The 2001 Corvette Z06

Your Personal Rocket Sled to Higher Consciousness

Francis Vale


Some sensations can be very difficult to express in words, like losing your virginity, winning the lottery, or driving a Chevrolet Corvette Z06. Every one of them is a potentially indescribable peak experience. Thankfully, except for winning the lottery, the other two are pretty easy to attain. Although winning the Lotto would certainly help, the approximate $50,000 price tag for the Z06 is certainly not all that out of reach for many. It would also take something like a new Porsche 911 Turbo to match this Corvette’s brain warping performance. But the German-born Turbo costs about $60,000+ more than this very special Chevy, making the Made In America Z06 a sensory overload bargain.

However, when the fire truck red Z06 showed up at my front door for review I was mentally braced for my kidneys to be slammed up against my brainpan by an unforgiving truck-like ride. Cavernous Boston potholes also lay in menacing wait and I expected to be screwing back on rattley interior bits after they were thumped off.

Remarkably, my anxious expectations were totally wrongheaded. The 2001 Z06 is not just about boom-boom-let’s-frighten-little-children wildly spinning rubber. It is a surprisingly sophisticated driving machine. The ride of this best performing-ever production Corvette was surprisingly supple and comfortable. The tightly screwed together and rattle-free interior, although mostly cheesy black plastic, was also a quite pleasant place to be in for hours at a stretch. Moreover, the car’s bucket seats were among the most comfortable my well-traveled butt has ever had the pleasure of being stuffed into. Perhaps the biggest shock, apart from the car’s featherweight clutch, was the gas mileage. When slotted into 6th gear and loafing along at about 70-75 MPH, the car amazingly averaged about 28-30 miles per gallon. In addition, the rear deck-opening trunk was huge. It easily swallowed large suitcases with room left over. I never would have imagined that the Z06 would turn out to be a highly comfortable long distance cruiser for two.

The only significant downside was road noise. The cavernous trunk with its open entryway from the passenger cabin made a highly effective boom box. It irritatingly amplified whatever was going on back there, like tread noise from the massive 295/35ZR-18 rear tires. These meaty black doughnuts are shod on "18.5" X "10.5" rims. Goodyear makes the Eagle F1 SC asymmetric tread tires, which are specific to the Z06. The Z06 front shoes are a different size from the rears; 265/40ZR-17 tires running on rims measuring "17" X "9.5". (The standard ‘Vette coupe, which in base trim weighs 99 pounds more than the base Z06, gets smaller "18" X "9.5" back wheels and "17" X "8.5" fronts, with each end sporting tires 20 millimeters narrower than the SC’s.)

Unfortunately, the big Eagle F1 SC monsters are not run flat tires like the standard Corvette’s GS rubber. Your only hope against being scarily stranded at midnight in the dark bayou is a dinky GM supplied tire inflator/stop leak kit — a not altogether reassuring prospect. But those rubber plantation-sized treads, plus the special FE4 suspension of the Z06, allow this machine to generate between .98 G to 1.0 G on the skid pad, making it probably the highest G generating production car currently available. The 2001 Porsche 911 Turbo only pulls about .93 G.

I once took a sharp left-hand turn at speed in the Z06 just after eating a big dinner. It slammed my luckless passenger and me so hard against the side of the car that we spent the next half-hour or so with a queasy feeling not unlike hitting an air pocket at 30,000 feet. A strong suggestion: if you want to beat your best back road time using a Z06, do it on an empty stomach, otherwise, bring along an airsick bag.

If you leave the Corvette’s Active Handling System (AHS) on you will get a terrifically well balanced, highly stable platform to play F1 boy or girl racer in. Smooth, progressive breakaway at the rear is the norm as you approach the car’s incredibly high maneuvering limits. Active Handling kicks in when it detects a significant difference between what the driver is idiotically attempting and how the car is actually responding. The antilock brake system and the Traction Control system will cooperatively work to automatically apply any one of the four brakes and gain control over what is probably a truly nutso situation. If the algorithms succeed as designed, the AHS computers will maintain the maximum amount of traction available at each fat tire and you get to drive home and brag about the tale.

However, if you want to go for the best possible lap times you will probably turn AHS off by switching it into competition mode, which in 2001 you can do without bringing the car to a stop. It is now your turn to show how you can outsmart the GM computer geeks. Note, however, that this car does not suffer klutzy fools gladly when in competition mode. With Active Handling off, abruptly nailing the throttle much too hard when exiting a corner will have the rear end suddenly saying hello to the front. Drive stupidly and the car will happily reward you in kind.

