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Illustrated Corvette Series No. 142 -
"Dick Guldstrand's Signature Edition 50th Anniversary Z06 Corvette"
Specialty-car builders have been showing us for decades just how well engineered the basic Corvette is. The first guy to market a successful performance-package Vette was Joel Rosen, with his Phase III cars. Rosen’s approach was to overbuild a big engine so it could easily produce 500 horsepower, then make sure every part of the drivetrain and suspension could handle the extra output. Throw in some killer body mods, and the Phase III became a highly desirable specialty Corvette. Some specialty Vettes, including certain Callaway models, are so heavily modified that they bear little resemblance to the car on which they’re based. Then there are others, such as the Mallett offerings and this month’s topic, the ‘03 Dick Guldstrand Signature Edition 50th Anniversary Corvette, that take a more basic approach.
Although the factory-built 50th Anniversary Corvette was a beautiful car, many Vette fans were hoping for more, much more. For those insatiable (and deep-pocketed) few, the Guldstrand version offered a legitimate fix. Let’s take a look at how the two cars compare. The factory option was available on the ‘03 coupe and convertible—but not the Z06—for $5,000 over the base price of the car ($43,895 for the coupe and $50,370 for the convertible). The package included model-specific Red “Xirallic crystal” paint, special interior and exterior decoration, Magnetic Selective Ride Control, and the 1SB option, which bundled electrochromic mirrors with various other minor upgrades. There was no extra power and, aside from the active suspension option, no additional performance.
It’s no surprise that a Dick Guldstrand–designed 50th Anniversary Vette would turn out much different. Guldstrand is part of the old guard of veteran Corvette racers, having started his road-racing career thundering around tracks in solid-axle, fuel-injected C1s. He’s also one of the privileged few to have actually raced a ‘63 Grand Sport. “Guldie” has competed and won at Sebring, the 24 Hours of Daytona, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. If you look back at those old C1, C2, and the early-C3 racing Corvettes, you’ll see that they’re astonishingly stock compared with today’s racers. It stands to reason, then, that Dick Guldstrand knows how to coax a little—and sometimes a lot—of extra oomph from a relatively unmodified production Corvette.
Obtaining a Guldstrand Signature Edition 50th Anniversary Corvette was an uncomplicated—if not inexpensive—process. First, you purchased a new ‘03 Z06 Corvette for $51,155. Contracts were then drawn up, with payment due in full upon signing. Next, your Z06 was sent to the Guldstrand Motor Products assembly facility in Troy, Michigan, where its transformation into a Signature Edition model would take between 8 and 16 weeks.
Guldstrand’s approach to tuning the car was pretty straightforward. Like Rosen with his big-block Phase III Vettes, he started off with the toughest factory ‘03 Corvette available, the Z06. He then overbuilt the engine for extra power and durability, lowered the car and slightly enhanced the suspension, added racing-inspired wheels and tires, and installed a handsome body package conceived by Corvette designer John Schinella.
If anyone knows how to build Gen III Corvette engines for power and longevity, it’s the team at Katech—the same folks responsible for the C5-R and C6.R racing mills. The Z06’s LS6 engine was re-machined, bored, and stroked to 427 cubic inches. The bottom end received a 4340 forged crankshaft connected to Katech pistons and Carrillo rods, yielding a 10.8:1 compression ratio. Billet steel was used for the main caps as well as the head and main-bearing studs. The heads were ported and refitted with the stock rocker arms. A special performance camshaft with higher lift and longer duration orchestrated valve action. A ported throttle body and a pair of Flowmaster mufflers with new tailpipes rounded out the horsepower modifications.
The suspension remained Z06-stock except for an overall height reduction of one inch and the addition of larger, Guldstrand-designed front and rear stabilizer bars. The wheel/tire combination was also upgraded and enlarged, with gummy Michelin Pilot Sport rubber (275/35ZR18 front and 295/35ZR19 rear) mounted on stunning Fikse forged rims.
The first thing you’ll notice about the car is its brilliant Anniversary Gold paint and contrasting Cobalt Blue side decoration. A closer look reveals some very interesting bodywork. The front chin spoiler and side skirts are toned-down versions of the C5-R pieces, while the rear features a mild spoiler and small flares behind the wheels. The hood accentuates the stock twin “humps” and adds a set of vents towards the front. The Z06’s signature rear fender scoops remain.
Magazine reviewers who appreciated Corvettes loved the car, praising its race-inspired edginess and distinctive good looks. They really liked the 500 hp and 520 lb-ft of torque, which were sufficient to push the Vette through the quarter mile in just 12.4 seconds.
