C5 CORVETTE BODY KITS (PART 4 IN THE SERIES)

THE HISTORICAL EVOLUTION of C5 CORVETTE BODY KITS (PART 4 IN THE SERIES)

We are taking a look at the C5 Corvette body kits from 1996-to 2004. If you love Corvette, you’ll love this! Wayne Ellwood shares the evolution in customing the C5 Corvettes. See how designers have been customizing cars as long as there have been cars to customize. This will give you a better understanding of what went into designing these body kits as well as how they changed from one year to the next. Check out the latest post from Vette Vues now!

C5 CORVETTE BODY KITS
C5 CORVETTE BODY KITS
  • The history of Corvette C5 body kits
  • Customizing Your C5 Ride
  • Included are specific examples from the C5 Body Kit history
  • Find out how custom shops turned to Corvette as their platform
  • From extensive small-scale operations to whole-vehicle builds
  • Whole-vehicle builds became an attractive proposition

THE HISTORY OF BODY KITS (PART 4): The C5 Era

by: Wayne Ellwood

Photo credits: Wittera, J Cafaro, J Caravaggio, E Descarries, Burt Greenwood, W Ellwood, Facebook, and others.

Links to other Body Kit History articles:

C1 Body Kits C2 Body Kits C3 Body Kits C4 Body Kits

History of C5 Corvette Body Kits
Greenwood’s “big wing” was a popular item and superior in design to all others.

As the market evolved from C4 to C5, one thing stood out. Specifically, more custom shops turned to the Corvette as a platform for their ideas. And, they saw the development of whole-vehicle builds as an attractive proposition. The trend was not over-powering for the smaller shops, but it was clear that more people could afford a more comprehensive package, and this was reflected in the number of options on the market. At the same time, the extension of new production technologies was reaching the smaller-scale operations, allowing smaller shops to create their own niche. This magic time would run well into the C6 era (with minor hiccups) through to the financial disaster of 2008.

Starting at the lower end of the scale, most car shows were still populated with individually owned cars that captured the owner’s spirit, with anything from little to no investment. Here are three examples that prove my point.

The new-for-1998 convertible in Fairway Green was an unusual standout in stock form. As one individual’s interpretation of personalization, the addition of the (factory) pewter wheels, a plus-one tire application, and a conservative lowering of the suspension served to create a near-custom look.

Two more examples include this orange C5 with a nice paint job and Callaway Double D exhaust tips as visible reminders that this car is not stock

Mark Demetry brought his custom “Tiger Shark” style C5 to the 2003 Carlisle event. The design was captivating for some and somewhat fishy for others. What was interesting was that he did the design and manufactured it himself. This is where customization started, and it’s still alive. Other “Tige Shark” customs were also popular, using the Tiger Shark rear bumper design and other personal touches, like vertical doors.

#Corvettecustoms #CorvetteCreationz #Tiger Shark

Most owners will consider mild custom touches, but often to good effect
Most owners will consider mild custom touches, but often to good effect.
Callaway Double D exhaust may (or may not) speak to engine upgrades
Callaway Double D exhaust may (or may not) speak to engine upgrades.
Mark Demetry built his own front and rear bumpers to capture the Tiger Shark spirit
Mark Demetry built his own front and rear bumpers to capture the Tiger Shark spirit.
The Mallett brothers used an ACI kit for their promo car
This C5 Body Kit was done by the Mallet brothers. Mallett Cars Ltd was founded in 1997. Brothers Chuck and Lance produced high-quality signature-series 5th generation Corvettes. The Mallett brothers used an ACI kit for their promo car.
Corvette Creationz offers a full set of aero pieces
Corvette Creationz offers a full set of aero pieces.
Individual aero pieces are available from a wide variety of sources
Individual aero pieces are available from a wide variety of sources.
The Lingenfelter twin turbo widebody represents a full build available only from the source
The Lingenfelter twin-turbo widebody represents a full build available only from the source.

For the owner wishing to move further up the scale, their “next level” options were wide open. For example, Advanced Composite Products (ACP) offered a full aero body kit out of Harrisburg. Veteran racer Kerry Hitt is the owner and driving force behind ACP and made his kits available in fiberglass and carbon fiber.

Also, the Mallett brothers built a speed record car with a 453 HP C5 car and ACI aero kit. The car itself is an advertising plate for horsepower. The dress-up is designed to catch your attention….so, once again…a moderately priced aero kit and a paint job.

#MallettBrothers #Mallett #Callaway #CallawayDoubleD #AdvancedCompositeProducts #ACP

Bolt-on flares are a perennial product since the C2 era
Bolt-on flares are a perennial product since the C2 era.
The body kit from Advanced Composite Products is derived from their race experience
The body kit from Advanced Composite Products is derived from their race experience.
The body kit from Advanced Composite Products is derived from their race experience
The body kit from Advanced Composite Products is derived from their race experience.

