We know it is hard to believe, but this red 1985 C4 Corvette (aka “CorVegge”) is powered by a diesel engine. Yes, you read that correctly — a diesel. Moreover, it uses recycled vegetable oil for fuel. Wait. Who would do something like this to a Corvette? Obviously, not just anyone would do this any Corvette, even a ‘85. This would have to be someone with special motivation — someone like Mike “Spank” Spangler, who says his motivation is the somewhat tongue-in-cheek 24 Hours of LeMons “race.”
Why Buy A 1985 Corvette?
Here’s why: This particular ‘Vette was abandoned at a tow yard and Mike picked it up for less than $500. You see, the only real rule for the 24 Hours of LeMons race he wanted to enter it in is that the car has to be valued at $500 or less. So, it fit the bill perfectly. Plus, it was unique and might set some people’s heads on fire.
You may be aware that the C4 is not the most loved iteration of the Corvette over the years. However, that doesn’t really explain why Mike was able to buy it for so cheap, it’s a ‘Vette, after all. First off, it had no engine. Secondly, the passenger compartment was riddled with holes, perhaps from someone carrying it with a forklift through the body. The paint was also horribly faded and worn. And the tilt column? Yeah, it tilted without pulling the lever on it. It was a longshot. But hey, it was perfect for what they wanted to use it for.
Why Install A Diesel Engine?
That’s question is easy to answer: Why not? Mike’s buddy Rick Chesavage, a regular at the 24 Hours of LeMons race, found a motor for less than dirt cheap on Craigslist that ran, somewhat. Even junk ‘Vette engines, hell small-block Chevy engines, period, are going to cost a couple hundred bucks. Any money they had to put into getting the engine running has to be added to the value of the car, so, it was a disqualifier, right there. And hey, it’s an Olds 350 diesel engine — one of the worst engines ever built, so it also had that dubious attractiveness to make it even more appealing to Mike and Rick.
According to Rick, “The car has fake sponsor ads on it, plus the idea of putting a diesel into a Vette for the race would send the Internet car expert crowd into a tizzy. The idea of putting what was likely the worst engine of modern time in this Corvette was likely to offend racing people. So there was a potential trifecta at play.” That’s just the kind of event the 24 Hours of LeMons (Lemons, get it?) is.
“The car has fake sponsor ads on it, plus the idea of putting a diesel into a ‘Vette for the race would send the internet car expert crowd into a tizzy. The idea of putting what was likely the worst engine of modern time in this Corvette was likely to offend racing people. So, there was a potential trifecta at play.” -Rick Chesavage
As was mentioned above, Mike and Rick planned on running the C4 ‘Vette on waste vegetable oil (WVO), hence the name CorVegge. First, they had to add a small tank for diesel to start it with since WVO doesn’t flow very well when cold. They then added a heat exchanger to heat up and thin the vegetable oil.
Mike found a retired diesel wrench to help out with getting the Olds 350 diesel running safely. The injector pumps, being terribly leaky, required some attention. That was the sum total of the engine work that went into it, although it wasn’t the end of the work. Since it was a diesel-powered car, it absolutely had to have trucker stacks added, which Rick thinks added the most distinctive touch to the car.
Although the 24 Hours of LeMons race is extremely tongue-in-cheek (picture people dressed up as movie characters, vegetables, or anything wacky they can think of), it’s still a race, so Mike’s safety had to be taken into account. John Pagel at Evil Genius Racing fabricated a rollcage for the car, but since fiberglass isn’t a very good place to mount a rollcage, he mounted it to the sills which are essentially the frame of the C4.
The diesel engine is used mainly for big trucks because of the gobs of torque it develops. Mike and Rick said torque can be felt pushing you back into the seat when the accelerator is mashed — for about 20 yards. After that, whether you have it at full or half throttle, it accelerates like a ’66 VW Beetle with the timing off. Rick says he thinks a fast 440 runner can outrun it from a standing start.
While the C4 wasn’t a very popular Corvette version with enthusiasts, it still has a pretty good chassis. CorVegge could be driven anywhere without lifting because its components in the engine compartment were basically held together with spit and bailing wire, and there were always problems with the power steering pulley alignment.
However, the big problem was cooling. Diesel engines develop huge amounts of heat when running, as heat and compression cause the fuel and air mixture to ignite. Typically, the duo was able to run a few laps before having to bring it into “the pits” to cool it off.
Rick says they both had loads of fun driving it under the starter’s stand and blowing smoke up their skirts from the trucker stacks. Rick was the last one to drive it, taking over with about 10 minutes remaining, after it cooled down.
The car took the checkered flag and did a cool-down lap, then hit the lineup to get back to the paddock when it started overheating again. Before Mike exited the lineup, however, the crowd cheered as he revved the engine and shut it off — shooting two huge puffs of white smoke out the stacks, and causing the crowd to go wild. That there, my friends, sums up the 24 Hours of LeMons in a nutshell.