High-Speed Exhilaration

With help from friends and talented artisans, Charles Washington brought his vision for a unique-looking, high-performance C7 to fruition

Photo: High-Speed Exhilaration 1
January 31, 2019

Given that Charles Washington grew up in Detroit during the era before video games and other electronic devices completely consumed children’s time and imagination, it’s no wonder he was, and remains, car-obsessed. “Cars played an important part in my early childhood, as I watched my dad tinker with his,” he says. “Like most kids, I loved my Hot Wheels and Johnny Lightning [toys], dreaming about having my own car one day.”

Washington bought his first automobile, a brand-new Camaro, in 1977 and quickly proceeded to modify it. He began with typical bolt-on parts, progressed to a tunnel-ram–topped small-block in place of the Camaro’s original Six, and ultimately ended up with a ferocious big-block. From there he went on to acquire a ’66 Chevelle SS, followed by a ’70 Roadrunner, a ’71 Nova and a host of other hot cars. “After a while, I [got] deeper into my education and the car scene took a back seat,” he reports, “but fast, cool cars were never very far out of my mind.”

A few years later, Washington was back in car heaven, with a Pro Street supercharged ’67 Chevelle and a Jeep Grand Cherokee in the garage. In 2012, however, his career advanced with an offer to become a Hospital Administrator in Radiation Oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and that brought him to New York City. The Big Apple is generally pretty hostile toward cars, especially nice ones, so he rather reluctantly sold the Chevelle and Jeep. But even without a cool set of wheels, cars were never very far from his thoughts.

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“While living in New York, I was always thinking about that next project,” Washington says. “I wanted something sleek and subtle, but wickedly over the top from a performance perspective. And equally important, something reliable.” In 2014, he relocated to New Jersey to enjoy more of what he describes as “green space,” a move that also gave him the opportunity to get back into the hot-car scene. After looking at several makes and models, from Mercedes E-class convertibles to Corvettes, he decided that a topless 2014 Z51 offered the ideal combination of looks, drivability and, of course, speed potential.

Predictably, Washington began planning his modifications even before taking delivery of his new ride. “After researching the typical bolt-ons, I installed color-coordinated Nowicki Autosport Kalahari leather tonneau insets behind the seats and did a few other things,” he says. “Then I…contact[ed] Joseph Taverna at ACS Composites for their rocker [panels] and extractor hood, which gave the car a totally different look and feel.” Next came a new grille sans lights, followed by one with LED lighting. At this point the car was a bona fide head-turner, but Washington felt that something was missing visually.

That something was an overall more aggressive look, as exemplified by the Z06 introduced in model year 2015. Washington contemplated trading his Corvette in on a new Z, but by then he already felt an emotional attachment to the car, so decided to endow it with the edgy attitude he was after. For that, he once again contacted ACS Composites, maker of the rockers, grille and hood he’d previously installed. ACS was just starting production of a wide-body kit for C7 convertibles, which was exactly what Washington wanted.

Photo: High-Speed Exhilaration 3

Prior to driving from New Jersey to ACS in Montreal to have the conversion done, Washington bought Z06-style wheels and tires and had them shipped there. He also sent ACS his car’s gas door, which allowed the techs there to paint the new wide-body panels ahead of time. With all of the parts on hand, ACS was able to do the complete conversion over a weekend.

In addition to the new body bits, the car also sported a previously installed Five1 composite front grille with LED lights, a Five1 front lip spoiler, Zero7 side rockers, rear fascia diffusers, enhanced front and rear splash guards and rear spoiler wickers. “The wide-body [parts], along with the other changes I’d done previously, converted my car into a low-slung, stealthy, wide beast,” he recalls, “and the five-hour drive home was, at that time, the ride of my life.”

Washington adores the appearance of his unique C7 convertible, which is positively sinister courtesy of the engorged body, one-inch suspension lowering and monochromatic exterior theme. The black paint is complemented by Carbon Flash blacked-out badging, the aforementioned black Z06 wheels, dark-tinted windows, black powder-coated exhaust tips, and blackouts for the tail, parking, side-marker and reverse lights.

Photo: High-Speed Exhilaration 4

While he was completely satisfied with the look of his Corvette after ACS reworked it, Washington felt as though something was still missing. “From the factory,” he reflects, “the Z51 is an engineering marvel. It’s fast, sleek and a road commander, but my car was only as aggressive from a performance perspective as any other Z51 seven-speed out there. I wanted more than that, so I decided to move forward with some serious performance upgrades.”

