It’s incredible to see the Chevrolet Corvette C5 is still regarded as one of the best project cars to work on. Car enthusiasts, particularly the younger ones, have been charmed by the car’s classic 90’s look and its decent power plant. Even if the vehicle is over 20 years old, it still holds its place as one of the best affordable sports cars to own. Whether you’re after the aesthetics or performance, we can all agree that this car is indeed a thing of beauty.
The main reason why the car is gaining unprecedented popularity in the car community is that it’s just an excellent project car to work on. C5 Corvettes are great platforms for modification because they respond well to many aftermarket mods commonly seen on performance vehicles these days. And since the car was heavily mass-produced during its time, finding aftermarket parts for it is just a piece of cake.
Performance mods are perhaps the best type of modification to install on a 5th-generation Corvette. Most car enthusiasts who own one as a project car have seen massive success with performance mods, mainly because it helps the vehicle live up to its reputation: an American-made sports car built to compete with the European counterparts of its time.
Below are the best C5 Corvette performance mods you can get to transform your car from zero to hero.
#1 Cold Air Intake System
Ever heard of cold air intake systems? Of course, you do! It’s one of the most common mods car enthusiasts get whenever they want something to make their engines breathe a little better. By doing so, they inevitably make their cars more powerful and perform much better. Intakes are popular for many enthusiasts for being the cheap bolt-on solution that they are. The installation’s a breeze, and the changes you’ll experience are minimally observable (but it’s there!)
We’ve found out that most aftermarket intakes for the C5 Corvette offer around 18hp @5500 RPM. Such a power magnitude may sound mediocre at best, but it’s not that bad for a modification that costs lower than $500. Don’t worry; the effects of this horsepower gain may not be noticeable under normal driving conditions, but the real fun begins once you’ve put the pedal to the metal.
Recommendation: Callaway Honker Intake System
- Manufacturer: Callaway
- Part Number: 203.50.2500
- Vehicle Fitment: Chevrolet Corvette C5 (2001-2004)
Its name may sound kinda funny, but the Callaway Honker Intake System is amongst the most favored intakes in the C5 Corvette community. It can provide you with premium-quality hardware with smooth internal surfaces precisely contoured to ensure that your engine gets fed with as much laminar airflow as possible. This intake also uses K&N filters, which are known for being highly reliable and conveniently low-maintenance.
The Callaway Honker Intake System may slightly be a bit pricier compared to its peers, but the money you’ve spent is worth it once you’ve got one installed on your car.
#2 Aftermarket Exhaust System
Sound-wise, the C5 Corvette sounds good enough for the satisfaction of regular people who have no interest in any modifications whatsoever. But for car enthusiasts looking to pimp their rides to their tastes, the stock exhaust system is not enough. Better exhausts are mandatory if you want your car to sound badass, like an actual proper sports car from the early 2000s.
If you want to change how your car sounds, then C5 Corvette aftermarket exhaust systems are for you. Many exhausts available in the market today offer various ranges of sound levels, from deep, rich, and predatory to loud, aggressive, and dominating exhaust notes. On top of that, most of the exhausts you can find out there can expel the car’s exhaust gasses more efficiently than the stock.
The sound improvement from these modifications comes with an upturn in your car’s exhaust flow, so even if you spend a lot, it’s still a win-win situation.
Recommendation: Borla ATAK® Cat-Back Exhaust System
- Manufacturer: Borla
- Part Number: 140428
- Vehicle Fitment: Chevrolet Corvette (1997-2004)
The ATAK®, by far, is Borla’s loudest-sounding exhaust system. Borla is extremely popular for giving cars like the Chevrolet Corvette C5 a rich, deep, and very aggressive tone that only they can create. They use the ATAK® (Acoustically-Tuned Applied Kinetics) technology, where engineers custom-tune what sound the exhaust spews out with a precision similar to a graphic equalizer. The Borla ATAK® Cat-Back Exhaust System gives its competitors a run for their money, and it should belong to your options if you care about your car’s exhaust sound quality more than anything else.