The Z06 steering is quite good with excellent turn-in, although its lacks the BMW’s I-can-sense-a-tiny-pebble-in-the-tire road feel. The Z06 is also a BIG car. When driving, it seems to take up as much room on the road as a four door DeVille. But the real point of driving a car with a cast aluminum, 5.7-liter, 385 HP @ 6500 RPM V8 is belly-compressed-against-your-spine speed. (The standard model Vette has to make do with 350 HP at 6000 RPM.) And lordy, lordy, the new 2002 Z06 now puts out 405 HP. Pass the octane and sing hallelujah.

But even with its 20 fewer ponies, the 2001 Z06 I drove almost prompted a visit to the Mass. Eye and Ear Infirmary for an emergency retina reattachment. Bring up the revs to 2400 RPM, pop the clutch, slam your way through the six-speed manual, and you suddenly blast from 0-60 in about 4.3 seconds. Ignore your passenger’s terrified screams and about 113 MPH comes up in 12.7 seconds at the quarter mile mark.

The new Porsche 911 Turbo with a manual gear box is about 0.3 to 0.4 seconds faster all around, while the auto-shifting Tiptronic model delivers much the same numbers as a hand shifted Z06. However that Teutonic thrill ride will set you back $110,000 versus the Z06’s $50,000 asking price. Chevrolet claims that the new 405 HP Z06 and its extra 15 pound-feet of torque (now 400 pounds at 4800 rpm) will do 0-60 in under 4 seconds with a quarter mile run coming up in just 12.4 seconds. While that sub-4 second number is somewhat questionable, these new for 2002 engine mods should ease any mano a mano anxieties should you run up against a manual shifter Turbo.

The 2001 Z06 FE4 suspension has revised shock calibrations, a stiffer rear transverse leaf spring, and stiffer anti-roll bars front and rear from the standard Vette suspension. But the front axle of the 2002 Z06 is further beefed up with a thicker anti-roll bar. The car also received some revised rear suspension tuning. Altogether, these changes should make the 2002 Z06 an even tougher act to follow (or swallow, if you are a German-accented loser). Moreover, GM claims a 12-pound decrease in curb weight, thanks in part to the new and lighter Speedline wheels. The car’s special low-restriction titanium exhaust system, 50 percent lighter than the standard stainless steel system and which puts out a wonderful bellow when driven in anger, is also retained in the next iteration Z06. The improved clutch design of the 2002 model may also allow additional pop-the-clutch mayhem before you have to go see your dealer for a fix. At least your trip to the dealership will be more entertaining as a heads-up display (HUD) and in-dash CD player finally become standard issue on the new Z06.

The only fly in this Corvette’s speed thrills ointment was its six speed manual gearbox. (The Corvette automatic transmission is not an available option on the Z06). I consistently found speed shifting into 3rd to be problematic. This gearbox also evinces another highly annoying attribute, one that is unfortunately common to all new Vettes with standard transmissions. Upshifting under normal driving conditions will force the gear lever to move from first to fourth, thereby skipping second and third. This trickery is all done in the name of better gas mileage. It’s a highly irritating setup and a new Corvette owner may want to consider killing the switch that oversees this 1-4 screwy action. It’s said to be a relatively easy thing to disconnect, fortunately.

Regardless of such shifter nuisances, the big V8 is so tractable and otherwise docile that the Z06 will gladly work as a daily driver. Unless provoked, the Z06 gives no clue as to its aching to be unleashed ferocity. Frantic almost midnight Blockbuster blasts to avoid exorbitant late fees suddenly take on a new perspective.

Its 168-mph top speed is only limited by the car’s standard gearing, and a few extra MPH are probably in there waiting to be unleashed with different gear ratios. Quickly arresting all that muy rapido is no problem on the Z06 with its massive 12.6" diameter four wheel disc brakes. The car is also fitted with a Bosch ABS V system. Just mash the brake real hard and watch the capillaries in your eyes burst. Car and Driver reported that its Z06 test car stopped from 70 mph in just 152 feet, making it one of the shortest stopping distances the magazine has ever recorded.

Driving the Z06 to its full tilt potential on public roads will get you executed in Texas for a capital offense. However, even when just poking along surrounded by all those clapped out Hondas, mommy toting minivans and diesel belching semis the Z06 is a still blast to drive. But for those special moments when you are more or less alone and no one is looking, the Z06 is your very own rocket sled to Nirvana.

Francis Vale,Copyright 2001, All Rights Reserved

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