The previous two installments of this column were focused on the C5 and C6 Z06 models to lay out the history of the “performance” model Corvette. Back in the pre-computer days, performance engines and heavy-duty suspension and brakes could be ordered but there was no separate performance model Corvette. If you wanted a performance Corvette you ordered the highest-horsepower engine available and a few heavy-duty extras. From 1976 to 1989 there was only one Corvette model available—the coupe. From 1990 to 1995 the ZR-1 was the performance Vette, but at almost double the price of a base Corvette. The Corvette community owes a big debt of gratitude to what was supposed to be the cheap Corvette: the 1999-’00 fixed roof coupe Corvette. This is the car that took maximum advantage of the hardtop’s more rigid structure and set the stage for a separate performance model: the C5 Z06. Since then, Corvette engineers have been making the Z06 better and better.
Thirty years ago, new Corvettes had less than half of the horsepower they have today. The C4 Corvette’s structure, suspension and tires were more than adequate for the power level of the cars. But the introduction of the LS1 engine in 1997 was a game changer. Suddenly, making lots of power was easy. The C5-R racing program functioned as a test lab for new, advanced suspension, tires, brakes and structure. The C6 Z06 stands on the shoulders of the C5-R racing Corvettes. So when the C6 Z06 showed up with an aluminum frame, it was more than anyone expected. The structure was so good it could easily handle the extra 133 horsepower of the ZR1’s supercharged LS9 engine.
The arrival of the all-new 2014 C7 left everyone thunderstruck. The styling was aggressive and crisp, and the all-new LT1 engine has more horsepower and a torque curve that comes on fast and stays flat at the max. The new frame is all-aluminum (a la the C6 Z06), but more rigid. All this attention to structural stiffness allows for better suspension control. Two minutes after the debut, fans were asking, “Where’s the Z06?” Corvette product planners were typically non-specific but got the point across, “Hold on, just a little.”
The C7 Z06 took off where the C6 ZR1 left off, with 650 horsepower and 650 lb ft of torque. Everything related to “performance” has been seriously upgraded: suspension, drivetrain, brakes, wheels, tires and aerodynamics with an emphasis on downforce. For the first time there’s an automatic Z06, a roadster, and the coupe has a removable roof panel thanks to the improved aluminum frame. As if the Z06 wasn’t enough by itself, engineers added a cherry on the top with the Z07 option that also started with the 2015 model.
First, the numbers: The 2015 Z06 Coupe listed for $78,995 and the roadster for $83,995. The Z07 Performance Package cost $7,999 and includes: Brembo carbon-ceramic brake rotors, Michelin Pilot Super Sport Cup 2 tires and adjustable front and rear aero components. The Z07 required either RPO CFV, the Carbon Fiber Ground Effects, for $3,995 or RPO CRZ, the Carbon Fiber Ground Effects (splitters and spoiler), for $2,995. The top-of-the-line, $8,650 3LZ Equipment Group package includes navigation; leather instrument panel, doors and console; suede leather upper interior trim and Performance Data/Video Recorder. This brings the total for a Z06/Z07 Coupe to $96,440 and $101,440 for the roadster. So, we’re back to C4 ZR-1-like pricing with the modern Super Vette costing almost double the base Corvette.
Now, some perspective. The 1969 427/435 is arguably No. 1 in terms of street Corvettes from the golden days. A maxed out 1969 427/435 with all the creature comforts cost just over $7,000. Accounting for inflation, that would be equal to $45,420 in 2016 dollars. Wow! A base 2015 Corvette coupe costs $54,995, and with options you could easily raise that price to $70,000.
But it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison because the modern Corvette is a completely balanced performance package. The L71 427/435, rated at 435 horsepower was “gross” horsepower. The C7 Z06’s LT4 engine has 650 “net” horsepower, so the gross rating might be in the low-to-mid 700hp range! The modern Corvette’s active suspension can be selected for anything from Touring to Track. Traction control, launch control and computerized rev-matching, coupled with huge, sticky, near-racing tires make almost total use of the LT4’s power. As aggressive as the Z06’s looks are, the ground effects package creates race car-like downforce in the corners that helps the Michelin Pilot Super Sport Cup 2 tires and lightweight wheels work to the max. The Performance Data/Video Recorder option, RPO UQT ($1,795) is part of the 3LZ Equipment Group package. This metric and video package records driver’s view video and audio with telemetry data on the video. And lastly, a 1969 427/435 Corvette was a high 13s quarter-mile car with a top speed of around 150 mph. The new Z06 runs the quarter in 10.95 with the automatic and has a top speed of 186 mph.
Here’s an interesting factoid about the value of the Z07 package. The 2017 Grand Sport, uses the C6 Grand Sport formula; the basic LT1 engine, the Z06’s aggressive looks, a few unique visual differences and lots of performance parts, including the Z07 and the ground effects packages. According to Chevrolet, the Grand Sport with the Z07 package is just 1-second off the track record for the C6 ZR1 on GM’s Milford Proving Ground. The C6 ZR1 had 638 horsepower; the C7 Grand Sport has 460 horsepower. That’s how much structure, suspension, sticky tires and downforce is worth. Chevrolet will no doubt sell stacks of Grand Sports, just like they did from 2010 to 2013.
As refined and improved as the C7 Z06/Z07 is, the car still has the temperament of a beast. Race car driver Randy Pobst hot-lapped a Z06/Z07 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and said very clearly, “This car is a handful!” In an episode of Head 2 Head both Jason Cammisa and Jonny Lieberman agreed that the Z06/Z07 has too much power. Cammisa said, “At the limit, the car is maniacal, even diabolical. If you turn off the traction management, you are going to crash. The car is not really drivable at the limits without its computer control. I will NOT turn off stability control on this car, EVER!”
So that’s where we are at with the pinnacle of performance Corvettes. With his much horsepower and torque, a car such as this will likely never be a safe, “amusement park” ride. Computer stability control is here to stay, but will Chevrolet address the Z06’s tendency to oversteer with stickier tires and/or some exotic trickery within the traction control system? Perhaps. Like the C6 Z06, the current configuration might be the finished product for the C7 Z06 generation. We still don’t know if there will be a C7 ZR1, or will the C7 become the shortest Corvette generation since the C2, to be replaced by the mid-engine Zora as the C8 Corvette? Or will the mid-engine Zora be a separate model Corvette, thus allowing the C7 to carry on for a few more years? After all, C7s are selling very well: 37,288 units in 2014 and 34,240 in 2015—which is in the range of the 2005-’08 C6 before the economy crashed in 2009. We’ll just have to wait and see. But for now, the C7 Z06/Z07 has to be considered the greatest performance Corvette ever.
About the Author: K. Scott Teeters has been a contributing artist and writer with Vette magazine since 1976 when the magazine was titled Vette Quarterly. Scott’s Corvette art can be seen at www.illustratedcorvetteseries.com. His muscle car and nostalgia drag racing art can be found at www.precision-illustration.com.