Moving one more step up the ladder, RED HEAT is a full custom built by one individual, using a full range of off-the-shelf custom pieces. It’s a 1998 Corvette that first appeared at the Detroit Autorama in 2008. The car was owned by Felix Sawyer, who lived in Detroit. The car reappeared year after year with more updates each year. Around 2014, the car switched ownership to Kevin Poole from Zion, IL. But it is still in the family. The basic LS1 engine has been treated to a Stage 3 Corvette Performance package, with Melrose headers, a Billy Boat exhaust, and other chrome dress-ups. The body still carries its R&I ground effects package, Lambo vertical doors, and an RKS carbon fiber hood from its early days. A rear wing and a Z06 front grille were installed by Vettestorations of Southfield (MI) many years ago. The graphics and tint packages are by NOTORIOUS TINTZ of Livonia. Gianna G3 Momentum 20-inch wheels add to the stance and visual impact. What’s most interesting about this car is that it is driven (sort of) daily but shows no signs of road rash.

#RedHeat #KevinPoole #Corvettecustom

Red Heat is an example of a one-owner build, taking it to the max
Red Heat is an example of a one-owner build, taking it to the max.

The Greenwood big wing body kit was a full aero package with incredibly sophisticated features. Unfortunately, few people opted for this kit when they considered the price. That was a mistake on their part. If you were looking for a fully functional aero kit, this was the one to have.

#bigwing #Greenwood

The Greenwood “Big Wing” was offically known as the “Phase 2” version
The Greenwood “Big Wing” was officially known as the “Phase 2” version.
The Big Wing was technologically superior to anything else on the market
The Big Wing was technologically superior to anything else on the market.
Tim Greenwood shows one of the two metal attachment braces that are located inside the injection molded struts
Tim Greenwood shows one of the two metal attachment braces that are located inside the injection molded struts.
Another view of the big wing
Another view of the big wing.

For me, I’m in love with GM’s Tiger Shark concept. Body kits to replicate this design was available through several merchandisers and offered a significant upgrade to the visual appearance of the C5…but died out rather quickly.

#TigerShark #TigerSharkbyGM #TigerSharkcustoms #NationalCorvetteMuseum #CorvettesatCarlisle #verticaldoors #ncm

The original Tiger Shark by GM, at the National Corvette Museum
The original Tiger Shark by GM, at the National Corvette Museum.
This custom C5 Tiger Shark uses period correct front and rear bumpers
This custom C5 Tiger Shark uses period correct front and rear bumpers.
This Tiger Shark custom also appeared at Corvettes @ Carlisle event
This Tiger Shark custom also appeared at the Corvettes at Carlisle event.
Retro Classics GTP
Retro Classics GTP
Retro Classics GTP

The idea that larger custom shops, or even race shops, would decide to offer full turnkey Corvettes is not new. But not a lot of these trial balloons have succeeded. Still, with ever-increasing affluence, more people seem to make an effort….and, with each cycle, there are more successes. Interestingly, in developing an overview of the C5 era, I found a relatively simple sequence of events illustrating how such ideas can evolve to varying degrees.

 It might be speculative, but I saw a pattern in the links between John Cafaro, John Caravaggio, and American Sunroof Corporation (ASC). First, ASC developed the retractable top for GM’s Corvette ZR1 speedster (silver with yellow interior) in 1991. That car was rebuilt and repainted in black in 1994. When the C5 emerged, we saw the introduction of a speedster conceived by John Cafaro. There are two critical links here. The first and most obvious is the retractable top mechanism developed by ASC. These are not everyday items, and the upfront design work is by far the single most important barrier to developing a speedster-style vehicle. Six such tops were built. One top was used for the 1991 speedster, as noted. Four more found their way to subsequent cars, and one remains in stock with John Caravaggio.

 The name John Caravaggio will be well-known by some, and he is, of course, the second major link in this story. John Caravaggio started his automotive business in Toronto (ON) in 1986. By the late 1980s, he began to focus almost exclusively on Corvettes. By 1999, his C5 Z06 convertible conversion caught the attention of John Cafaro.  The two men talked and, coincidentally, a short time later (in 2000), the world saw the appearance of the first commercial speedster. John Caravaggio had developed all the essential parts for the body conversion, plus he looked after the acquisition of the speedster top. The car was then finally assembled in Michigan. All subsequent cars were built in Caravaggio’s shop to customer specifications.