Guldstrand’s goal was to commemorate the Corvette’s golden anniversary with a limited run of 50 cars that harkened back to the marque’s early high-performance days. To do so, he took a classic formula and applied it to a modern sports car, with astonishing results. Was the Signature Edition the fastest, baddest specialty Corvette ever made? Probably not, but it’s still an exceptional car. Oh, and the price? In addition to the cost of an ‘03 Z06, the Guldstrand package commanded an extra $49,330. - KST
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Illustrated Corvette Series No. 116 - 2003 Corvette
"Another Banner year!"
Half of a century had passed since Harley Earl’s dream sports car began its first year of production. In those early days no one would have imagined that the fledgling fiberglass Chevy would become GM’s flagship high-performance car. Although Earl and Duntov were gone, there were plenty of passionate Corvette team members to carry the flame into the 21st century. 2003 was another great year for the Corvette.
By the time the 2003 year wrapped up, Chevrolet sold 35,469 Corvettes. While that wasn’t the best sales year, it was only 158 units off of the ‘02 high of 35,767 units. Actually, Corvette sales were in the 35,000 range from ’01 through ‘04. The base price for the ‘03 Vette was up $2,445 for the coupe to $43,895, although sales were off by 1,948 units. The awesome Z06 however logged in its best sales year with 8,635 units, up 338 units from ’02 with a price of $51,155. Obviously, the $1,005 increase for the Z06 didn’t deter buyers. The convertible price was up $2,395 to $50,370 and sales were up 1,312 units. By the numbers, buyers were more enthusiastic about the roadster and the hardtop Z06 than the coupe. In retrospect, Corvette sales hadn’t been in the 35,000 units range since ‘86!
The big option for ‘03 was the 50th Anniversary Edition. This was a $5,000 option that was available on the coupe and convertible models only. Sorry Z06 buyers. A total of 11,632 units were sold - 4,085 coupes and 7,547 convertibles. The 50th Anniversary Edition accounted for nearly 1/3 of all sales in ’03.
To top things off, the ‘03 Indy 500 was paced by a near-stock 50th Anniversary Edition coupe. This was the fifth time the Corvette paced the Indy 500 race. Most cars that pace the Indy 500 are special enhanced versions, but all the ‘03 Corvette needed was a 5-point safety harnesses and strobe lights to do the job, as everything else on the car was bone stock. There was no “pace car option,” like there was in ’98, but the pace car graphics were available for an additional $495.
And speaking of racing, although the C5-R team did not have its best year, they still took 5 first place and 5 second place wins out of 10 races. The C5-R and later the C6-R racing Corvettes were so domineering that by ‘06, Corvettes had restrictions put upon them so they wouldn’t run away with the show!
From the beginning in ‘53, Corvette advancement has been mostly evolutionary, with an occasional revolutionary leap. Since the C6 Corvette was already in the works, ’03 would be another evolutionary year. No changes were made to the ‘03 engine or drive train. The base LS1 engine still packed 350-horsepower and the Z06 LS6 had 405-horsepower under the hood. Many items that had been previously optional were now standard on the ’03 Vette. Fog lamps, sport seats, power passenger seat, dual-zone air conditioning, parcel net, and luggage shade were now part of the standard Corvette. No doubt, this was part of the $2,445 increase in the base price.
Thanks to tougher occupant protection standards, the ‘03 Corvette was a little safer. The A-pillars on all cars and the A and B-pillars on the coupe and Z06 were beefed up. Z06 headliners were also thicker. And to show that the new Corvette was sensitive to “family needs,” child seat hooks were added to the passenger seat to secure a child’s seat.
Visually the ‘03 Vette saw two new colors arrive and two depart. “Medium Spiral gray” replaced “Pewter,” and “50th Anniversary Red” replaced “Magnetic Red Metallic.”
The most interesting improvement for the ’03 Vette was the new F55 Magnetic-Selective Ride Control option that replaced the previous Selective Real Time option. The new system provided faster response time by using magnetic fluid in the shocks. The synthetic fluid (Magneto-rehological) holds iron particles in suspension. An electronic coil on each shock receives input from a sensor and varies the electrical charge that adjusts the fluid’s viscosity, changing the flow rate of the fluid in the shock. The system is able to adjust the shock damping 1,000 times per second. At 60 miles-per-hour, the system reacts to every inch of the road at every wheel. The new system had no extra moving parts and replaced the previous electro-mechanical version.
