2009 Chevrolet Z06 CorvettePosted on November 3rd, 2008
Five hundred horsepower model celebrates Corvette’s racing heritage.
By Nina Russin
A pumpkin-colored Corvette has arrived in my driveway, just in time for
Halloween. It seems kismet, since I didn’t have a costume planned. I love to dress up in horsepower.
Describing the Corvette as a second skin may strike some readers as odd, but that’s what the car is to me. I started out my journalism career writing for Corvette magazines. As a result, I’ve logged more miles behind the wheels of Corvettes than any other car, including ones I’ve owned.
The Corvette that has arrived in my driveway is the Z06: a high performance grade that pays tribute to the car’s racing heritage. The 6.2-liter engine in the standard Corvette coupe produces 430-horsepower: the 7-liter block in the Z06 cranks out 505, with 470 foot-pounds of torque that comes on at 4700 rpm.
My recommendation to first-time drivers is to keep the revs below peak torque. Getting too jiggy with the Z06 can easily lead to an out-of-car, out-of-body experience.
The name, “Corvette,” comes from a type of small, nineteenth century warship. The original Corvette was Chevrolet’s answer to the European sports cars than flooded America after World War II. It was the automaker’s first fiberglass-bodied car, and also the first to have an engine that produced one horsepower per cubic inch.
The Z06 designation dates back to 1963, when it was a competition package for the new Sting Ray coupe. The option cost $1818, which was a lot of money to tack onto a car that retailed for just over four thousand dollars.
But it added some important components for racing enthusiasts: bigger brakes with better cooling ducts, a heavy duty front stabilizer bar, stiffer-than-heck springs and shocks, and a long distance fuel tank that held just over thirty-six gallons of gas.
Twenty-first century ZO6
The new Z06 Corvette is the most powerful model available from the factory, with the exception of the 638-horsepower ZR-1 supercar.
The coupe’s fiberglass body panels ride on a aluminum and magnesium unibody chassis. Its curb weight is 3180 pounds, almost forty pounds less than the standard car.
Like its namesake, the new Z06 has huge brakes: six-piston calipers with drilled rotors in front, and four-piston calipers in the rear. It rides on eighteen-inch wheels in front and nineteen-inch rims in the rear, with Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires. The tires are so low profile that they have to be run flats: it’s impossible to tell when they are low on air.
The Corvette has an extremely short wheelbase. At 105.7 inches, its footprint is just four inches longer than a Volkswagen Rabbit. Over the years, engineers have reduced inertial weight on the car’s front and back end to make it a better balanced, more drivable car.
Four-wheel double-wishbone independent suspension produces a firm ride in keeping with the car’s competitive nature. Power rack-and-pinion steering is exceptionally positive, with excellent on-center feel.
Taming the beast
The Corvette is a polarizing car. It’s not particularly easy to drive, and its performance appeals to a particular type of customer. Although it has all the amenities of a luxury coupe including leather seats, satellite radio, automatic climate control, and keyless start, driving the Z06 isn’t the easiest way to get to the corner grocery store.
The Corvette has an extremely stiff clutch, and maintains the same computer aided gear system that it has had for over a decade. A cog comes out when the driver shifts into first gear forcing him to shift into fourth.
The mechanism improves the car’s federal fuel economy rating to avoid a gas guzzler tax. Over time, engineers have shortened the interval during which the cog is deployed to allow aggressive shifts from first to second. But it’s an annoyance when one simply wants to mosey along in daily traffic.
The Corvette’s aggressive chin spoiler hangs up on every driveway ramp it encounters. I’m always amazed that I don’t knock these off on test cars: I attribute that to the durable and somewhat flexible rubber the spoiler is made of.
Passengers sit deep in the car’s frame to maintain a low center of gravity for high-speed stability. Designers have eliminated aggressive side bolsters which made access and egress from former models even more difficult. Still, it’s not the easiest car to get in and out of.
Bang for the buck
Despite these idiosyncrasies, I’m a big Corvette fan. One reason is that it’s a lot of car for the money. Although seventy-two thousand dollars isn’t cheap, the Z06 costs significantly less than most vehicles in its competitive segment. And when it reaches its sweet spot in the hundred miles-per-hour plus range, the experience is hard to beat.
With four-hundred seventy foot-pounds of torque, it doesn’t take long to get up to speed. The Corvette Z06 accelerates from zero-to-sixty miles per hour in 3.7 seconds.
Over the past decade, engineers resolved the nose-heavy handling of earlier models, The current ZR1 has a perfect front-to-rear weight balance, and corners like it’s on rails.
Top speed, according to the engineers, is just under two hundred miles-per-hour. Not having access to the same stretch of Nurburgring that they did, I’m not about to push the car’s limits.
Usable cargo space
While it isn’t the most practical car on the market, the Corvette is a lot more livable than some of the sports cars it competes with. It’s a hatchback, with enough room in back to hold a weekend’s worth of luggage. I’ve stuffed all of my camera equipment and two people’s luggage in back with room to spare.
Being a two-seater, there’s no way to extend the cargo floor to hold longer items like bicycles. Nor would I recommend taking the Corvette off-road, although it can creep down ungraded roads without doing too much damage to the underbody. And while it has enough horsepower and torque to tow a house, there are trucks much better suited for that job.
It amazes me that Chevrolet has continued to produce the Corvette: the marque is fifty-five years old. The Corvette is a halo car: more of an image-maker than a money maker. So how has it survived the scrutiny of corporate CFOs?
The answer has to do with trickle-down technology. Components developed for the Corvette trickle down to other GM vehicles, some of which may come as a surprise. For example, full-sized Chevrolet trucks share the Corvette’s aluminum engine block.
And I’d like to think that at the end of the day, even the most callous corporate exec can’t help but appreciate the Corvette’s history. When chief engineer, Zora Arkus Duntov introduced the Corvette’s first small block V8 engine in 1956, the car reached 150 miles-per-hour in a test run at Daytona.
The Corvette went on to win numerous twelve-hour races at Sebring, and be a top contender at LeMans. With the exception of Carroll Shelby’s legendary Cobras, no other American car of its era was such a serious contender on the European circuit.
I’m a history buff myself, and I feel that history every time I get behind the wheel of a Corvette. Maybe that’s why I’m quick to forgive its foibles, though I’d be happy to see the computer aided gear system go the way of the typewriter.
Likes: An extremely well-balanced, powerful car that can go to the track on weekends, and double as a daily driver.
Dislike: Computer-aided gear system makes shifts from first to second gear more difficult.
Model: Corvette Z06 coupe
Base price: $72,405
As tested: $82,065
Horsepower: 505 Hp @ 6300 rpm
Torque: 470 lbs.-ft. @ 4800 rpm
Zero-to-sixty: 3.7 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: N/A
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 15/24 mpg city/highway.
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