Any automotive engineer has probably forgotten more than I know about cars, but this I know for sure: It's not good seeing a roadway's broken white line from the passenger-side window.
On a dreary March day, the fates threw together Chevy's press fleet 2004 Z06 Corvette, Jersey's rain-slicked Garden State Parkway, and GMHTP's "Stick Shift" Steve Baur for an ironic game of "Kill The Sober On St. Patrick's Day." You see, this business takes all kinds--some folks you can control, and others, well, you can only hope to contain. Baur comes replete with porn-star good looks and quite possibly the most FUBAR Floridian lingo known to man.
Disturbing, yes--but not immediately harmful to others. But when a guy continually works "putting it on the wood" and "I gave him 4500 worth of team Magnaflow" into normal conversation, flipping him the keys to a 3000-pound, 405-horsepower rocket on a rainy day will make for some serious aftermath. There are people in this world with restraint, and there are guys who yank the E-brake in traffic. Baur's penchant for powershifting anything from that steaming turd Blue Thunder on up is legendary, but I figured that this East Coast monsoon would keep his twitchy right foot at bay. I was wrong.
So there we were, post-tollbooth, with our Machine Silver Z06's tach streaking toward six grand and the gearshift lever heading for Third, when the Goodyear Supercars broke off their highly desirable relationship with the wet asphalt. The nose jerked left, the ass end went right, my sheriff's badge puckered, and I got a great look at a sharp-edged metal guardrail and lots of trees. Hope company medical has death benefits...
So began seven days of delirious stupidity with the baddest ride to ever wear the crossed flags, the Corvette Z06. If possible, we'd spend hours waxing poetic about all of the technology loaded into this steal of a supercar (the death-defying Active Handling system comes to mind), but a week spent dealing with this puppy's monumental g-forces has curdled our short-term memory like a double-barrel bong hit. This is the first new GM vehicle I'm proud to say that I could easily kill myself in--and that, my friends, is a good thing.
Let's talk acceleration. Every auto enthusiast worth his salt drives a "fast" car, so we all have a basic understanding of how it feels. But GM Powertrain mixed up some serious hoodoo when they mated the super-geared M12 6-speed to a pushrod motor capable of 6500 revs, then dropped it into the automotive equivalent of Lura Flynn Boyle. (We knew the Corvette brand team was a degenerate bunch of racers when we first heard about the Z06's thinner windshield and lighter battery and exhaust for weight savings. Our tester also featured the new-for-'04 carbon-fiber hood, and weighed in at 3074 pounds--with half a tank of gas!) From 3500 rpm to above six grand, the LS6's pull is so violent that it feels as if it will pull the front of the car off, leaving you dumbfoundedly stranded in the middle of the road. This Einstein-on-acid space/time warp is so brutal that it incites giddiness: I seriously started to imagine what Captain Kirk felt like when the Enterprise hauled ass--and I hate Star Trek.
"This thing is stupid fast", "It rips", and "Holy balls, what a car" echoed off of the office walls--from the MM&FF crew no less. Corvette brand team: when you get die-hard Ford fanatics to start talking about going to a GM dealership, you've obviously done something right. Now it was time to put some hard numbers to those exclamations.
You can only go 135 on East Coast roads for so long before you end up either in jail or dead, so a trip to Englishtown was set to really probe the Z06's limits. On March 22, the GMHTP crew converged on Raceway Park to find 50-degree temps, a 30.00 barometer, and low humidity--racin' weather. Baur drove the 'Vette in, slapped a couple of ice bags on the LS6's intake, and called it good; the Gen. III doesn't need you to fuss over it for optimum power. In fact, previous LS1/LS6 tests showed that trap speeds actually responded favorably with a bit of heat in the alloy mill. Thirty minutes later the track was prepped, and Steve strapped up the Simpson brain hanger and got that explosive titanium exhaust flowing. One smoky burnout later, the silver Z06 crept into RP's right lane and up to the tree. The revs climbed to 3200 and the tree dropped...
On paper, Run 1 was a throwaway: Baur aggressively slipped the clutch and hopped to a 1.98 60-foot, and the lightning-quick revs of the LS6 smacked into the limiter in First and Second. But the clocks begged to differ--after all that, they lit up with a 12.29 at 117.03--unbelievable. One blurted-out expletive later and the 'Vette was back for a hot-lap. The LS6 was just getting warmed up and it showed, with an identical launch rpm and less clutch slip, a better 1.96 60-foot, and three solid gear changes leading to a 12.16 at 117.84 miles an hour.
Forty minutes later, Baur tried a new approach: getting the clutch out a little quicker meant less of a chance for wheelhop. The same 3200-rpm launch resulted in a slight bog, but the 1.94 sixty was an improvement. The Englishtown headwind let us know that all gears were changed cleanly, and seconds later a 12.03 at 117.83 flashed.
At this point the excitement was starting to build--three consecutive runs had dropped the ET down three tenths, and we felt that there was even more left in it. During the 20-minute cooldown, we decided to get a little more aggressive with the launch; the catch was that the IRS couldn't take too much more power, and with wheelhop still a threat we'd have to find the perfect point between slip and bog. Not this time: Steve left at 3200 again, but attempts to aggressively slip the clutch resulted in massive wheelhop and a 2.06 60-foot. The 12.21 ET at 117.73 put us back to square one, and with the track starting to go away, we wondered if there would be any bettering the 12.03.
