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Callaway Of the Quarter - April - June 2008

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Rolling Art – The Callaway C16 Speedster


            Speedster, by definition, is one who drives fast or a fast car. Typically a roofless car, many over the decades have carried out their interpretations of the speedster theme, some with memorable success. Callaway Cars achieved success with their breakthrough Speedster model in 1991 with the introduction of their low-slung design based on the RPO B2K AeroBody™ Corvettes of that era. As one of the most coveted Corvettes produced, they remain high on the must-have list for any serious collector, and lusted after by enthusiasts alike.

             Several months ago, I was asked to travel to Old Lyme, Connecticut to Callaway Cars’ Headquarters, to photograph their new sport utility vehicle package (Super-SUV) they had recently completed. While snapping pictures of the seven-liter supercharged, six-speed Chevrolet Tahoe, I caught a glimpse of a Corvette tucked into the far end of the shop with a component checklist affixed to the front glass. Upon closer inspection, it showed indicators that it was in its initial stages of becoming another Callaway C16.

While we had a chance last spring to preview the new C16 Cabrio and before that, the new C16 coupe, it was said that this car was to be different – a unique model called the Speedster. Callaway Cars produced ten 1991 Series I Speedsters, closing out their RPO B2K production, followed by a pair of Series II Super Speedsters with twin turbo LT5 engines, thus a statement in automotive art was created that has stood the test of time.

Designed without a roof panel at all, the original Callaway Speedsters featured a wraparound side and rear glass section that tied into a lowered front windshield line. From my experiences in driving Speedsters, I can tell you that there are two kinds of drivers. Over, or under drivers – I fit into the latter. Hunkering down into the seat, one sits low in a Speedster. The wind races through ones hair as speeds climb. With only twelve of the earlier Speedsters produced, they found their way into the hands of collectors and seldom change owners. Rest assured, if they do, the price they command is mighty!

With the introduction of the Callaway C16 models over the past year, the Speedster idea was reborn and from that, this mysterious triple-black C6 convertible sat in the Callaway Cars’ shop, mostly disassembled, awaiting its destiny. While wrapping up the Super-SUV photo shoot, we got word that the Speedster would be finished in the coming months, debuting at the Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance.

Over the coming months, details were shared and our excitement built. The sketches of the car showed a design that featured the use a low cut pair of windscreens, similar to what a motorcycle might have, one in front of each occupant in the cockpit. When asked how to manage wind at speed, Reeves Callaway smiled and asked, “what do you think of goggles?” This surely sounded like one wild car!

Moving into August, the car continued to be readied for its debut by working tirelessly in Montreal on its construction by the engineering team and the assemblers skillfully building what would become the next-generation Callaway Speedster. With the Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance taking place on the nineteenth of August, the car had to be ready by mid-month. Following its progress, we learned that it would be brought from Canada, into the United States, loaded onto a car hauler, and off to the show with less than a week until its debut. Arriving in Pebble Beach, California the evening before the C16’s unveiling, we headed towards a back alley and a dimly lit parking lot in an area lined with automotive shops and showrooms. Around back, we entered the bay door, finding the Speedster, along with Callaway Cars’ team finishing up the preparations for the show. With items such as final ride height adjustment and final detailing being tended to, this was truly the definition of an “all-nighter,” as it was 1:30 am and the team was still going strong.

Awaking at 4:30 that morning, we were living on excitement and caffeine! With the Speedster being transported out to an airport for its initial photo session at first light, time was of the essence here. Backing the Speedster out of the trailer, Peter Callaway, West Coast Manager and son of Callaway Cars founder Reeves Callaway, drove the car into the morning darkness as we awaited the glow of the sun to crest the hills that surrounded the Monterey Peninsula. Catching the light of the morning sun, this was the first time anybody had seen the completed car in the daylight, as it was not completed until its arrival in California. With the silvery-blue paint shimmering in the morning glow, the satin finished aluminum side slats reminded us of cues from the classic C4 Callaway AeroBody™ as one would typically find on the later twin-turbo and SuperNatural™ Callaway Corvettes.

