Callaway C12 Was a Road-Legal C5 Corvette Le Mans Racer

Callaway C12 article highlights:

  • After tuning Corvettes for years, Callaway decided to race at Le Mans using the then-new C5 Corvette
  • The tuner then turned the resulting C12.R into a road-legal car, the C12, which is even more extreme and luxurious than the C5 Z06
  • It’s considerably rarer and more expensive than the C5 Z06

Though the first Corvette aped European sports cars, it didn’t have the same competition-honed edge. But embracing racing let Chevrolet create some of the best and most iconic Corvettes, including the first Z06. However, GM isn’t the only company that’s sharpened Chevy’s sports car for the track and applied those lessons to the road. Before the C5 Corvette revived the Z06, Callaway turned it into the C12 for Le Mans and street duty.

Callaway turned the C5 Corvette into a Le Mans GT2 race car—and then made a road car out of it

A yellow Chevrolet Corvette C5-R qualifying at the 2004 24 Hours of Le Mans
Chevrolet Corvette C5-R qualifying at the 2004 24 Hours of Le Mans | Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Although Callaway is best known for high-power road-going Corvettes—and a smattering of other cars—its resume includes plenty of race cars. And that started shortly after Chevrolet launched the C5 Corvette in 1997.

In stock form, the C5 was a massive leap over the C4, both in terms of performance and technology. And what better way to show it off than in one of the most prestigious races in the world, the 24 Hours of Le Mans? For GM, that meant fielding the Corvette C5-R, which eventually took three class wins at Le Mans in the early 2000s. Callaway, meanwhile, raced in the GT2 class with its C12.R, Road & Track explains.

Designed in collaboration with Germany’s IVM Engineering Group, the Callaway C12.R was a different beast than the C5-R. Its carbon body was only two millimeters (0.08”) narrower than the GT2 class’s two-meter (78.7”) limit. Callaway also reworked the C5 Corvette’s suspension, installing coilovers, fully-adjustable dampers, and new control arms. But, like the C5-R, the C12.R roared via a Le Mans-spec LS1 V8.

Although the C12.R wasn’t as successful as its American rivals, the Dodge Viper and Panoz Esperante, it did win pole position at Le Mans 2001. And that was enough for Callaway to make a road-legal version: the C12.

The C5 Corvette Z06 still slaps, but the Callaway C12 is a full-on supercar

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1997-2001 Callaway C122001-2004 C5 Chevrolet Corvette Z06
Engine5.7-liter ‘SuperNatural’ LS1 V8
6.2-liter ‘SuperNatural’ LS6 V8
5.7-liter LS6 V8
Horsepower440 hp (LS1)
482 hp (LS6)
385 hp (2001)
405 hp (2002-2004)
Torque395 lb-ft (LS1)
466 lb-ft (LS6)
385 lb-ft (2001)
400 lb-ft (2002-2004)
TransmissionSix-speed manual
Four-speed automatic
Six-speed manual
Curb weight3295 lbs3130 lbs (2001)
0-60 mph time4.2 seconds (LS1)
4.0 seconds (LS6, Autoweek)
4.3 seconds (2001)
3.9 seconds (2004)

Now, a stock C5 Corvette Z06 already has race-car potential. Compared to a standard C5, the Z06 has upgraded suspension, lighter wheels, a titanium exhaust, less sound-deadening material, and that killer LS6 V8. But the Callaway C12 is even more of a race car for the road.

Firstly, Callaway offered the C12 with two engine options, both modified versions of the C5 Corvette’s V8s. Secondly, the C12’s carbon-Kevlar body is just as wide as the C12.R’s skin, which makes it wider than a contemporary Viper. As such, it looks wildly different than a stock C5. And Callaway widened the C5’s chassis and track to match.

But the new body and chassis mods aren’t just for looks. They reduce lift and accommodate the wider-than-stock wheels and Pirelli tires. Along with the extra horsepower, it explains why the C12 has a higher top speed than the C5 Z06. And while Callaway retained the stock Corvette leaf springs, the C12 pairs them with coilovers, forged control arms, and adjustable dampers. Hence why the C12 corners and grips harder than even the Z06. At the time, Autoweek called it “easily one of the most neutral-handling cars on the planet.”

In addition to the engine and chassis upgrades, the Callaway C12 also boasts a lighter flywheel and a stronger clutch. It retains the standard C5 Corvette transmission, though. The C12 has the stock ABS system, too, though it operates larger-than-stock ventilated Alcon disc brakes.

However, Callaway didn’t just upgrade the C5 Corvette’s performance when it built the C12. It also tweaked the interior. Custom two-tone leather covers the steering wheel and sport bucket seats, while carbon-fiber trim adorns the rest of the cabin. So, while the C12 couldn’t quite beat its supercar competitors at Le Mans, it was their match on the street.

This Callaway Corvette is worth way more than the Z06

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All these upgrades come at a price, though, both then and now. Today, you can find a good-condition C5 Corvette Z06 for around $20,000. But Callaway only made 25 C12s, each one customized to the original owner. As a result, they’re considerably more expensive.

C12 prices vary based on color, options, and condition. For example, as of this writing, the only yellow C12 is currently for sale at just under $175K, R&T reports. Interestingly, though, one of the only two C12 Speedsters ‘only’ sold for $90,000 at a 2011 Mecum auction. However, that car was an automatic, not a manual. But even the cheapest Callaway C12 Mecum sold went for $65,000.

Still, you can’t buy a C5-R. And how many other street-legal Corvettes could conceivably race at Le Mans?

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