When you’re a Corvette fan, no other car will do. There may be a non-descript daily driver for getting to and from work or an SUV to shuttle kids and groceries,but for the true ‘Vette aficionado, having at least one “plastic fantastic” is requisite for a just life. That’s precisely the case for Beni Giacalone, who has owned no less than a dozen fine examples of America’s sports car. This is the tale of his most awesome acquisition and one of the greatest Corvettes ever built.
Presently residing in Levittown, New York, 51-year-old Long Island native Beni Giacalone is a painter for the Local-30 union operating engineers. Raised in a GM-biased family, Beni’s car cultivation started early. Beni’s father, the late Paul senior, was a pretty successful songwriter back in the 1950s — and he also enjoyed the muscular melody of American iron. Beni’s younger brother Paulie was into cars, too, honing his early skills in high school shop class and sharing that mechanical prowess with his older brother.
Although Beni became Corvette-obsessed in his early teens, a few lesser bowties came first. At 17, Beni started his driving career behind the wheel of a gold ’67 Impala with a 283 cubic-inch motor and an automatic transmission. After two years with the vintage Chevy, Beni acquired some later models, including an ’83 V8 Monte Carlo and an ’84 Camaro with a six-banger.
Beni defines himself as a working man — a blue-collar guy, not rich by any stretch of the imagination. But that hasn’t stopped him from owning some of Bowling Green’s finest automotive offerings.
It all started in 1995 when Beni was 27 years old and hard at work for an armored car company. Not suggesting that he requisitioned any of the funds he was transporting, but Beni had some cash in his pockets. With that said, he bought his first Corvette. It was a black ’88 C4 automatic coupe, with an aftermarket intake and exhaust installed by the previous owner. Beni had achieved his goal, but this was only the beginning of a great crusade that continued for the next two decades.
After four years of blissful cruising, he traded-up for a black ’94 with a six-speed. This one came with a Corsa exhaust, chrome C5 rims, and massive Brembo brakes. Three years with the ’94 was great, but Beni was ready for more, much more.
Now around 2002 and holding a union position, Beni waved goodbye to the C4 and up-gunned to a ’01 C5 Z06. Following his desired trend of black six-speed Corvettes, his 385-horsepower LS6 Fixed Roof Coupe (FRC), was bad to the bone. What began as a few stones falling with two C4s was building in speed and force to an avalanche of Corvette lust.
In late ’07, Beni clutched the top rung of the Corvette ladder once again, trading-up for his fourth Vette, a ’06 C6 Z06, with the only-available six-speed, in Le Mans Blue and powered by the monstrous, 505-horsepower, 11.0:1-compressed 427 cubic-inch LS7 engine. Beni had reached an apex, and one might think that would be that. A first year C6 Z06-dream fulfilled — all done, right? Well, wrong, because Beni still had seven Vettes to go before achieving ultimate glory.
Four years passed, and by 2011, Beni was ready to part with the Z06. Here’s where he went a little off the deep end.
For the next three years, Beni traded up and down between C5s and C6s no less than seven more times, owning each Corvette for an average of only five months and mileage too low to mention.
Included in this frantic barrage of horsepower and fiberglass and in this order, was a silver ’02 C5 convertible, another ’06 C6 Z06 in black, a black ’04 C5 coupe with an automatic, a black ’08 LS3-powered C6 coupe with auto/paddle shifters, a like-new ’06 C6 Z06 in silver found in Delaware, an ’04 C5 Z06, and one final black ’06 C6 Z06. Whew. And to stress one crucial detail, Beni states that every single one of his Vettes was attained with less than 10,000 -miles. Incredible.
The Greatest Of Them All
No, we’re not referring to the late boxing genius and heavyweight champion, Muhamad Ali, or hockey phenomenon and NHL hall of famer Wayne Gretzky. For 2009, Chevrolet unleashed the most powerful, technologically-advanced, fastest, and most expensive Corvette to date: the third iteration of the vaunted ZR1. With its all-aluminum, titanium stuffed, 6.2L Eaton-supercharged LS9 motor, producing 638 horsepower and 604 lb-ft of torque, the ’09 ZR1 was an instant legend.
Needless to say, Beni yearned for the new “King of the Hill Corvette” since he first laid eyes on it. But at $110,000-plus, it was far out of his reach. Fast-forward to mid 2014, and Beni’s Vette-hopping campaign was over. It was time to big or go home. He consulted and cultivated his supportive wife, Michele, to the wonders of the C6 ZR1 and the possibility of grabbing one for half the cost of when it was new.
