Chevrolet Corvette: 60 Years of an American Icon, Part 2
1984-2013: C4, C5, and C6
January 13, 2013
By Drew Hardin
To The Next Level
Every new Corvette generation, it seems, misses its due date. The arrival of the fourth-generation cars was pushed back so much that GM executives decided to skip the entire '83 model year and launch the C4 as an '84 model. The first Corvette to wear the stamp of Chief Engineer Dave McLellan, the C4 was an immediate hit with buyers and the media, and it achieved several landmark milestones during its 13-model-year run. McLellan and company had, indeed, taken America's favorite sports car to a whole new level.
Evolution vs. Revolution
Petersen Publishing’s Bob...
Petersen Publishing’s Bob D’Olivo photographed this final shark-era Corvette with one of the first of the C4 models, showing just how much the car’s styling changed between the two generations.
devoted a big part of its March '83 issue to the brand-new Corvette, and within that special section was an article by Jim Hall describing the car's genesis, a case of evolution versus revolution. Was it finally time to make Zora Arkus-Duntov's revolutionary dream of a mid-engine Corvette a reality, or should the car take an evolutionary approach and retain its front-engine/rear-drive layout?
As far back as 1976, the Corvette engineering group and the Chevy 3 design studio were drafting proposals examining each of those architectures. The designers favored Duntov's dream and worked up a clay model based largely around the Aerovette show car. McLellan and his engineers built a mid-engine mule to study the design using a Porsche 914 platform. They realized packaging constraints would force them to use a V-6 in a mid-engine Vette, and the only engine available at the time was the anemic 2.6-liter six-banger available in the X-cars. It was deemed too expensive to power up that engine with a turbocharger, so the engineering team discarded the mid-engine concept, though the designers held onto the dream for a while longer.
The all-new Corvette won Motor...
The all-new Corvette won Motor Trend’s Car of the Year award in 1984, with the editors saying it had the “highest excitement quotient of anything to come out of an American factory. Ever.”
Reportedly it was the introduction of the front-engine/rear-drive Porsche 928 in 1977 that put the final nail in the mid-engine Vette's coffin. At that point the mid-engine concepts became "experimental" vehicles once again, and Chevy 3 was tasked with designing a Corvette with the conventional powertrain layout.
The new car, they were told, had to have more interior room and more cargo capacity, but it had to be shorter overall, have a better firewall-to-axle proportion, and have a lower drag coefficient. Oh, and it had to look like a Corvette. An early rendering, done in October 1978, set down the C4's basic shape, though the car's nose looked a lot like a Firebird's.
In a July 1984 top speed test,...
In a July 1984 top speed test, the C4's 155.2-mph result besting the likes of a Porsche Carrera, a Lotus Esprit Turbo, and a Ferrari 308GTBi.
It was packaging, in the end, that determined the car's look. To reduce height while not impacting ground clearance, the engineers tucked the exhaust system up into the center tunnel. The windshield pillars were dramatically raked back; and the car's fuel-injected motor was positioned lower in the car, allowing a low hood line. For a while the designers incorporated cooling grilles into the car's nose, but the bottom-feeding radiator didn't need the airflow, so the grilles were replaced with light lenses. A fiberglass model finished in early 1980 was nearly identical to the production version that went on sale in March 1983.
Beneath the skin the C4 was all-new, too. Transverse monoleaf springs were used at both ends of the car, rack-and-pinion steering was fitted, and the independent rear suspension now used five locating links instead of three. The previous year's 350ci Cross-Fire V-8 (now making 205 hp) returned, as did the 700-R4 automatic transmission, though the Vette could now be ordered with a Doug Nash four-speed manual, which earned the "4+3" nickname for the computer-controlled overdrives in the top three gears. A new Z51 performance suspension was available as an option, which helped the car earn near-1g lateral-force figures in skidpad testing.
Inside, the new interior marked the first use of an all-digital display instead of traditional analog gauges. While it looked high-tech at the time, the instrument panel met with decidedly mixed reviews.