Seeking input from someone he trusted, Washington contacted a good friend from Huntsville, Alabama who is involved with racing. The friend suggested getting in touch with Ricky Childers at RCI Performance in Toney, Alabama, because of Childers’ expertise with tuning and upgrading late-model Corvettes.

“I love superchargers,” Washington explains. “I had an 8-71 on my ’67 Chevelle before installing a ProCharger F2R, which delivered about 1,000 rear-wheel horsepower. Before that, I installed Vortech S-Trim and Y-Trim [units] on my 1997 Camaro SS convertible.” He relayed his requirements to Childers, specifying an ultra-powerful blown Corvette that could hold its own in any circumstance and, should the need arise, be drivable and reliable enough travel across the country.

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After conducting a bit of research, the pair decided to go with a complete, intercooled supercharger system from A&A Corvette in Oxnard, California. “Their bracketry, tensioner assembly and forced-air intercooler work extremely well on C7 Corvettes, and Ricky already had a number of installations of that kit under his belt when I contacted him,” Washington explains.

The A&A system is designed around a Vortech V3 centrifugal-style blower. In addition to this ultra-reliable head unit, the setup’s benefits include a solid, billet-mount bracket; a fully machined, SFI-approved balancer with interchangeable lower pulleys; an adjustable billet tensioner; nylon-reinforced silicone charge hoses and a proprietary “ram air” intercooler setup.

The package is complemented in Washington’s Corvette by a more aggressive camshaft that can support almost 900 horsepower when coupled with an appropriate reprogramming of the car’s PCM. Even working in concert with what he describes as a “modest” tune, Washington notes that the hotter cam helps to optimize the performance of the blower package. “[Additionally, it] sets me up nicely for future enhancements with a more radical tune if I ever want it, without having to go into the motor again.”

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Forced induction amplifies the need for a free-flowing exhaust system, so Washington had RCI Performance install long-tube headers, an X-pipe and high-flow “Green Cats” catalytic converters from Kooks. The latter items help keep tailpipe emissions to a minimum, while also maintaining visual compliance with New Jersey’s draconian inspection regime.

The final addition to the Corvette’s engine was an Alkycontrol methanol-injection kit. This system injects methanol into the intake-air charge to reduce its temperature. In so doing, it greatly diminishes the likelihood that pre-ignition, or detonation, will occur. Methanol injection also reduces carbon deposits on pistons and valves, while minimizing oil and grime buildup within the intake manifold and induction system.

After four weeks of work, the supercharger and all related parts were installed and the car was ready to go home to West Orange, New Jersey. Washington promptly flew to Huntsville to pick up his made-over machine, the scope of whose modifications immediately became apparent when he twisted the ignition key. “[The car] looked the same, but when it started up, that blower whine, that cam cadence and that responsive roar blew me away,” he recalls. “I test drove it conservatively at first, and then proceeded to see what it was made of, and boy was I happy.

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“The final test was the ride home. I had absolutely no issues in traffic, and the responsiveness and performance on the road [were] exactly as promised. The 900-plus-mile trip was just what was needed to break everything in, and since then it has been a blast.”

Washington notes that he has had more-powerful cars in the past, including the aforementioned, heavily modified ’67 Chevelle and ’97 Camaro, but none was as versatile and satisfying as his C7. “This car has more sex appeal than any other I’ve ever owned, and it’s not temperamental the way my other very powerful cars were. Also, as a larger person, I appreciate how the cockpit is spacious but still form-fitting and extremely comfortable.”

Another significant part of the enjoyment Washington gets from his Corvette stems from the camaraderie he has with other enthusiasts. “I have a long history in fraternal organizations,” he explains, “including being involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and volunteering with the American Red Cross. So joining a Corvette club was a must for me. I am a proud member of the Natural Glass Corvette Association of New Jersey.”

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And, of course, he also gets tremendous satisfaction from driving his one-of-a-kind Corvette at every opportunity. “I am a car builder who develops a vision and makes it a reality,” he says. “After the build is finished, I usually feel that it is time to get to another project, but in this case, I am enjoying the results too much to think about the next one. I love the unique look of this Corvette, and I love its exhilarating performance even more.” m

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Also from Issue 128

  • 1996 Special Editions
  • C6 Buyer's Guide
  • "Improved" ’59 Driver
  • 500-hp ’66 Vintage Racer
  • History: The SR-2 Returns
  • C2 Restoration Tips
  • Racing: Dominance in the Aughts
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