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We get a go in the Corvette Z06

2010-05-19 07:21

Some might call it an American oddity – but the Corvette has been around for six decades, an unparalleled performance heritage.

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Corvette
Model Z06
Engine 7l V8
Power 377kW @ 6 000r/min
Torque 644Nm @ 4 800r/min
Transmission Six-speed manual
Zero To Hundred 3.7 sec
Top Speed 320km/h
Weight 1 420kg
Airbags Yes
Front Suspension Double-wisbone
Rear Suspension Double-wisbone

Lance Branquinho

When you think American supercar, the Dodge Viper probably springs to mind – which is a criminal cognitive category mistake. There is only one seminal American supercar and it’s built in Kentucky, the Chevrolet Corvette.

Ferrari and Porches often harp on about heritage when garnishing details around their latest road cars. Mercedes-Benz has been on an elaborate campaign ever since the launch of the SLS AMG to ensure the public draws correct parallels between its 21st century supercar and the 1950’s Gullwing road racers.

It’s curious to find then, that the Americans are the true guardians of supercar heritage. You see, the Corvette has been around for six decades. It was launched in 1953  as the C1 and has stayed admirably true to its original rear-wheel drive, front-engined V8 design ever since.


Unfortunately the Corvette nameplate has limited cachet outside the North American market. There are of course a few fundamental reasons for this.

Firstly, GM has stubbornly refused to market the car with driving position symmetry (right- and left-hand drive), so you can’t register a contemporary Corvette in South Africa.

In Europe it’s always been considered a crass alternative to the 91 or entry-level Italian exotica – an intimation which has not washed with brand natural performance car observers. European journalists, fed on a diet of delicately balanced lightweight sportscars, have always considered the Corvette too big and uncivilised for the Continent's challenging Alpine mountain passes.

I’ve never really shared the jaundiced view of my European colleagues. Statistically the latest Corvette Z06 is actually 15mm less substantial than a 911 bumper-to-bumper. The Corvette lighter (by a significant) 150kg than a similarly poweful 911 Turbo too. Crunching the numbers does much to dispel traditional design myths concerning the Corvette.

Hotplate taillights still look great after all these years - you'd never say it's smaller and lighter than a 911 Turbo though, now would you?

Touching base in the Cape

As part of the GM bowtie musclecar familiarisation session at the Killarney racetrack in Cape Town last week, we had the opportunity to sample the hallowed Corvette legend - so unfairly denied to Southern Hemisphere petrolheads.

At fingerprint smudge distance the Corvette’s unmistakeable shape is striking yet compact, reaffirming the dimension comparison which places it in the 911 size bracket. Those characteristics hotplate rear lights and the extraordinarily long nose profile renders car which is features both contemporary surfacing fabrication (it has a composite body), yet remains undeniably Corvette.

The car’s disproportionately long bonnet is a clear indication of what lies beneath, an evolution of the classic small block pushrod actuated GM V8.

Although the valvegear might appear slightly out-of step with modern overhead configurations, it hardly matters when you have eight cylinders measuring 104.8mm across the heads. Don’t make the LS7 engine off as an antiquated pushrod driven piece of Detroit (well, technically it’s assembled in Kentucky) iron.

The Corvette engine features dry-sump lubrication, titanium conrods and generously ported heads – which is hardly surprising when you consider the fuel/air mixture flow rate required to feed the 7l V8.

Tally the outputs and you’ll find the Corvette producing 377kW at around 1 000r/min shy of its 7 000r/min fuel cut-off enabled limiter.

GM claims a 0-100km/h benchmark time of 3.7 seconds and a topspeed of 320km/h at the long-end of the six-speed manual transmission’s endurance. Those numbers effortlessly class the Corvette Z06 as a very credible 911 Turbo and F458 rival.

Cabin has plenty of kit, although the trim, texturing and general ambience will abhor 911, Ferrari and Aston traditionalists.

All-round dynamics

Critics will naturally say it lacks handling finesse, yet seeing as the Z06 can cut a time of 7:43 around the Nurburgring there would appear to be very little concrete about such a line of reasoning. The Corvette has all-wheel double-wishbone suspension and a composite body, how more sophisticated do you want it to be?

Beyond the numbers though, what’s it really like?

Well, seeing as my leg was in a cast I was driven around Killarney in the Z06 by former Touring Car ace Deon Joubert. With a wet circuit and 377kW baiting the 325/30ZR19 Goodyear’s to relinquish their grip at the rear I was expecting a disaster. Entertaining – sure – but a disaster none the less.

Deon’s knowledge of Killarney is unparalleled, which obviously counted in our favour. The Corvette though, really brought its ‘A-game’, which would appear to be its default setting. Its performance around a damp Killarney was astonishing.

Due to the engine’s huge reserves of naturally aspirated power third gear is – comically – good for keen acceleration from 60- right through to 220km/h, which essentially negates shifting to fourth around the 3.6km Killarney circuit, bar for the back straight.

The Corvette’s low mass and outstanding weight distribution are key to its dynamic virtues.

Despite hosting a huge V8 engine above the front axle Z06 drives the rear wheels via a transaxle six-speed transmission, which balances things out very neatly from a weight-distribution perspective. Factor in the car’s prodigious levels of mechanical grip enable staggering cornering velocities through faster turns.

Although the camber and castor angles are set-up for grip instead of lurid powersliding, the Corvette exhibits classic front-engine, rear-wheel drive dynamics. It's nervous, yet allows incisive turn-in behaviour with a skilled driver at the helm before the limited-slip rear differential and 325/30 Goodyears settle any traction discrepancies when all the power is harnessed driving out of corners.
Almost with disdain, the Z06 tracked through Killarney’s fabled double-apex right-hander (Malmesbury) onto the back straight at a speed I have never experienced before in a roadcar. It goes without saying that the 7l V8's accoustic signature is enough to even drown out AMG's finest V8s...

It might be based on the legendary '350' small block V8, but this 426 cube engine is closer in spirit (and displacement) to the old 454 big block motors.

An untainted legend

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the Corvette’s suite of dynamics talents. Although ride is quite unforgiving (adjustable dampers are optional) and the seats too generously American-spec (driver’s used to Ferrari-style buckets seats will be aghast at the Corvette'S flat-slabbed seats) it remains a thoroughbred performance car.

The monstrous V8 engine has the kind of inexhaustible performance you simply cannot do justice via statistical comparison. It looks fantastic too and the cabin is massively airy despite the tidily compact exterior dimensions.

European performance car fetishists will say its cabin trim and texturing are too proletarian. They might have a point, until you tally the Z06’s price in the US market - where at $74 000, it easily undercuts the latest 911 Turbo ($132 800).

Simply put, In terms of performance and road-holding (not to mention value) the ‘Vette will settles bets with all comers.

It’s a travesty you cannot officially buy a Corvette Z06 in South Africa, for this is about as pure a rear-wheel drive performance car as you’re ever likely to encounter. Then again, isn’t that what you would expect from the American icon – which also doubles as the world’s oldest supercar range?

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