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Illustrated Corvette Series No. 191: 2010 Z06X Concept Corvette -
"A Preview of a C7 Club Racer?"
Designing cars is not all thrills and excitement. It is tedious and complex with more concerns than one might imagine and flagship cars such as the C7 Corvette, are expected to be nearly flawless right out of the box. It took around five years to design and develop the C7 Corvette from start to finish. Along the way, Corvette product planners talked to fans, asking what the like and don’t like. One consistent question was, “Why don’t you offer a club racer Corvette.” Doug Fehan was asked this last November at the Corvette Racing Legends Event at the Simeone Museum in Philadelphia. Doug’s answered, “Yes, we could do that. The cars would cost over $200,000 and we might sell 100 units. We’re in business to sell cars - lots of cars. But we have thought about it.”
Indeed, they did think about it. While work was progressing on the C7, product planners had some fun with the parts bin and dished up a set of club racer concepts at the 2010 SEMA Show in November 2010. Since Pratt & Miller is the brain trust behind the ultra-successful C5-R and C6.R race cars, it made sense to bring them in to help create club racer versions of a possible 11, Z06X Corvette and SSX Camaro. All you can really say is, “It’s about time and when can we get one?” The concept is simple since Chevrolet already makes plenty of parts for “heavy duty” applications, Wouldn’t any red blooded car guy love a design task such as this? Corvette product planners and engineers came up with a package of off the shelf hardware with some genuine racing goodies that are sure to raise your blood pressure and temperature. In one respect, it shows just how out front the Corvette team really is. Except for a few parts, almost everything presented is mass-produced by Chevrolet.
Designers started out with a basic Z06 Corvette. The C6.R race cars are built on the Z06’s all-aluminum chassis and C6 Z06s were the lightest Corvettes produced in decades. While the supercharged LS9 monster motor might seem like the engine to use, the 505-horsepower LS7 is durable and race proven. Not that the 638-horsepower LS9 isn’t durable, but a supercharged engine for racing is a whole other animal. The factory parts in the Z06X include the Z07 Performance Package that includes Brembo carbon ceramic brake rotors and special brake pads, the ‘11 CFZ carbon-fiber package that has the front splitter and side rockers, the carbon fiber raised hood from the Z06 Carbon Edition, the ZR1 carbon fiber roof panel and B-pillar, and the racing pedal kit from the Corvette Accessory catalog. You could buy a new Z06 optioned out as outlined above, but you’d only be half way there.
The Pratt & Miller side of the project includes more carbon fiber parts added and swapped out to reduce weight, including: an adjustable carbon fiber rear wing, carbon fiber headlamp buckets, and a lightweight polycarbonate rear window. Like any serious racer car, all of the sound-deadening material is removed. An SCCA-spec roll cage and window net are installed, along with a racing seat with five-point safety harness, a fire suppression system, a driver’s drink system, and video camera mount. Other goodies include a low restriction air intake, a high-capacity radiator and cooling package, painted black lightweight racing wheels (19-inch in front and 20-inch in back) shod with Michelin racing tires, a mono-ball control bar bushing, adjustable stabilized bars, and adjustable camber plates for the coil-over struts, The entire package was finished off with low-gloss Icy White Metallic paint, with exposed carbon fiber, red accents, and a sinister-looking Z06X logo.
Could they have added more? Oh, sure, but the objective here isn’t to build and offer a turn-key race car. No, in the tradition of the original Z06, L88, ZR1, and ZR2 Duntov racer options, the point is to offer a car that’s a few ticks away from being an all-out racing machine. They have to leave “something” to the racer to do, besides drive. Overall, the Corvette Z06X and Camaro SSX are stunning examples of just how far GM has come in embracing something that fans have known for years - that Corvettes and Camaros make for fearsome race cars. Unfortunately, the Z06X never made it onto the option list. But hey, the C7 is still young. Don’t be surprised if...
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Illustrated Corvette Series No. 157: 2010 Production Corvette -
"Where Do We Go From Here?"