When talking about what devices you’d need to get as much horsepower as possible, you know deep inside you that there are two of them that can do such a thing: turbochargers and superchargers. These puppies are famous for delivering raw horsepower to many performance cars, including the C5 Corvette. Although the two have different constructions and capabilities, they both have the same function: forcefully inducing air into whatever engine you’re using.
Turbochargers are turbine-driven devices that exist to increase both the engine’s efficiency and power. This device does it by forcefully inducing excess air into the chambers. And you know what happens when fuel is mixed with a large quantity of air? Yes, bigger explosions! You can either fit in either single or twin-turbos under the hood – that is, if you manage to do it inside the non-existent space in the C5 Corvette’s engine bay.
Recommendation: STS Turbo Kit W/ Tuner
- Manufacturer: STS Turbo
- Part Number: STS2008T
- Vehicle Fitment: Chevrolet Corvette C5 (2001-2004)
If you’re looking for a turbo kit that would work well with your stock C5 Corvette, then the STS Turbo Kit is the one for you. It can produce a lot of horsepower and torque for your car in a broad power curve. You can kiss excessive engine bay heat goodbye thanks to its remote mount vehicle design. What’s more, you won’t even need any major vehicle modification because this kit can be attached to the existing factory mounts.
Superchargers are another type of forced-induction device you can have for your car. One of the main concerns with turbos is what they call “turbo lag,” a phenomenon where there’s a delay between the time you open the throttle and the moment the turbo actually begins to deliver boost. With superchargers, the boost is almost instantaneous.
Reliability isn’t an issue with superchargers, and installation is easier when compared to turbos. On top of that, superchargers offer more horsepower than turbos, so if you want a top-tier horsepower increase, then you might want to stick with the superchargers. The caveat with both of them, however, is that they’re costly. Unless you’re willing to throw $10,000 or more to satisfy your need for speed, then go ahead and install one of these power steroids on your car.
Recommendation: A&A Supercharger System
- Manufacturer: A&A Corvette Performance
- Vehicle Fitment: Chevrolet Corvette C5 (1997-2004)
Some owners describe getting their hands on the A&A Supercharger System as the best decision they’ve ever made. Cooling problems are almost non-existent. As for the power, it’s enough to make a C5 Corvette look like a sleeper car. One moment you’re blasting your AC while smoothly driving down the freeway, and next thing you know, you’re speeding like a track racer. Moreover, this supercharger vastly improves the car’s drivability, making it one of the best buys for the C5 Corvette.
#5 Long Tube Headers
Long tube headers are one of those common car mods you often hear about. Although the spotlight may be excessively shone on this mod, many car enthusiasts would agree that headers, particularly the long tubes, deserve the love and attention that it gets. That’s because long tube headers are more favorable if you’re looking forward to driving at peak performance than short tube headers.
Long tube headers generally increase the horsepower output of any V8 engine by around 20hp to 30hp, without any other modification. It can work with the stock exhaust system too! Keep in mind that the amount of power long tube headers provide will largely depend on various factors such as camshaft design, the efficiency of the intake system, cylinder head ports, and how free-flowing the stock exhaust manifolds are.
Recommendations: Kooks Headers Street Version Long Tube Headers
- Manufacturer: Kooks Headers
- Part Number: 21502420
- Vehicle Fitment: Chevrolet Corvette C5 (2001-2004)
Just by looking at their name, you can already digress the quality and dedication they put on their headers. Kooks Headers is notorious for making top-tier handmade custom headers for their customers, and their Street Version, long tube headers for the C5 Corvette, is phenomenal.
These 1 7/8” x 3.0” C5 Corvette headers are known to be heavy-duty and resistant to cracking. What’s more, these long tube headers come with air tubes, fittings, and merge collectors. Without a doubt, these headers will wake your car up, especially after you do an ECU tune.
#6 Camshaft Upgrade
At some point in their car enthusiast journey, most C5 Corvette owners would realize that the LS1 engine is indeed the perfect candidate for producing power. Unbeknownst to many, the LS1 engine is one of the most straightforward and most modifiable engines that exist today. One of the most significant improvements you can make to help the LS1 engine realize its full potential is to do a camshaft upgrade.