With just one year left to the C5 generation, the ‘03 Corvette was as sweet as can be. Customers were lining up to get new Vettes like they hadn’t in 17 years, the 50th Anniversary Edition was truly a collector car, and the C5-R team was still a powerful presence on the race track. Could it get much better? Sure! - KST
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Illustrated Corvette Series No. 117 - 2003 50th Anniversary Corvette
"50 years of Fun"
I’m certain that by the end of 1953, no one in GM imagined that the Corvette would still be in production 50 years later, or that it would have evolved into a world-class sports car. When you look back at what a parts-bin car the ‘53 Vette was, it’s amazing it lasted even a few years, let alone 50-plus. The Corvette was GM Chief of Styling Harley Earl’s home-grown answer for the many GIs who had just returned from the front with a taste for European sports cars. There wasn’t a single American-made sports car in 1953, and frankly, most Americans just didn’t understand the little Chevy.
Were it not for a new material called fiberglass, the Corvette would never have been more than a color rendering. While it was more labor intensive to hand-build all of the body components from fiberglass, it was much less expensive than making tooling for a steel body. Even if the car was a flop, GM’s investment in the project amounted to little more than some wooden molds and a few improved off-the-shelf Chevy parts. What initially looked like a big gamble for GM was really a low-risk wager.
Not everyone inside GM was thrilled with the Corvette, and many wanted to see it go away. Fortunately for the struggling Vette, a passionate Russian engineer named Zora Arkus-Duntov was hired to apply his considerable skills to the car’s development. In short order, Duntov whipped the Corvette into shape and issued a resounding call to action: “Let’s go racing!” Almost overnight, the Corvette went from being a beauty queen to a street-fighting tough guy.
Thanks to his passion for road racing, Duntov was able to imbue the Corvette with a performance bent that never went away. By the time the ‘63 Sting Ray came along, sales were in the 20,000-per-year range, more than enough to ensure the Corvette’s continued existence at GM. With the arrival of the big-blocks in ‘65, Corvette performance achieved legendary status. The Mako Shark-inspired ’68 to ‘82 Corvette was the longest-running of the five generations, and the ’79 model sold an all-time record of 53,807 units. The C4 cars were the ultimate comeback Vettes. Their domination of showroom-stock racing was so complete that they were forced to run in their own series, the Corvette Challenge. In ‘90 we saw the most outrageous production Corvette ever - the double-overhead-cam ZR-1. Costing just over $68,000, it was also the most expensive Vette to date.
When the fifth-generation Vette arrived in ’97, it was like the Sixties all over again. The lightweight, 345hp C5 was as quick as (and much faster than) a ‘66 427 model, got much better gas mileage, and was a lot quieter and more refined. Incredibly, the design of the C5 used some 1,200 fewer parts than the C4. Unlike the ’86 C4 convertible, the C5 was designed from the beginning to be a convertible, making the topless car as rigid as the coupe version. Road testers were astounded at the rigidity of the C5 roadster. The hardtop model that came along in ‘99 as the “affordable” Vette became the “performance Corvette” in ’01, as the 385hp Z06. Corvettes had never been quicker, faster, or better.
The $5,000 ‘03 50th Anniversary option was available on all coupes and convertibles, but not on the Z06. Although the car didn’t have loud, pace-car graphics or add-ons, you couldn’t miss the special Anniversary Red paint, which was designed to glow, rather than sparkle. The exterior included unique front-fender emblems and champagne-color painted wheels. The package also included GM’s latest active-suspension option, the $1,695 Magnetic Selective Ride Control System, as well as the 1SB Preferred Equipment Group. This sub-package included the heads-up display, power telescoping steering column, electro-chromic mirrors, memory package, and Twilight Sentinel.
From the driver’s seat, you couldn’t miss the Anniversary package’s interior trim. The shale-colored cabin featured lighter gray-beige seats and carpeting along with a darker gray-beige console, instrument panel, and upper door panels. Also included were special embroidered logos on the seat headrests and floor mats. Somewhat confusingly, all ‘03 Corvettes had the 50th Anniversary emblems on their hood, rear deck, manual, and key blanks, as well as on the tachometer and speedometer.
Despite the option’s $5,000 price tag, an astounding 11,632 50th Anniversary specials were sold. That’s 32 percent of all ‘03 Corvettes. A loaded Anniversary coupe cost just over $52,600, while the roadster went for just over $58,700. The 50th Anniversary Corvette may not have been the baddest Vette ever made, but it had top-shelf trim and 350 horses under the hood. Sweet! - KST