The '84 Corvette was a big hit. High demand and an extended on-sale period netted sales figures of more than 51,000 units, and the car earned all sorts of media accolades, including Motor Trend's Car of the Year award.
The C4 got a serious performance...
The C4 got a serious performance boost in ’85 when the Cross-Fire injected L83 gave way to the Tuned Port L98.
Good as the C4 was out of the box, revisions started almost immediately. For the '85 model year, the small-block's Cross-Fire throttle-body injection was replaced by Tuned Port Injection, and the new L98 small-block made 25 more hp, 40 more lb-ft of torque, and got better fuel economy. While the press loved how the new Vette's suspension handled around the skidpad, in the real world customers were complaining about the car's stiff ride. So spring rates were softened for both the stock suspension and the Z51 sport package.
The convertible body style...
The convertible body style returned to the Corvette lineup in ’86.
In '86 the Corvette ended its 11-year open-air hiatus with a new convertible model. McLellan had a drop-top in mind when designing the C4, so it didn't take a tremendous amount of extra chassis bracing to make up for the lost roof panel. Antilock brakes became standard equipment aboard the Vette, and aluminum cylinder heads were available as a mid-year addition, adding 5 hp to the L98's output.
For the second time a Corvette paced the Indianapolis 500, and as was the case eight years earlier, the car used for pace duties was essentially bone stock, save for safety gear and strobe lights.
In '87 the L98's output rose again, to 240 hp, thanks to a change from traditional hydraulic lifters to roller lifters. New for the year was the Z52 suspension option, a "sport" package that teamed most of the Z51 equipment -- quicker steering, Bilstein shocks, oil cooler, heavy-duty radiator, thicker front sway bar, wider wheels -- with the softer stock springs.
Chuck Yeager handled the pace-car...
Chuck Yeager handled the pace-car driving chores when Corvette returned to Indy in 1986.
The Corvette celebrated its 35th anniversary in 1988, and Chevrolet marked the occasion with a 35th Anniversary Edition. Some 2,050 coupes got the special treatment, which included white paint, white wheels, white leather upholstery with anniversary embroidery, the Z52 suspension, and other goodies. All '88 Vettes saw improvements to the front suspension and brakes, and some were shod with a new six-slot wheel, which appeared only in this model year.
In '89 the Doug Nash 4+3 manual was replaced by a six-speed ZF gearbox, the infamous "skip shift" transmission. In the interest of fuel economy, this trans was outfitted with what was called Computer-Aided Gear Selection, which forced the driver to shift from First to Fourth if the gear change was made at low speeds or low rpm. Of course, most just revved their Vettes higher before shifting to avoid the annoying First-Fourth change, which didn't help fuel economy at all.
Also in '89 the 17-inch, 12-slot wheels that first appeared on the '88 Z51 and Z52 suspension packages were made standard equipment on all Corvettes, and convertible owners could now order a hardtop option with a glass rear window and fully lined roof.
King of the Hill
Chevrolet planned to introduce...
Chevrolet planned to introduce the ZR-1 as an ’89 model, and several prototypes were built using a LT5 rear-end badge that didn’t make it into production. That badge is visible on the ZR-1 in this Chevrolet press photo for the ’89 model year.
As the C4 was making its debut, Corvette engineers and product planners were looking down the road at ways to keep the Vette the top-of-the-heap halo vehicle Chevrolet needed it to be. It was feared the incremental power gains squeezed from the L98 weren't going to be enough to fend off foreign competition.
So McLellan put Chevy's powertrain people to work. Early experiments at turbocharging didn't pan out, but the engineers were encouraged by the potential offered by overhead camshafts and multiple valves in the heads. Following this path led to an arrangement with Lotus, with which GM designed an all-aluminum, 32-valve, dual-overhead-cam V-8. Once the design work was completed to Chevy's satisfaction, manufacturing of the engine was turned over to Mercury Marine in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
Lotus, working in concert...
Lotus, working in concert with GM, developed the LT5 and its dual overhead-cam, 32-valve top-end.
