Cutting the Line

Berni Breen’s 700-hp Concept8 Stingray delivers Z06-like performance without the wait

Photo: Cutting the Line 1
September 14, 2023

Tom Petty opined that the waiting is the hardest part. That could be the theme song for customers in the queue for a C8 Z06, but Mississippi enthusiast Berni Breen had a workaround plan. He had already waited to get his Stingray and wasn’t keen to wait again for a Z06, so he turned to Nowicki Autosport for one of the company’s bespoke Concept8 packages—with the idea to elevate the Stingray’s performance to the Z06’s level.

“I love the idea of the flat-plane-crank engine in the Z06,” says Breen. “I think it’s an amazing engine, but yes, the waiting was the hardest part, and I thought we could ‘get there’ with the Concept8.”

Launched shortly after the C8 itself, the Concept8 is Nowicki Autosport’s vision of a more curated approach to Corvette personalization. Visually, it’s distinguished by a number of carbon-fiber elements and a wide-body stance that recasts the overall design with a more track-inspired aesthetic. There are some performance-enhancing elements, too, but more than simply the sum of its unique parts, the Concept8 looks and feels more like a coach-built specialty vehicle.

“That’s entirely intentional, because each car is built to the customer’s specifications,” says Jeff Nowicki. “The vision for the Concept8 is creating unique, tailored experiences that not only deliver more distinctive-looking and better-performing C8s, but cars that are that much more personal to the owners.”

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That’s an apt description of the conversation Breen had with Nowicki, including his plan to raise the Stingray’s performance capability beyond what Nowicki Autosport had done with a C8 previously.

“Budget was an issue,” says Breen. “But after speaking more with Jeff, he took on the role of ‘project manager’ and shepherded the whole thing. I was really grateful for that, because being all the way down on the Gulf Coast meant I just couldn’t manage it effectively. With his guidance, it made sense to do the appearance and performance upgrades simultaneously.”

For the question about performance, an answer was found in Lingenfelter Performance Engineering’s Magnuson-based, intercooled supercharger system. With its output rating of 700 horsepower and 675 pound-feet of torque when allied with a stock LT2 engine, it would put the Stingray on par with a Z06. Perfect.

More Than a Pretty Face

After a Museum Delivery of the Red Mist, 3LT-trimmed Stingray he’d been waiting for, Breen immediately shipped the car to Nowicki Autosport’s facility in suburban Detroit, where work got underway on the Concept8 transformation.

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Nowicki Autosport had carbon-fiber parts for the C8 designed the moment the car went on sale, and the roster has continued to grow. On Breen’s car, they include everything from carbon versions of factory items such as the body-side “boomerangs,” mirror caps and targa bar to all-new elements such as rockers, a rear diffuser, a front splitter, and a high rear wing. Also for Breen’s car, an all-new piece was also introduced: a dual-plane front grille bezel. Actually, it’s two pieces—one each for the front outer corners of the car.

“All the carbon-fiber elements of the Concept8 were exactly what I was looking for from an appearance standpoint,” says Breen, who adds he ordered his Stingray specifically with as few factory carbon exterior trim elements as possible, knowing he wanted a more comprehensive appearance upgrade. “It was a blank that looks great, especially those dual-plane bezels. They look more symmetrical and balanced than the stock design.”

No argument there.

“The Concept8 parts offer a more integrated and refined approach that gives the car a more natural-looking extension of the original design,” says Jeff Nowicki. “We use the same O.E. materials, and the idea is to make all the components complement one another seamlessly.”

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Perhaps the largest departure from the Stingray’s original design is the Concept8 fender flares, which create a decidedly aggressive stance that adds more than 1.5 inches in width per side, allowing for true, Z06-sized rubber to be installed. On Breen’s car, that includes Michelin Pilot Sport 4S 275/30ZR20 tires in front and massive 345/25/ZR21 treads in the rear.

They’re paired with Forgeline AL-304 forged aluminum wheels with polished edges and Light Mist Gold spokes that complement the car’s Red Mist paintwork exquisitely. The change in the car’s posture and profile with the flares and wider tires is difficult to overstate, as the one-dimensional photos here simply can’t do them justice.

