2003 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

2003 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

The proverbial balance of power

The Z06 is for sports car buffs who can't be satisfied by the standard Corvette's 350 hp and 375 lb.-ft. of tire-smoking torque. You know, the ones who live in mortal fear of being blown off by the occasional 500-hp Ferrari or Viper.

The 2003 Z06's 5.7-liter LS6 V-8 cranks out 405 hp and 400 lb.-ft. of torque, enough to launch it from 0 to 60 mph in four seconds flat, and a tick over 12 seconds through the quarter-mile at 116 mph. Standard '03 Corvette coupes and convertibles are good for "only" about 4.5 seconds from 0 to 60 and 12.8 seconds in the quarter-mile at 114 mph. By further contrast, the heavier, more brutal Viper hits 60 mph in about four seconds and blasts through the quarter-mile in 12.2 seconds at nearly 120 mph.

Are those comparisons important to you? And do you need that performance at a semi-affordable price? If so, then this is your sports car because it delivers that performance-plus legitimate super-car handling and braking and near-luxury quiet, comfort and convenience-for about $51,000, a price unmatched by anything comparable on the planet.

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Introduced in 2001 as a lightweight, ultra-performance coupe with a 6-speed manual transmission and a new 385-hp LS6 version of the 5.7-liter LS1 Corvette engine, the Z06 was the closest factory Vette in modern times to a track-ready racer. Calling it "simply the quickest, best handling production Corvette ever," Chevy said it was "aimed directly at diehard performance enthusiasts." For 2002, it got a 20-hp bump and a slew of additional refinements.

The Z06 designation honors the efforts of Zora Arkus-Duntov, Corvette's legendary first chief engineer who in 1963 created the original Z06 package, which was intended to make the then-new Sting Ray race-ready right out of the showroom. The current 405-hp LS6 engine is named for another Duntov creation, the 425-horse (gross) LS6 big-block V-8 introduced in 1971. Only 188 Corvettes were sold with that original LS6 engine, which-second only in power to the legendary L88 racing engine available from 1967 to 1969-occupies a special niche in the Corvette legend.

The LS6's aluminum block provides better management of crankcase pressures and improved oiling during high-speed operation. Its cam profile is more aggressive and its 10.5:1 high-compression cylinder heads have improved porting, stronger valve springs and larger fuel injectors. A low-restriction titanium exhaust system-the first-ever in a mass-produced automobile-is 50-percent lighter than the stainless steel system it replaces. It delivers power through an exclusive 6-speed manual transmission with more aggressive gearing that increases torque multiplication in almost every gear for quicker acceleration.

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The Z06's FE4 suspension has a larger front stabilizer bar, a stiffer rear leaf spring and revised camber settings for maximum control during high-speed operation. Unique aluminum wheels are an inch wider front and rear than those on standard Vettes. New wider and stickier, yet lighter weight, Goodyear Eagle F1 SC (for Supercar) tires created specifically for the Z06 (P265/40ZR17 front, P295/35ZR18 rear) have asymmetrical treads for optimum grip on wet and dry surfaces, a more compliant sidewall and better wear characteristics for on-track durability.

Besides the titanium exhaust system and lighter wheels and tires, the Z06 has a lighter, more compact battery and thinner windshield and rear window glass to keep its weight down. The front air inlets have wire mesh grilles, rear rocker scoops help rear brake cooling, and both the brake calipers and the LS6 engine cover are red to differentiate the Z06 from standard Corvettes.

Inside, the Z06 instrument cluster has special stylized graphics, and the tachometer shows a 6,500-rpm redline-not bad for a pushrod engine. The leather-trimmed seats have additional side support for high-G maneuvers and embroidered Z06 logos in the headrests.

Driving our bright yellow test Z06 from Lansing, MI to Toronto, Canada to interview Corvette racer Ron Fellows, we couldn't get enough of its rocket-ship performance and truly incredible handling. Lead driver for GM's highly successful C5-R racing team, Fellows has scored back-to-back class wins (2001 and 2002) in the grueling 24-Hours of Le Mans, overall victory in the 2001 Daytona 24-Hour and 12 wins in 18 starts in the 2001 and '02 American Le Mans Series (ALMS). "Corvettes are terrific cars, especially for the money," he said, "and the Z06 is fantastic!"

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Like all C-5 (fifth generation) Corvettes, the Z06 is also surprisingly solid, quiet and comfortable on the road. Unlike many high-performance sports cars, for all its awesome performance, it doesn't beat you up or wear you out on long trips. And it delivered an amazing 26 mpg in a mix of rural and freeway driving, consistent with its 19 mpg city, 28 highway EPA ratings.

The Corvette was born in 1953, so there's a dark red 50th Anniversary Edition package for 2003, with shale interior, champagne-color wheels, 50th Anniversary badging and standard Magnetic Selective Ride Control (MSRC). The standard '03 coupe and convertible get more usual stuff, including fog lamps, sport seats, power passenger seat, dual-zone automatic HVAC, a parcel net and luggage shade and Child Restraint Attachment System (CRAS) hooks that allow easier child seat connection. All 2003 Corvettes sport special front and rear commemorative 50th Anniversary emblems.

MSRC, which Chevy calls: "the industry's fastest and most powerful real-time damping suspension," uses an innovative new damper design with Magneto-Rheological fluid controlling wheel and body motion. The fluid's consistency varies with changes in current to an electromagnetic coil inside the damper piston, resulting in continuously variable real-time damping, which isolates and smoothes the action of each tire for less bouncing, vibration and noise. On bumpy or slick surfaces, it integrates with ABS and traction control to keep the vehicle balanced and poised for maximum stability. The happy result is a quieter, flatter ride and more precise, responsive handling, especially during sudden high-speed maneuvers.

The '03 Corvette coupe starts at $43,895, the convertible at $50,370 and the Z06 hardtop at $51,435. With standard equipment including "active handling" (not MSRC), traction control, power heated outside mirrors, AM/FM/CD sound system with Bose speakers and a "head up" display and just three options ($750 Millennium Yellow paint, a $175 Memory Package and a $120 set of Electrochromic Mirrors), our test Z06 stickered at $52,940, (www.chevrolet.com)

2003 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 rear
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