The overhead-cam design made for a small-block with a wholly different character, a high-winding motor that didn't hit its 375hp peak until 6,000 rpm. McLellan knew putting all that power to the ground meant installing fatter rear tires, which would also necessitate wider rear-end bodywork. To further set off this new super Vette, the car's round taillights were squared off.
The engine was named the LT5, and early prototypes of the Vette had an LT5 badge under the passenger-side taillights. GM brass didn't want to use the engine's RPO code that way, though, so production versions were badged with the car's official name. Though early in its development Chevrolet Chief Engineer Don Runkle called it the "King of the Hill," the company went back in time to revive a high-performance RPO number from the early '70s: ZR-1.
Motor Trend recorded a quarter-mile...
Motor Trend recorded a quarter-mile pass of 13.13 seconds at 110 mph in the ZR-1.
Journalists first tested the car in Europe after its debut at the Geneva Auto Show in 1989. Though it was intended to be an '89 model, by the time all the engineering was sorted out, the corporation tagged the cars as '90 models.
The ZR-1 was an incredible performance machine. Motor Trend clocked the car at 4.75 seconds from 0-60 and 13.13 seconds through the quarter-mile, while the hot shoes at Car and Driver dipped into the high 12s. Yet the ZR-1 RPO carried an equally stratospheric price tag: $27,000 over the $32,000 cost of a '90 coupe to base it on. Despite that steep sticker, some 3,000 ZR-1s were sold in '90.
All told, the ZR-1 option was available from 1990 to 1995, and the car saw minimal changes during those years. Output rose to 405 hp in '93, the same year Corvette celebrated its 40th anniversary. That was also the year Mercury Marine stopped making the LT5 engine, leaving enough of a surplus to continue building the car in limited numbers for two more years.
Closing the Gap
The King of the Hill was the...
The King of the Hill was the king of the June ’93 Motor Trend Top Speed shootout, with a 180-mph top speed. The LT1-powered Anniversary coupe came in third, just behind a Viper, with a 162-mph top end.
There were several reasons for the ZR-1's short life. A stagnant economy made it hard for Chevrolet to find buyers who would pay the car's steep price, and getting the LT5 to pass the stricter emissions standards for the upcoming '96 model year would have been prohibitively expensive.
Plus, the standard Corvette was going through a series of upgrades that closed the gap between it and its supercar brother. First came a new look: All Corvettes received the ZR-1's squared taillights in '91, in addition to a revised front fascia, new fender louvers, a new turbine-style wheel design, and the Z07 adjustable suspension package, which replaced the Z51 option. Then in '92 the L98 small-block V-8 was replaced by the first of the Gen II small-blocks. The new 350-inch motor, named LT1 after the LT-1s from the '70s, was good for 300 hp--a significant increase.
A ’95 LT1 coupe was yet again...
A ’95 LT1 coupe was yet again the fastest car in an MT top-speed test, registering 167 mph. The 89-mph reading on the cop’s radar machine was fixed there for photo purposes; later the picture was retouched so the Vette’s 167 reading appeared on the sign.
Another milestone passed in 1992, as Dave McLellan retired and handed his Chief Engineer job to David Hill. Hill had come from Cadillac, but he had extensive personal experience with sports cars, both foreign and domestic.
That changeover happened just a year shy of the Corvette's 40th anniversary, which was commemorated in the '93 model year with a 40th anniversary package: Ruby Red Metallic paint (with leather upholstery to match), special emblems, and body-color wheel centers. Also new for the model year was the first keyless entry system.
The '94 model year saw several changes to the Vette's interior. Leather upholstery became standard (and cloth unavailable), the steering wheel and instrument panel were redesigned, and there was now an airbag in front of the passenger seat. Underhood the LT1 was fitted with a new sequential fuel-injection system that improved throttle response and lowered emissions, though output numbers remained the same.
The C4 generation ended in...
The C4 generation ended in grand style with two special models, the Collector Edition and the Grand Sport, the latter seen here in full tire-roasting glory.