 It is worth mentioning a few other points. First, the speedster wasn’t conceived as a kit. Instead, the idea was more to develop a vehicle that dealers or other players could order as a custom-tailored Corvette. In the end, it had some success. John Cafaro credits John Caravaggio with bringing a new level of sophistication to the idea of such a unique vehicle. John was also the first shop to add new features like plated parts and carbon fiber to create a high-end feel in his cars…whether series-built or not.

Finally, the speedster was just the beginning of an ongoing friendship between the two men. They would talk from time to time and test each other with new ideas. Initially, it was clear that not much work had gone into developing an aftermarket system for C5. Recognizing the gap, John Caravaggio began producing specially modified Corvettes for his customers. For C5, he produced the C5 widebody kit, the C5 Z06 convertible conversion, and a Targa conversion for the Z06. The process continued into C6 with his Supercoupe and other C6 conversions. And that’s how one project created many more spin-offs.

That’s the basic pattern of how one project evolved over ten years and allowed numerous partners to bring many new products to market.

#Cafarospeedster #Cafarospoiler #CaravaggioC5widebody #CaravaggioZ06converetibleconversion #johncafaro

John Cafaro created this speedster as an expression of his design spirit. Five were built.
John Cafaro created this speedster as an expression of his design spirit. Five were built.
This rear spoiler and the front winglets reflect John Cafaro’s subtle styling themes
This rear spoiler and the front winglets reflect John Cafaro’s subtle styling themes.
Terry Wright (Woodstock, ON) is the 2nd owner for this Caravaggio widebody
Terry Wright (Woodstock, ON) is the 2nd owner of this Caravaggio widebody.
Caravaggio C5 Z06 convertible conversion
Caravaggio C5 Z06 convertible conversion.
Caravaggio Silver C5 widebody in Toronto, ON.
Caravaggio Silver C5 widebody in Toronto, ON.

Several other builders favored the “European” style.

One of these enthusiasts was famed custom rod builder Dean “Dino” Arnold, who saw the potential for Sting Ray styling in the C5 platform. During the last part of the decade, Arnold contacted noted automotive designer Don Johnson, who had also served time as a member of GM’s design team. Johnson showed Arnold some sketches he’d drawn of a custom Vette, and they decided to develop the idea further. The 2002 Avelate C5 was born. The Avelate conversion was a comprehensive modification. The only stock exterior parts that were left on the Avelate were the door handles, mirrors, and lower valance. 

Another German tuning company that goes by the name of Wittera released a wide body kit for the C5 coupe and Cabrio models. All the components are either carbon fiber or reinforced glass fiber. The parts are tempered in their form through heat treatment for extra strength. Besides the standard body kit parts, various variants and extras are offered. The Base package consists of inner and outer front fenders, door panels, front bumper, rocker panels, and a complete rear end. Finally, customers had the choice of two front bumpers.

The Geiger company (Geiger GmbH) continued producing a C5 widebody kit that sold well in that region. Of course, as with the C4, the European sensibility continued to show differences in style. But, when the second phase of customization hit, during the 2000s, things seemed to pick up…..the latest trends in air lift suspension certainly gave the Geiger kit a very contemporary look, not so far removed from the Caravaggio models. Still, sales in the USA were not large.

#DeansCustoms #DinosCustoms #Avelate

Dean Arnold & Don Johnson create the Avelate
Dean Arnold & Don Johnson create the Avelate.
Avelate body kit in Redmond, CA
Avelate body kit in Redmond, CA.
Avelate body kit in Redmond, CA
Avelate body kit in Redmond, CA.
Wittera press photo. Wittera kit is a German design and, although odd, to the North American market, proved popular there
Wittera press photo. Wittera kit is a German design and, although odd, to the North American market, proved popular there.
Wittera press photo
Wittera press photo.
Wittera press photo
Wittera press photo.
Wittera press photo
Wittera press photo.
Geiger continued in the C5 era with an updated kit which, when updated with air lift suspension, took on a contemporary look
Geiger continued in the C5 era with an updated kit which, when updated with air lift suspension, took on a contemporary look.
Geiger continued in the C5 era with an updated kit which, when updated with air lift suspension, took on a contemporary look
Geiger continued in the C5 era with an updated kit which, when updated with air lift suspension, took on a contemporary look.

Possibly the very best of the full turnkey cars came from Callaway.

When Chevrolet produced the C5 Corvette with its greatly improved chassis and powertrain, it gave Callaway a chance to take an even greater step forward. The new C12 began with the core structure of Corvettes. In Europe, new Callaway pieces were assembled into a consolidated structure at Callaway’s Weingarten (Germany) facility. In North America, the cars were assembled at CHS in Montreal (QC), Canada. The new suspensions, upper and lower A-arms, were developed and hand fabricated by Munich, Germany’s IVM engineering. Coil-springs/adjustable were added and topped with twelve-inch disc brakes and 295/30ZR 19 Pirelli p-zero tires. Engines are built at Callaway’s Old Lyme (CT) facility.

