2006 Corvette Z06

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Most of us will never lay our paws on a Stradivarius — or wrap our poor-boy lips around a $1,500 bottle of wine to go with our Chef Boy-R-Dee.

Some things are simply out of reach.

The same has been true of elite performance cars in the Porsche 911/Ferrari/Lamborghini range. We could look and admire and lust after one — but absent a winning Lotto ticket, it just wasn’t going to happen. Until Chevy broke ranks and decided to make that level of performance (and then some) available to pretty much anyone who really had a hankering for it. Because almost anyone can afford the $65,000 Corvette Z06 (given some saving and some sacrifices; after all, it’s only about a third or so more than you’d pay for a full-loaded mid-sized SUV).

And what do you get for your $65k? How about (for openers) a ride that goes from 0-100 mph (7.9 seconds) faster than a lot of today’s sports cars go from 0-60? With an astounding 505-hp on tap (that’s 105 hp more than the already potent standard issue Corvette, without turbos or nitrous oxide) the Z06 reaches 60 mph in an eyeball flattening, spine-compressing, nearly unbelievable 3.7 seconds — performance so staggeringly quick it requires a new frame of reference to get a handle on. This is a car that can run with 1,000 cc sport bikes off the line — and beat most of them on the top end, where the ‘Vette’s sledgehammer power combined with slippery aerodynamics push the envelope to nearly 200 mph, speeds not even the famed Suzuki GSXR ‘Busa can approach without extensive aftermarket modifications.

And unlike a fast sport bike, the ‘Vette can take two for the ride and will keep you dry (and warm) in bad weather.

The performance of the Z06 absolutely dominates that of considerably more expensive “exotics” such as the Porsche 911 — which starts out at $71,300 but needs almost two full seconds longer to reach 60 mph (about 5.2 seconds vs. the ‘Vette’s argument-ending 3.7 second clocking).

The $170,045 (to start) Ferrari F430 has exclusivity. But it hasn’t got better numbers. It needs about 4 seconds flat to make 60 mph, which is still plenty quick, of course — but the Corvette Z06 beats that without even breaking a sweat. Some might say, embarrassingly so. After all, it’s got to hurt (the Ferrari owner) that a car that cost one-fourth what he paid for his is significantly quicker, has more top-end — and handles and stops as well, if not better than his high-priced “exotic.”

Before the Z06, you paid exotic money to get exotic-level performance. Now, you just pay exotic money.

Ouch.

The Z06 differs from the standard Corvette (MSRP $44,190) in several key respects — with the package centered around the 7 liter “LS7” V-8 that is fitted in place of the standard 6 liter “LS2” engine. This is an increased displacement version of the 6 lier LS2 and not technically a “big block” — even though the LS7 does displace big block numbers, as in 427 cubic inches. But unlike the big blocks of the ’60s, the engine is not physically larger externally; the super-sized displacement arrives via increases in bore — upped to 104.8 mm from the LS2’s 101.6 mm bores. The LS7 also used pressed-in steel cylinder liners and different cylinder heads that are CNC ported and feature high-flow 70 cc chambers, lightweight (and heat-dissipating) sodium-filled exhaust valves and titanium intake valves (titanium is also used for the engine’s connecting rods, shaving 30 percent off the weight of the reciprocating assembly relative to the LS2). All Z06 engines have race-style dry sump oiling systems (to prevent oil starvation in very hard cornering, as on a track) and are hand-assembled at GM’s Performance Build Center in Wixom, Michigan.

The really impressive thing, though, is not the mind-bending power of the LS7. It is how mild-mannered and “liveable” this engine is. Almost anyone could drive the Z06 — though it takes a pro (or at least a very good driver) to drive it anywhere near its stratospheric capability. In years past, a 500-hp “street car” was an oxymoron; such animals were in truth barely tamed full-on race cars with just enough fudging to get past the DMV and qualify for a license plate. But they were not “wife driveable.” You’d sit in traffic, solid lifters clattering like a can full of loose bolts being shook in a coffee can, leg-pressing the clutch and sweatily eyeing the temperature gauge, hoping the thing would not melt down before you got some space to move again. You dared not run the AC for fear of overtaxing the cooling system — if you even had AC.

In the Z06, you can roll up the windows, turn on the dual zone climate control and enjoy the Delco Bose stereo system, listening to XM comedy or NPR — and not worrying once about overheating or any other unusualness you might expect to have to deal with given a 505-hp engine up front. The Z06 is as happy trundling to 7-11 for a Big Gulp as it is banking the high oval at GM’s Milford Proving Grounds at 190-plus. The six-speed is as easy to deal with as any modern manual with a hydraulic clutch — though it has that notchy feel (and some nice gear whine) to let you know it’s built for the task. It’s Superman in Clark Kent’s suit. Easygoing and soft-spoken — until you drop the hammer.

The Z06 also differs from the base Corvette in more subtle ways — including a lighter-weight aluminum-alloy frame, wider bodywork (3-inches in the rear, with Z06-specific rear quarter panels and composite carbon fiber front fenders), race-level HD brakes with 14-inch cross drilled rotors and six-piston calipers (front) and 13.4 inch cross-drilled rotors and four pistons calipers (rear), massive 19×12 rear wheels (with 325/30ZR ultra-performance tires), 18×9.5-inch front wheels, drainage pipe 3-inch dual exhaust, a rear-mounted battery (for improved weight distribution) and Z06-specific gauge cluster, including 7,000 RPM redline tachometer and Autobahn-ready 200-mph speedo.

This is a whole lot of stuff for the extra $20k Chevy charges for the Z06 package over the standard Corvette — and an absolute steal relative to what your $65k could buy you at a Porsche or Ferrari store.

For the down payment on a 911 Turbo S or F430, you get an objectively superior performance car that’s also the equal of these “exotics” in every objective respect — from handling to race-bred technology to state-of-the-art equipment such as GM’s instantaneously adjusting Magnetic Ride Control (MRC) suspension system, a Z06 standard.

In fact, the only big ticket extra-cost items on the Z06 menu are polished rims ($1,295), an audio upgrade with GPS navigation and LCD display ($3,340) and Corvette Museum delivery ($490).

Everything else — that is, everything else you might order on the standard Corvette — is already included in the Z06. The only thing you can’t get is an automatic transmission — in keeping with the NSA-serious mission of this incredible piece of equipment.

Ferrari and Porsche owners can still comfort themselves in the knowledge that only a select few can own such cars as theirs. But thanks to Chevy and the Z06, many more of us will be able to smack those cars around at will.

For pennies on the dollar.

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