The Callaway Z06 AeroWagen answers a question: What if you mated a Corvette with a station wagon?
You may never have asked that question, even after three martinis, and Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” providing a subliminal boost on a jukebox. But people (like me) with a soft spot for muscle wagons—including the Cadillac CTS-V and Mercedes E63 AMG—have a new friend in Reeves Callaway.
The legendary builder of street and racing Corvettes swung into Brooklyn last week with his long-aborning AeroWagen. If Callaway’s latest love letter to Corvettes wasn’t exotic enough, this AeroWagen was also fitted with his SC757 package. That one plops a massive Eaton supercharger, with three discrete intercooler elements, into the valley of a Corvette Z06’s 6.2-liter V8. That 2,300-cc supercharger sharply reduces air inlet temperatures and brings 32 percent more displacement than the standard Z06's supercharger. Throw in a higher-flow intake manifold and a cut-out, neatly trimmed Shaker hood to make it all fit, and the result is ready for takeoff: 757 horsepower and 777 pound-feet of torque, versus the 650 / 650 in a standard Z06.
Overkill? Not in coo-coo Corvette world. Or in Callaway Land. A place where, way back in 1988, the 898-horsepower Callaway Sledgehammer Corvette set a longstanding street car speed record by topping 254.7 mph at Ohio’s Transportation Research Center.
I won’t be touching those speeds today in the AeroWagen. But they seem almost achievable when I point the Callaway-badged Corvette up Manhattan’s FDR Highway and squeeze the throttle. “Squeeze” being the operating word: A ruder shove of the accelerator, in anything from first to third gear, spins the 20-inch rear tires like a pair of roulette wheels.
But properly applied, the 757 supercharged horses will spur the AeroWagen to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds, and a quarter-mile in a heroic 10.5 seconds at 131 mph. That compares to a Chevy’s figures of 2.95 seconds to 60 mph, and a 10.95-second quarter-mile at 127 mph, for a standard Z06 with the same eight-speed automatic transmission.
And where I can’t think of any current production car that combines 750-plus horsepower with a manual transmission – no Ferraris, no Lamborghinis, not even the Dodge Demon – Callaway Cars will happily perform its monster makeover on a customer’s stick-shift Corvette. Now that would be fun. (The Dodge Hellcat comes closest with 707 horses and an optional stick, but it can't hang with any real sports cars on curves, let alone a Corvette Z06).
Those trusty Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires are wrapped around Callaway’s custom, Italian-made forged O.Z. alloys. And when I finally figure out how to tiptoe my way to full throttle, the Callaway closes the gap on cars ahead like a shoulder-fired Stinger missile. Clearly, I need more room to let this Corvette run. Wyoming would be good.
For those unfamiliar with the fanatical, sometimes insular world of Corvettes, Callaway got his start as a race driver and one of the original instructors at Bob Bondurant’s fledgling racing school at Lime Rock, Ct. in 1973, along with the likes of Sam Posey and David Hobbs. Callaway and the whole crew soon quit, with instructors scared to death of their students’ perilous driving on track.
Fortuitously, Callaway did end up with one of the school’s BMW 320i’s. He took it to his nearby shop in Old Lyme, and bolted on a self-designed turbocharger kit. Car and Driver’s Don Sherman featured the car in a short story, and made it sound as though Callaway was ready to supply the world with turbo BMW’s. He wasn’t. But Callaway Turbo Systems was born, and Callaway – son of Ely, the eponymous founder of Callaway Golf – was soon supplying turbo kits for Bimmers, Audis, Porsches and other German cars.
After a failed, underdog bid to create an American-made, 2.6-liter turbo V8 for Indy racers in 1984—challenging England’s mighty Ford/Cosworths—Callaway picked up a contract to build a twin-turbocharged Alfa Romeo. Its lavish performance piqued the interest of General Motors engineers—including Corvette chief engineer Dave McLellan—who tabbed Callaway to develop a twin-turbocharged Corvette prototype. Chevrolet began selling those twin-turbo Callaway Corvettes in 1987, with a then-bountiful 345 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque, through select Chevy dealers, with a full factory warranty. More than 500 were sold between 1987 and 1991, in a remarkable tie-in between the world’s largest, often-cautious automaker and a relatively small shop in Connecticut.