Baur immediately pulled around for another go. The clutch was hot, the coolant temp was 200 plus, and the first 60 feet of traction had seen better days. What the Z06 did next flies in the face of conventional racer wisdom, and cements it in the annals of GM lore: A light-slip launch got the clutch out quick enough to avoid wheelhop, and the 'Vette shot to a 1.90 60-foot. The 6-speed was manhandled through Second and Third, with the silver missile screaming through the eighth-mile clocks at an astounding 7.80 at 94mph. And once in Fourth, the 3074-pound badass broke through the 11-second barrier, running 11.97 at 118.80.
Eleven ninety-seven--that's a tough number to fathom. Even more so because this thing was dead stock. We didn't pull the air filter. Shit, we didn't even check the tire pressure! And it is so easy to drive fast. Only two parts of the Z06 Drag Race Experience are cause for concern: the IRS doesn't care for a lot of clutch slip; rather, it prefers the driver to keep the revs up and let the clutch out fast. And a 1-2 powershift can be dicey without optimum traction--this thing makes hella power and will go skating across lanes. Otherwise, looking like a drag-race hero is cake in the Z06--my automatic-driving ass pulled a 1.89 60-foot en route to a 12.10 at 116 on my first run! Several more passes were made that afternoon, but 11.97 stands as the best. Incidentally, the radar gun was hooked up to record some 0-60 times, and even with approximately 50 percent of the track's original grip left, it only took the Corvette 3.91 seconds to get there.
E-Town's 1/4-mile strip was also our brake-testing venue, although the 100-0 and 60-0 testing was cut short due to radar equipment malfunctions. But let it be known that with Baur behind the wheel, the best 100-0 stop came in at 317 feet. The Z06 also recorded multiple 117-foot 60-0 readings. Brake fade came into play only slightly, and Steve touted the 12.6-inch front/11.8-inch rear brakes and the quick-cycling ABS system for sucking the 'Vette to the pavement while providing drama-free panic stops. It doesn't get more effortless than this.
The Real-World Skidpad was in rough shape the day the Z06 came to play. The harsh Jersey winter really beat on the E-Town asphalt, and we had a few new dips and chunks of pavement to deal with besides the usual nails, wingnuts, etc. Regardless, the 200-foot circle was marked off with orange cones, the G-Analyst computer was hooked up and calibrated, and we were off. It was immediately clear that the FE4 suspension, with huge 30mm front/23mm rear stabilizer bars and ultra-gooey 265/40/17 front and 295/35/18 rear Goodyear Supercar tires, was in its element. Baur and I both made two three-lap clockwise/counter-clockwise runs, and even before we saw the results we knew that something special had just happened. Its steering weighting is magical--light at low speeds and progressively heavier once it is pushed. The car refused to give up its tenacious grip on the less-than-perfect asphalt, offering up only a bit of understeer and a slight squeal as the Supercars started to slide around the cones at high gs. At no point in the test, no matter how hard we pushed it, did the Corvette lose its balanced handling characteristics, and it took a hard whomp of the gas pedal to spin the car. In checking with the G-Analyst, the Z06 turned in .98g going clockwise, and a brain-sloshing 1.02g counter-clockwise reading, for a cool bi-directional average of 1.00g.
REAL-WORLD TEST: NORTH JERSEY
In the week GMHTP spent piloting the hardtop 'Vette, the staff was all over the pockmarked north New Jersey roads that we love to bitch about. We also found time for a leisurely 100-mph jaunt down the Shore to Toms River, and approximately 400 miles later, we had a pretty good bead on the Z06's personality. The FE4 suspension is definitely a firm ride, but it's much softer than you would expect from 18-inch rims and 35-profile tires. Whether it's the re-valved shocks or just three years of refinement on the SLA double-wishbone suspension, it just works. Although there's little chance of you ruffians ever seeing this feature in action, the skip-shift won't activate unless you're really dogging it; once you get over 2500 rpm, it goes away. As far as the Active Handling system, even with it on in the rain it will still let you get away with some hanky-panky in First until it and traction control shuts the party down in Second.
Audio input, from mechanical to road noise, was always present, but in a muted, subconscious sort of way. In Sixth at 60 miles an hour you're only turning 1500 rpm, and can't even tell that the motor is running; the whip of wind around excellent-sealing windows is the only indication. But drop the Tremec down a few gears, and the fury of a high-compression small-block rips through the titanium exhaust and straight to your soul. The LS6's awesome power, combined with brakes capable of turning any object not bolted down into a flying projectile, allows the driver to surgically insert himself into any crack in traffic.
The C5 has received numerous interior complaints since 1997, but save for the dopey Head Up display, we had a hard time figuring out why. Some say the look is too plastic; hey, if you want a dash cover made from an Italian cow's ass, buy a Ferrari--and spend triple over our tester's $52,720 sticker price. We loved the black leather buckets with Z06 embroidery, the six-way adjustable driver's seat, the dual express-down windows, and the dual-zone climate control. The Z06's gauges are way cool, and are dead steady over the hardest bumps. Above those gauges, outward visibility is what you would expect from a supercar killer: good enough. The fender bulges will always make parallel parking an adventure, and although side visibility is fine, checking the blind spot can be a chore with the hardtop's lack of glass. (Although going WOT in Second is a great way to erase a blind spot!) The stereo is acceptable fare, with the Bose speakers being the best part. Although the head unit's speed-sensing volume control is a nice touch, CDs will skip if you push the car hard enough on the street.
And take it from us, you will push it on the street. Driving Chevrolet's top-dog Z06 is the most exciting thing you can do with your clothes on--a magical, downright scary thrill ride with a completely doable $700 monthly payment. The Corvette team has its work cut out trying to improve on this performer. By the way, let me take this time to thank the Corvette engineers who crunched numbers for that Active Handling algorithm. You've given two GM-crazy screwballs a few more years of new car testing.