Sam’s Corvette Z06

An Unfortunate Accident:

The day after I picked it up, still full of bugs from the interstate driveI never really intended to buy a new car on the fall of 2007: I had just graduated and gotten a job, and my priority was to get there, start working, and pay bills. However, a fat Michigan woman in a big rusty red van had other plans: she ran a stop sign on a main road in the town I was living in and hit the side of my 2005 STI, destroying it. I was furious, but OK, and even though I lost a lot of money from the modifications I had done to the car, I did have full insurance (it would be insane not to), so at least I had somemoney with which to buy a new car.

 This of course begged the question: “What car?”. I have always wanted one thing and one thing only: Performance. And not just speed in a straight line; that’s fun and all, but the roads I drive in do have corners.
I wanted the fastest car I could possibly buy for my money. In Michigan, that was easy: both my Subarus made well over 300 horsepower, and they did so through an all-wheel-drive system that allowed me to drive them as fast as I liked in the summer, but also, most importantly, in the harsh and long winters we had as well. However, now that I had graduated, I was moving to California, and there, things were different:
For starters, it doesn’t snow where I was moving to. So AWD was now, for the first time ever, no longer a requirement.
Secondly, police in California will crucify you if they find out your car is highly modified. One of my good friends at a known tuner shop in CA got pulled over for a minor violation and ended up having his car impounded; the vehicle had to be completely brought back to stock before he could legally drive it again; a huge hassle, and a very expensive one at that.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, in California, “Premium” gas stands for “highly oxygenated, 10% Ethanol bearing 91 octane, if you are lucky”. You see, with high octane, it is possible to make incredible power out of a small engine through boost. But on 91 octane, not so much. The swapped RS would blow up on CA spec gas, and the STI would lose a fair amount of power. I concluded, after talking to a lot of people, that on straight up pump fuel no Subaru or Mitsubishi would ever be fast enough for me in California, and I would be taking a big gamble in extensively modifying my car there.

 To make a lot of horsepower with low octane gas you need one thing and one thing only: a big engine.

I figured 5.7 litres would do 🙂

The Goal:

Trying out the car's limits at an autocross, I did OK

 My friends all told me they could never see me driving a Corvette; I had started out as an “import” kind of car guy, and I liked that. Furthermore, I really don’t like American built cars; I’ve had the displeasure through rentals and borrowed friend’s cars to drive several of the more mundane ones and they made me decide I would never buy one.

 The Corvette, however, was different… It was light, powerful, and made to handle like a real sportscar. The looks of it always caught my eye, and when I witnessed a completely factory one take 1st place at a national autocross event in Milwaukee, WI, I knew I might just have to buy one some day.

 Thus, cash in hand, I begun my search for the perfect car… I looked at everything; Nissans, Subarus, Mitsubishis, BMW, Mercedes, I checked cars on Ebay, autotrader, carmax, I asked questions on car forums, asked people in the tuning industry.. I even contemplated buying a couple of different not-so-fast cars and modifying them (for example, buying a Nissan 350Z and twin turboing the factory V6 motor). I concluded that, for the price, nothing could touch the Corvette in speed, braking, and handling. That was it; it was time to buy one….

 But I didn’t want just any Corvette… Coming from the boosted world where 2litres can net you 400 horsepower, I had a real problem with buying a car that had an engine displacing 5.7 litres of air and only making 355hp from it. Plus 355hp was old news to me; my RS was already making more than that, and that car weighted considerably less than a ‘vette. Nah, I had to have the Z06.

I managed to spin out that corner twice. Finally decided that active handling wasn't a hinderance to competitive driving and started leaving it on.Like the STI from Subaru, the Corvette Z06 is like a regular Corvette but with less weight, a stiffer suspension, thicker sway bars, better tires, a higher redline, better engine heads and a more aggressive camshaft bringing power up to 405HP and 400ft-lbs of torque. In a 3100lbs car. This one was the one to get.