Corvette paced the Indy 500 for the third time in 1995, and 527 pace-car replicas were built, each finished with the Indy car's distinctive purple-over-white paint scheme. Standard '95 Vettes received revised front fender louvers and softer springs, while the big front disc brakes that were part of the ZR-1 and Z07 packages became standard on all Vettes.
By 1996 the much-delayed fifth-generation Corvette was finally waiting in the wings, as was an all-new small-block V-8. Chevy marked the end of the C4 era with not one but two special one-year-only models. As it did with the last shark in '82, a Collector's Edition was offered, with special paint, wheels, upholstery, and badging.
The second special was called the Grand Sport, an homage to the racing Corvettes spearheaded by Duntov in 1962. The Grand Sports were finished in Admiral Blue metallic paint with a white stripe down the car's center and two red hash marks -- or "Sebring stripes" -- on the driver-side front fender. Grand Sport coupes were shod with black painted ZR-1 wheels and fitted with rear fender flares to cover the wider rear tires, while convertible Grand Sports received the standard Corvette wheel-and-tire package.
Also going out in style was...
Also going out in style was the Gen II small-block, which appeared in all manual-trans ’96 Corvettes as the LT4.
The Grand Sport was no mere appearance package, though. Under the hood was a highly modified LT1 with freer-flowing heads, bigger valves, a more aggressive cam, 1.6-ratio roller rockers, and high-flow intake manifold. Called the LT4, this Gen II swan song put out 330 hp and 385 lb-ft of torque, and it was dressed for success with bright red accents and a "Grand Sport" plate on the throttle body. While the pumped-up engine was initially planned as a Grand Sport exclusive, Chevy ultimately decided to install the LT4 in all six-speed Vettes for '96, while cars fitted with the 4L60E automatic received the standard LT1.
In addition to the C4, another Corvette legend passed in 1996. Zora Arkus-Duntov, whose legacy would forever be intertwined with his beloved sports car, died in April 1996. Duntov never did see his mid-engine dream car become a reality, but he was able to attend the opening of the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green in 1994, which must have been deeply satisfying for the man who almost literally saved the Corvette from certain death in the mid '50s.
Motor Trend produced a lengthy...
Motor Trend produced a lengthy special section devoted to the Corvette’s birthday for its April ’03 issue. The section kicked off with this photo by staff photographer David Newhardt, with one of each of the Corvette’s generations parked on the famous Corkscrew turn at Laguna Seca.
Financial trouble within GM and a shuffling of the major players high up the corporate ladder resulted in yet another delay for a redesigned Corvette. The car's fifth generation was originally scheduled to debut in 1993, to mark the Vette's 40th anniversary. When the dust finally settled, it would be another four years before the C5 was finally unveiled to the public at the 1997 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. A long wait, yes, but worth it by all accounts.
Ad writers and marketing types love to tout any redesigned, refurbished, or even slightly modified car model as "all new." But that term truly applied to the '97 Corvette, perhaps more so than at any other period in the car's history. And that includes the very first models. Groundbreaking as they were, they relied on a lot of Chevy parts-bin components to get on the road in 1953.
The ’97 Corvette was the embodiment...
The ’97 Corvette was the embodiment of the term “all new” when it debuted at the North American International Auto Show in January 1997.
Not so the '97 Vette. Except for the automatic transmission, everything about the car was new. From a styling standpoint the car was unmistakably a Corvette and yet far sleeker than the C4 models that came before it. It didn't just look more lithe, either; wind-tunnel tests confirmed the car's drag coefficient dropped substantially, from 0.34 to 0.29.
Beneath the slippery skin, the C5's foundation consisted of a hydroformed perimeter frame with a rigid center tunnel, far stiffer than the previous chassis, which helped solve some of the squeak and rattle problems that plagued earlier cars. Instead of a conventionally mounted transmission, the C5 made use of a rear-mounted transaxle, creating close to an ideal 50/50 front-rear weight balance. Double-wishbones were employed at all four corners, sprung by a composite transverse monoleaf spring at each end of the car.
The LS1 engine shared displacement...
