Here's the story: Illustrated Corvette Series No. 176 - 2004 Commemorative Edition Z06 Corvette
"The Best of the C5 Vettes?"
The C5 came out of the box in ‘97 more complete than any other new Corvette to that date. Within a few years, engineers realized that short of starting with a clean sheet of paper, they had done nearly everything they wanted to do to the C5 platform. So much so that by ‘99 talk began about the C6. Along the way, the Z06 came out of left field. Shortly after the C5 came out, Corvette marketing people reported that there might be a nitch for a less expensive Corvette - a “starter Corvette.” Various combinations were tested and it turned out that no one wanted the car. In the end, we got the Corvette Hardtop in ‘99. But by the time the numbers were crunched, the Hardtop was only $394 less than the base Corvette - so much for the “cheap” Corvette. But, it turned out that the C5 hardtop was 12-percent stiffer than the stock coupe because the fixed roof was bolted and bonded to the body. It didn’t take long to connect the dots between a more rigid platform and an enhanced LS1 engine. The ‘01 Z06 package was as close to a street/racer Corvette as buyers ever had and very much in the tradition of the L88 - but streetable. By ‘02 the Z06’s LS6 engine went from 385-hp to 405-hp, making it the baddest street Vette ever offered by Chevrolet to that point. Plus, the C6 was in development.
While all this was going on inside of Chevrolet, the C5-R Corvettes were dominating the road racing scene. The Corvette Racing Team took 1st place in their class at Le Mans in ‘01 and ‘02, 2nd place in ‘03 and 1st again in ‘04. In ‘01 the C5-Rs took 1st place in eight-out-of-ten races and in ‘02 nine-out-of-eleven races. So, in ‘03 when Corvette product planners were sorting out how to celebrate the end of the C5 line, the conclusion was obvious - the ‘04 Commemorative Edition had to be a salute to the successful racing C5-Rs.
Since Le Mans is always the big prize, it was decided that the C5-Rs competing in the ‘04 Le Mans race would have a one-race-only paint scheme of Le Mans Blue body paint with silver and red stripes and the Commemorative Edition cars have the same color pattern. Unlike the C4 Collector Edition Corvettes that were available with the optional LT4 engine, the ‘04 Commemorative Edition Corvettes would not receive any power enhancements. Which is too bad because a little extra grunt would have made the ‘04 Commemorative Edition cars even more desirable.
The Commemorative Edition package was available on all ‘04 Corvettes. The $3,700 coupe and convertible packages included the special paint and stripes, special front and rear emblems, wheel centers, and crossed flag embroidery on the head rests. Convertibles received the above, plus the special emblem on the waterfall panel between the seats. Interiors were two-tone Shale color with light gray seats and carpeting, with darker gray-beige console, dash, and upper door panels.
The $4,335 Commemorative Edition option for the Z06 had two subtle distinctions. Commemorative Edition Z06s had all-black interiors. The second special feature for Z06 Commemorative Edition buyers was something that drivers look “over” every time they drive their car - the carbon fiber hood. While the unique carbon fiber hood shaved 10.6-pounds from the front end, it wouldn’t be noticed on the road. But if you looked closely, the carbon fiber weave can be seen in the space between the wide silver stripes and the red trim stripes. Subtle, but it’s there, and gives the owner a little extra bragging rights. The Z06 also had slightly revised shock absorber valving and different anti-sway bar bushings. Then chief of Corvette engineering, Dave Hill, was very proud of what he called the “technology transfer” from the C5-R racing program to the production Corvette. Hill’s objective was to make the Z06 the quickest Corvette ever produced.
So, what was the ‘04 Commemorative Edition like on a race track compared to a C5-R? At GingerMan Raceway in Michigan, champion driver, Ron Fellows compared both cars. The C5-R with its 7-liter, 600-plus horsepower engine, 6-speed sequential transmission, and racing slicks turned in a 1:15.07 lap time. The ‘04 Commemorative Edition Z06 with it’s 405-horsepower LS6 engine turned in a 1:33.9 lap time. While 18-seconds is way off of the race car’s time, it was very impressive for a street machine. Fellows reported, “I was surprised by the general balance. To really get an appreciation of what this thing’s capable of, you need a racing seat. I found myself being tossed around quite a bit - the cornering capabilities are that good.”
