by Ted Grozier
In 1963, under the direction of legendary chief engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov, Chevrolet offered the Z06 RPO (Regular Production Option) package on its new “split-window” Corvette Sting Ray coupe. Checking the Z06 option box added a whopping 58 percent to the Sting Ray’s $4,257 base price, but it resulted in a level of performance that Arkus-Duntov proclaimed was “hard to equal or surpass by even the world’s costliest cars.”
Only 199 Z06-equipped Sting Ray coupes were produced, and they have become some of the most collectible in the 47-year history of Corvette. Should you come upon one, look for the Z06 package’s upgraded drum brakes, heavy-duty suspension, larger 36.5-gallon fuel tank, fuel injection, four-speed manual gearbox, and Positraction rear axle. Though the Z06 package was a “regular production option,” it was specifically tailored for the GT-class and SCCA racers of the day (GM at the time was observing the Automobile Manufacturing Association’s ban on direct involvement with motorsports) such as the famous Bob Bondurant, Dave McDonald, Jerry Grant, and Doug Hooper, among others.
Today’s Corvette Z06, like the legendary 1963 model, is every bit the showroom race car, and just as promised of its namesake, it is as potent as the world’s costliest cars, but starts at a somewhat reasonable $48,055. General Motors claims that acceleration to 60 mph takes just four seconds flat, for example, and that the quarter mile dash can be covered in just 12 seconds elapsed time. The Z06 also builds on the excellent handling and refinement of the fifth-generation “C5” Corvette to earn it status as a world-class sports car.Heart of a racer
2001 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 engine
2001 Chevrolet Corvette
To handle this monster, GM had to fit a tougher clutch, stronger driveshaft, and an entirely new six-speed manual transmission. Since the entire package was engineered with competition in mind, the Z06 is one of the few cars that inspires complete confidence in its ability to take the abusive clutch-dumping antics used to generate impressive zero-to-sixty numbers. The drivetrain is fantastically stout.
There are many cars--some considerably less expensive than this Corvette--that boast neck-straining acceleration like that of the Z06, but there are very few that can combine such performance with this car’s agility and tenacity. Building on the rigid backbone of the C5, the Z06 adds a suspension system that’s all its own. Spring and damping rates, stabilizer bar thickness, and camber settings are changed from the stock version, and the forged-aluminum wheels are an inch wider both front and rear. For maximum grip, Goodyear contrived the Eagle F1 SC (Supercar) tires in the 265/40ZR-17 and 295/35ZR-18 sizes necessary for the Z06 application and managed to shed a significant amount of weight compared to the stock rubber despite the larger footprint. Brakes are massive discs on all four wheels; Bosch anti-lock and dynamic rear proportioning provide the kind of sand-trap deceleration that throws you against the seatbelts on command, which inspires tremendous confidence.Easy like Sunday morning
In fact the most impressive aspect of the Z06 is how easy it is to drive, and how quickly one can learn to exploit its awesome performance potential. This friendliness is uncommon in cars of this class (spinning wildly in a Dodge Viper comes to mind) and is due in part to the Corvette’s comfortable cabin, polished controls, and purposeful driving position, but more yet to the newly updated Active Handling system. This second-generation dynamic handling aid, unlike the electronic stability systems available on quite a few cars today, is designed to assist rather than prevent enthusiastic driving. By monitoring the driver’s steering and braking inputs, comparing them to response of the car, and applying selective wheel braking and power corrections, Active Handling can maintain balance in the most demanding situations better than mere mortals. And since it rarely imposes the intrusive power cuts that other systems order as soon as the vehicle approaches its handling limits, the Z06 driver is more likely to leave the system on--a good thing, since it can save you in a pinch.
2001 Chevrolet Corvette
2001 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 dash
A few trim details on the exterior--different fascia grilles, ductwork to cool the rear brakes, and badging--set the Z06 apart from the standard Corvettes, and the interior features bolstered black leather seats with embroidered Z06 logos. An optional interior with Torch Red leather accents is also offered. Thus even the dedicated Corvette fan, local constable, or thief will have to look twice to differentiate the Z06 from the standard C5. That’s just the way Zora Arkus-Duntov would have wanted it.
2001 Chevrolet Corvette Z06
Base price: $47,690
Engine: 5.7-liter V-8, 385 hp
Transmission: six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 179.7 x 73.6 x 47.7 in
Wheelbase: 104.5 in
Curb weight: 3130 lb
EPA city/hwy: 19/28 mpg
Safety equipment: Dual front and side airbags with passenger-side shut-off, active handling with anti-lock brakes and traction control
Major standard equipment: Limited-slip differential, titanium exhaust system, forged aluminum wheels w/ Goodyear Eagle F1 SC asymmetric-tread tires, FE4 high-performance suspension, Bose six-speaker AM/FM/CD
Warranty: Three years/36,000