In retrospect, 2009 can be best summed up with a quote from Charles Dickens’ classic book, A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” 2009 should have been an awesome year for Corvettes, but it turned out to be the worst sales year since 1961. Sales went from 35,310 units in 2008 to just 13,934—a 60 percent drop! Of course, this led to a lot of Internet speculation that the bottom had dropped out of the market, since nearly all sports-car marques saw sales plummet. So people don’t want sports cars anymore? Hardly. It’s the economy, stupid.
The ‘09 Corvette lineup couldn’t have been much more enticing. The ZR1 was finally in production, the Z06 was still one tick away from race-car status, and the base Corvette was still packing 430 hp under the hood. Plus, there were two spectacular special-edition Vettes available: the GT1 Championship Edition and the Competition Sport. And if that wasn’t enough, starting in April, car magazines were all over the upcoming ’10 Grand Sport. Chevrolet could not have had better press coverage to whip up interest in Corvettes.
On the other side, there was a nonstop flow of grim news about GM. CEO Rick Wagoner was out, and Fritz Henderson was in. Then Henderson quit and was replaced by Ed Whitacre. Plus, the Camaro SS was finally available, likely draining some sales away from the Corvette. Even the drop-dead-gorgeous special editions didn’t generate the projected sales. The GT1 Championship Edition was supposed to have a 600-car run, but only 125 units were built; the Competition Sport package generated just 72 sales.
So, where do we go from here? There have been no special-edition Corvettes announced for ‘10, and it’s highly unlikely there will be any. In mid-2009 there was a lot of chatter about the C7, but plans for a C6 replacement have been postponed indefinitely. All of this has nothing whatsoever to do with the quality of the car. Like the ’09 model, the ’10 is awesome—truly the best Vette yet. Even better, some retailers are discounting base and Grand Sport ’10 Corvettes by as much as $5,000. And the selection of accessory options is terrific. You can create your own personalized Vette right from your dealer’s showroom floor.
What’s new for 2010? Not much, but as usual, the car just keeps getting better. New standard items include Launch Control, revised controls for the paddle-shift six-speed automatic, standard side airbags, and interior console trim in either Orbit or Gunmetal patterns. Convertibles now get the taller Z06 rear spoiler. Torch Red paint is back, Z06 cars can opt for the Cashmere interior, and the 3LZ Equipment Group now includes power sport seats and a power passenger seat. Also, Crossed-Flags seat embroidery is a new option. There are no significant changes under the hood, in the driveline, or to the suspension. Consequently, ’10 Corvettes are still the same awesome performers they were in ‘09.
What an odd situation for GM’s flagship performer. In 58 years of production, the car has never been faster, quicker, handled better, or offered more custom accessories. But despite these achievements, hardly anyone is willing to buy. However, if your personal financial situation has been unaffected by the economic downturn, now is the time to get the Vette of your dreams
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Illustrated Corvette Series No. 150 1963, 1996, & 2010 Grand Sport Corvette -
"Three Generations of Grand Sport Corvettes"
There’s nothing quite like a surprise at a birthday party. On April 24, 2009, at the National Corvette Museum’s C5/C6 Registry Birthday Bash, GM officials floored the audience with the unveiling of the 2010 Grand Sport Corvette. The last time we saw a Grand Sport was more than 13 years ago, in 1996. Times were very different then, as the C4 was making its last appearance. Spy photos of the C5 were all over the car magazines, so Chevrolet’s challenge was maintaining customer interest in a car that was in its final year of production. The solution came in two parts: the Collector Edition—a special paint-and-trim option—and the stunning Grand Sport model. The Admiral Blue Grand Sport—with its white center stripes, red hash marks, black wheels, and other assorted details—was an instant classic. Production was limited to just 1,000 units, and the $3,250 price made it the most expensive option for the ‘96 Corvette. But after six years of the $31,000-plus ZR-1 package, the Grand Sport seemed like a bargain. Since then, the C4 Grand Sport “look” has been applied to all sorts of Corvettes, with many delightful results.