While it’s unlikely that any of the ‘04 Commemorative Edition Z06 Corvettes were ever raced, just the knowing of what the car is capable of is for many owners, worth the additional cost. So, besides some extra horsepower, perhaps that only thing missing from the overall package was an improved seat. Of the 6,899 ‘04 Commemorative Edition Corvettes (20-percent of the production total) 2,025 were Z06 cars, making them the rarest of all the ‘04 Commemorative Edition Corvettes and arguably the “best” of the C5s.
Here's the story: Illustrated Corvette Series No. 118 - 2004 Corvette
"The Last of the C5s"
2004 was the end of the line for the C5 Corvette, and the '04 model was arguably the finest Vette offered to that point. After all, aside from offering an optional supercharger or turbocharger, there wasn't much else that Corvette designers could do with the C5 platform. The car was as good as it would ever be and that was pretty darned good.
One could argue that the C5 had its roots in a little-talked-about 1957 Duntov engineering proposal called the "Q-Corvette." Duntov's wish list included an all-aluminum, fuel-injected small-block engine; a dry-sump oiling system; a fully independent suspension; and a transaxle for perfect 50/50 weight distribution. The project never made it past a full-size clay styling study, as Chevrolet deemed the requisite tooling too expensive for a car that had yet to prove a sales success. The Q-Corvette's unique styling and independent suspension did, however, make it into production in the '63 Sting Ray, while the rest of the elements (save for the dry-sump oiling) came together in the '97 C5. In the 30 years since the Q-Corvette proposal, Duntov, McLellan, and Hill got everything they wanted and more.
The '04 Vette was the fourth-best-selling C5, with total sales of 34,064 units. Chevrolet kept the cost increase for '04 to just $640, bringing the coupe's sticker to $44,535. The roadster model jumped by $1,165, to $51,535, while the Z06 climbed by $1,230, to $52,385.
The hot option for the '04 Vette was the Commemorative Edition, which saluted Corvette Racing's class victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2001 and 2002. Unlike the '03 50th Anniversary option, this one was available on all Corvettes, including the Z06. This homage to the C5-R was not inexpensive, costing $3,700 on the coupe and roadster and $4,335 on the Z06. Although there were no performance enhancements, the Commemorative Edition cars were stylish and distinctive.
In 2004 the Corvette made its sixth appearance pacing the Indy 500, this time with actor Morgan Freeman behind the wheel. A basically stock C5 Vette had also paced the legendary race in 1998 and 2002. Obviously, the Brickyard likes Corvettes.
2004 also marked the first time the Corvette's platform was shared with another GM vehicle. The Cadillac XLR began production on the Bowling Green assembly line that year and was soon garnering the same kind of critical acclaim previously heaped on its platform mate. This marriage of convenience gave GM two world-class performance cars based on the same underpinnings.
By '04, equipment that was once optional had become standard. All models included active suspension, traction control, leather seats, a six-way power driver's seat, a Delco stereo CD player, dual-zone electronic air conditioning, tilt steering, cruise control, fog lights, and floor mats. The Preferred Equipment Group was a $1,200 option that included heads-up display, power-telescoping steering wheel, auto-dimming mirrors, a memory package, and the Twilight Sentinel feature. Almost two-thirds of all '04 Vettes had the PEG option.
Since there was no power increase, the performance of the '04 Corvette was much the same as that of the '01-'03 models. Top speeds were 175 mph for the coupe and 162 mph for the roadster. Sprints from 0-60 took less than five seconds for the manual-transmission cars and were in the mid-five-second range for the automatics. Quarter-mile times were in the 13.20 range. The Z06 posted 0-60 times in the low-four-second range, with quarter-mile times in the mid-12s. Suspension settings for the Z06 were reworked at the famous Nerburgring race track by refining the shock-absorber valving and using softer rear anti-roll-bar bushings. The modifications enabled the '04 Z06 to break the eight-minute-lap barrier, the unofficial benchmark for supercars. Commemorative Edition Z06s also sported a carbon-fiber hood, which cut just over 10 pounds from the car's curb weight.
