The Chevrolet Corvette with a high-performance 427-cubic-inch V-8 was the fastest American production car in the horsepower-crazy 1960s muscle car decade. The current Corvette Z06 has the same size V-8 and also is the fastest U.S. mass-produced auto -- and the fastest-ever Corvette.
Nobody knows for sure what horsepower the production "427" Corvette Sting Ray V-8 produced in the 1960s because Chevy thought the engine's top rating of 435 horsepower was plenty high.
The 2006 Z06 has an honest 505 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque, while the regular 364-cubic-inch Corvette V-8 produces 400 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque.
The old Corvette V-8 was a pushrod engine, and the new standard and Z06 Corvette V-8 also is a rather simple pushrod unit, without such items as overhead camshafts and four-valve cylinder heads found in many high-performance engines. But Chevy has built millions of pushrod V-8s since it introduced its first one in 1955 and thus has vast experience with such a V-8.
A 1960s Corvette didn't have the sophisticated suspension or tires to utilize 435 horsepower. It was impossible to effectively transfer that much power and torque to the skinny rear tires of that era. And the old 427 Corvette's heavy engine made it nose-heavy, which hurt handling.
That's not the case with the Z06, which has 50/50 weight distribution because of lighter materials, huge tires that are larger than racing tires of the 1960s and a sophisticated race-bred suspension.
The 1960s Corvette 427 Sting Ray looked sleek, but its front end began lifting above 100 mph. The far more aerodynamic 2006 Z06 stays firmly planted on roads at speeds well beyond 150 mph.
The 196-mph Corvette Z06 can do 0-60 mph in 3.6 seconds and 0-100 mph in 7.9 seconds. That's incredible for a nontemperamental auto that can be driven around town almost like an economy car.
Those figures just show the performance potential of the Z06. Merging and passing abilities count in real-world driving, and the Z06 performs those tasks effortlessly. The V-8 in my Z06 test car loafed at 1,400 rpm at 65 mph.
An owner of an old Corvette 427 would be lucky to get 8-12 mpg of premium 100-plus octane leaded gasoline with his car. However, thanks to advanced electronics and auto technology, a Z06 owner gets an estimated 16 mpg in the city and 26 on the highway with 92-octane unleaded fuel.
Some 60 percent of regular Corvettes are ordered with an automatic transmission, but the Z06 is a serious driver's car that comes only with a six-speed manual transmission. However, the transmission has a high-effort shifter that works with a heavy clutch with a long throw.
The regular Corvette also is very fast and is more comfortable than the Z06, which has direct steering and easy braking -- but an often-bumpy ride. Handling is fantastic, with no surprises, such as sudden oversteer. An anti-skid/traction control system is standard.
The Z06 is a version of the updated C6 (sixth-generation) Corvette and has all of its comfort, convenience and safety equipment, including keyless access with a push-button starter.
The C6 'Vette arrived for 2005, replacing a model that debuted in 1997. A regular C6 coupe with a lift-off roof panel costs $43,690, while the convertible is $51,390. The Z06 is priced at $64,890. It comes only as a coupe without the lift-off panel to retain chassis rigidity.
(Chevrolet on Friday announced a recall of more than 30,000 Corvettes with the lift-off roof after 21 reports of roofs detaching from 2005-06 models.)
The Z06 seems like a steal, even at list price, because its main under-$100,000 rivals are the $81,895-$83,145 Dodge Viper and $81,400-$91,400 Porsche Carrera S.
The C6 was the first Corvette since 1962 without retractable headlight covers. It had trimmer dimensions, 50 extra horsepower, an improved interior and keyless entry and ignition. It also was the first Corvette convertible to have a power top since 1962.
The Z06 has wider rear fenders with flares to cover huge tires. Among functional hood and side scoops are brake cooling scoops in front of the rear wheels, besides Z06 badging. This special two-seater also has a beefed-up rear axle, transmission and clutch, besides wider wheels and larger brakes. The front spoiler is deeper and there's a small rear spoiler to help keep the car stable at high speeds.
Also, the radiator has been enlarged and coolers have been added for every fluid except brake fluid. A special engine oil system with more oil capacity maintains correct oil pressure during extreme cornering.
Chevrolet knows exactly what to do with the Z06 because it successfully races Corvettes in major league, brutal competition and transfers racing knowledge to the Z06.
The Z06 is a big, wide car that doesn't feel especially light or nimble, but Corvette engineers trimmed fat from it because weight is an enemy of overall performance and fuel economy. The Z06 weighs 3,147 pounds, which isn't much for a 505-horsepower car.
Long doors are a pain in tight parking areas, and low seats force occupants to "drop in" and "climb out." Once inside, the attractive, wide interior has easily read gauges and user-friendly controls. Large outside mirrors partly compensate for a small rear window.
For most, a regular 400-horsepower Corvette is more comfortable, with such things as a smoother ride, and has plenty of power. But the Z06 is the ultimate Corvette.
2006 CHEVROLET CORVETTE Z06
LIKES: Fastest U.S. production car. Costs much less than rivals. Good highway fuel economy.
DISLIKES: Bumpy ride. High-effort shifter. Long, heavy clutch throw.