The world has lost an automotive legend. Callaway Cars reports that founder Ely Reeves Callaway III has died after a fall. He was 75. A Formula Vee champion and turbocharging powerhouse, Callaway helped rewrite the rules of American performance cars and built one of the greatest American tuner cars of all time, the record-breaking Callaway Sledgehammer.
In the early days, Callaway built up a reputation by building turbocharging kits, and one of Callaway’s first projects was a turbo kit for a BMW, the rather underrated E21 3-Series. A successor to the legendary 2002, the E21 was only available in America with a four-cylinder M10 engine despite Europe getting the option of an M20 inline-six. Needless to say, a replacement for displacement was found. After developing a prototype Indy engine and building some seriously spicy twin-turbocharged Alfa Romeo GTV-6 coupes, Callaway caught the eye of Corvette chief engineer Dave McLellan, setting the stage for one of the greatest RPO codes in GM history: B2K.
First, a little backstory. Whenever GM offers a distinct factory-produced option, it gains an RPO code, short for Regular Production Option. Ticking the box for B2K on a C4 Corvette got you two meaty turbochargers, 345 horsepower, and a monstrous 465 lb.-ft. of torque. It was the only time third-party Corvette modifications were ever sold under a GM RPO code, which makes it pretty special.
However, one Callaway C4 Corvette was a little bit more special than the rest. I’m talking about the Callaway Sledgehammer, a legendarily powerful Corvette built to take on any road car from any country. It had a re-sculpted body by Canadian Paul Deutschmann, a built engine, and two turbos to help produce 880 horsepower.
In 1988, Callaway drove the Sledgehammer to the Transportation Research Center’s 7.5-mile oval in Ohio and put legendary racer John Lingenfelter behind the wheel to see just how fast this hypervette could go. When the dust settled, a new road car speed record emerged — 254.76 mph. Nearly a double nickel over 200 mph. From a modern perspective, it’s a brilliant moment in the American history of hot, nasty, badass, almost unbelievable speed. Keep in mind, this was pre-McLaren F1, and well before the Bugatti Veyron was even a twinkle in Ferdinand Piëch’s eye. Callaway turned an all-American hero car into the king of the road-legal food chain.
These days, Callaway Cars still makes absurdly quick GM products with 50-state emissions compliance. It’ll sell you a 602-horsepower supercharged Tahoe, a 750-horsepower Camaro ZL1, and is working on a supercharged C8 Corvette. Although Reeves Callaway is no longer with us, he will always be an automotive legend. May his marvelous machines race on, now and forever.
(Photo credits: Callaway Cars, Mecum Auctions)
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