General Motors Proving Grounds, Milford, Michigan -- We have been here many times before. Usually, it’s to see static displays of new car and truck models set up under a big white tent, and go through the ‘dog and pony’ show of palming the flesh of executives, engineers, designers and marketing managers. They strut like proud mammas and papas after the birth of a new baby and scan your every eye blink to assess your level of interest, chart your enthusiasm or indifference, and predict your questions or haughty observations during the formal Q & A.
But this time it’s different. This time, there is a palpable excitement that zings through the outside air that is heavily laden with moisture and drizzle. Who could dare to not be electric at this moment, I think, as I look up at the storm clouds for hints of lightning. This nervous energy isn’t about seeing a true icon of America, skinned, with parts displayed like fine art under the Big Top -we’ve all seen it, in spy photos and auto shows, for what seems a long time. Many of those have been either leaked, or shared directly with the press.
Page 2: Excitement
Chevrolet’s Corvette has been a defining character in the General Motors lineup since 1953. This fiberglass sports car has captivated enthusiasts worldwide, with sales of over a million models. So when designing a new version of Corvette, The General had to respond to the car’s heritage, in order to maintain this icon’s appeal. But nothing lasts that looks behind too longingly. The latest rendition, dubbed C6 because it’s the 6th generation model, thrusts mightily into the 21st century, with new styling in and out and with some of the latest techno-gizmos straight from the electronics’ parts bin. At the glance, it’s easy to see that the C6 is smaller than its C5 predecessor. Over five inches shorter and about an inch narrower, the newest Vette approaches Porsche 911 dimensions.
Page 3: Lean Lights
Perhaps the most notable styling characteristic in that language is the headlight configuration, which includes exposed lenses containing high-discharge Xenon bulbs. Corvettes have not had exposed lamps since 1962, but fixed headlights reduce complexity and weight while increasing effectiveness, according to GM. They’re also designed to signal a “lean, purposeful, performance oriented” look. It’s taken us a while to get used to them, especially since they look very Porsche-like. The taillights, however, are traditionally designed as four round lamps, a cue dating back to 1961. A bulged hood and more sharply defined front fenders are cues that suggest fat performance is available when you climb inside, as do the standard 18-in. front and 19-in. rear wheels. Out back four circular tailpipes exit through the center of the rear valance, another Corvette signature. So the look is good, and different. Getting in, however, is still a bit of work, somewhat like the plunge of dropping into a claw-foot bathtub in a low-slung room – but well worth the price of entry. Once there, you see that the inside is noticeably new. Soft-touch materials around the instrument cluster blend with aluminum trim plates and woven like surfaces to create an air of precision.
Page 4: Track Mode
This year, a 6-speed manual Tremec transmission arrives as standard equipment. Gearing of this tranny is altered when Z51 performance option is checked, providing better acceleration in the lower gears and higher fuel economy in 5th gear. It also gets a transmission cooler to help the unit sustain high-intensity driving over long periods. Either Tremec has been revised to include shorter throws through a smaller shift lever. Computer Aided Gear Selection is meant to improve fuel efficiency.
Page 5: Active Handling
Hard cornering also relies on C6’s suspension, which is entirely new. No pieces have been carried over from the previous C5. The front and rear double-wishbone setups include revised control arms, springs, dampers, stabilizer bars, and steering equipment. Chevrolet offers three suspension configurations on the 2005 Vette to suite various driving preferences. Corvette Standard suspension balances ride quality with sharp handling, and is the base setup. Magnetic Selective Ride Control adds special magneto-rheological dampers that detect road surfaces and adjust almost instantly. The Z51 Performance Package yields a race-ready design, featuring harder dampers and springs, larger stabilizer bars, larger cross-drilled brake rotors, and special Goodyear Supercar tires. Throughout the suspension lineup, Extended Mobility Tires use run-flat technology and special compounds to improve handling and bump absorption while providing security and convenience by avoiding flat tire situations.
Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS are standard. Base rotor diameters are 12.8 in. up front and 12 in. out back. The Z51 package increases the fronts to 13.4 and the rears to 13. Active Handling stability control employs the ABS and traction control to create a web of safety. GM emphasizes, however, that these electronic assistants will not hamper spirited driving.
Page 6: Safety
Our long-awaited first drive of the new model was not without disappointment. As rain poured down and left deep puddles on GM’s newest test track, dubbed the ‘Lutz-ring’ (after GM V.P Bob Lutz and the famed Nurbring race track in Germany), we were relegated to the nearby roads surrounding the GM Proving Grounds. Fine for a Saturn VUE, even a Red Line version, but a travesty for a C6.
How did it handle? While it steers straight as an arrow, takes corners on point, powers like the wind, and sounds like a tornado brewing under full power, it was a bit squiggly in the puddles under hard throttle, just as it should be, with the back end choosing a separate course from the front on one occasion. Now, for a day with a dry track!
Corvette C6 raises the bar for performance among Vettes. The standard 400-hp engine nearly matches the output of previous high-performance Z06 models. Thanks to revised gearing, however, the C6 also achieves excellent fuel economy. That said, the Corvette defining the 21st century is one of exceptional flexibility and promise.
Page 7: FAQs
Will there be an automatic transmission? Chevy will offer an upgraded version of its 4-speed automatic from the previous generation Vette as a no-cost option.
What are its options? Currently, options include a power convertible top ($1995) and a DVD navigation system ($1400).
When was the first Corvette built and how many have sold? The General built 300 Corvettes in Flint, Michigan in 1953. Now, 51 years later, Corvettes there have become an American icon, with sales of over a million. A special racing version of the Corvette was the winner of this year’s 24-Hours of LeMans event in France.
How did it feel? It drives straight as an arrow, steers with ease and confidence, powers like the wind, and sounds like a tornado brewing under full power.
Page 8: Writer's Notes
Base price: $44,245 (Coupe); $52,245 (Convertible) (destination charges included)
Engine: 6-liter V8 (400 hp @6,000 rpm, 400 lb.-ft. @4,400 rpm)
Transmission: 4-speed automatic; 6-speed manual
Wheelbase: 105.7 in.
Length: 174.6 in.
Width: 72.6 in.
Height: 49.1 in.
Head/legroom: front: 37.9/43 in.
Hip/shoulder room: front: 53.7/55.2 in.
Curb weight, lbs.: 3,200 (estimated)
Fuel economy: 18-19 city/25-28 highway mpg
Safety equipment: dual front airbags; optional front side-impact airbags (standard on Convertible); four-wheel disc brakes with ABS; traction control; stability control