I drove a new Chevrolet Corvettte from Chicago to Los Angeles on Route 66 with a friend during a week in 1987, and we never worried about the car's reliability. The car's performance and long-distance comfort were taken for granted.
However, that Corvette was supplied by Chevy Engineering and thus had newly designed Goodyear tires that weren't on sale yet and couldn't be replaced anywhere on the route if we had a flat. Fortunately, there were none. The run-flat tires on today's Corvette would have been a comfort.
Chevrolet has continually sold specially equipped Corvettes in recent years and broadens is 2010 lineup with its Grand Sport model.
Named after a legendary early 1960s Corvette race car, the Grand Sport that I tested combines the regular Corvette's 6.2-liter 430-horsepower V-8 with the racier 7-liter 505-horsepower 'Vette Z06 version's wide-fender styling, wider track, larger brakes, race-bred suspension and other items. They include the harder-edged Z06's unique wheels and taller rear spoiler. (An optional two-mode exhaust system elevates the Grand Sport's power rating to 436 horses.)
The result is that the Grand Sport delivers a superb balance of road and race track performance-not that many are likely to take it to a track.
All Corvettes have plenty of standard comfort, convenience and safety items. Without options, the base Corvette coupe costs $48,930 and the base convertible version is $53,580.
The refined base version is just fine for the majority of motorists. Close your eyes when driving it normally and you almost feel as if you're in a Chevy sedan. Drive it aggressively, though, and it's immediately clear that this is a genuine world-class high-performance sports car. Most lack the training to drive it flat out.
Like most Vettes, the Grand Sport can be had with a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift feature. The Z06 and ZR1 come only with a six-speed manual transmission.
Opt for the automatic if you live in congested areas because the manual has a rather stiff clutch that's tiresome in traffic and really isn't needed with the smooth engine's tremendous power and torque.
The Grand Sport costs $54,770 in coupe form and $58,580 as a convertible, without options. My test car was a convertible and was packed with options that brought its bottom-line price to a hefty $74,790.The Z06, which comes only as a coupe, is priced at $74,285, without options but with additional standard items..
I could have done without most of the Grand Sport's extras. (Do you really need $270 dealer-installed pedal covers with the automatic transmission?) In any case, there's a good variety of more useful options.
The top "Vette" ever built is the ferocious 200-plus mph ZR1, which also is sold only as a coupe. It has a supercharged 638-horsepower, 7-liter V-8 and lists at $106,880 without options but with such high-line items as ceramic brakes. That's cheap, considering rivals with comparable performance cost approximately $50,000 more-and up.
The Z06 and ZR1 come just as coupes for more body rigidity to enhance their ultra-high performance, although my test Grand Sport convertible was rattle-free.
Estimated fuel economy for the standard Corvette is 15-16 mpg in the city and a sparkling (for its performance) 25-26 on highways. The Z06 gets a little less and the super-horsepower ZR1 provides 14 city and 20 highway. High-octane fuel is recommended for all models.
New features for 2010 Corvettes include standard side air bags, standard launch control with manual-transmission models for the fastest takeoffs, revised automatic transmission paddle shift control for easier return to automatic mode and a "Z06 3LZ" package that includes power sport seats and a power passenger seat.
The 2010 Corvette is considerably better than our 1987 "Route 66" Corvette because 'Vettes have undergone constant improvements since introduced in 1953.
The original 1953-55 Corvette was gorgeous, but was essentially a General Motors auto show "dream car" with futuristic styling and wasn't very fast or comfortable.
The much faster 1956-57 model had cleaner, superb styling, but drove like a truck by today's standards. The 1960s Corvette Sting Rays were a major leap forward, at least without the optional big V-8s that had awesome power but were nose-heavy and too much for the that era's skinny tires.
And so it goes with America's most popular sports car, which has survived good and bad economic times.
One reason for the Corvette's popularity has been its affordability. It was never cheap, but almost any financially responsible person with a regular job could afford one.
The Corvette got slicker styling in 2005, when its concealed headlights vanished. But it's still a low-slung "drop-in, climb-out" car that calls for some athletic moves. And its long doors make it awkward in tight spots.
Gauges can be quickly read, but the tiny interior push-button door handles are a nuisance. While improved from earlier models, interior materials still don't measure up to the car's price.
Steering, braking and handling of all Corvette versions is superb-helped by stability and traction controls. And the ride is comfortable for most models. You can even order the base model with a sophisticated $1,995 Magnetic Selective Ride Control, which provides a driver-selectable "responsive" suspension.