That shopworn slogan about "What happens in Las Vegas" doesn't apply to Vette owners. It's not that we can't keep secrets; we just don't really care whether somebody knows what we did or not. Subtlety is not a virtue when it comes to driving a Corvette. (If you want to keep a low profile in Las Vegas, take the monorail instead.) In fact, we'd be kinda upset if we didn't get noticed.
Which leads us to our recent tour of Southern Nevada in a watch-me red '11 Grand Sport. Even though GM loaned us the car for publicity purposes, we could at least pretend to be high rollers for the weekend. So when I pulled into the airport to pick up our distinguished editor, we cranked up the Elvis tunes on the satellite radio and headed for the nearest resort casino for some action. Hey, the Rat Pack has got nuthin' on us!
Unlike Hunter Thompson's seminal work on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (which for some is a much more apt city slogan), we stayed relatively sober. After all, driving a 430hp Grand Sport Corvette with a wide-stance body and flared fenders is intoxicating enough.
Indeed, that's why we also included a visit to the Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch in nearby Pahrump, about 45 minutes west of town on State Highway 160. Ron Fellows, who heads up the driving school there, has some impressive Corvette credentials under his belt: He did the initial testing and development of the Corvette C5-R and is a technical advisor to GM Racing. Campaigning Corvettes since 1999, he's stuffed his trophy case with three American Le Mans Series GTS Championships, two 24 Hours of Le Mans wins, and 19 SCCA Trans-Am wins, just to name a few. His blunt observation about endurance racing: "You're so glad when it's over."
Pahrump and other outlying areas of Nevada offer numerous gun-barrel roads that aim at a d
We took several hot laps around the winding track there, and appreciated the expert coaching on how to get the most out of a Corvette in the curves. (Our last press junket there a few years ago involved thrashing a Honda S2000, which by comparison feels like pedaling a bike around the course.) We came away wishing we'd spent an entire week at the track, stirring the gears and mashing the throttle, even though Pahrump lacks the lures of Las Vegas (aside from the legal brothels, if you're into that sort of thing). We never could find any remnants from the alien landing in Mars Attacks! All we saw were wide-open stretches of smooth, inviting highway. (Incidentally, Nevada's roadwork is rated the best in the U.S.)
So on the way back to town we did what comes naturally to our itchy right foot—and stood on it. Taking a photo of the heads-up speedo display is kinda tricky while driving at triple digits, so if it looks like we had an egg underneath our size 10 loafer (since the mph readout was slightly lower for the photo) it's only because we were juggling a camera at the same time.
Fortunately, the Grand Sport's ride feels as smooth as silk sheets in a high-roller suite, thanks to the Magnetic Selective Ride Control. It's now available on Grand Sport models, with a dual-setting control to stiffen the suspension for twisty roads or a more compliant ride for city driving and freeways. If you're not already familiar with how it works, an electromagnetic coil is located inside each damper piston. To make the damper fluid more resistant, an increase in electrical current bonds the ferrous particles together. For a softer ride, the electromagnetic field is reduced so the fluid flows more freely.
Watch out for wild burro crossings when driving on the 13-mile scenic loop (SR 159) throug
Speaking of fluids, before we stir up the saucier side of Vegas, we'll point out a few other routes outside of the city for cruising in a Corvette. Northwest of town, there's a lofty palisade of colorful rock formations, rightly described as Red Rock canyon. It's a visually stunning experience, with several scenic stops along the way on the loop of Highway 159 (which intersects with Route 160), including Bonnie Springs (an Old West–style tourist attraction) and a number of trails for stretching your legs after a long drive. Watch your speed through here, though, as wild burros frequent the area, and you don't want to end up with one as a hood ornament.
For some faster and more challenging touring, we'd recommend a drive to Death Valley (west of Pahrump and the I-95, just across the California border). What's interesting is that despite its forbidding name, Death Valley is neither dead nor merely a valley. Larger than the state of Connecticut, it's actually a great desert sink with some surprising contrasts in elevations, from a low of -282 feet at Badwater to a high of 11,049 feet at Telescope Peak. And although the hottest temperature recorded here was 134 degrees, it also can drop below freezing. Hundreds of species of animals and thousands of plant types survive these formidable conditions, usually at the occasional springs dotting the eerie terrain.
Of course, Death Valley can still be a deadly place to visit, and that's part of its appeal, especially for Corvette owners looking for the ultimate test of their cars' capabilities. On a July day, a person needs 9 quarts of water just to stay alive in the shade. People have been known to perish on short walks in the noonday sun.