“It’s an entirely different look for the car,” says Breen. “Along with the high rear wing, the car looks ready for anything.”

The Lingenfelter/Magnuson TVS2650 supercharger system backs up that assertive demeanor, with 7 pounds of intercooled boost helping the Stingray’s LT2 generate those LT6-topping output figures. Tuning was a concern for Breen, who understandably didn’t want big power compromised by spotty drivability or flashing dash lights. Lingenfelter’s C-CAL process recalibrates the factory ECM, eliminating the need for supplemental or piggyback controllers for the supercharger system.

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To date, Breen reports seamless performance and drivability, along with what he calls “stunning” power on demand.

“The power comes on right now,” he says. “You tap into it, and the car is gone.”

Indeed, that’s the advantage of a positive-displacement supercharger on an engine with airflow characteristics that tend to sacrifice a smidgen of low-end torque in exchange for more high-rpm horsepower. That’s always been the case with naturally aspirated LS and LT engines, and it applies to the new Z06’s LT6 engine, too.

“With the supercharger, you get the instant hit of power that feels amazing,” says Breen. “This car is now making Z06-level power, but with a unique feel. I love it.”

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That power also comes with an exhaust note that will send a shiver up the spine, as the engine has also been fitted with thermal-wrapped American Racing headers. There’s an enticing bark when the engine lights, and it’s soon mixed with the mechanical whir of the huge, four-lobe rotors churning away under the engine cover.

Smaller-displacement blowers have a higher-pitched whine, but this supercharger utters a lower-pitched, more guttural tone. It sounds mean and it sounds anxious, like that lout in a bar challenging you to hit him. He’s simply looking for an excuse to fight, and so is this supercharged combination. It wants to go out into the parking lot—or onto an empty stretch of freeway—and get it on.

It’s usually a mistake to tangle with people like that, and it would be a similarly unwise for drivers of other sports cars and exotics to dismiss this C8 as simply a Stingray with distinctive “drip.”

“To say this car is fast doesn’t begin to describe it,” says Breen. “I’ve owned a lot of Corvettes over the years, including a C7 Z06, but this one is on a whole other level in terms of its performance backing up its looks.”

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Nowicki Autosport even developed a carbon-fiber supercharger cover for the package. Breen’s is the first car to wear it, but the company will make it part of its line for Concept8 builds that incorporate a similar supercharger package.

The one area of the car that was left essentially untouched was the Natural leather-trimmed cockpit, which Breen ordered with the GT2 Competition seats. Apart from a set of Concept8-logo floor mats, the interior is stock.

“To be very honest, it’s hard to build on or improve what’s already a great interior,” says Nowicki. “The attention to detail that Chevrolet has put into it is terrific, especially with the available carbon-fiber accents. They didn’t leave anything on the table for people like me.”

Nevertheless, the inspired exterior and take-no-prisoners supercharger systems come together in a distinctive package that rivals the Z06 in power, but also offers even greater exclusivity.

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“A Z06 is still a rare sight anywhere, but there’s absolutely nothing like this car, especially in my neck of the woods,” says Breen. “It’s unique, and the more you look at it, the more you see.”

“I think a car like this is a great alternative for the Z06 for the customer seeking a well-tailored, personalized vehicle,” adds Nowicki. “It also has the same footprint on the road and comparable power, and it’s available right now.”

Of course, “right now” is a relative term. It still took a few months to convert the car and have its supercharger system installed and calibrated. So while the queue wasn’t quite as long as the one for a new Z06, this was nevertheless a case of delayed gratification.

In fact, Breen waited even longer, thanks to us. We cajoled Nowicki for several weeks to hold on to the car until weather in the Detroit area finally cleared long enough to permit our photo shoot. Immediately afterwards, it was loaded on a transporter and Mississippi-bound.

“I was anxious to get the car back, but it was all worth it,” he says. “The car is exactly what I envisioned.”

Tom Petty was right. The waiting really is the hardest part.

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