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Factory Five Gen 2 GTM: Wringing Small Miracles From the Corvette Parts Bin

By Ezra Dyer on June 18, 2012, 4:15 pm

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Ezra Dyer for The New York TimesThe Gen 2 GTM driven by Mr. Dyer.

The cranberry bogs of southeastern Massachusetts are normally quite serene. But this area also happens to be the headquarters of Factory Five Racing, where I recently made a pilgrimage to drive the company's second-generation GTM supercar. And once I was behind the wheel of the midengine, 420-horsepower GTM, the two-lane roads wending past the cranberry bogs were no longer quite so peaceful.

The GTM is a component car, meaning that Factory Five provides the parts and the instructions, and the rest is up to you. The term kit car probably applies, but it seems unfair to saddle the GTM with the connotations of all those faux-Mercedes SSKs from the '70s perched atop running gear from a Ford Pinto. Thanks to advances in computer-aided design and manufacturing, the GTM feels like a vision of a midengine Corvette racecar, which is appropriate, considering it uses running gear from the 1997-2004 Corvette, known in series as the C5. Aside from a few specialized parts like the Mendeola 5-speed manual transmission, everything on the GTM comes from either Factory Five or General Motors.

The GTM, a sinister low-slung bundle of menace, certainly looks the part of a supercar. Few vehicles can really pull off the giant rear wing, but this is one of them. And the bumper canards, diffuser, splitter and spoilers aren't just affectations; the GTM's aerodynamics were honed in wind tunnels at Langley Air Force Base and Boeing.

I climbed behind the wheel of a freshly completed GTM, and its owner, Gary Cheney, helped me cinch the five-point racing harnesses. Though this car is street legal, Mr. Cheney built it with track days in mind, so it's optimized for low weight. Consequently, there are no windows or air-conditioning. (A street-oriented GTM would have power windows and optional air-conditioning.) Creating a refined interior is probably the biggest challenge for a low-volume company, but Mr. Cheney's car neatly skirts that issue by going for the full race aesthetic. Simple dashboard toggle switches look right at home in a car that has nylon nets instead of side windows.

The GTM delivers the performance you'd expect of a car with 420 horsepower weighing only 2,400 pounds. A run from zero to 60 miles per hour is achieved in the low three-second range. While the massive 335/30/18 rear tires have no problem deploying the power, the relatively unburdened 245-width front tires communicate beautifully through the variable-assist power steering. In fact, I had to ask whether this car even had power steering, so unpolluted is the steering feedback. Mr. Cheney used brakes from the Corvette Z06 for this car, and they're hugely overqualified for a machine that weights about 700 pounds less than said Vette.

What surprised me was not the performance, which was rightfully staggering, but the cohesive feel of the GTM. Everything worked in harmony. The car felt solid, of a piece. I roared into a corner, blipped the throttle and downshifted into second gear, the transmission and shifter happily cooperating. There were no grinding gears or cowl shake or shimmying bodywork. The GTM did not feel like a car that was built in someone's garage, even though it was. It probably helped that this car was Mr. Cheney's third GTM and 13th Factory Five car. For him, building the car is a major part of the fun.

The base price for the GTM kit is $19,990. You probably want to have a complete 1997-2004 Chevrolet C5 Corvette from which to pillage parts, not to mention an engine. Finished cost varies widely, but Factory Five expects total cost to land from $35,000 to $50,000. There's also a long list of options. Only $399 for a carbon fiber front splitter? Yes, please. You can even build the car with the 505-horsepower LS7 V-8 engine from the current Corvette Z06, which I expect would result in a machine fast enough to find the Higgs boson.

You'll also need to budget about 600 hours to build a complete GTM. If that sounds beyond the scope of your schedule or your mechanical aptitude, I happen to know where you might find a fully assembled GTM, ready to go. Gary Cheney's already getting the itch to start building his 14th car, and he'll need some garage space.

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