Those who remember the summer of 2000 will no doubt recall the media blitz surrounding the original C5 Z06. Chevy made sure every car rag with even a shred of credibility got to wring out its new uber-car on (and occasionally off) the nation's racetracks and roads. The new-for-'01 Z proved an instant hit with the motoring press, and for good reason. The car offered more power, less weight, better handling, and gummier tires than the already very capable standard Corvette.
To this day, the C5 Z06 remains a favorite among autocross fanatics and dedicated track rats. But as good as the C5 Z is, there is still room for improvement, particularly if you are looking to tailor your car to a specific usage. Dave March was in this category. He wanted to improve his '03 Z06's handling without turning the car into a bone-jarring torture device. "My Corvette is not a dedicated race car; it's my daily driver," said March. "It goes for groceries, it goes to the post office, it goes to meetings, and it goes to the mall. That said, this is not a Cadillac or a Camry. This is a Corvette, and a Z06 at that. I bought this car to drive."
March also wanted his Z to have a very low ride height. But being a tech-savvy Corvette owner (March is one of the administrators of the popular Vette-themed Web site, www.DigitalCorvettes.com), he knew that simply dropping the car without performing supporting modifications could actually impair handling instead of improving it. "I've always lowered my Corvettes," he explained. "I mean, c'mon, they just look better. And there's a good reason every track car in the world sits as close to the pavement as possible. It lowers the center of gravity and enhances aerodynamics. And did I mention it looks cool?
"Problem is," continued March, "though the GM engineers gave us some built-in ride-height adjustability, it's very limited and, at its most extreme, a trade-off at best." Anyone who has dropped a C5 more than half an inch on the stock suspension knows this is true. No doubt, the car looks absolutely killer, but the ride quality suffers, and when pushed, the suspension just doesn't work as well as it did at stock height. "After your initial excitement wears off, you'll soon feel the adverse effects. Shocks compress and the ride becomes noticeably rougher over less-than-perfect roads." March summarized it nicely, saying, "Hit a pothole or unexpected dip in the road, and that reduced spring tension makes the car feel like a Barnum and Bailey clown car. It gets really bouncy.
"Add to that the technical ramifications of the resultant suspension-geometry change, [and] it quickly becomes apparent that there is a price that comes with that meaner stance. If you want a drop of more than a half-inch or so, and you want improved handling, you're gonna need to do more than twist an adjustment bolt," he concluded.
Being a hardcore Corvette enthusiast, March is as addicted to making performance modifications as the rest of us. "As most Corvette owners know, the endless customization and personalization possibilities are much of the fun of ownership," he said. "Whether for comfort, performance or visual impact, there are thousands of catalog pages filled with every choice imaginable. But it's rare for a product to hit all three points." He's right, of course, and when it comes to suspension, March's words are particularly poignant.