With all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the all-conquering new C8 Z06 finally hitting the streets this year, we thought we would take a moment to look back on where it all started for the Z. Well, technically it started back in the 1960s, when Corvette mastermind Zora Arkus-Duntov decided to build a race-ready street legal version of the 1963 ‘Vette and dubbed the option code Z06. Then after taking almost a full forty-year sabbatical, GM decided to resurrect the famous Z-badge into one of the baddest cars on the planet when it rolled off the assembly line. The Corvette C5 Z06.
Power was derived from a modified version of GM’s LS1 small-block V8 engine. The new engine was upgraded enough to warrant an entirely new designation. Higher compression 10.5:1 cylinder heads were used, as well as a higher lift camshaft and lighter sodium-filled value stems all helped the new LS6 engine rev to 6,500 rpm (500 rpm beyond the LS1’s redline). The code LS6 was also a nod to the Corvette’s illustrious past. The original LS6 was a 454 cubic-inch behemoth that made no less than 425-horsepower, and also authored many sleepless nights for the Ford faithful. The modern LS6 began its second life with 385-horsepower and 385 pound-feet of torque when it debuted in 2001, and then with a little more tweaking, managed to pump out a glorious 405-horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque from 2002-2004. That power was then funneled through that M12 six-speed manual transmission (the only transmission you could get), and then on to bigger 265/40/ZR-17 front and 295/35ZR-18 rear Goodyear Eagle F1 tires.
But, unlike the Corvettes of old, team Chevy didn’t just stop at the engine when it came to performance. The new Z06 was the beneficiary of a fixed roof design, which was the stiffest and lightest of all the C5 body styles. Add to that Chevy’s first ever titanium exhaust that was not only lighter, but more effective than the one it replaced. The result of all these modifications? The quickest Corvette ever made (at the time anyway). A 3,118 pound Viper-fighting rocket that could run from 0-60 mph in 4.0 seconds flat, 0-100 mph in just 9.5 seconds, and through the quarter mile in a scalding 12.5 seconds at 115 mph. Ironically, GM’s fastest Corvette was also its slowest, at least in terms of top speed. The decision was made to use shorter gears in the transmission in order to expedite off-the-line acceleration, which did end up costing the Z a couple miles-per-hour. But far more owners would end up trying to get to 60 mph quickly, than hitting 170+ mph, so there were no complaints.
Thanks to the Corvette C5 Z06’s rear-mounted transmission, the Z06 (and all C5s) sported almost perfect 50/50 weight distribution. That balance worked in tandem with a larger front anti-roll bar and stiffer rear springs to help an already competent chassis perform even better than before. A run around the skidpad netted 0.99g. Large vented 12.6-inch front and 11.8-inch rear rotors allowed the Corvette C5 Z06 to scrub of speed from 60-0 mph in just 104 feet.
Now, those numbers might not seem like world-beating considering some of the ridiculously fast hyper-cars running around today, but at the time of its inception, the Corvette C5 Z06 was one of the fastest cars on the planet. There may have been a few cars that were capable of going faster in a straight line, but in terms of providing a total package of speed, handling, and day-to-day livability, there are many that believed (including your humble author) that there was no better car you could buy for the money at the time. So while we should all be rejoicing at the greatness that is the latest Z06, let us not forget that the C8 is simply continuing down the road of tradition that the Corvette C5 Z06 started on more than two decades ago.