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Colossus Of Bowling Green

Plant Manager Wil Cooksey’s '02 Z06

Ronnie Hartman May 1, 2002

Step By Step

The “Colossus of Bowling Green” could easily be an alias for the ’02 Z06. In just its second year, the Z06 has been refined in a truly colossal way. But there’s another colossus at the Bowling Green Corvette Assembly Plant. We’re talking about Plant Manager Wil Cooksey, a giant of a man who packs a colossal dose of Corvette enthusiasm. He’s a great match for the Z06.

We met up with Wil at the National Corvette Museum at the Labor Day celebration last September. By then, he’d already been driving this Electron Blue ’02 pilot car for a couple of months. Just think what a kick it must be to be handed the keys to one of the very first Z06s off the line, with a mandate to test it—hard. Each year, a select few are charged with testing the earliest production cars. The goal is to put as much mileage on them as possible to see how they perform under real-life and often adverse conditions. When they get the car, they can head in any direction they like, as long as they drive. Wil took this Electron Blue Z06 south—to Texas, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Georgia.

He spent enough time in it to state unequivocally that it performs incredibly well, and it’s comfortable, to boot. Wil’s a strapping 6-foot 5-inch man who’d look completely at home on the gridiron. He happens to prefer driving Corvettes, so in order to make sure he’d fit comfortably into the newest model, Wil and NCM Hall of Famer, GM executive Joe Spielman (a whopping 6 feet 7 inches himself) agreed that one of them would make sure they “tried the car on for size” during the design stage. Spielman has been a champion of the Corvette at GM for many years. It wouldn’t have been right to design a Corvette that wouldn’t fit these two Corvette giants.

We asked Wil to tell us more about his testing experience. Characteristically, he laughed as he said, “I’m a racing enthusiast—if they’re running at Beech Bend, I try to go. It’s great to run side by side [with other Corvettes]. I always try to spend some time practicing how to shift for maximum performance. Speed-shifting is great for launching, but with this car you break traction and lose time. It’s better to keep the rpm around 2,500-3,000, and I put 20 pounds of air in the back tires. That’s my secret.” He continued, “It’s a great car. The ’02 is so much improved over last year.” Indeed it is. Among all the other improvements (see the full write-up in the Sept. ’01 issue), there’s that infusion of 20 additional horsepower, which brought the total to 405.

Wil also tested one of the ’01 Z06 pilot cars. He liked that one so much he decided to buy it last year. He’s added nitrous and changed the airbox, and figures he’s got it up to about 500 hp. (The ’02 is bone stock.) It’s clear both cars delight him. For his next test, he wants to get his hands on an ’03 Anniversary convertible. We hope we can catch that on film!

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