The ultimate ‘Vette hooks unwary enthusiasts.

by Marc K. Stengel

Sometimes more is, well, a lot. When Chevrolet gives its already celebrated Corvette an additional 40 horsepower, stiffens the overall chassis platform, enlarges all four disc brakes to cake-plate diameter, and cuts its fighting weight to the very bone, you'd think this exercise in excess would be too hot to handle.

But in fact, Chevrolet's specialty edition 'Vette for 2001, the inscrutably named Z06 (after a Sixties racing version), is the easiest driving, best behaving, most enjoyable Corvette I've ever driven. It is also, arguably, the least expensive truly genuine supercar on sale in the U.S. - or ever sold anywhere, perhaps.

So what's going on here? Who wants me - and car buffs generally, for that matter - to be so doggone happy? And why?

It has to be a conspiracy, of course, and more about that in a bit. For the moment, why waste a perfectly good opportunity to exult in techno-ecstasy? If you want top speed, Z06 will hustle you up to 171 mph in the fifth of its six forward gears, mind you. Want to feel your retinas detach themselves to the back of your cranium? Then sprint to that next stop sign a few hundred yards away. In the process, you'll reach 60 mph in four seconds flat. If you can keep your foot planted for about eight seconds longer without swallowing your tongue, you'll achieve a 12.6-second quarter-mile at a trap speed of 114 mph.

Still want more? Flick 'er sideways right about now and feel how a 1.03 g-force cornering grip doubles your pleasure: The Z06 tames the full force of earth's gravity pulling at you in two directions, both downwards and sideways, without the tires slipping so much as an inch.

You also get a traffic-friendly coupe whose clutch-shifter interplay is non-tiring in stop-'n'-go stack-ups and whose parking lot manners are precise. For 2001, Chevy gives the Z06 exclusive use of last year's "hardtop" body style. The abbreviated bubble canopy gives this car the smirking jauntiness of a fast-draw gunslinger. Brake ventilation ducts behind the doors sparkle like cowboy spurs with their stainless-steel wire mesh inserts. But during my stint, no looks of admiration and envy could compare with the general awe among the hardware store crowd when I lifted the trunk lid and extracted a complete Rug Doctor carpet shampooer, complete with mixing bucket, soap solutions, and upholstery attachment. Can't you just imagine how enjoyable cleaning houses might be in this sort of company car?

The 20-percent ‘Vette

According to its spec sheet, the Z06 is stripped down and bare. There's no spare tire, no run-flat technology, and no tire-pressure monitoring system like the one offered in the other two available 'Vette models. Computerized traction control and "active handling" cornering-and-skid-control remains, updated to Generation II status. But front- and rear-window glass is thinner; and gadget goodies like fog lamps, telescoping steering wheel, head-up instrument display, and power seat adjustments for the passenger are no-shows on the Z06. This precious scrimping yields a weight savings of about 100 lb, which the alchemy of sportscar dynamics transforms into tons more performance.

By Chevy's own admission, the Z06 is a 20-percenter. That's the share of Corvette's annual sales volume the Z06 should command, in contrast to its better-selling, less expensive coupe and roadster siblings. So the exclusive ZoSix gets the fun tricky bits, like a titanium exhaust system; the 5.7-liter "LS6" V8 with higher 10.5:1 compression ratio; a custom-geared "M12" six-speed transmission; and the "FE4" high-performance, race-ready suspension.

The exclusive wheels and tires alone sum it up: they're 10-spoke, gun-metal-gray forged aluminum wheels wearing asymmetrical "F1 SuperCar" tires made just for Z06 by Goodyear. The 17-inchers up front are a flat 40-profile spec. The 18-inchers at rear are 35-profile, and they look about as wide as your forearm.

Chevy's more traditional, removable top Corvette coupe starts at $40,725, and the convertible roadster model lists for $47,250. If you want a Z06 like the one I drove whose only option was a "memory package" for driver-seat adjustments, you're gonna have to pony up $440 more. Nope, not a typo.

If speed is a drug, the Z06 is a "fix" at a pusher's price of $47,690. Suddenly it dawns on me that GM is playing coy with its supercar Corvette. "Hook 'em with speed and thrills" is their gambit; price the car invitingly, and even toss in some enviro-friendly mileage ratings like 19 city/ 28 highway.

Thus spoiled for speed and high on performance, the motoring public will no longer tolerate sluggish mediocrity in cars, trucks, and minivans. "If I can't have a Z06," will come the refrain, "I'd rather ride the bus." Or the train. Or the trolley. Protesting pedestrians will proliferate; GM will announce far-reaching public-transportation initiatives; roads will clear; sportscar recreation will blossom on holidays and weekends. A rationalization of goings and comings will put Earth in balance and General Motors in the driver's seat - a corporate commuter takeover. And the Z06 is but the thin edge of the wedge.

Okay, just maybe.

2001 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

Base price: $47,690
Engine: 5.7-liter V-8, 385 hp
Transmission: six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 179.7 x 73.6 x 47.7 in
Wheelbase: 104.5 in
Curb weight: 3130 lb
EPA city/hwy: 19/28 mpg
Safety equipment: Dual front and side airbags with passenger-side shut-off, active handling with anti-lock brakes and traction control
Major standard equipment: Limited-slip differential, titanium exhaust system, forged aluminum wheels w/ Goodyear Eagle F1 SC asymmetric-tread tires, FE4 high-performance suspension, Bose six-speaker AM/FM/CD
Warranty: Three years/36,000

© 2000 The Car Connection


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