2009 Chevrolet Corvette Coupe

T.Q. Jones 20.MAY.09
Oak Hill Gazette
Southwest Austin TX

We wonder what will happen to the Corvette in the new future, and we have mixed emotions about it. The Corvette is a car we didn't like very much in the beginning (remember, the original Ford Thunderbirds were faster than Corvettes), but it became a car with a storied history. Unfortunately, most of that history is probably lost on the majority of the Corvette owners.

Here's a car that was originally sort of an ugly cousin of its European counterparts, a car apparently designed and built be people who didn't understand the cars they were trying to copy. Not that no one at General Motors or Chevrolet understood, but that no one in charge had a clue.

The Europeans were designing and building light, fast sports cars with good handling characteristics for the day, powered by the best engines they could find. Even the road racers and hot rodders in the United States were building home-built sports cars that could take on the world: Cunninghams, Allards and Max Balchowsky's "Old Yallers."

Briggs Cunningham even took Cadillacs to Le Mans to race, and did pretty well. And why not? The staid old Cadillac was the fastest U. S. -built car of the time. (A few Corvettes raced at Le Mans by 1960.)

Early Corvettes were distinctive but not pretty, underpowered by an in-line six-cylinder engine and drove like trucks. The first year only 300 or so were built, all "powered" by a 150 horsepower 235 cubic inch six red-lined at 4200 rpm, and all equipped with GMs Powerglide automatic transmission.

Sales went up in 1954, but dropped like a stone in 1955 and there was a strong move within Chevrolet to get rid of the car. Zora Arkus-Duntov, now revered as the "grandfather of the Corvette," saved it by adding power and handling and by driving one to a new record on the Daytona mile, getting some needed publicity.

By now the car finally had a manual transmission (although a three-speed), and in 1956 got something else it needed: a major styling change. There would be no more ugly Corvettes, though the car was arguably not yet even close to being a world-class sports car. That would have to wait until 1984, when the Corvette finally came of age.

It was so good it was one of two cars banned from Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) competition for being too fast (along with the almost unknown Jensen-Healey), though it was back a few years later when the competition began to catch up. Not that Corvettes hadn't been raced even before the pivotal year of 1984. Arkus-Duntov's magic kept it competitive against all comers, even leading Carroll Shelby to build the Shelby Cobras in a successful attempt to beat the Corvettes.

Arkus-Duntov responded with a back-door project at Chevrolet: the legendary aluminum-bodied Gran Sport Corvette. Unfortunately, upper management found out about the project and closed it down after only five cars had been built.

But that was in the days when everyone was building sports cars and race cars and experimentation and ingenuity were running rampant. Corvettes raced everywhere, from Daytona and Riverside to Le Mans and the local drag strips and time trials (autocrosses). Now they don't.

This 2009 Corvette is terrific. It's fast and comfortable, recalling the days when a Corvette was more Grand Touring car than performance car. These days, you can have it all: comfort, reliability, over-the-top performance and even fuel economy. Rated by the EPA at 16 miles per gallon city and 26 mpg highway, the 'Vette still boasts a 6.2-liter engine rated at 430 horsepower and runs on regular unleaded, though premium is recommended.

On a 250-mile run to south Texas and back, we saw a steady 26.6 mpg and during city driving never saw less than 19 mpg, though we avoid bumper-to-bumper driving. There still isn't anything near it price that offers as much speed in what is also not an unreasonable car to drive.

Though our test car carried a base price of less than $49,000, its as-equipped sticker was nearly $65,000. There are two things that can keep Corvettes coming, three if you count consumer demand. One is that Chevrolet could finally build a "de-contented" Corvette at a much lower sticker price. The other is that they could use what they've learned about overall performance to build a newer, smaller, lighter, faster and even more efficient Corvette.

Otherwise, it's time to grab one of these and store it in the garage. - Oak Hill Gazette