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    The Corvette Z06: Beauty and the V8 beast

    The Corvette Z06: Beauty and the V8 beast

    Last updated at 11:59 PM on 26th July 2008
    MailOnline.com

    The design of the Chevrolet Corvette Z06 isn't a patch on the Fifties classic, but then this one works.


    James Martin with his 1959 Corvette and the new Z06

    Let’s face it, the boys over the Pond are not as good at motor cars as they are at blowing things up.

    Although, given that they are the all-time undisputed blowing-things-up champions of the world, that’s a bit of an unfair comparison.


    No, I’d say they’re about as good at cars as they are at sandwiches. American sandwiches are mouthwatering to look at, but they’re full of all the wrong stuff. What the hell is ‘salt’ beef? Why does the chicken look and taste like school toilet paper? And why is there always a bloody great pickle in it?


    But I still like ordering them, because I’m a sucker for looks.

    Same with their cars. The blue thing on the left of the picture is my own ’59 Corvette, which takes pride of place in my garage next to a Seeburg Fifties jukebox.

    You can see how pretty the ’Vette is from the front, and it’s a work of art from the rear, while the interior is all baby blue with just the right mix of leather and chrome.


    Earlier Corvettes had been sluggish, two-speed automatics with a six-cylinder truck engine that needed about a mile of clear road to bring to a stop.

    By 1959 they’d introduced a 4.3-litre V8, four-speed transmission and the hot-rod bodywork you see here, but it still relied on prehistoric drum brakes, so you took your life in your hands when you hit the highway.

    Mine’s in good nick, still starts right on the button and the firepower is awesome, but with no power steering, roundabouts are like a workout at the gym.

    It can still be great fun if you do it right – flick that heavy rear end round and power it out – but do it wrong and you’ve got all that chrome wrapped around your face.

    This wouldn’t do, of course, once the English and the Italians started exporting proper sports cars, so Corvette quickly dropped the chrome and added independent rear suspension, disc brakes and even bigger engines, up to seven litres.


    If you like muscle cars, the Corvette Stingrays of the Sixties and Seventies are beautiful things. It went a bit wrong in the Eighties and Nineties of course (most cars did), but there’s a glimmer of hope in this Corvette Z06.

    Don’t get me wrong – it’s still massive, with a vast, never-ending bonnet just begging to have an eagle or a flaming horse or something tattooed across it.


    In fact, I only just managed to fit it in my garage – but it’s big for a reason, because under the hood is a seven-litre ‘small block’ V8 producing 512bhp and enough torque to strip the Tarmac off a drive-through McDonald’s.

    At 198mph this is the fastest Corvette ever – until the 638bhp supercharged ZR1 comes out next year.


    That’s mainly not due to the engine but to its weight: this Yank has been put on a drastic diet. Its aluminium chassis, carbon-fibre body panels and magnesium engine subframe are from Corvette’s Le Mans GT1 C6R racer.


    The floor is made from, would you believe, balsa wood sandwiched between carbon. The paint on the front wings probably weighs more than the wings themselves. The engine is handbuilt and has lightweight titanium valves, pushrods and connecting rods.

    Sitting inside obviously doesn’t compare to my vintage ’Vette but it’s still all-American, with plenty of space, heated leather racing seats, Bose sound system, big, simple dials and a satisfying short-throw manual gearstick.


    It has a head-up display so you don’t have to look down to check your speed, revs or ‘lateral G’.

    There are no rear seats but the boot is the biggest in any supercar I’ve seen – it’s got to be ten times the size of a Ferrari’s.


    But you’d better strap your groceries down or they’ll look like one giant pizza when you get home.


    This thing is quick. Quicker, in fact, than most Ferraris, Porsches and Lamborghinis, with 60mph coming up in 3.5 seconds and 100mph in eight. Stated top speed is 198mph, but I feel it would easily top 200.

    It doesn’t feel dangerous, though. It’s as simple to drive as any car I’ve tested – that is until you notice the traction control button, which can be set to Competitive Driving mode if you want a bit of drift, or turned off altogether if you’re insane.

    Well, with this much power, a straight road in front of me and foot-wide rear tyres, I just had to.


    Off it went, and I stamped on the gas. I hit nearly 60 in first gear and left 300ft of rubber on the Tarmac as the rear tyres lit up, which was great fun.


    But there was a corner ahead. Used to driving American stuff, I backed off. But there was no need – this Corvette actually corners. Not amazingly, like a Porsche, but neat and sure.

    Stopping’s not a problem either, as the brakes are huge and different to any I’ve seen: normally there’s one long pad either side of the disc.


    These have individual brake pads, each with its own piston (six pads per wheel at the front, four at the rear).

    So there we go. For the first time ever, I’ve tested a car from over the Pond that I actually like. It’s good-looking, light and fast and the best thing is the price: just over £60,000 for something that can outperform European supercars.


    You’d be feeling very smug about that – but only until you came to sell it. Left-hand drive Yank cars like this for some reason shed value like shares in Northern Rock.

    But if you always wanted to play Smokey And The Bandit and live anywhere near a Roman road, buy this. It’s the best fun you’re ever going to have.
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