But the Grand Sport story goes back much further than 1996. In fact, it stretches back 34 years, to late 1962 and a test session at Riverside Raceway. It was there that a disheartened Zora Arkus-Duntov saw his latest effort come up short against a formidable new challenge: the Shelby Cobra. Duntov and his team were “field testing” a new ’63 Sting Ray equipped with their latest racer kit, the Z06 option. Since 1957 Duntov had made sure that Corvette racers had an excellent foundation for competition. The 283 fuelie engine provided plenty of grunt, while RPO 684 provided suspension and braking improvements. The package was very successful and was the foundation for Corvette dominance in several SCCA racing classes. Duntov was very happy with the performance of the Z06-equipped ’63, thanks to a new frame that allowed the engine and driveline to sit lower, improving the car’s center of gravity. The four-wheel independent suspension was far superior to the earlier layout, which was described by many racers as, “stab ‘n’ steer.” While most drivers were able to adjust their driving style to fit the Corvette’s unique handling characteristics, it was still a crude way of getting around the track. Many a track official had his wits scared out of him by a Corvette coming around a curve sideways, seemingly out of control. But the presence of the Cobra stopped the new Corvette in its tracks. Duntov and his crew had expected to be several steps ahead of the competition with their new car. Instead, they found themselves seriously outclassed. But Duntov always had another plan.
What happened then could never have taken place in the modern era. Fortunately, Duntov had very powerful friends at the top of GM’s food chain—namely, Ed Cole and Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen. It was Cole who hired Duntov in 1953 with instructions to do something with the fledgling Corvette. And although Knudsen was the son of William “Big Bill” Knudsen, the man responsible for GM’s quick turnaround during the war effort in 1940, he was no privileged rich kid. Knudsen learned the car business from the bottom up, working on the assembly line during his summer breaks from college. He also liked fast cars and was solidly behind Duntov’s racing efforts, so he understood the Corvette chief engineer’s dilemma with the new Sting Ray and the quicker Cobra. The obvious solution to level the playing field was to build a lightweight Corvette. Knudsen agreed and approved Duntov’s ambitious plans for the Grand Sport model. While the move might not seem like a big deal today, in 1962 GM was on board with the infamous AMA ban on factory-supported racing. The Grand Sport proposal was in direct violation of the ban and ran counter to GM’s official position. Duntov knew it, and Cole and Knudsen looked the other way.
Knudsen approved the construction of six lightweight Corvettes of Duntov’s design. After the six initial cars, 125 more Grand Sports were to be built to qualify for FIA homologation. Another 1,000 units would be produced for public consumption.
Duntov started with what was then a state-of-the-art ladder-type frame made from large-diameter steel tubing. The front suspension was similar to, but much lighter than, the stock Corvette setup. The rear suspension used the new Sting Ray independent design, but with an aluminum differential and drilled-out trailing arms. Girling disc brakes were used with Halibrand lightweight magnesium wheels and contemporary racing tires. The body was very close to the production Sting Ray, but used much thinner fiberglass. The final weight of the new Grand Sport was around 2,000 pounds. Duntov had several exotic small-block engines in development, including one with hemi-style heads, another with double overhead cams, and even an all-aluminum fuelie. But none of Duntov’s exotic engines were anywhere close to being ready for competition, so a slightly modified 360hp fuelie was installed for initial shakedown runs. The first versions of the car looked almost stock, but by the time the Grand Sports arrived for the Nassau Speed Week races, they had a full complement of flares, scoops, and fat tires. The cars looked tough and pounded the Cobras. Then GM’s top brass found out and killed the program—officially, anyway.
It’s amazing that Duntov wasn’t fired on the spot, but as I mentioned earlier, he had friends in high places at GM. Even more amazing was that the cars were not sent to the crusher. Grand Sports 003, 004, and 005 boasted 377ci aluminum small-blocks that breathed through four 58mm Weber carbs each and made 485 hp. Cars 001 and 002, meanwhile, had been converted to roadsters. When GM discontinued the program, the cars began passing from racer to racer, as various privateers tried to make the Grand Sport into a serious competitor. But the mid-’60s were a time of tremendous advancement in race-car technology, and in just four years, the Grand Sports were seriously outdated. They had numerous problems that were never fully sorted out, including a terrible front-end lift that would occasionally pull the tires off the ground at high speed. Many famous drivers spent time behind the wheel of a Grand Sport, including A.J. Foyt, Augie Pabst, Jim Hall, Dick Thompson, and George Winterstein. In 1967 Alan Sevadjian bought one of the cars for just $7,500. By the 1970s the Grand Sports were all but forgotten and their whereabouts mostly unknown. The cars began to surface in the late-‘70s, and today all five are accounted for. In January 2009, at RM’s Automobiles of Arizona, Grand Sport 002, one of the two roadsters, was a no-sale at $4.9 million.
