Thanks to the work of Dave Hill and his team, the C5 was nearly perfect when it hit the road. Nevertheless, it only took two years for Team Corvette to decide that a new platform was needed. So in 1999, Chief Stylist Tom Peters started penning the C6.
Thanks in part to the relative newness of the Internet at the time, the C6 didn’t spark the frenzy of speculation that’s surrounded the C7 over the past four years. Still, there were the usual spy photos of C6s wrapped in hideous camouflage, and Motor Trend splashed a C6 rendering on the cover of its Jan. ’04 issue. The blurry photo illustrations by Antoine Guilbaud proved fairly accurate when the production car made its formal debut a month later.
Generational transitions are never easy, and the C6’s arrival was no exception. The new Corvette looked pretty familiar, prompting many automotive journalists to take a wait-and-see attitude. After all, the engine was still in the front, the drive wheels were in the back, and the car didn’t have warp drive. Yes, the design was an evolved C5, but as Dave Hill pointed out, “You could put all the parts carried over from the C5 in a bushel basket.” True enough, but what about the styling?
Back in the C2 and C3 days, the biggest complaint about Corvettes was the lack of accessible storage space. The market longed for more of a GT Corvette, so the C4’s rear end got, well, big. And while the C5 had an even larger rump, owners liked the extra space and didn’t seem to mind. But the C6 designers were listening to the critics. While cargo space was reduced 2.4 cubic feet, from 24.8 to 22.4, the overall interior volume increased 1 cubic foot, to 52.1. VETTE former editor Bob Wallace reported, “To me, the C6 feels smaller, slightly more confined, and more intimate.” The overall dimensions showed that the wheelbase was 1.2 inches longer, but the overall length was 5.1 inches shorter—just 0.1 inch shorter than a Porsche 911 Carrera.
Some had complained that the C5 was too rounded and soft. Stylist Peters pulled off a real optical illusion with the C6. While the car seems to have sharp, crisp fender humps, a closer look will show rather gentle, rounded surface changes on the fender tops and front leading edges. The “sharpness” is really a trick of light. Then, there are the headlights. Peters reported, “There was a lot of internal commotion about this. To go or not go with the fixed headlights was nearly 50/50. Some felt they were cleaner and modern; others saw them as busy and perhaps strangely shaped.” Well, eight years later, I’d say we’re used to them. Certainly any car enthusiast can instantly recognize the C6 as a Corvette.
Aesthetics aside, and despite Hill’s assertion that, “We weren’t out to fix what wasn’t broken or reinvent the wheel,” those longing for a revolutionary C6 were still unsure. While 70 percent of the part numbers were new, the overall structure and design were very similar to the C5’s: hydroformed framerails, next-gen LS2 all-aluminum engine, carry-over six-speed manual transaxle, and similar (albeit improved) suspension components.
While the LS2 didn’t sport forced induction or an extra pair (or two) of cylinders, everything from intake to exhaust was tweaked and improved, delivering an increase of 50 hp and bringing the output tally to 400 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque. The new aluminum five-spoke wheels were an inch larger in diameter and looked great, and the Goodyear Eagle F1 Run-Flat tires had softer sidewalls for a smoother ride.
When journalists finally got to drive the C6, virtually all of their complains went out the window. With 0-60-mph times of 4.3 seconds, quarter-mile times of 12.7 at 113 mph, and a top speed of 186 mph (a new high for the marque), the new base model handily outpaced its predecessor. Best of all, it cost $290 less than an ’04 C5.
Dave Hill retired in January 2006 with the highly successful C5, C5 Z06, C6, and C6 Z06 to his credit. A job well done, I’d say.