Just after 8 a.m. on March 1, 2013, the last '13 Corvette was built. Not only was it an Arctic White 427 Convertible, it was the last of the C6s. The car is now part of the GM Heritage Collection in Detroit. It's nice that GM officials always stop by for a few moments to honor the company's flagship automobile when a generation comes to an end. Now that the C7 has arrived, we can take a clearer look at the C6 to see how it fits into Corvette history. Was the car a success? Definitely. But "success" means more than just the total number of units sold. For special automobiles such as the Corvette, there are other, more subtle things to consider. Let's look at a few C5 and C6 comparisons.
The C5 had an eight-year run, while the C6 had a nine-year run. Troubles within the company and the economy in general helped delay the C7. Chevrolet sold 215,100 C6s and 248,715 C5s, another sign of changing economic times. The C6's best year was 2007, with 40,561 units sold; its worst was 2012, when only 11,647 cars moved from dealer lots. The C5 had its best and worst sales years in 2002 and 1997, respectively, with 35,767 and 9,752 cars sold.
Let's look at the model variations. The C5 came in four versions: Coupe, Convertible, Hardtop, and Z06. It's interesting to note that the C5 Z06 was based on what was to be the "cheap" Hardtop Corvette. Only 6,121 Hardtops were sold in two years, but they only cost $394 (in '99) and $575 (in '00) less than a base model. But thanks to its stiffer structure, this variant was selected for Z06 duty in 2001.
By 2013, buyers had seven models to choose from. Meanwhile, factory- and dealer-installed options created a boutique experience, allowing buyers to personalize their new Corvettes to taste. Unlike the C5, the C6 came in both coupe and topless versions during its first year. Then, in 2006, Chevy unleashed the C6 Z06. Built on a hydroformed aluminum frame and powered by a 505hp LS7 engine, the new Z06 was truly the spiritual descendant of its race-bred '63 predecessor. Indeed, many unsuspecting owners got more than they bargained for!
While enthusiasts were still catching their breath, Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter and his team were busy taking to Corvette to the next level. In 2009 Chevy blew minds again with a fourth C6 model, the 638hp ZR1. It marked the first time the company had placed a speed limiter on a Corvette, in this case holding terminal velocity to 205 mph. Engineers felt that even with the ZR1's front splitter, side skirts, and rear spoiler, stability at higher speeds was questionable. While the ZR1's $103,300 list price was just over double that of a base coupe, bragging rights are never cheap.
A year later, Chevy stunned the Corvette world again with two more new models, the Grand Sport Coupe and Convertible. The cars were a stroke of design and marketing genius. The base Corvette's LS3 packed 430 hp (436 with the NPP exhaust option)—plenty for most owners. The Z06 and ZR1 definitely looked buff, with their swollen fenders and deep front fascias, so the Grand Sport came with similar wide-body parts, unique fender gills, beautiful wheels, and a classic Corvette moniker. Between the basic options, paint choices, stripe packages, body accessories, and wheel-finish combos, the potential for customization was staggering. Corvette product planners nailed this one, because from 2010 through 2013, the Grand Sport Coupe was the top-selling Corvette model. This is especially noteworthy in light of the fact that a tricked-out Grand Sport could cost almost as much as the much-higher-performing Z06.
When it became obvious that 2013 would not only be the Corvette's 60th birthday, but also the C6's final year, engineers and product planners decided to give the car one hell of a sendoff with a seventh model—the 427 Convertible. Tuners and racers had proved that the base C6 could easily handle more than 430 horses. And so the 427 Convertible got the best of everything: the Z06's wide body, plenty of carbon fiber, dedicated wheels shod with performance tires, a full ground-effects package, special interior trim, an exclusive soft top, and a hand-built LS7 engine with 505hp on tap. Though the ZR1 has more power, and the Z06 is faster on a track, the 427 Convertible arguably wins the unofficial award for the Ultimate Street C6.
But wait, there's more! The C6 offered an unprecedented number of special-edition models. Starting in 2007 with the Ron Fellows ALMS GT1 Z06, Team Corvette served up a total of seven direct-sale special editions, another version sold by Hertz, and two Indy 500 replicas. And speaking of the Indy 500, Corvettes paced the race a total of five times from 2005 through 2012, and every year from 2005 through 2008.
Even though these limited editions didn't offer any performance enhancements, each featured its own combination of optional parts and special features. The '07 Ron Fellows Z06 started this trend, with its Arctic White paint, Monterey Red fender hash marks, and the racing driver's signature on the armrest. Only 399 were made. In 2008 Chevrolet celebrated the LS7's outsize displacement with a Crystal Red Z06 wearing chrome "Spider" 10-spoke wheels, special black "stinger" stripes, and "427" hood badges. Only 505 were built, matching the horsepower rating of the LS7 engine.
The 2009 model year saw the release of two distinctive special editions. The GT1 Championship Edition—available on the Coupe, Convertible, and Z06—was painted either yellow or black to match the C6.Rs' livery; it also featured special stripes, decorations, Jake badges, and unique interior trim. Only 125 units were built. The '09 Competition Edition, also available on all three models, came in white or silver with a black hood, roof, and tail stripes; special accents; a differential cooler; and head-up display. A total of 72 were produced. For 2011 Chevy released the Z06 Carbon Limited Edition in a choice of Atomic Orange or Supersonic Blue. This striking variant featured a bulged carbon-fiber hood, a carbon splitter and side rockers, a suede leather interior, and other embellishments. Only 252 were built.
The following year, Team Corvette celebrated Chevrolet's 100th birthday with the Centennial Edition. Available on all seven models, it featured Carbon Flash (black) paint, satin-black stripes, black-painted wheels, special badges, and microsuede interior trim. Also in 2012 there was a very limited run (26 units) of supercharged, 25th Anniversary Callaway Grand Sports. These cars, which marked a quarter-century of Callaway Corvette production, were painted Cyber Gray with a carbon front splitter, side rockers, rear spoiler, and a special vented hood. And for the final year of the C6, Chevy offered a 60th Anniversary Edition package on all Corvette models. It included Arctic White paint with Silver Blue full-length stripes, a ZR1-style rear spoiler, and special badges and trim.
The C6 Corvette was sold with four different engines during its production run. The 400hp LS2 was the base powerplant from 2005 through 2007; the 505hp LS7 powered all Z06 models from '06 through '13; the 430/436hp LS3 came standard from '08 through '13; and the supercharged, 638hp LS9 appeared in the ZR1 supercar from '09 through '13.
Mirroring the success of the C6 street car, the Pratt & Miller C6.R racers proved nearly unstoppable on the track. In addition to winning its class at Le Mans four times in the eight seasons from 2005 through 2012, Corvette Racing took home 50 First Place trophies and 53 Second Place finishes during that same span. The team will continue to race the C6.Rs through the '13 season while the C7.R is being developed.
In short, the C6 Corvette is going to be a tough act to follow. Fortunately the C7 is a groundbreaking platform right from the start, and the Corvette engineering, design, and product-planning teams are more than up for the job.