The LS1 engine shared displacement and its cam-in-block architecture with the previous LT1/LT4 engine, but little else.
Since 1955 small-block V-8 power had been a key component of each Corvette's personality, and in keeping with the "all new" theme of the C5, the '97 Vette was home to GM's brand-new Gen III V-8, a 5.7-liter engine that shared displacement with its LT1/LT4 predecessor but little else. Dubbed the LS1, this all-aluminum mill featured cross-bolted main bearing caps in its deep-skirt block, a smaller bore and a longer stroke, replicated (rather than siamesed) ports to make flow rates consistent cylinder-to-cylinder, sequential port fuel injection (with a new electronic throttle control), separate ignition coils for each spark plug, and tubular exhaust manifolds. The new engine weighed 44 pounds less than the LT4 and produced 345 hp, up from the LT4's 330.
Given all that innovation -- and glowing reviews from the automotive press -- it's surprising that the first C5 wasn't a bigger success at the showroom. Just 9,752 units were sold that year, less than half of what the '96 model sold. (The decline was due in part to an abbreviated '97 model year.) It didn't take long, though, for the public to warm up to the car. A year later sales more than tripled.
New Body Styles
Not only were the C5’s performance...
Not only were the C5’s performance parameters raised over the C4, but its cockpit was redesigned with an eye towards more comfort and greater convenience.
Budget constraints kept the Corvette design team from developing a C5 convertible concurrent with the coupe, but the drop-top arrived just a year later, solid and shake-free thanks to the C5's rigid subframe. Chief Engineer David Hill mandated that the top mechanism be manual, not power-operated, to save two things: cost and space. Why space? With the new convertible came a trunk, a feature not found on a Corvette since 1962.
Chevrolet followed up the convertible with something completely different for '99: a hardtop body style. Though it was at one time envisioned as a budget model of the Vette, the hardtop instead became a performance variant, as it weighed less than the sport coupe (by some 80 pounds) and was 12 percent stiffer. By limiting some equipment and options availability, the hardtop did wind up costing less than a coupe, but by just a few hundred dollars. Performance-wise the car was just a tick or two quicker than the coupe, though that would change in a couple of years.
It took a year before the...
It took a year before the C5 was offered in a convertible version. Motor Trend Editor C. Van Tune took a soft-top ’98 Vette on a 1,700-mile exploration of Route 66.
While on his Route 66 adventure,...
While on his Route 66 adventure, Van Tune had the opportunity to photograph his tester next to “the oldest production Corvette in existence, serial number 003.”
Corvettes paced the Indy 500...
Corvettes paced the Indy 500 three times during the C5 run, the first time in 1998 when Parnelli Jones took the wheel for ailing golfer Greg Norman.
Several external design cues...
Several external design cues made the Z06 easy to spot, starting with the hardtop roof. Z06 models also got an exclusive wheel design and distinctive brake cooling ducts in the rocker panels.
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 ’03 version of the LS6...
The ’03 version of the LS6 produced 55 hp and 25 lb-ft of torque over the base LS1
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.
Racer Justin Bell was the...
Racer Justin Bell was the hired hot-shoe for Motor Trend's July 2003 test. He called the Z06 "my performance benchmark."
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.
The C5 generation ended with...
The C5 generation ended with the optional Commemorative Edition models, built in tribute to the success the C5-R was having in ALMS and at Le Mans.
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.
Thanks to ongoing improvements,...
Thanks to ongoing improvements, the ’13 edition is the best C6 yet. A bewildering array of models, powertrains, and option packages means you can configure your Corvette exactly the way you want it.
Going Out In Style
It's hard to say goodbye to the sixth-generation Corvette. Since its debut nearly eight years ago, we've filled our pages with C6 test drives and shown how a variety of tuners have extracted maximum performance from the car.
Tom Peters, the C6's exterior designer, gave us our first ride in the car in April 2004. He provided us with an overview of his design philosophy for the car, which focused on making it more compact while retaining the Corvette heritage.
