As car lovers, the last thing we want is to have a vehicle that is considered basic. In fact, keeping your vehicle from being normal is a multi-billion dollar industry full of custom tires, wheels, body kits, and color-shifting paints. A plain red Camaro next to an identical one parked in the mall parking lot is equivalent to girls wearing the same dress to prom. It’s a disaster that no car owner wants in their life. But a basic car is exactly what Charlie Hill, the owner of LSXperts, was in search of.
Photos By: Lock_It_In_Productions
As a kid, Charlie and his father had a few automotive projects, including a 1976 Chevrolet C10 that the two tinkered with occasionally. However, their real interest was in dirt bike racing and not automobiles. Unfortunately, after all of the wrecks and incidents associated with the sport, Charlie decided he had enough. His body had taken a beating not only from racing but also from having the additional hardware installed to fix his bones.
Soon after his two-wheeled racing retirement, Charlie picked up an LS-powered fourth-gen Camaro. At the time, he didn’t know what an LS engine was, but he did realize the potential the car had because it was much faster than his friends’ LT-power F-bodies. One thing led to another, and before he knew it, Charlie met Ron Mowen from Vengeance Racing (VR). After a while, Vengeance offered Charlie a job and he worked for VR for almost eight years before deciding to chase his dream of owning a shop.
LSxperts opened up in 2013, and while the shop has seven employees now, it didn’t start that way. Charlie explains, “I began LSxperts with $300 and a single bay. A friend of mine opened up one bay for me in his golf cart shop, and the plan was to piddle around with cars and work full time on golf carts. Within two weeks of being there, I didn’t touch a golf cart. After I had 20 cars lined up outside, I knew I had to do something different.” Charlie then moved into a 4,000 square foot shop for a while. Now the company is in a 5,000 square foot facility in Ball Ground, Georgia with Pro Line Racing and FuelTech right next to them, with plans of building a larger shop.
I wanted a basic-ass C5 that would rip. – Charlie Hill
As Charlie’s business began to take off, he decided it was time for a race car. When he started looking for a Corvette to build, he wanted it to be basic — he didn’t want a Z06 or the ever-popular fixed-roof coupe (FRC). Charlie found a stock C5 Corvette to start with. Charlie said, “I wanted a basic-ass C5 that would rip.” While it might have started out basic, this Corvette is far from that now.
Charlie initially planned on setting the car up for drag racing, but the first agenda with the C5 was to race 1/2-mile. Aerodynamics play a big part in this type of racing, and the C5 coupe is a strong candidate for this type of competition. Charlie said, “It’s not a secret that the coupe is more aerodynamic than the more desired fixed-roof coupe. In my opinion, for high-speed aerodynamics, you can’t beat the C5 coupe.” While all of these qualities played a role in choosing the perfect car, Charlie and his crew didn’t want to dismember a Corvette Z06 for their racing venture. Charlie explains, “We all love the Z06, and while we did consider looking for one, it came down to aerodynamics and the ease of adding a roll cage. The FRCs are tough to cage, kind of like the Dodge Viper. You can’t get in the car and effectively do much of anything. With the hatch, it gave us room to crawl in and do what we needed to do and not fight the little trunk.”
Charlie picked up the car just a few years back, in 2016. A local friend of his named Roy Cantrell had a running 1999 C5 Corvette for sale. Even though Charlie wasn’t looking for a working Corvette, the price was right, and he bought the car for the purchase price of a reasonable $10,000. After getting the C6 to the shop, Charlie started dismantling it. He sold the engine and transmission along with a few other items that were not required for the build. He posted the items for sale and made enough off of the spare parts to recoup his initial investment.
It took the crew a mere six months of working on the car to get it race-ready for the first event. The engine combination for the first outing was a Brian Tooley Racing (BTR) 388 cubic-inch hydraulic roller engine with 76/75 turbos on gasoline. This setup set the 1/2-mile world record the very first time at a 1/2-mile race. Charlie explains, “We had raced with a similar C5 Z06 for the last three years, so we were able to implement tons of data. Our new combination had a similar engine, converter, transmission, and gear ratio…the difference now was the combination was in a lighter, aerodynamic, with a little more power.” The blue C5 Corvette coupe managed 229 mph at Slipstream Racing’s 1/2-mile shootout in 2017.
