Reviving a historically significant name is a time-honored way to rekindle interest in a mid- or late-cycle vehicle, especially when that moniker evokes fond memories of a marque's glory days. Maybe it's not surprising, then, that when the C6 entered its sixth season of production last year, Chevy exhumed the hallowed Grand Sport designation for use on its latest performance-tuned Corvette offering.
As we've noted before, this latest GS is not an all-new model but rather a canny mash-up of existing parts, some of which were appropriated from the uplevel Z06. The key ingredients include the track-ready suspension and cooling hardware from the old Z51 Performance Package (which the GS effectively replaces), a set of Z06-spec brakes with silver calipers, and a fiberglass facsimile of the Z06's largely carbon-fiber body treatment. Curiously, the dual front-fender hash marks, considered by many (including us) to be central to the Grand Sport mystique, do not come standard but are instead bundled with two-tone seats and logo headrests as part of the $1,195 Grand Sport Heritage Package. At least the package includes stripes for both sides of the car, as opposed to the portside-only treatment employed on the original GS racers and the '96 production model.
While the major components of the powertrain are carried over from the base car, manual-trans GSs do receive the same dry-sump oiling system introduced on the '06 Z06. For reasons of manufacturing efficiency, these engines are bolted together at the Performance Build Center in Wixom, Michigan, right alongside the 505hp LS7 and the 638hp LS9. The meticulous Wixom treatment has no effect on output, however, which remains at 430 horses and 424 lb-ft of torque (436/428 with the optional Dual Mode Exhaust) regardless of transmission.
Fortunately, a lack of forward thrust has never been a problem for the LS3 Vette, as evidenced by the 12.3-second quarter-mile dash (at 115 mph) our automatic GS convertible recorded at Bradenton Motorsports Park. Even more impressive, this feat of dragstrip heroism was accomplished by simply dropping the gear selector into Sport mode, tromping the throttle, and allowing the car to upshift itself just shy of the 6,600-rpm redline. Never before has it been this easy to extract max speed from such a ferociously quick automobile.
The six-speed auto's paddle-shift feature remains an amusing diversion on the street, but its slow-witted responses and lack of a computer-override mode only underscore the need for a sequential or clutchless-manual option. Our Jetstream Blue test car also suffered from late-opening butterflies in the NPP exhaust system, resulting in a whisper-quiet engine note under heavy acceleration followed by a brief flatulent blat as the flapper valves swung open just before the upshift. This so annoyed one writer from another magazine that he resorted to yanking the fuse for the system (helpfully labeled "Exhaust Mod" on the fuse block) to lock the valves in permanent party mode.
These minor gripes aside, the Grand Sport is, like all current Corvettes, hugely entertaining to drive, with immense power reserves, seemingly limitless grip, and a tolerably compliant ride. Ours was also an attention magnet nonpareil, eliciting even more admiring glances and prompting more gas-station interlocutions than the preproduction Z06 we hosted back in late 2005. Not that we spent much time at the pump: The GS 'vert averaged a respectable 23 mpg over the course of its stay, no small feat given the, ahem, "enthusiastic" driving habits of our staff.
That parsimonious streak will be much appreciated when it comes time to make the monthly payment. Optioned to the gunwales with chrome wheels, a nav system, the 4LT Premium Equipment Group, and much more, our tester carried a sticker price of $77,735-some $3,500 more than the starting price of a real-deal Z06. To be fair, the GS model only commands $5,000-6,000 over the price of a base Vette, and it shouldn't be difficult to order up a nicely equipped example for around $60,000. Fans of post-purchase performance tuning should also note that it would be nigh impossible to piece together a similarly potent Z06 look-alike for less using aftermarket hardware.
Does the '10 Grand Sport makes good on the promise implicit in its historic appellation? We're inclined to say so, especially if the car in question is a conservatively optioned manual coupe. While it may lack the low-volume cachet of its immediate predecessor, this latest GS is a vastly superior automobile in every other respect. And in the grand scheme of things, that's change we can all believe in.