Upgrading your car’s factory camshaft is one of the best methods you can do to gain extra horsepower and torque. Seasoned enthusiasts would also know that a camshaft upgrade is the next step after installing aftermarket exhaust and intake systems. Reliable gains ranging from 27-67hp can be achieved on an LS1 engine, even with very small camshafts.
Upgrading a stock C5 Corvette with a camshaft would generate more horsepower, raking up as much as 160hp, exhaust and intake improvements included.
Recommendation: Lingenfelter GT1-1 Camshaft
- Manufacturer: Lingenfelter Performance Engineering
- Part Number: 7612
- Vehicle Fitment: Chevrolet Corvette C5 (1997-2004)
The Lingenfelter GT1-1 Camshaft will give you a nice choppy idle without compromising both the drivability and the horsepower of your car. It can work accordingly with turbocharged or supercharged LS1 and LS6 engines and performs greatly when the car is driven daily. This camshaft may be small, but it can produce excellent horsepower for your C5 Corvette, along with an aggressive or rough idle.
However, keep in mind that the Lingenfelter GT1-1 is advisable only to be used by C5 Corvettes with a six-speed manual or automatic transmission C5 Corvettes with a loose torque converter.
#7 Rear-End Gear Swap
Rear-end gear conversion is just one of the most labor-intensive modifications on this list. Usually, car enthusiasts who do this upgrade are the ones who are looking for a much more aggressive low-end acceleration. Swapping out your rear-end gears can be cumbersome, but it’s one of the best ways you can do to make your C5 Corvette quicker.
You see, all of the base C5 Corvettes are equipped with two different gear ratios: 2.73 for the automatic and 3.42 for the six-speed manual transmission. Then automatic transmission buyers are also given a chance to buy the more aggressive 3.10 gear ratio. For some reason, these numbers aren’t enough for some car enthusiasts because they know that re-gearing will dramatically affect their cars’ power and mpg rating.
A more aggressive ratio will put your car up to speed. The only remaining question is, how aggressive do you want to go? Understanding rear-end re-gearing and gear ratios involve a lot of pretty tricky engineering concepts. So we’ll give you the only information you need to know for now.
High gear ratios will help you achieve higher top speed and low cruising RPMs, which is good because it results in low emissions and better fuel economy.
- Automatic Transmission: 3.10 (for spirited driving like street racing)
- Six-Speed Manual Transmission: 4.10 (for spirited driving like drag racing)
#8 ECU Tune
Modifying most of your car’s parts is all fun and games until the check engine lights come up. You see, performance modifications, no matter how pristinely engineered and designed, can still mess your car up big time. To help your vehicle adapt to significant performance modifications, it’d be in your great interest to get your C5 Corvette an ECU tune.
An ECU tune is pretty mandatory whenever you install some major mods like turbos and superchargers. Most enthusiasts would skip an ECU tune after installing aftermarket intakes and exhausts, but we would advise otherwise. Having your ECU tuned is synonymous with telling your car that it’s got new parts on, and it needs to adapt. Failing to do so would lead to avoidable problems.
Tuning your car’s ECU usually involves modifying both of your engine’s fuel and spark maps. A computer chip loaded with data is installed to your C5 Corvette’s engine through the OBDII port located under the dash, right below the steering column.
The benefits of an ECU tune includes:
- A significant increase in power and torque
- Improvement in fuel economy
- Better overall performance
- Better throttle response
- It can be customized depending on your needs
#9 Lowering Options
All of those performance modifications would mean nothing if your car looks like crap. The Chevrolet Corvette C5 has some visible wheel gaps on stock, which completely ruins the aesthetics of such a classic contemporary car. To lower the C5 Corvette, you’re left with three options: lower it using stock bolts, aftermarket bolts, or coilovers.