 Like all my previous vehicles, I found the one for me on Ebay, at a hugely discounted price. Also, like both my previous cars, I had never even sat in a Corvette before I bought one. I won the auction and got a plane ticket to Tallahasse, FL, where my car would be waiting for me. I looked it over carefully; it had 18000 miles and had been kept in a garage all its life; never even been driven in the rain. The seller asked me if I wanted to take a test drive… “Nah, its OK”, I said. “I’ll call you if I have any problems”. I got in, started it up, and proceeded to drive 500 miles back to North Carolina, where I was living at the time.

The Car:

Before driving Chicago - Denver in one shotYup: 405HP. And they aren't kidding; Z06s are known for being under rated from the factory; some claim the real number is closer to 430horsesEvery 2003 model got this badge

 On the road, the Z06 was fearsomely fast. I though I had a fast car when I drove the STI, but this was on an entirely new level! Dropping it down to 3rd gear and flooring it would result in the kind of acceleration that could take my radar detector off its mounts!

The trunk is not too small

The Engine:

LS6 in all its newly washed gloryThe designation for the Z06’s engine is “LS6”. The shortblock and rotating assembly are the same as its lower output variant, the LS1, however it has a more agressive camshaft and better flowing heads, resulting in more power and a higher redline. The basic architecture is a pushrod, 2 valves per cylinder, 5.7Litre V8. Technologically, it is about as advanced as a propeller plane… However, you can’t argue with the results:
The pushrod design makes the engine lighter and more compact, allowing it to fit under the Corvette’s low slung hood, creating a very aerodynamic shape
405 horsepower, 400 foot pounds of torque. On 91 octane. 6500RPM redline.

 Unlike my highly boosted 4 cylinders, it also doesn’t tend to blow up at regular intervals if you drive it hard. In fact, during development GM drives several Corvettes full throttle, at their maximum speed, for an entire tank of gas. This engine is actually designed to make 405HP all the time, not 405HP for a short burst of time like most modified engines; it is strong, well built, and supremely reliable. I blew up 4 engines on my RS to end up with something that made less power, less reliably than this, so I can definitely appreciate this aspect of the engine.

 Because it makes so much torque, the car is geared to run very low RPMs in 6th gear (about 2000RPM at 70MPH). Because of this, it gets 28miles to the gallon on the freeway. This is almost unheard of in the sports car world.

 I still think the architecture is archaic and the specific output sucks (71Hp/L), but if you could find a way to get 405hp out of a couple mice on a treadmill and get it to run reliably all day, consume very little fuel and sound like this, I might complain, but I would buy it just the same 🙂

Brakes, Tires, and Traction:

The Z06 front brakesOne of the first things I noticed about the Z06 is that it rides on some MASSIVE tires… The fronts are 265 40 17 Goodyear Eagle F1s, and the rears are 295 width; that is almost a foot wide strip of rubber! What that does, is it provides the car with phenomenal mechanical grip; all other nuances of the chassis aside (as you will see, there is a lot more to a good handling car than just what it puts down on the skid pad), this is a car that, stock, from the factory, will pull 1.03 “G” on the skidpad. On a high speed corner, the Z06 simply refuses to let go! Braking is equally impressive, stopping from 60 miles an hour in just 110 feet; one of the shortest stopping distances for any street car ever made.
This much rubber up front does result in a fair amount of “tramlining”: the car’s tendency to follow ruts, dips,  and other imperfections on the road. On the Z06 it was bad enough that I always had to drive with both hands on the steering wheel on anything other than perfect asphalt.

You would think that with this much rubber the car would hook up pretty well. It doesn’t. I found that even in 2nd gear at 50 miles an hour I could come down hard on the gas and break the tires lose. Fortunately the Z06 comes equipped with a very good traction control and active handling system.