The C5 Corvette was so well rounded that the only things road testers had to complain about were the seatback latches and door handles. Pretty lame complaints, but that's how good the car had become. Chevrolet might have been able to continue on with the C5 platform, but the time was right for a new Vette. Just over the horizon, things were about to get even better. - K. Scott Teeters
Here's the story: Illustrated Corvette Series No. 119 - 2004 Commemorative Edition Corvette "Salute to the C5-R"
It all goes back to one man’s passion for racing. Zora Arkus-Duntov was the only executive at GM to have raced a car at Le Mans, where he enjoyed class wins in 1954 and 1955. Duntov took his passion and experience and poured it into Chevrolet’s beauty queen, the Corvette, elevating the car to legendary status.
Duntov had the kind of expertise that only comes from putting it all on the line in a four-wheel drift. Throughout the Corvette’s development, he always had racing on his mind. Bill Mitchell called this quality “having gasoline in your veins,” and in Duntov’s case, it showed: No sooner had he stuffed the new 265 small-block into the ‘55 Vette than secret plans were hatched to build the first Corvette Le Mans racer, the Corvette SS.
It’s hard to imagine how Duntov kept the program secret from the GM brass for so long. But when the Corvette SS went public in 1957, management came down on him like an avalanche. The project was shelved, though fortunately the parts escaped the crusher. Two years later the running gear was used for Bill Mitchell’s Sting Ray racer, experiencing moderate success.
As much as Duntov wanted to build racing Vettes, he was relegated to making parts for independent racers. In 1960, with backdoor help from Duntov, privateer Briggs Cunningham built three Corvettes to race at Le Mans. He won First in his class and Eighth overall.
Then, in 1963, Duntov tried to sneak his lightweight Grand Sport Corvettes past the higher-ups. When word of the project leaked out, plans for a production Grand Sport were shelved indefinitely. Duntov spent the rest of his career improving the Vette and providing material support to private race teams.
In 1967 Dick Guldstrand and Bob Bondurant took an L88 Corvette to Le Mans. The team would ultimately drop out with mechanical problems, but not before the car had hit a top speed of 171 mph. Then, in 1972, John Greenwood and Dick Smothers raced the BFGoodrich L88 Corvette at Le Mans, dropping out after 10 hours. Greenwood was back at Le Mans in 1976 with his wild, “Batmobile” wide-body Corvette; he was sidelined after five hours.
There wasn’t another major Corvette effort at Le Mans until 1995, when Reeves Callaway’s cars grabbed Second and Third Place class wins. With the C5 selling well, and a new attitude towards racing inside GM, Corvette fans saw the first factory-supported Corvette racer in 1999, in the form of the C5-R. After two years of sorting out the car, Duntov’s dream of a Corvette winning at Le Mans came true in 2001. The C5-R repeated the feat in 2002 and 2004. The 2004 season was the best to date, with 10 First Place wins in 10 races!
To celebrate the success of the C5-R Corvettes, Chevrolet offered the Commemorative Edition option on all ’04 Corvettes - coupes, convertibles, and the Z06. The paint scheme and stripes were based on the ‘04 C5-R cars, and every available performance and luxury feature was included. This was a $3,700 option for the coupe and convertible, and a $4,335 option on the Z06. A total of 6,899 units were built, accounting for 20 percent of all ’04 Vettes.
All Commemorative Edition cars had the special Le Mans blue paint, crossed-flags embroidery on the headrests, polished Z06 wheels with unique centers, and special emblems. The Z06 version also had a carbon-fiber hood that saved 10.6 pounds. The coupe and convertible had a two-tone shale interior, while the Z06 cars had a black interior.
Commemorative Edition Corvettes can often be found parked together at Corvette shows, making for an impressive display. It may have taken 48 years to win at Le Mans, but it was worth the wait. We owe it all to one man’s vision, many years ago. - K. Scott Teeters