Now celebrating a 30th anniversary of ‘Vettes, Callaway Cars has built some 2,000 Corvettes for customers. His factories in Connecticut and Temecula, California also assemble specialized versions of Camaros and GM pickups and SUVs, including the Chevy Silverado and Cadillac Escalade.
It’s hard to imagine now, but in his younger days Callaway was no fan of primitive Corvettes and other American muscle cars.
“I liked things that were well-engineered, that worked,” Callaway says. He adds that Corvettes have come a long, remarkable way since then. That includes racing, where Callaway has an exclusive contract to build the ferocious C7 GT3-R racers for FIA competition at his third factory, Callaway Competition GmbH in Germany.
As Callaway shows off the AeroWagen in my Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, passersby gawk at its raised carbon-fiber hatch. Callaway’s carbon-fiber experience includes crafting aircraft and aerospace components for customers including Boeing, Airbus and the U.S. military. The featherweight hatch makes for easy surgery, with the same attachment points as the Corvette’s standard hatch, the same gaskets, hinges and wiring, everything. The reshaped lid adds no extra weight, and Callaway actually claims an aerodynamic edge from the Kamm-style tail. Aside from a transparent top panel, an angled glass panel in the hatch affords decent rearward visibility, at least when the driver scrunches down in the seat.
During my day with the car, it’s clear that some bystanders are befuddled at this combo of Stingray and “shooting brake.” But most people definitely like it, fairly drooling over the unique lines and asking questions about its power and provenance. A shooting brake is the traditional term for a two-door hatch/wagon, those automotive oddballs originally envisioned as estate luxury cars—perfect for owners and equally well-bred dogs, shotguns, perhaps a posh picnic basket en route to a pheasant hunt. In that shooting brake vein, the AeroWagen adds only a skosh of extra utility. There’s about 2.5 cubic feet of additional space, enough for a few backpacks or pieces of soft luggage.
Callaway actually isn’t the first to imagine a Corvette with bonus utility. The Chevrolet Nomad concept car was shown at New York’s Motorama show in 1954, just one year after the original 1953 Corvette. This adorably sporty wagon was identical to the 'Vette from the front windshield pillars forward, but powered by the same anemic, 150-hp Blue Flame V6 that nearly sentenced the slow-selling ‘Vette to a premature grave. Chevy created a production Nomad just a few years later, but that two-door wagon was based on the Bel-Air and lost any connection with Chevy’s two-seat sports car.
“Personally, I like the styling exercise of the Nomad,” Callaway says in an e-mail. “But we weren’t really after a wagon. We were more after the snarky styling of a shooting brake."
The AeroWagen definitely delivers on that visual score. As for aural pleasure, the standard Z06’s mating call is enhanced by a low-backpressure Callaway exhaust that tames the “motorboat” sound of the V8’s firing order. It joins both engine banks into a single, obsessively designed stainless-steel resonator that creates ballsy, harmonious sound without unduly frightening schoolchildren. The whine and whoosh of the massive supercharger is present, of course, but it doesn’t dominate the proceedings.
The AeroWagen treatment can be installed on any C7 Coupe, from the standard Stingray to this Z06. The company’s a la carte menu lets owners have the shooting brake styling package alone, without extra performance upgrades should they choose. And Callaway is proud of his longtime advantage over typical tuners: His modified cars provide lengthy Callaway powertrain warranties, with other parts still covered under GM factory warranty. Starting with a Z06 manual coupe from $80,445, the AeroWagen body package adds $14,990, including factory-matching paint. Add another $18,495 for the SC757 supercharger package, and you’re looking at $112,935 for a basic Callaway Z06 AeroWagen. To some eyes, that’s a lot of money for a Corvette, especially if you throw more at the nine-spoke wheels ($6,280) or the sport exhaust at $2,990. But $113,000 is also about the price of a well-optioned Porsche 911 with 370 horsepower, or less than half the power of the Z06 AeroWagen.
One thing’s certain: The rare sight of the AeroWagen will drop jaws wherever you go, as Callaway hopes to complete about 10 conversions each month.
I’m not sure how many people will chase pheasant in the Callaway AeroWagen, rather than Porsches and Ferraris. But either way, happy hunting.