If the C6 Corvette had come out in 1997 instead of 2005, it would have been hailed as one of the “great” Corvette generations. New Corvettes have been consistently evolutionary and not revolutionary. We’ll save the revolutionary tag for the C8. The most revolutionary Corvette—up through 2017—was the C5 because not only was the platform all new, so was the suspension, drivetrain, body, interior and the 345-horsepower LS1 engine. The C6 was an evolutionary step forward. Some even took shots at the C6 claiming it was actually a C5.5. But when the car made its debut in January 2004, no one knew what Corvette product planners had in store for the C6. Unfortunately, the C6’s timing was awful because when the Great Recession hit in late 2008, the C6 took it on the chin!
Tom Peters was the lead designer on the C6 project and was charged with making the C6 smaller and more space efficient. Compounding the task’s difficulty was the fact that the C5 was a tough act to follow. Anticipation for the C6 was high, and when the big moment arrived all eyes fell upon one design element: fixed headlights. Fans silently said, “Huh?” Hidden headlights had been part of the Corvette look since 1963. But the new exposed headlights looked very cool and fans embraced the new look enthusiastically.
Critics of the C5 said that it looked too soft and the car’s butt was big. The C6 was crisp, with sharp, defining lines. The Mako Shark-inspired fender humps looked crisp and the nose was appropriately pointed. While the C6’s butt was still a little big, it made the C6 a more useful car. The overall structure had a hydroformed steel tube frame with magnesium and aluminum attaching hardware and chassis components; similar to the C5, but all new and improved.
What helped seal the deal for the C6 was the LS2 engine’s 50-horsepower bump to 400-horsepower for the base model, making the C6 the most powerful basic Corvette ever offered. And unlike the launch of the C5, the C6 was immediately available as a coupe and a convertible. By the end of the 2005 production cycle, customers bought 37,372 Corvette coupes and convertibles, an increase of 3,308 units over 2004 sales, when three models were offered.
A few minutes after the debut, the next question was, “Where’s the Z06?” Fans would have to wait another year for what was arguably the quintessential C6 design that would launch the ZR1 and the Grand Sport. When the Z06 was release in 2001, it instantly became the performance Corvette darling. It came with unique wheels, improved suspension, side-scoops, and a 385-horsepower LS6 engine, 35 more ponies than the basic C5. Then in 2002, power was bumped to 405 horsepower. Compared to the basic C6, the Z06 knocked the socks off of fans, sporting a unique widebody with muscular broad shoulder fenders, scoops, ground effects, dedicated wheels, a near-racing suspension and brakes, and best of all, an aluminum frame and the 505-horsepower LS7 engine with a dry-sump oil system. The LS7 engine would essentially remain the same through the C6 production. The C6 Z06 was so brutish that many customers learned that the Z06 was more track car than street machine. Sales for the 2006 Corvette was off slightly, down 3,351 units to 34,021. But for 2007, sales hit 40,561 units; the best sales year since 1985 (39,729) and the eighth best sales year in 54 years of production.
In 2008, ominous signs of an upcoming recession started to appear. Sales for 2008 were down, but not terribly, to 35,310 units, despite upgrades and the 30-horsepower bump to 430 horsepower from the new LS3 engine. But 2009 was a sales disaster, with a 52-percent drop to just 16,956 units sold. What happened? Was the C6 Corvette suddenly inadequate? No, it was “the economy, stupid.” GM was in deep trouble and millions of Americans were losing their jobs. Unfortunately for Corvette sales, the rest of the C6 generation sales only got worse, hitting bottom in 2012 with 11,647 units sold; the lowest numbers since the short production year of 1997 and the 10,939 Corvettes built in 1961.
But the wild card in the C6 story happened in 2008 when rumors started that the four-year-old C6 would soon be replaced with the C7. Also, there was the endless carping about the C6’s boring interior. From 2005 to 2008, no one complained about the C6’s interior, and then suddenly it was “awful.” What really happened was other performance cars upped their game, leaving the C6 looking “blingless.” Despite the fact that by 2011 special embroidery and accent stitching options were made available, the interior complaints never stopped.
