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Newcomer Chevrolet Corvette ZR1

It's the 2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 and the first car has just landed in readiness for a right-hand drive work-over.

The ZR1, called the 'King of the Hill' in America, is the personal property of a man who makes his living turning left-hand drive dream machines into a down-under drive.

"This ZR1 is my personal toy. But if someone wants to buy one we'll be happy to assist them, bring it in and then convert it for them," says Peter Whiston of the Corvette Clinic in Melbourne.

He has been doing the left-right switch hit on 'Vettes since the early 1980s and is looking forward to the new challenge with a car that's called the 'King of the Hill' in America. The ZR1 has a supercharged 6.2-litre aluminium V8 that produces a brutal 476 kiloWatts and 819 Newton-metres of torque.

The two-door coupe is a genuine supercar with a 0-100km/h sprint time of 3.4 seconds, a top speed of 330km/h and a Nurburgring lap time of 7 minutes 26.4 seconds - which Chevrolet claims as a production car record.

Whiston says the first ZR1 conversion will not be easy - with everything from a new dash pad to relocation of the air-conditioner and drive belts on the job list - but he is looking forward to the end result.

"It's all going to be a bit of a bunfight, unfortunately. I'm 58 and I'm past all that. Once I would have enjoyed it, but now I'm looking to the result," he says.

"It's early days with this car. It's going to be two or three months to get it converted. And now they've changed the steering ratio on the car, so it's totally different again."

But Peter and Kane Whiston know Corvettes and know conversions.

"We registered the business in 1981. Corvettes are all we do. I started with doing cars from '69 onwards," he says.

"Over that time we've probably done about 500 cars. We are coming up to 30 cars with the latest C6 model."

But the Corvette Clinic is not a retail store.

"Our prime business is conversions for people. We do it under orders.

We don't have a heap of stock," Whiston says.

That's no surprise when a C6 conversion is $49,500 and the ZR1 will be worth around $400,000 by the time it is ready to roll.

Whiston says the company's conversions are not costed on an hourly work rate, but an all-in price for a drive-in, drive-out service.

"The hourly rate has nothing to do it with it. The car comes in left- hand drive and goes out right-hand drive," he says.

Business is good because the Corvette has always been an American classic, although the recent drop in the Australian dollar and regulations which allow older classic cars to continue with left-side steering have cut the waiting time at the Corvette Clinic.

"Business has slackened a little since the Aussie dollar took a dive.

But we've still got plenty of work. We're probably got six months of work at the moment."

That includes the complicated process for the ZR1, which must be certified under low-volume compliance regulations. Older cars get by under rules for a Registered Automotive Workshop, but all-new cars are different.

"We'll have to update the compliance. It's noise, it's brakes, it's the engineering on the conversion," Whiston says.

"But that's what we do. And this is the first car, so once that's done then anyone who wants a ZR1 can be taken care of."


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