NZ's most insane drift car? Inside a flood-damaged, rebuilt 700hp Corvette
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Drifting has evolved a little from its grassroots and underground values.
These days it's the closest thing to being a spiritual 'run what you brung' successor to the kind of old-school motorsport that anoraks and nostalgiac race fans crave today. The level of preparation and ingenuity (and money, of course) required to field a truly competitive drift car these days is worlds away from the sport's cheerful mountain-pass origins.
Thinking outside the box helps, too.
As a machinist, Auckland-based Blair Gribble-Bowring is someone paid to think outside the box. So it seems only natural to see him build a car as unique as this Chevrolet Corvette C7. It's certainly a big leap compared to the Nissan Silvia S14 some might recall him wall-tapping in years gone by.
Machining is in Blair's blood. The Corvette has been a temporary centrepiece at the family business, Jason Warwick Bowring Engineering, for months. The company's been around for five decades; branching out from Mount Wellington to East Tamaki when the latter was still farmland — years before it became an industrial hub.
Blair first intercepted the Corvette as a flood-damaged insurance salvage from 2017's Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana. It was a platform he wanted because of the aluminium chassis, though it's rarely the sort of thing seen spewing smoke and rubbing walls at drift events — even in its native land.
Job number one was to get it operational again as a road car; a four-day process according to Blair. Then the real job began. The C7 was torn down; portions of its tub removed and replaced by a chromoly cage.
The cage is the only outsourced bespoke part in the build, with almost everything else developed in house. The front suspension, for example, was 3D-modelled then produced out of billet aluminium. The knuckle spacers in the front end were 3D-printed from 17-4ph high-tensile steel.
The extent of what Blair and his small team (Terry Sims on panels, Andrew Ross on wiring, Mike Shaw Fiberglass on molds, Jono Chan on paint, Richard Flemming from HGT Precision on gearbox adaption) has accomplished here can't really be underestimated, and is perhaps best summed up in his own words.
"We made the whole HGT Corvette C7 adaption, so that it bolts a six-speed sequential gearbox straight into the factory position using the factory torque tube and diff. It runs an adapter housing made out of a 46kg billet onto 5kg on a five-axis machine," he told DRIVEN.
"Then we use the same material as they use for top fuel dragster axles for the direct drive shaft. It runs a spline shaft that runs the centre of the diff, and then it’s all just handmade linkages.
"We remade the rear with sheet metal, because it’s a lot cleaner and tidier once you’ve got everything on. Kept the car down to one fuel pump, because there’s no point in having a complex fuel system if you don’t need it. It’s got an in-built one-litre surge tank, and an electric-mechanical pump running from inside the chassis at the bottom of the car.
"All of the window frames are handmade, the bodykit was hand made down here and molded in Hamilton. The rear bumper, the hatch, the doors, the front guards, the rear diffuser, the front lip ... that’s all custom."
At the heart of it all is the engine. Like many other drift cars in New Zealand, it's a General Motors LS — although in this case it's a Dart unit ("because the standard engines do have issues at high power"). It's been tuned to produce the bulk of its power down low, as opposed to leaning into high-revs too much. "Since you’ve already got the wheels spinning, you’re up and over that curve and there’s no point in hammering the power up there because you don’t need it," Blair explained.
It's been on a dyno, too. It makes 520kW (697hp) and 900Nm of torque — a hefty upgrade on Blair's old 290kW ProSport Silvia. Paired to a light chassis with a somewhat compact wheelbase and a steering rack capable of 76 degrees of turning angle, it should be an absolute weapon.
But, as strong as the case may be to claim that the brown C7 is one of the wildest competition cars in the country, it could also be argued to be one of the most clever. Like many other drift-car builds, it's designed to take abuse.
"Everything that can be destroyed was designed to be easily remade," Blair says. This extends from the aluminium panels being replicated in CAD (Computer Aided Design) to make ordering replacements a breeze, to the way that the rear bar is pivotable on one bolt designed to fail on purpose.
The ultimate question in all of this is; when will the Corvette see some door-banging competition action?
The answer to that is still to be confirmed. Since these images were taken, it's undergone a few technical test events at Pukekohe Raceway. The plan had been to dive head-first into the Valvoline D1NZ National Drifting Championship, but that's now up in the air. With Covid-19 doing its thing, you can't blame him.
"We’re not 100 per cent sure any more, because it’s a lot of money for what you’re getting out of it. At the moment we’re not sure what way we’re going to take it, whether it’s doing some special events and having some fun with it, or going full-out competition.
"It’ll keep up with anything else, but it’s just if we see it as a viable option."
To not see the Corvette ripping up race tracks all over the country would be a bit of a shame.
It continues New Zealand's trend of being home to some of the world's silliest, most jaw-dropping drift cars. There's 'Fanga Dan' Woolhouse's Formula Drift-spec Ford Mustang RTR, Jaron Olivecrona's V12-powered Nissan Silvia, Darren Kelly's Nissan R35 GT-R, and all of 'Mad Mike' Whiddett's screamo rotary-powered toys.
The idea of it muscling up to that line-up, trading a bit of paint, tearing open a few eardrums. Hmm ... maybe one day.