Critics never design and build anything, but the Corvette engineering and product planners cranked out a series of sparkling (abet expensive) special editions (14 in total) and two new unique models: the ZR1 and the Grand Sport. From 2006 to 2008, the Z06 was The King, with racer good looks and 505 horsepower, 105 more than the base 2006 and 2007 Corvette and 75 horsepower more than the base model in 2008. Then, the 638-horsepower, 205-mph ZR1 arrived. While the Z06 was a track car, the ZR1 was a “mad-with-power” GT machine, dripping with special carbon-fiber body parts, unique front fenders, aggressive ground effects, dedicated wheels and tires, and a supercharged/intercooled engine that showed through a clear Plexiglass panel atop of the big hood budge. The ZR1 was spellbinding and set a new record for not only the fastest Corvette ever, but the most expensive, listing for $103,300.
But wait, there’s more. For 2010, when no one was expecting it, the Grand Sport model was released. This turned out to be pure genius. The Grand Sport used the basic Z06 widebody but with dedicated front fender vents, dedicated wheels and a full menu of options and dress-up items, designed so that customers could trick-out and personalize their Grand Sport. Available as a coupe and convertible, the Grand Sport offered fantastic looks to go along with the basic 430-horsepower engine and drivetrain. For 99 percent of street cars, that’s plenty of power. And with the Z06’s optional RPO NPP Dual Mode Exhaust ($1,195), even a basic Corvette LS3 engine could rumble like a beast. From 2010 to 2013, Grand Sport sales accounted for 49.5, 55.8, 62.8, and 49.3 percent of sales respectively. Many Grand Sports were optioned out to cost as much as, or slightly more than, the Z06.
And then there were the Special Editions Corvettes – eight in total, in nine years of production, with 14 variations. The Special Edition C6 Corvettes were: 2007 Ron Fellows Z06 ($66,465); the 2008 427 Limited Edition Z06 ($84,195); the 2009 GT1 Championship Edition coupe ($65,410), convertible ($71,915) and Z06 ($86,486); the 2009 Competition Edition coupe ($55,765) and the Z06 ($77,600); the 2011 Carbon Edition Z06 ($90,960); the 2012 Centennial Edition coupe, convertible, Z06, Grand Sport coupe and convertible and ZR1 ($4,950 on top of each model’s base price); the 2013 60th Anniversary Edition coupe, convertible, Z06, ZR1, Grand Sport coupe and convertible ($1,075 on top of each model’s base price) and the 2013 427 convertible ($76,900). C6 product planners sure kept things interesting.
Some of the special editions were limited production models: Ron Fellows (399 units), the 2008 427 Z06 (505 units), the 2009 Championship Edition (500 units), but only 125 were built, and the 2011 Carbon Edition Z06 was supposed to be limited to 500 units, but only 252 were built. “Open production” special editions included the 2012 Centennial Edition (2,201 units), the 2013 60th Anniversary (2,059 units), and the 2013 427 convertible (2,552 units).
When the 2005 Corvette came out the coupe started at $44,245 and the convertible started at $52,245. By 2013 the base prices were $50,575 for the coupe and $55,575 for the convertible. The Z06 started at $65,800 in 2006 and in 2013 cost $76,575. The ZR1 started at $103,300 in 2009, and in 2013 cost $112,575. The 2010 Grand Sport Coupe started at $55,720, and the convertible at $59,530. By 2013 the price for the Grand Sport coupe was $56,975 and $60,575 for the convertible.
Prices for used C6 Corvettes have many variables because of the six models, how they were optioned and the car’s odometer reading. High mileage early C6s can be bought for as little as $17,000. Newer low mileage special editions are holding close to their sticker price. Even though the C7 is a better-engineered car, there’s a lot of new technology and potential in a C6. If you have to have a special edition, you’ll pay a premium. If you want a project C6, they’re out there.
Illustrations by 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.