Later that year, we attended the 2004 Corvette at Carlisle event, where Carlisle Events' Lance Miller took delivery of his own C6. Shortly after the show, he delivered the car to Callaway Cars for upgrades. We followed these changes in a multi-part series that included modifications to the engine and suspension. This project helped familiarize us with the C6's strengths as well as areas that needed improvement.
GM engineers have also done their best to keep the C6 competitive, and their ministrations have yielded consistent, meaningful improvements over the vehicle's model run. In our opinion, the current Corvette is the best sports-car value in the world. What follows is an overview of its evolution.
A Solid Foundation
The “marriage” of the C6 body...
The “marriage” of the C6 body and mechanicals duplicates the way the C5 was constructed. The hydroformed frame is the foundation for the body structure, while a pair of cradles hold the mechanical components.
The C6 had big shoes to fill following the success of the C5. Chief Engineer Dave Hill and his team developed an innovative mechanical structure for the C5, and lead designer John Cafaro wrapped it all in a sleek aerodynamic body that drew crowds. Its foundation was a hydroformed steel frame that held the body structure in place during assembly. A front aluminum subframe secured the front suspension and brakes, steering rack, and engine, while a rear subframe held the rear suspension and brakes, differential, and transmission. The two assemblies were joined with a torque tube that held a driveshaft. The body and frame came together in a "marriage" on the assembly line, with four bolts in the front and four in the rear. The car was a true stunner that provided incredible performance for the money.
Corvette Assembly Plant Manager...
Corvette Assembly Plant Manager Wil Cooksey was photographed driving this C6 in April 2004.
Hill, engineer Tadge Juechter, and the Corvette team worked closely with designer Peters to begin development of the C6 in 2000. The team's goal was to "tighten" the body design to make it smaller and more space efficient.
As a result, the C6 was five inches shorter (174.6 vs. 179.7) and one inch narrower (72.6 vs. 73.6) than the C5. The wheelbase was lengthened (105.7 vs. 104.5) to improve the car's ride, a change made possible by moving the front cradle forward. The C6's drag coefficient even improved slightly (to .28 from .29) over the previous car.
Under the hood, the new 6.0L LS2 engine raised output by 50 horsepower over the 5.7L LS1, yielding figures of 400 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque. The C6 was lauded by the motoring press for its performance and styling. Corvette buyers apparently agreed, as sales for 2005 totaled 37,372 units.
The Z06 Returns
This Inferno Orange ’11 Z06...
This Inferno Orange ’11 Z06 is fitted with the optional Z07 package, which includes ZR1 ceramic brakes, Magnetic Selective Ride Control, Michelin PS2 ZP tires, and 20-spoke wheels.
The Z06 returned to the lineup in '06 featuring an aluminum hydroformed structure, magnesium cradles, and lightweight carbon body panels. Thanks to these weight-saving efforts, the car tipped the scales at a mere 3,132 lbs. Among recent Corvettes, only the '04 Z06 Commemorative Edition, at 3,118 lbs, was lighter.
Stuffed inside this lightweight structure was a racing-derived 7.0L LS7 engine that produced 505 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque. Larger brakes, wheels, tires, and stretched front and rear fenders were also standard. Customers clamored to buy this new Corvette hot-rod, sometimes paying exorbitant dealer premiums for the privilege.
Many Z06 styling features...
Many Z06 styling features were incorporated into the hugely successful C6.R race car. This C6.R (chassis #002) won its class at the 2005 24 Hours of Le Mans race, in spite of suffering a flat tire early in the race.
To help demonstrate the new ueber-Vette's racing mettle, Chief Engineer Hill sent six "Captured Test Fleet" Z06s to Europe to be converted into race cars. Callaway Competition in Leingarten, Germany, promptly built them into Z06.R GT3 racers and turned them loose on road courses across the continent. Since then, a total of 23 have been constructed, and these cars have won multiple FIA GT3 championships.
Other big news for '06 included the introduction of a new six-speed automatic transmission with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. On the personnel front, Dave Hill retired after spending 12 years as Corvette's chief engineer, handing the reins to Tadge Juechter. Tom Wallace, meanwhile, assumed the title of Vehicle Line Executive, a position from which he would also oversee the Corvette-based Cadillac XLR.
