Late last spring, we spoke with Monte Doran from Chevrolet Communications about doing a final story on the outgoing C6 ZR1. Ever the diligent flack, he suggested a pair of articles comparing the car’s track and road manners, starting with some ride-along laps with test driver Jim Mero at the Milford Proving Grounds, and concluding with a cruise 223 miles north to Traverse City.
We met Doran in Detroit and headed to Milford for the racetrack portion of our evaluation. As detailed in our November ’12 issue (“The Crucible”), we found the car’s performance nothing short of stupefying, especially with Nürburgring vet Mero behind the wheel. Simply put, there’s no way to safely and legally explore the limits of this 638hp super-Vette on a public highway. If you intend to take in the full scope of the ZR1 experience, you’ll do well to rent a road course—and probably a driver as well.
With the track phase of our comparison concluded, we were introduced to a Torch Red ZR1 sitting in the MRC parking lot. The fully optioned, 900-mile car featured the same equipment that was on Mero’s track machine, minus the racing seats and harnesses.
We began by heading north on I-75 to the city of Grayling. This former logging town is located 175 miles north of Milford and filled with historical sites and small shops. The ZR1 beast proved tame while cruising on the Interstate, with a comfortable ride and a minimum of road noise. The trip computer even showed an average fuel-economy reading of 22 to 23 mpg at the speed limit. In short, it was easy to forget we were packing all those supercharged horses under the hood—until a quick stab on the go pedal brought us back to reality in a hurry.
After arriving in Grayling, we visited the railroad station, which was built in 1882, and a turn-of-the-century office building that is still in service. The town started life as a railroad depot that shipped wood harvested from nearby forests. Today it is a small farming community.
We stopped for lunch and parked the ZR1 underneath an old T-33 jet trainer that was on display next to the restaurant parking lot. When we were finished, we pointed the Corvette west on SR72 for the 51-mile ride to Traverse City. Founded in 1846, this former lumber town is now a popular summer vacation destination. It’s located at the base of Grand Traverse Bay, which offers 250 miles of freshwater shoreline. Traverse City is also the self-proclaimed cherry capital of the world, and the area is dotted with cherry farms and wineries. We stayed at the beautiful Grand Traverse Resort and Spa (www.grandtraverseresort.com) while we explored the area.
After departing Traverse City, we headed up West Bay Shore Drive on the 10-mile trip to Sutton Bay. The shoreline of Grand Traverse Bay unfolded on our right, providing an excellent view of the lake. We stopped at Black Star Farms (www.blackstarfarms.com) near Sutton Bay for some cheese tasting, then headed west to the town of Leland.
Leland is a small fishing village that has been in operation since 1853. It got its start when steamships delivered passengers and freight to the harbor. North and South Manitou Islands, both popular hiking destinations, are located 12 miles to the west of Leland and can only be accessed by ferry or boat. The ferry service runs seven days a week in the summer. We parked the ZR1 next to a ’63 split-window Corvette, marveling at the progress the car has made in last half-century.
All too soon, it was time to head back to Detroit. We took SR37 out of Traverse City toward Cadillac. This is a perfect Corvette road, tight and twisty. The ZR1’s power came in handy when we had to pass the numerous lumber trucks trundling along at below the legal limit. The ZR1 has such a deep well of torque that downshifting usually isn’t necessary.
While we’re no strangers to the sixth-gen Corvette, it was especially difficult to say goodbye to this last-of-its-kind ZR1. We drove it almost 700 miles during our brief visitation and found it to be as capable on the street as it was on the track. Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter and his engineering team have their work cut for them if they hope to top this C6 supercar. We can’t wait to see how they do it.