If you’re familiar with the phrase: “lowered on stock bolts,” then chances are, you already know that your car can be lowered using the adjustment bolts already present in your vehicle. This is by far the easiest and most cost-effective method you can tread on if you want to get rid of those wheel gaps. If you choose to use those stock bolts, you can reduce up to ½” off of your car’s ride height. Not bad, right?
Aftermarket Lowering Bolts
If you’re not satisfied with that measurement, you can always go for aftermarket lowering bolts. They can remove as much as 1.0” off of your C5 Corvette’s ride height. Some brands even claim that they can slash more than an inch of your car’s height! However, keep in mind that too much lowering can be detrimental for your vehicle, so be extra careful if you’re planning to slam your car to the ground.
Corvette leaf springs are great. But if you’re a weekend warrior or possibly a professional racer, then you know that you’d need more than leaf springs to dominate the tracks. Coilover conversions are popular in the Corvette community because coilovers have something that leaf springs don’t: adjustability.
Coilovers are favored by many Corvette owners due to their penchant for adjustability and stability. Most of the coilovers offered in the market today provide its users both damping and ride height adjustability: a killer combo for those who want their cars to have better posture and handling. And although the C5 Corvette chassis wasn’t originally made to support coilovers, enthusiasts and manufacturers found a way to do so. Now that’s love for everything automotive!
Recommendations: LG G2 Coilover Kit
- Manufacturer: LG Motorsports
- Part Number: LGC5G2
- Vehicle Fitment: Chevrolet Corvette C5 Corvette (2005-2013)
One fine day, LG Motorsports decided to combine the aluminum nitrogen-filled coilovers from Bilstein and the Hypercoil springs from Hyperco. The result? The G2 Coilover Kit, a superb set of coilovers that many C5 Corvette owners love and adore, even up to this day.
The LG G2 Coilover kit can offer you a ride quality much better than the stock. Once you’ve installed one on your car, you’ll realize that the handling difference is night and day. The ride quality doesn’t fall far from the stock, although it’s 10% stiffer. This change is ideal for spirited drivers who want to experience better handling whenever they run rampant on the streets.
#10 Wheels and Tires
Since you’re planning to modify your suspension, why not get your hands on some wheels and tires too? After all, a nicely lowered C5 Corvette would look terrific with a good set of wheels and tires. Giving your car a wider set of wheels and tires will not only make it look better but will affect the car’s handling as well.
Wider tires can bring a lot to the table, including improved road handling, quicker acceleration, more precise turn-ins. The gains you can get from replacing both of them will inevitably result in appreciable and observable gains, especially during acceleration and braking.
- Wheels: Rotiform LSR Wheel with Machined Finish
- Manufacturer: Rotiform
- Part Number: R155189521+35
- Color: Machine Finish
- Wheel Diameter: 18”
- Wheel Width: 9.5”
- Offset: +35mm
- Tires: Achilles Atr Sport 235/40R18
- Manufacturer: Achilles
- Part Number: MAB234018
- Section Width: 235mm
- Tire Aspect Ratio: 40
- Rim Size: 18’
Aside from the ten modifications mentioned above, we believe that some miscellaneous C5 Corvette mods are worthy of your attention. These mods are what most C5 Corvette owners recognize as non-immediate upgrades, secondary to the performance modifications we’ve discussed earlier.
- Performance Seats
- Short-Throw Shifters
- Brake Pads and Rotors
- LS3 Engine Swaps
- Sway Bars
- Front Splitters
These mods didn’t make it to the main list because they’re not a priority. However, getting them installed on your car is still necessary because each of them have benefits to offer. Although of course, you can get them whenever you want to, especially if budget is not a problem or you want one of them so badly.
Twenty years have passed, and through time, the Chevrolet Corvette C5 proved itself to be a fantastic project car. Most enthusiasts are convinced that this banger of a car is one of the best modification platforms that still exists up to this day. Whatever application you’re into, whether it’s the streets, the track, the drag strip, or even the autocross duty, we’re sure that the C5 Corvette is the car that’ll suit your driving needs. With the proper modifications, of course!