AKRON, OH - Not that there was anything wrong with the current-generation (C5) Corvette.
Yet for 2001, here we go again, because the engineers, Chevrolet and GM, true to the Corvette's legacy, are pushing the envelope with even more performance and technology. There's even a strong whiff of nostalgia thrown in.
Hold your breath, 'cause the '01 Corvette line now includes the modern-day reincarnation of the legendary Z06 performance option, Corvette creator Zora Arkus Duntov's vision of a barely disguised, streetable race car.
The Z06, says Chevy, now is its own stand-alone model, as opposed to its former life as an option package. It's based on last year's pared-down Corvette Hardtop model - the Hardtop is gone - but is a lot, lot hairier.
How hairy is it? Hah, glad you asked, because Chevy treated a few annointed journalists to some Z06-propelled track time recently, and my contact lenses don't fit my eyeballs anymore. The car blisters through the 0-to-60 mph (0-to-97 km/h) run in four seconds flat - that's motorcycle territory, folks. And top whack is a not-inconsiderable 171 mph (274 km/h).
The Z06 engine - designated LS6 - is a substantially revised version of the brawny-but-genteel LS1 all-aluminum 5.7L OHV V-8 (all 2001 "regular" Corvettes get an LS1 making 5 more hp, and more torque that augers in lower in the rev range). The new LS6 engine develops 35 more hp (385 in total) than this year's LS1 and a rock-your-world 385 lb.-ft. (522 Nm) of torque.
By the time John Juriga, lead powertrain engineer for the 5.7L V-8, is done running down the list of LS6 enhancements, you need a bib to protect you from your own slobber: a new high-lift camshaft; a redesigned intake manifold; high-flow fuel injectors; reconfigured pistons and a fancy, totally new cylinder head with optimized porting and an increase in compression ratio.
Mr. Juriga says a big boost for the LS6, however, comes from the new block casting that incorporates windows between cylinders to "transition air from one cylinder bay to another," in a more efficient fashion than with the LS1 block's machined holes. The net result is less pumping loss, as the windows allow less-impeded airflow between cylinders, reducing backpressure.
Sweetest of all, though, may be the LS6's welcome increase of 500 rpm more operating speed: its redline now sits at a satisfying 6,500 rpm and makes the LS6 a genuine delight to run hard through the gears (a Tremec-made T56 6-speed manual is the only transmission Chevy will hook to the LS6).
Then there's the Z06's trick Arvin-developed titanium exhaust (mufflers and outlet pipes) - a mass-production first - that reduces backpressure and saves a remarkable 18 lbs. (8 kg) over the standard stainless steel system. It helps to make the Z06 36 lbs. (16 kg) lighter than last year's hardtop and a meaningful 117 lbs. (53 kg) lighter than the regular 'Vettes.
What's more important than the Z06's fabulous performance, though, is Chevy's approach to selling the car: execs are adamant that they won't repeat the ZR1 fiasco.
The ZR-1, if you remember, was the highly anticipated "King of the Hill" ultra-high performance version of the previous-generation 'Vette. So highly anticipated, in fact, that it emerged as a speculator's dream when it finally went on sale. Everyone (including GM) bought into the pre-release hype - GM priced the car too high, speculators ran it up higher. When sense ultimately prevailed, ZR-1 values dove harder than U-571.
The Z06 sell is going to be soft. First, it is not that different visually - the nose air intakes are grilled and there are rear-fender brake cooling ducts, along with a couple of subdued Z06 badges. Second, Mr. Juriga stresses that the LS6 engine, despite its many changes, will run down the same assembly line as all the other 5.7L V-8s, helping to keep the total car's cost out of the exotic strata (the ZR-1's engine was virtually hand-built).
What Chevy wouldn't discuss is just what the Z06 will cost when it goes on sale this fall. But "bet your bottom dollar it won't be ZR-1 money," promises one source.
And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the wondrously recalibrated Active Handling stability control. When Chevrolet launched Active Handling for the Corvette, it was miraculous; the newly recalibrated system takes that description to another level, nosing ahead of the best system on the market, Porsche Stability Management (PSM).
In fact, in describing the new Active Handling tweaks, chief engineer Dave Hill essentially sums up the general philosophy behind the Corvette:
"Other (stability control) systems behave like they're tuned by lawyers. Ours is tuned by racers."