Interior:

Corvettes are notorious for their cheap interiors… This is a common trend with American cars, and the Z06 definitely didn’t escape it; it never bothered me in particular; I wouldn’t expect supercar performance for this little money without having to cut some corners somewhere… But I figured I’d mention it here since everybody else does… The door panels and dash are made of some really cheap looking plastics, the climate control and the radio look like they were pulled out of an early 90s truck: Because they were! And the leather seats bob back and forth because they don’t feel like they are attached quite right. The shift knob was terrible, so I had that replaced.

 There is also a lot of interior noise; tire noise, engine noise, wind noise, transmission noise… This is a sporstcar and it feels and sounds like one. The noise never bothered me, but it might bother some.

 What I did like was the dashboard though. Very informative and well laid out.

The fuel meter claims I will go 425 miles on this tank. I've seen as many as 400 from the 18 gallons of fuel the car carries.

Passenger side door

Notice the cheapo plastic gas pedal. Cost cutting anyone?

That shifter is nasty!

This is what leather seats look like if you sit on them for 5 years

More C5 interior.

Heads Up Display:

The HUD: Heads Up Display2002+ Corvette Z06s come with a heads up display that projects vital information such as speed, engine RPM, oil pressure and any alerts right on the windshield. The projection can be adjusted for height, dimmed or tuned off and was one of my favorite features in the car… Eventually I stopped looking at the speedometer and just relied on the HUD. One of the neat things about it was that it couldn’t quite keep up with the car in the first 3 gears; if I floored it in, say, 2nd, it would go 30…36…42…47… etc…

Mods:

Hurst ShifterOne of the ideas behind buying a car that was fast and powerful from the factory was that I wouldn’t have to modify it to get the level of performance that I wanted… This line of reasoning didn’t last very long though and I found myself contemplating all kinds of things I could do to my Corvette to make it faster and handle better. Ultimately though, I didn’t own it for long enough to really do any work to it. I changed the oil, cleaned it, and moved my XM Satellite radio receiver to it (I installed the tuner inside the center console). The only mod I did before driving it across the country was installing a Hurst Short Throw Shifter with a Hurst shift knob. The factory shifter always felt to me like it had gravel inside it; very unrefined and “crunchy”. The throw length was also a little bit long for my taste, and some times I would miss 3rd gear on a fast 2-3 shift because it felt as though the shifter wasn’t accurate enough.
The Hurst resulted in incredibly short throws (almost too short I would say) and improved the shifter feel somewhat. As a trade-off though, it transmitted some more noise into the cabin (not really enough to bother me though), and required a LOT more force to shift into gear. In fact the shifting effort became so high that I am not sure this shifter could be moved any faster than the factory one.

The Journey:

Getting gasGot fuel?

 The day I bought this car in Talahasse, FL, I drove it up to Ralleigh, NC where I was living. A month later I drove it up to New York, to meet my parents, and then New York to LA, by way of Chicago. The NY – Chicago drive took exactly 10 hours and 9 minutes (from 42nd street in Manhattan to Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago). Aside from Nebraska, which was painfully boring, this was the greatest drive I’ve ever taken.

 It took 37 hours 🙂

In Utah I found out that the engine hits redline at 179MPH in 5th gear, and shifting into 6th moves it too far from the powerband for it to continue accelerating. I didn’t get pulled over a single time in the entire trip and averaged about 25.6MPG across the entire country, despite driving fast.

The End:

I really enjoyed owning this car; the looks I got driving it, the power, the speed… But it never really felt “right”. Much like my STI always made me miss the acceleration of my swapped 2.5RS, the Z06 made me miss the traction and predictable handling of my STI; after 6000 miles of driving, getting on the gas expecting to be rewarded by acceleration and instead having to correct a fishtail as the car put rubber down on the road at 50 miles an hour got old and I still hadn’t gotten to the point where I felt I could really trust the car at the limit; I found it hard to judge exactly where the handling limits were, and how it would behave once those were exceeded.

 But also, since buying this car,  had been eying up something else… Something… Newer 🙂

The new car