Chevrolet Corvette Z06: A History of Performance

Six decades since it was introduced, the Corvette Z06 is poised to put the world in its rear view. Let's take a look back at what separates it from lesser Vettes.
Chevrolet Corvette C8 6 photos
2023 Corvette Z062015 Corvette Z062006 Corvette Z062001 Corvette Z061963 Corvette Z06
The year is 1963, and the second generation of Chevrolet's sports car is about to debut. In order to make the car appeal to a wider fanbase, it was blessed with power windows, A/C, and many creature comforts. While GM officially didn't support racing, Chief Engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov had been working on a track-day monster.

For those that wanted the lightest & fastest that Chevy had to offer, the Z06 package included stiffer suspension, bigger brakes, and 360 horsepower. To keep weight at a minimum, your new car would arrive without a heater, A/C, or even a radio.

1963 Corvette Z06
Because gas was cheap in the old days, a 36-gallon tank was offered for those who enjoyed endurance competitions. It was the first time that Corvette buyers had a hotter model to choose from, and it set a precedent for future generations. Because GM didn't want to be involved with motorsports, only a few-dozen were built. Nowadays, they are among the most coveted American cars of all-time.

Fast-forward to 2001, and the fifth-generation Corvette was embraced by race teams and the aftermarket. Taking notice of their customers' ambitions, Chevrolet decided to take a swing at the 'Ring. Starting with a hard-top coupe, engineers developed magnesium wheels, titanium exhaust, and a new, track-ready suspension. Diving into the engine, the 2001 Z06 debuted with 385 horsepower thanks to a hotter cam and a higher compression ratio. The result was a 7:56 lap-time at the Nürburgring, which put on-par with contemporaries like the Ferrari F430 and the 996-generation Porsche 911 Turbo.

It was here that Chevrolet realized the potential of their supercar on the World's Stage. So when the C6 launched in 2005, a hotter example was already in the works. The 2006 Z06 retained the same formula as its predecessor, with more intense upgrades. Compared to base-model cars, you would be blessed with 6-piston brembo brakes hidden behind wider wheels. It would be the first Z06 with a wide-body, and it offered 505 horsepower from a whopping 7-liter V8.

2015 Corvette Z06
This masterpiece made use of titanium connecting rods and 11.1 compression to make 540 lb-ft of torque. Aluminum replaced steel in the chassis, and the engine cradle was cast of magnesium. With the largest V8 in recent history, it is capable of lapping the 'Ring in 7:22.68!

Perhaps the most aggressive version to-date arrived in 2015. The C7 Z06 expanded the appeal of the model by offering an automatic transmission along with a convertible top. A supercharger was now standard, and it allowed their 6.2-liter V8 to offer 650 horsepower along with 650 lb-ft of torque.Knowing full well that it would be the last front-engine example, Chevrolet pulled out all the stops.

Brembo delivered carbon ceramic brakes that measure 15.5" (394 mm), and they clamp down on 335-25-20 tires. A seven-speed manual transmission was optional, but the fastest cars made use of an 8-speed automatic. The latter allowed the car to lap the ring in only 7:13, running with cars several times its price.

In conclusion, choosing between a base-model Corvette and a Z06 is a no-brainer. Yes, they cost a little more; but the fundamental differences in the car's nature can't be easily solved by the aftermarket. How will the most recent car compare to the new 2023 model? Well, the notion of a high-revving flat-plane V8 is foreign to Chevy faithful, so we'll have a full review as soon as possible.


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