Chevrolet brought back two storied names from its past -- Z06 and LS6 -- when it created the Z06 hardtop model for '01. What Chief Engineer Hill wanted from the Z06 was a no-compromise performance Vette, but one that didn't command the steep premium that the ZR-1 did in the '90s. The lightweight and stiff hardtop body was used as the Z06's starting point, to which was added a heavy-duty suspension, wider, Z06-specific wheels, massive Goodyear Eagle F1 tires, and brake ducts front and rear. (The wheels and telltale crescent-shaped ducts in the rocker panels make it easy to spot a Z06 at a glance.)
The revived LS6 moniker (originally used on a big-block option in '71) was applied to an LS1 that had been hot-rodded with higher compression, improved cylinder heads, bigger injectors, a more aggressive cam and an opened-up intake. All that tuning raised the horsepower output to 385, from the stock LS1's 345 hp, and brought peak torque to 385 lb-ft, from the stocker's 350 lb-ft.
The combo of a lightweight car, a hot motor, and fat tires was magic. Zero-to-60 times dropped to the 4-second range, the quarter-mile went by in the mid 12s, and the Z06 could pull a full 1g on the skidpad. Remarkably, all this performance was priced at just $500 more than a Corvette convertible.
But the Corvette team wasn't done with the Z06 yet. In '02 the LS6's output grew to 405 hp and 400 lb-ft due to intake and camshaft revisions and the removal of two of the car's four catalytic converters to relieve backpressure.
While the Z06 got the lion's share of attention during these years, the standard Corvette also enjoyed a bump in power in '01, as a new intake manifold for the LS1 brought horsepower up to 350 and torque to 360 for automatic-equipped cars, 375 when backed by the manual transmission. The active-suspension option was also made standard equipment that year, improving handling across the line.
A 50th birthday is something special, and Chevrolet chose to celebrate the Corvette's golden anniversary by starting the party off a little early. A Corvette was once again chosen to pace the Indy 500 -- but in 2002, not 2003.
For the '03 model year, all Corvettes wore 50th anniversary badges, and the factory once again produced an anniversary edition. This time around the package included special Anniversary Red paint, champagne-colored wheels, and gray-beige leather upholstery. The option was available on coupe and convertible models, but not the Z06.
Not all the options on the anniversary models were cosmetic. New for '03 was Magnetic Selective Ride Control, which replaced conventional shocks with dampers filled with magneto-rheological fluid. The iron particles in the fluid reacted with an electric charge transmitted through the shock's body to change viscosity and damping at an incredible rate -- up to 1,000 adjustments per second, according to GM.
The C5's final year, '04, saw one more special package added to the line: a Commemorative Edition built to honor Chevrolet's C5-R race cars.
Unlike in the '60s, when the corporation was officially out of racing and Duntov had to back-door cars, parts, and support to privateer teams, Chevrolet announced a factory-backed Corvette endurance road-race program in 1998. The first two C5-Rs made their competition debut at the 24-hour Daytona race in 1999, and the car driven by Ron Fellows notched a third Place Finish--an outstanding debut. From there, the C5-Rs built some serious momentum, hitting their stride in 2001 with an overall win at Daytona, followed by First and Second Place finishes in the GTS class at Le Mans, and the American Le Mans Series Manufacturer's Championship. The C5-Rs repeated their ALMS championships again in 2002 and 2003.
The '04 Commemorative Edition honored that achievement with packages available for all three Corvette models. Coupes, convertibles, and Z06s could be painted a special Le Mans Blue; the Z06s would also get a carbon-fiber hood plus hood, roof, and trunk stripes that emulated the graphics on the competition models.
Chevrolet was justifiably proud of its C5 Corvette, with Chief Engineer Hill often calling the car the "best Vette yet." The operative word there, though, was "yet." Good as the C5 was, Hill was already hard at work at an even more refined Corvette when the C5 was just in its second year of production.