Once Michele was onboard, Beni began an intensive internet search. A few months passed with no luck, until one evening on Autotrader Beni’s prize was revealed. Offered by a North Carolina dealer specializing in italian exotics — Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and such — was a black, one-owner ZR1, loaded with the $10,000 (3ZR) equipment group and a scant 6,800 no-doubt-pampered miles on the clock. Beni scoped it before any pictures were up, but the $70,000 asking price was very visible.
Beni wasted no time and called the dealership and requested images and video of the undercarriage. Beni states, “I was dying at this point.” He envisioned himself behind the wheel of the ZR1. He just had to make it happen.
After diligently viewing the supplied imagery, Beni contained himself and harnessed his inner ‘Vette mantra. Over the phone, in his New York Italian vernacular, he offered $66,000 for the ZR1, along with his ’06 Z06 in trade. As per car dealer common practice, the initial answer was no, citing the rarity and low mileage of the famed and blown bowtie beast.
Finally, after a week and half of back and forth, with the dealer not budging and Beni sticking to his guns, a much-celebrated call came in. Realizing the enthusiast-only-based interest in the ZR1, the dealership recognized Beni’s offer was a good one. It also gave them a chance to make more profit on the trade. The $66,000 offer was accepted for the ZR1, giving Beni $40,000 for his Z06.
I was white-knuckled the whole way down.
Pick-Up And Delivery
Within a week, Beni had booked a North Carolina hotel room close to the dealer and drove his Z06 9.5-hours, through the night, in torrential rainstorms. He says, “I was white-knuckled the whole way down.”
Once there, the experience was surreal. Beni recalls standing in the showroom, peering at the omnipotent Vette in a state of shock. Surrounded by Italy’s finest, the slick dealer offered the comment, “this is probably the fastest car in here.” Beni concurred. After the necessary paperwork and exchange of funds and the Z06, Beni took possession of his like-new 2010 ZR1. With the highway still soaked by rainstorms, Beni became intimately acquainted with the ZR1s wet traction setting, all the way home to New York.
Already graced with the 3ZR equipment group, which adds custom Napa leather interior, navigation, Bose nine-speaker system, memory package, heated sports seats, power telescopic steering wheel, and a home remote transmitter, Beni applied a few more upgrades. They include a 3M clear bra, a K&N carbon-fiber cold air kit, LED taillights, and an aggressive APR carbon-fiber rear spoiler.
Beni was intent on giving a more than honorable mention to his trusted service technician, Ozzie Mirza. Ozzie has been an ASE-Certified mechanic at Robert Chevrolet since 1999. Having been Beni’s Vette doctor for years, Ozzie was an integral force behind the ZR1 purchase, touting the supercar, with its hand-assembled LS9, as Chevy’s best. Over the last five years, no hands but Ozzie’s have touched the ZR1, and Beni intends on keeping it that way.
Being an automotive journalist for the last 10 years, your author has had the pleasure and privilege of being around, and in, some truly amazing cars…exotics included. But after meeting Beni for our photoshoot and going for a ride in our subject car, I can say without hesitation that the C6 ZR1 is at the top of my amazing list.
From the moment I sat down and strapped into the comfy leather sports seat, my adrenaline began to pump. With state troopers lurking, no rubber was sacrificed. Beni rowed from first to second to third gear and yelled over the howling exhaust note, “we’re at one-ten!” obviously meaning 110 mph.
As his peripheral vision caught our turn-around, he applied the massive six-piston Brembos to the serving platter-sized ceramic rotors, hauling the car down from speed. My body and senses were definitely involved, as my eyes had a tough time catching up with the ZR1s abilities. We went for another first-to-third go-around, with the 604 lb-ft of torque planting me back against the seat. By the time we cruised back, I was a tad queasy,but in a good way.
As I said, I’ve been in Ferraris, Lambos, Porsches, worked Grand Nationals, and a 1990 ZR1, to name a few of the underwear-changing rides. The C6 ZR1 is, without a doubt, the cleanest expression of automotive dominance of them all.
I walk away from Hellcats and just about anything.” When asked what he loves most about his ZR1, Beni responds without a pause: “This car is my baby, my dream car. Definitely the best Vette I’ve ever had.
Beni has been ecstatic with his ZR1 over the last five years, cruising to shows and weekend car gatherings in unbeatable style and uncontested power. Beni states with a confident smile, “I walk away from Hellcats and just about anything.” When asked what he loves most about his ZR1, Beni responds without a pause: “This car is my baby, my dream car. Definitely the best Vette I’ve ever had.”
With only 14,500-miles now showing, Beni’s ZR1 is still like-new in many ways, with the mighty-fine LS9 not even broken in. Beni has no intention of trading-up his ZR1 and plans to keep it for a very long time…perhaps forever. Beni sums it all up by saying, “this is the pinnacle for Chevy, and for me, I think.”
Beni, your author, couldn’t agree more. And thanks, your words match the title.