Other details that we picked up that were unique on the new Speedster included a new front grill design with matching exhaust valance, and the lack of any mirrors, both side and rear view. Peter Callaway explained, three small cameras, one mounted at the top of each front fender opening above the aforementioned side slats and one hidden in the exhaust valance, allow the removal of the rear view mirrors. Broadcasting through a closed-circuit system through the Panasonic Strada navigation system, the screen can split the images into four segments on the display. One section for each camera left and right, one for the rearward vision, and one portion that displays the Callaway Cars logo.

With its low-slung stance, this C16 sits wider than the coupe and Cabrio models. With a flared rear section, the already wide C16 sits another inch wider on each side for the Speedster. Underneath those hulking rear fenders sat a set of Callaway/Dymag Magnesium/Carbon fiber wheels measuring 19” x 10” front and 20” x 12” rear with ultra-wide 285/30/ZR19 (f) and 325/25/ZR20 Michelin Pilot Sport tires (r). Behind the wheels, massive six-piston front and four-piston rear calipers act as binders upon the 15” (f) / 14” (r) carbon-ceramic brake rotors from Callaway/Stoptech. A ten-position, fully adjustable Callaway/Eibach multi-position coilover suspension replaces standard shock absorbers while retaining the transverse leaf springs as helpers. In combination with the weight reduction from the lightweight wheels and brakes, the vehicle dynamics are much improved over the base Corvette chassis it began life as several months ago.

With the details covered, it was time to debut…

On the Concept Lawn at Pebble Beach, Reeves Callaway was joined by son Peter, Managing Director, Mike Zoner, Callaway Designer, Paul Deutschman, and the owner of this particular Speedster, as it would be unveiled from under its coverings to him, along with the Automotive Press and enthusiasts alike. As the car sat draped under a white cloth, the elder Callaway spoke of the C16 and its virtues and then a few minutes later with the help of Peter, they pulled the cover back, revealing the Speedster in a roar of applause and cheers. Displayed for the show the following day, I later met Reeves at the Inn at Spanish Bay on the far end of Pebble Beach.

With an offer to experience this car firsthand, I was full of anticipation. Although experienced with the earlier Speedsters and how they drive, this was something completely new for me, never envisioning a car such as this. Climbing into the fitted Callaway sport seats, this interior is of the same high quality of all C16’s with the Deutchleder interior. Opulent and delightful to all senses, the seats hold one in deeply. Reeves suggested I lower the seat a bit and once done through the electric adjustments, I was nestled down behind the windscreen and ready to go.

Heading towards the ribbon of roads that parallel the coastline, we went along the shoreline, which offered a spectacular setting for both driving and photography of this car. Initially I thought of my hair as it was being tasseled by the wind. Reeves said in a car like this, let it go. I did, enjoying the ride! Part of the Speedster design, is a set of carbon fiber, fitted helmets by Stand 21 which are included with the car and when not in use, reside under a decklid cover, sharing a silhouette of the helmets and cues of original speedsters in design. Arriving back at the Inn, the valets stood in line in hopes of parking this car. Left on display in front of the main lodge, questions were abound. In a sea of Ferraris, Bentleys, and a pair of Bugatti Veyrons, the Callaway Speedster was the car which seemed to draw the most interest and one that enthusiasts seemed to relate to once they learned it was a Corvette chassis beneath Callaway’s refinements.

Climbing out from behind the wheel, Reeves and I draped a fitted cover over the car, as there isn’t a roof to be had on the C16 Speedster. As we reflected on our drive it was clear that the Speedster was the car to be seen driving here along the California coastline. In fact, I am thinking that this may very well be the car to be seen driving in anywhere!        The line forms here, right behind me.

©  2008 Chris Chessnoe and the Callaway Owners Group – all rights reserved.


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