Charlie’s intent was never to stick with 1/2-mile racing, though. After setting the record, he was done with this type of event and ready to get serious at the drag strip. Charlie said, “When we went 229 in the ½-mile, the windows tried to come out, and the hood tried to blow off. At that point, I was thinking ‘the hell with that.’ We have a few customers that race the 1/2-mile races and go 200, 210, and even 220 mph and love it…I just don’t like being in the middle of nowhere on a runway with no walls. If you get off the track into soft dirt, you’re going to roll. At those kinds of speeds, there’s not going to be anything left of you or the car. There is nothing lucrative about it for me. We’ve shown what we’re capable of, and I’m good with that.”
This car was fast, and we were all blown away. It still had a radiator, independent rear suspension, and was running C-16 race fuel. – Charlie Hill
With the 1/2-mile racing out of the team’s system, Charlie decided to change out the gears in the C5 and hit the drag strip. The guys went to three events in a row and ended up winning all of them. According to Charlie, at that point in time, the guys weren’t really even trying. They were all surprised at how well the C5 was working. Charlie said, “This car was fast, and we were all blown away. It still had a radiator, independent rear suspension, and was running VP C-16 race fuel.” After winning the three races back-to-back and taking home some money, Charlie decided it was time to sharpen his pencil and get the Corvette to the next level.
The next phase for the C5 took a serious turn. The car was transformed from a dual-purpose machine to a bonafide ⅛-mile track killer. The small 388-inch engine was removed and replaced with a new 440 cubic-inch LS mill from Thompson Motorsports. Since the C5 was going for max effort, the gasoline setup was scrapped for M1 alcohol, and a new fuel system found its way in the coupe. A 118mm Precision Turbo was selected so the team could run in both Limited Drag Radial (LDR) and LSX Drag Radial classes. Other modifications included radiator removal and a new hot side for the turbo. The guys decided to leave the independent rear suspension in the car,…well, until they tried to dyno the car and broke the torque tube. After fighting with the torque tube for a few races, they were done with that setup. A local shop owned by Scotty Seals, Pro Chassis Fab, took possession of the car and installed a solid rear axle. Scotty installed a 9.5-inch pro gear with 3.5-inch axles tubes and a “gangster” 4-link suspension system under the C5. Scotty managed to fit all of these heavy-duty components in the Corvette without needing to back-half it. Charlie says that the Corvette’s factory IRS could be bolted back in if so desired.
To lighten the C5 up a little more, Charlie added a seamless front bumper with a turbo inlet. The hood also needed to be addressed due to some holes that were no longer used. Widebody fenders were also purchased to replace the factory fenders with holes for the exhaust. A pair of lightweight VFN doors were bolted to what was left of the factory C5. Ultimately, all of these changes meant the car needed to go back to paint.
The now black and blue Corvette was dropped off at Keziah Collision for a color match, but the car needed to be completely repainted. Charlie decided instead of the factory blue that he wanted a more sinister look for the C5. Nardo Grey was the color of choice, and soon the lightweight Corvette had a menacing appearance, far from basic.
While the car’s attitude on the outside is somewhat subdued, pop the hood and it’s ready for a car show. Charlie spent a lot of attention on the engine, making sure the beast would turn the heads of any enthusiast walking by the C5. “Since the car had a more sinister look, we made everything under the hood look like it was from a chrome factory,” says Charlie.
Even though this combination has been 4.50 at 162 mph with a 1.11 60-foot in the 1/8-mile, Charlie is switching the car up to go even quicker. Instead of a single turbo, the guys have already outfitted the Corvette with a set of twins.
Tires And Wheels:
What started off life as a mundane stock C5 Corvette has quickly evolved into a unique masterpiece. We know this car is only going to get quicker and faster, as Charlie’s drive and determination has proven throughout his drag racing journey. That, and he may have shared some secret information with us. One thing’s for sure, this C5 will never be considered basic again.