New for 2005 was an updated...
New for 2005 was an updated powerplant called the LS2. The 364ci engine had a compression ratio of 10.9:1, and produced 400 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque.
Corvette fans cheered when...
Corvette fans cheered when the new LS7 debuted in the ’06 Z06. It displaced 427 ci, thanks to a 4.125-inch bore and a 4.000-inch stroke. Compression was 11.0:1. The dry-sump engine produced 505 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque.
The LS2 was superseded by...
The LS2 was superseded by the LS3 in 2008. It boasted a displacement of 376 ci, a compression ratio of 10.7:1, and output figures of 430 hp and 424 lb-ft of torque. The optional NPP exhaust added another 6 horses and 4 lb-ft.
The new LS9 engine elevated...
The new LS9 engine elevated the Corvette to supercar status in 2009. The LS9 had the same dimensions as the LS3 but used an intercooled Eaton TVS2300 supercharger to pump up the power to 638 horses and 604 lb-ft of torque.
This photo shows the interior...
This photo shows the interior of a very-early-production C6. Though comfortable and ergonomically sound, the ’05-’07 cabin earned demerits for its utilitarian look.
The interior of this ’13 60th...
The interior of this ’13 60th Anniversary 427 Convertible is considerably more luxurious, and fitted with a host of creature comforts not found in earlier versions.
This Machine Silver Z06 was...
This Machine Silver Z06 was unveiled at the National Corvette Museum in April 2005. A bare Z06 chassis can be seen in the background.
Team Corvette's predilection for special-edition offerings bloomed anew in '07, when two such models were produced. The first was a red-and-white Z06 honoring Corvette Racing standout Ron Fellows Z06. This was the first "signed edition" Corvette ever produced, with each of the 399 copies bearing Fellows' signature on the underside of the center-console lid.
Also available in '07 was a limited run of Indy pace-car replicas. All 500 units were Atomic Orange convertibles based on the car piloted by actor/race driver Patrick Dempsey at that year's 500-mile endurance race.
The ’08 Corvette underwent...
The ’08 Corvette underwent a mid-cycle upgrade, which included the new LS3 engine and many refinements to the steering, suspension, and driveline. In addition, 500 cars were built to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the first Indy 500 Corvette.
The following year, the Corvette received a mid-cycle upgrade that included the new 6.2L LS3 engine. The LS3 produced 430 hp at 5,900 rpm and 424 lb-ft of torque at 4,600 rpm, thanks in large part to its heavily revised cylinder heads. An optional dual-mode exhaust, modeled on the Z06 system, tacked on another 6 hp and 4 lb-ft. A new TR6060 six-speed manual offered reduced shift effort and travel, while two optional leather-wrapped interiors enhanced the appearance and feel of the cabin.
Finally, another pair of low-volume models hit showrooms in '08. The first was the 427 Limited Edition Z06, each of which was painted Crystal Red and signed by retired Bowling Green Assembly Plant Manager Wil Cooksey. The second was yet another Indy pace-car replica, this time rendered in a black-and-silver paint scheme echoing the look of the '78 edition.
Long Live the King
Thanks to its supercharged...
Thanks to its supercharged LS9 engine, the ’09 ZR1 was the first 200-mph Corvette. It was also the first Corvette to be fitted with Michelin tires instead of Goodyears. VETTE contributor Walt Thurn snapped this photo at the 2008 Detroit Auto Show, where the car was unveiled.
The big news for '09 was the introduction of the first 200-mph Corvette, the ZR1. Power came from the new supercharged 6.2L LS9 producing 638 hp and 604 lb-ft of torque. According to GM Powertrain Manager Sam Winegarden, "We improved the bulkhead strength in both the LS3 and LS9 engine blocks. This enabled us to enlarge the openings from bulkhead to bulkhead inside the engine. This let us manage the airflow from bay to bay, and as a bonus it made more power.
