notice. To that end, he and the team at Theory Communication & Design, his creative- and media-services agency, decided to follow a club-racer motif.
“The Stingray is very capable as a stock machine,” Williamson opines, “but we wanted to beef it up a little bit with some modifications that mimic the…Corvette C7.R. We thought that if we could apply certain themes from that vehicle, and even some hot-rod flair, we could end up with a machine that looked incredible and performed as well as it looked.”
Since he knew the car would see some track time, Williamson ordered his Torch Red Stingray from Detroit dealer Ed Rinke Chevrolet with the Z51 Performance Package. Intended to gird the C7 for the rigors of competition use, this $5,000 option adds 19-inch front and 20-inch rear wheels, a dry-sump oiling system, an electronic limited-slip differential, enhanced brakes with slotted rotors all around (the front units are also larger than on the base car), track-tuned suspension bits and a subtle aerodynamics package that reduces lift and improves high-speed stability. Though it doesn’t add any power to the LT1 engine’s 455-horsepower tally (460 with the optional dual-mode exhaust), RPO Z51 does feature shorter gear ratios throughout the drivetrain to improve throttle response and acceleration.
Though focused primarily on performance, Williamson and his co-conspirators didn’t ignore comfort when running down the order form. “We opted for the 2LT trim level, which is…equipped with a color-keyed console
and door armrests, heated and vented seats, Bose premium audio, head-up display,
navigation…and Performance Traction Management, among other things. We also [purchased] the Competition Seats. Never in our lives did we think driving a Corvette would be so comfortable.”
Williamson’s decision to equip the Corvette with Z51 performance and 2LT comfort was fully validated on the drive home from Detroit to Charlotte. “The trip took us…through the winding roads of mountainous West Virginia,” he recalls. “Turning the Driver Mode dial to ‘Track’ awakened that glorious exhaust, and cruising around the mountains and through tunnels was an exhilarating experience. Right out of the box the car has 460 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque. Holy smoke—the torque!”
As soon as he arrived home, Williamson got the car’s transformation underway. The entire project was overseen by Daniel Valjeviac, owner of Retro Designs Speed and Customs in Concord, a Charlotte suburb. “I wanted a youthful vibe to this car that was going to be tricky to pull off,” Williamson tells us, “and it was really important to try and maintain the natural lines. We just wanted to add to the flow of those lines, not chop them up.”
The first change was to install some Z06 aero parts ordered right out of the Chevrolet Performance Parts catalog. The switch to a Z06 front grille increased airflow by 17 percent, enhancing cooling to both the engine and brakes. The team also installed Z06 quarter-panel vents, which Chevy says supply 25 percent more air to the transmission-oil and differential coolers at typical track speeds. The final Z06 bit added was a rear spoiler with a Stage III bridge to increase downforce at the rear.
One of the most obvious distinguishing features of the C7.R GTLM racecar is its extreme width, and Williamson wanted the same thing for his C7. Widening the Corvette allowed for the use of much fatter tires, which boosted cornering grip while also imparting a much tougher look. “We worked with Andrew Ritter and his team at Stance Craft in Dallas to [add] their composite wide-body kit,” reports Williamson, “which ultimately added seven inches of width to the rear and four inches in the front.
“The guys at Stance Craft are true craftsmen,” he continues. “It’s one thing to make a wide body on a car, but it’s another to pull it off the way they did…accent[ing] the original design, rather than just altering its lines. [They] spent hundreds of hours perfecting the design and flow of the body.”
To further the racecar association, Williams turned to APR Performance for a rear diffuser. The piece, which bears more than a passing resemblance to the one employed on the aforementioned C7.R, is crafted from authentic carbon fiber and designed to integrate smoothly with the factory bumper assembly. The idea behind such a modification is to accelerate the flow of air underneath the car, thus creating an area of low pressure that increases stability-enhancing downforce.
For appropriately sized wheels, Williamson reached out to fifteen52, which has a motorsports-focused line. Working with company owners Matt Crooke and Brad Beardow, he considered multiple options before ultimately choosing the forged, three-piece Apex RSR, which is designed to clear the Z51’s large brakes. He then turned to Tire Rack, whose reps recommended summer-only Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires sized at 345/30-19 in the rear and 295/30-19 up front. Interestingly, while the rear tires are 10mm wider than stock C7 Z06 rubber, they also have a taller sidewall. Meanwhile, at 19 inches in diameter, the Apex RSR rear wheels are one inch smaller than the OEM 20-inchers, allowing for a correspondingly taller tire. Williamson says he chose to do this to create “a meatier, motorsports-inspired fitment.”
For added power, Williamson decided to supercharge the car’s original LT1 engine using an East Coast Supercharging centrifugal system with a Paxton Novi head unit. The ECS blower feeds a polished Late Model Engines intake manifold, while long-tube headers and an X-pipe from Kooks speed the exit of spent gases. The LME intake is notable in that it is built from billet aluminum, rather than the plastic composite used for the factory piece. As such, it’s considerably stronger than the stocker, an important consideration when ramming copious amounts of boost (or nitrous oxide) down the throat of an LT1. It also features a plenum with a larger internal volume, allowing it to flow the extra air required to make extreme power.
After the supercharger and related parts were installed, Williamson turned the car over to Steve Shoaf at SS LSX Tuning in Concord. Instead of wringing every last bit of power out of the forced-induction LT1, Shoaf dialed in a relatively moderate tune to preserve the car’s civility in a broad range of driving situations. Topped off with Mobil 1’s newest ESP Formula high-performance synthetic oil, it produces 620 horsepower at the rear wheels, or roughly 730 Z06-quashing horses at the flywheel.
As noted, Williamson was extremely pleased with the quality, comfort and functionality of his Corvette’s interior right off the showroom floor. Still, as with the rest of the car, he decided to make some changes. To improve crash safety and further the road-race look, he had Retro Designs Speed and Customs install a four-point RPM roll bar. Steve Kurzman from The Custom Stitching Company in Charlotte added a red Alcantara stripe to the steering wheel to evoke the most recognizable Corvette Grand Sport styling cue. He also stitched up an Alcantara shifter boot.
Following its completion, the car was displayed at the 2016 SEMA show by Chevrolet and Mobil 1, who partnered with Williamson on the build. Since then, in keeping with its initial purpose, it’s been to numerous shows and cruise nights in the southeast, competed in a couple of track days and racked up several thousand miles on the street. Looking ahead, Williamson says he intends to continue doing more of the same, which is to say he plans to enjoy every moment he can behind the wheel of his one-of-a-kind club-racer Stingray.