Around this new chassis is custom bodywork designed by Canadian Paul Deutschman. These panels are made of fiberglass, carbon fiber, and Kevlar and are available in any of three models: a fixed-top couple, a hardtop with a removable central roof panel, and a convertible which also becomes the speedster model. Callaway also changes the Corvette interior to suit the new exterior. The standard seats are swapped for custom leather buckets made by Koenig. The dash, door panels, and center console also receive the leather treatment.

#CallawayFinelyEngineeredAutomobiles #CallawayC12 #Callaway #ReevesCallaway

Callaway C12 was the first of the truly bespoke Corvettes
Callaway C12 was the first of the truly bespoke Corvettes.

THE “RETRO-VETTES”

Finally, the introduction of turnkey customs reached its zenith with the “modern retro” look from the late 1990s to the end of the 2000s. You’ll recognize these Corvettes as the product of companies like AAT, CRC, and Karl’s. It seemed that the retro Corvette might be a candidate for the predominant custom trend.

From their introduction, however, the “retro-Vettes” were niche items. In the beginning, they spawned a growth curve. Over the past 15 years, the use of modern chassis to create replicas of period Corvettes has proven to be a successful business proposition. This development was noted in the first article covering the C1 and C2 eras.

At this point, retro-Vettes are still being offered by companies like Advanced Automotive Technologies (AAT), but some others, like Classic Reflections Coachwork (CRC) and Karl’s Kustom Corvette, have closed. Total production statistics (over time) are not available to plot the growth and decline. However, it may be the case that there were just too many offerings. Today, individual shops will occasionally produce a “custom” using the same production processes, but the serial-built retro-rod may be a thing of the past.

#AdvancedAutomotiveTechnolgies #AAT #CorvetteSpecialty

Advanced Automotive Technolgies (AAT) remains active with a range of product
Advanced Automotive Technolgies (AAT) remains active with a range of products. This is their Nomad Style on a C5.
Advanced Automotive Technologies 1953 Commemorative Edition
Advanced Automotive Technologies 1953 Commemorative Edition.
Classic Reflections Coachwork (CRC) has closed its doors
Classic Reflections Coachwork (CRC) has closed its doors.
Classic Reflections Coachwork on a C5
Classic Reflections Coachwork on a C5.
Karl’s Kustom Corvettes has also ceased production of its retro-rod
Karl’s Kustom Corvette has also ceased production of its retro-rod.
Karl’s Kustom Corvettes
Karl’s Kustom Corvettes
Corvette Specialty (California) produced a one-off for the TV show Chop, Cut, Rebuild
Corvette Specialty (California) produced a one-off for the TV show Chop, Cut, Rebuild.
CCR Corvette Specialty C2 tribute on C5
CCR Corvette Specialty C2 tribute on C5.

SECOND WAVE OF CUSTOMIZING IN THE 2000s

As noted for the C4 era, the 2000s saw a new direction in customization for Corvettes. The “race” theme was most popular, with various “aero” devices being offered through numerous outlets. Also following the C4 trend, the 2000s saw a renewed appreciation for older cars. As a used car, the C5 Corvette represented a cheap platform for owners to exercise their imaginations…as a bonus, the chassis and suspension components were still mostly state of the art. The 2000s were ripe with new styling ideas based on the “aero” look and a general desire by owners to give their cars an “over-the-top” personality.

At the turn of the century, one of today’s leaders in this field was just getting a foothold in the USA and Europe. Today, we know Pandem (Rocket Bunny and Liberty Walk) as a leader in the customization field. Located in Kyoto (Japan), they opened their US offices and began marketing a wide variety of bolt-on components to both Japanese and European cars like Ferrari. However, once they came to Corvette, it was (again) a long uphill battle to gain acceptance for their bold and sometimes “gimmicky” offerings. But in the end, with a big push to bring owners a sense of family, using social media, they succeeded. The C5 was their big entry point.

#RocketBunny #LibertyWalk #LbertyWalkNation #Pandem

Computer rendering of a C5 with a full-on pocket rocket kit from Rocket Bunny was indicative of the “new” style trend
Computer rendering of a C5 with a full-on pocket rocket kit from Rocket Bunny was indicative of the “new” style trend.
2f Performance body kit joined the trend, to be followed by others
2f Performance body kit joined the trend, to be followed by others.
BSM, located in Kyoto was more traditional in terms of its aero kits. This one added “Nissan” styling cues
BSM, located in Kyoto was more traditional in terms of its aero kits. This one added “Nissan” styling cues.

Here are the other Corvette Body Kit Articles:

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