"I know it's hard to believe, but some guys who bought ZR-1s, the first thing they tell me, you know, is they're disappointed. They say to me, 'Man, out there at stoplights, I expected this thing was just going to lift its front wheels when I goosed it. Maligning the manliness of a Corvette ZR-1 is like accusing Norm Schwarzkopf of wearing pantyhose. Except that, in this case, the blasphemer—John Lingenfelter, raised in East Freedom, Pennsylvania—has made a handsome living tinkering with Corvettes for almost 23 years.
"The next step up, admittedly more noise, gains a tenth of a second and 2 mph in the quarter-mile," he says."Guys who buy these cars," says Lingenfelter, "would rather demonstrate speed than advertise it."Of course, Lingenfelter's "demonstrations" are far from free. Upon our return, we are giggling like seventh-graders in Mrs. Photographer Kelley has completely forgotten where he left his cameras. For the privilege of driving this go-to-jail Corvette, you must leave your ZR-1 in Decatur for a minimum of two weeks, after which you will be presented with an invoice for ,500. But that amount includes whatever exhaust note you choose (from dead-stock quiet to Top Fuel maniacal) and a 3.73 final-drive ratio in place of the standard car's 3.45. Lingenfelter greets us: "What I'd like," he says, "is to do a limited edition of that car. He installs titanium retainers to reduce valvetrain weight, recuts the valve-seat angles, then painstakingly blends the ports and polishes the runners until the inner walls shine like Santa Fe silver. What comes next, in Lingenfelter's words, is "to unrestrict" the exhaust. "Duals, two into one, one into two, cut pipes, splicing them, welding them.Usually what happened is I'd get a big power gain—as much as 30 horsepower—but the car would make too much noise or sound blatty."What eventually satisfied Lingenfelter was a stock exhaust with "heavily radiused connectors." That is, he eliminates the crimped and welded passages at the entrances to the collectors, to the catalytic converters, and to the mufflers.Like a pre-schooler, he is in perpetual motion."That's an old twin-turbo salt-flats motor over there, and here's a 557-cubic-inch 950-horsepower marine motor for a 41-foot Apache, and you know this dyno measures up to 1450 horsepower but it's not too accurate with anything below 300, and that's my own invention, a tuned-port box; God, with that thing on a 383 [cubic-inch small-block], it just kicks ass. Inside are 26 employees, all nearly as frantic as Lingenfelter.