Fast-forward to 1996, and the revival of the Grand Sport option. Obviously the C4 edition couldn’t be a lightweight, tube-chassis racer. But it was an extremely well-executed collection of off-the-shelf parts. Under the hood was the new LT4 engine, an enhanced version of the base LT1 that made an additional 30 hp (up to 330 total) with basic hot-rod hardware. These included a higher (10.8:1) compression ratio, new aluminum heads with bigger ports and valves, a revised camshaft, Crane roller rocker arms, and higher-flow fuel injectors. The new engine redlined at 6,300 rpm and had an 8,000-rpm tach. All 1,000 Grand Sports were painted with Admiral Blue paint and had a wide white stripe that ran from the nose to the tail. The ZR-1–style 17-inch wheels were painted black, and flares originally developed for the Japanese export market were installed on the rear fenders. As a salute to the Grand Sport racers, red hash marks were applied to the left front fender. The Z51 suspension option was available to stiffen up the car’s handling. Of the 1,000 cars built, 810 were coupes and 190 were convertibles. (The latter didn’t have the wider tires and the rear fender flares.) Priced at $3,250 for the coupe and $2,880 for the droptop, option Z16 became an instant classic. These days, show organizers like to put all the C4 Grand Sports together in rows, where they make for a dazzling presentation.
The C6 Grand Sport is a completely different animal. The base LS3 engine produces 430 hp—100 more than the old LT4. The new option fits neatly between the base Corvette and the Z06 and is available on both coupe and convertible models, in all color combinations. Oddly enough, the signature fender hash marks are optional. Perhaps most notable are the Z06 body panels, which include front and rear flared fenders, a front air-splitter, and a rear spoiler. The rear brake-cooling scoops are functional, but the front nose scoop is not. Visually separating the Grand Sport from the Z06 are a set of revised front-fender vents, with their ’67-inspired vertical slats. Model-specific five-spoke wheels are available in silver, Competition Gray, or chrome. The fronts measure 9.5 x 18 inches and are shod with Goodyear F1 run-flat tires sized 275/35ZR18. The 12 x 19-inch rears, meanwhile, get massive 325/30ZR19s. The front brakes have been enhanced with cross-drilled 14-inch front rotors and six-piston calipers, while the rears boast 13.5-inch rotors with four-piston binders. All four calipers are painted silver and wear red “Corvette” lettering.
Since the Grand Sport replaces the Z51 Performance Option, all of the Z51 goodies—heavy-duty springs, shocks, and stabilizer bars, along with coolers for the engine oil, transmission fluid, and steering fluid—are included. Additionally, all six-speed manual cars come with the Z52 option, which adds a dry-sump oil system, a rear-mounted battery, and a differential cooler. Manual cars also receive a new launch-control system. This system allows the driver to simply floor the gas, at which point the computer automatically selects the optimum launch rpm. All that’s left for the driver to do is drop the clutch and start shifting. All of the standard Corvette options are available on the Grand Sport, including four trim packages and the Dual Mode Exhaust System. Priced at $55,720 for the coupe and $59,530 for the convertible, the new Grand Sport is still around $15,000 less than a Z06. Zero-to-60 times clock in at 4 seconds flat, with quarter-miles in the low 13s or better. The car generates 1.0g on the skidpad and has an EPA rating of 26 mpg on the highway. Top speed is between 185 and 190 mph, making the latest Grand Sport faster than even the old racing versions.
For at least the first 20 years of its existence, the Corvette was always a hair’s breadth away from being canceled. Thanks to dedicated engineers like Duntov, McClellan, Hill, Juechter, and many others, the C6 Grand Sport can take its place among the greats of Corvette history. - KST