"The head design is similar, except for the materials and heat treatment we use in the LS9. This is because of the engine's increased pressure." Other ZR1 highlights included multiple carbon-fiber aero enhancements and massive carbon-ceramic brakes.
VETTE put a very-early-production...
VETTE put a very-early-production ZR1 through its paces at Sebring International Raceway for its March, ’09 issue.
conducted the first-ever drag-strip test of the new ZR1 in the fall of '09, piloting the car to a best e.t. of 11.447 seconds in the Florida heat. "With a few more break-in miles, some cooler air, and a pair of drag radials, the new Corvette flagship is almost certain to crack the 10s at 130-plus," wrote Editor Jay Heath.
A "Grand" Finale
In 2010, the Grand Sport name returned on a model priced between the base Corvette and the Z06. It featured Z06-style body panels -- though in fiberglass, rather than carbon -- allied with the base car's mechanicals. Manual-trans Grand Sport coupes came with a dry-sump LS3 engine that, like the LS7 and LS9, was hand-assembled at GM's Performance Build Center in Wixom, Michigan.
The big news for 2010 was...
The big news for 2010 was the introduction of the Grand Sport coupe and convertible. The steel-framed Grand Sport featured Z06-style bodywork, brakes, and wheels but retained the base LS3 engine.
The new model was an immediate hit, even if overall sales were down. With the economy in free fall, Corvette production for 2010 totaled only 12,194 units, almost half of which were Grand Sports.
Chevy deployed more Corvette special editions in the '11 and '12, mostly by repurposing hardware from the ZR1 parts bin. The '11 Z06 offered three new performance options: Z07, CFZ, ULZ. The Z07 package included ZR1-spec ceramic brakes, Magnetic Selective Ride Control, and Michelin PS2 Zero Pressure tires mounted on ZR1-style wheels. CFZ added a black-painted carbon splitter, rockers, and roof hoop, plus a body-colored rear spoiler. The ULZ Carbon Limited edition included the Z07 and CFZ packages plus a bulged carbon hood, a special interior, and assorted cosmetic touches. Decoding the Corvette's options list had never been more challenging.
Corvette celebrated Chevrolet’s...
Corvette celebrated Chevrolet’s 100th Anniversary by offering a Centennial Edition package on all models. With its Carbon Flash Metallic paint and bright-red brake calipers, it was a true head turner.
For 2012, Chevrolet celebrated its 100th anniversary with a Centennial Edition package available on all Corvette models. It featured Carbon Flash Metallic (black) paint, an Ebony leather interior with suede accents, and an assortment of Centennial badges. Magnetic Ride Control, red brake calipers, and black wheels were also included.
In its eighth and final production year, the C6 is being offered with a 60th Anniversary package including Arctic White exterior paint, a special Blue Diamond interior, optional blue exterior stripes, and carbon trim.
An LS7-powered drop-top called the 427 Convertible is also new. Based on the Grand Sport model, it features a six-speed manual transmission, a carbon hood, and Z06 front carbon fenders. All exterior colors are available.
The '13 model run will end early, to allow time for the assembly plant to gear up for C7 production. The C6 has proved to be the best all-around Corvette yet, one that will continue to generate new fans well into the future.
Adapted from the November 2012 issue of Vette. Words by Walt Thur and Jay Heath. Photographs by Walt Thurn.
When Cooksey retired in 2008,...
When Cooksey retired in 2008, he was honored with a special run of 505 Z06s. These cars—also known as Corvette 427 Limited Editions—featured his signature on the glovebox lid. He’s shown here with serial number 001.
VETTE magazine had the opportunity...
VETTE magazine had the opportunity to spend two weeks with a Z06 in Germany, during which time its editors learned firsthand how fast and agile the car was at speed.
On May 8, 2009, Bowling Green...
On May 8, 2009, Bowling Green produced the 1,500,000th Corvette. The 3LT convertible was displayed at the National Corvette Museum next to ’53 Corvette number 130.
Chevy is closing out the C6...
Chevy is closing out the C6 production run with this stunning 60th Anniversary package, available on all Corvette models.