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Haunted Highways: A Series Exploring The Ghosts of Cars Gone By (Quickly)

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On: Wed, Jul 27, 2011 at 8:43AM | By: Lou Ruggieri

Haunted Highways: A Series Exploring The Ghosts of Cars Gone By (Quickly)

Some things never change. Throughout history, whenever a new Corvette hits the market, it always creates a splash. And when the C5 Corvette burst onto the performance car scene in 1997, it was no different. The fifth generation Corvette was an instant hit. It brought about a renaissance to the Crossed Flags emblem that made the Corvette a world power in the performance car market once again.

With nearly perfect 50/50 weight distribution, thanks to a rear-mounted transmission, and a lighter, better breathing aluminum block LS1 making 345 horsepower, it was a perfectly balanced sports car to take on all comers. Unfortunately for the Bow Tie bunch, one of the Vette's main competitors was the Dodge Viper, a neo-Cobra that did not coddle, or offer creature comforts of any kind. All the Viper did was perform, and perform it did.

So, to combat their closest rival, beginning in 2001, team Corvette sent their already svelte fighter back to the gym and what came back was one of the lightest, most powerful and fastest Corvettes to ever come off of a Chevrolet production line. Beginning with the hardtop Corvette, which Chevy deemed to be the stiffest and best handling version of their prize fighter, the main focus of every upgrade was simple: speed. Giving a nod to Corvette nostalgia and the legendary Zora Arkus-Duntov (Corvette's first chief engineer), the new Vette was deemed the Z06 which was originally offered by Duntov in 1963 as a turnkey race car package that could go from showroom to race track with little to no modifications.

The new C5 Z06 lived up to its name. The LS1 engine was upgraded significantly enough to warrant a new designation. Crankcase pressure management was improved, as well as faster oil return to the crankcase, and a higher lift camshaft rounded out the bottom end improvements, while higher compression 10.5:1 cylinder heads (versus 10.1:1 on the stock LS1), improved airflow thanks to larger ports, bigger injectors, stronger valve springs, and lighter sodium-filled valve stems helped the new engine rev higher and develop of course, more horsepower. The upgraded engine’s name, also a nod to the past, was the LS6. The original LS6 was a 454 cubic inch big block that pounded out a sickening 425 horsepower and ranks as one of the meanest motors of all time (perhaps only second to the L88). The new LS6 lived up to its name, even if it gave up more than 100 cubic inches. The 2001 Z06 came off the production line making a substantial 385 horsepower, and thanks to just a bit more tweaking, from 2002-2004 the Z06 made 405 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 400 lb.-ft. of torque at 4800 rpm (up 15 lb.-ft. from the year prior).

Team Vette didn't just stop at the engine, however. In order to make the most of that extremely stiff body and all that power, Chevy gave the Z06 bigger 265/40/ZR17 front and 295/35ZR18 rear tires (up 20 mm front and rear versus the base Vette), and used a first ever titanium exhaust system that provided less backpressure and lighter weight. Speaking of lighter weight, that's just what the Z06 came in at. With a curb weight of only 3118 pounds and 405 horsepower on tap, the Z had to move only 7.7 pounds per horsepower, edging it ever closer to the big bad Viper's 6.76 pounds per horsepower. All of these modifications helped make the Z06 blazingly fast by anyone's standards. It blew through 60 mph in 4.0 seconds flat, 100 mph in 9.5 seconds on its way to a quarter mile time of 12.5 seconds at 115 mph. Top speed however, was actually lower than the stock C5's because Chevy augmented the transmission of the Z06 (designated the M12) to have shorter gears for improved acceleration times at the expense of a few top end miles per hour, a tradeoff that worked out very well.

Production of the C5 Z06 ended in 2004 before the C6 debuted in 2005 (the Z06 name lived on, but in a much nastier car, more on that in a future installment). The C5 Z never actually beat the Viper in a straight line race, but what it offered instead was a more complete performance package. It was a factory-racer you could take to the office and then to the track on lunch. It was a car you could pick a date up in, and not have to explain why her shoes were melting to the firewall. At one point, the Z06 was the second fastest car in all the land, which isn't bad considering the fastest car demanded a $30,000 premium on top of the Z06's base price of about 50 grand.

According to Kelley Blue Book, you can get your hands on a low mileage 2004 Z06 for $25-$30,000, depending on its condition and where you are buying it from. Obviously, earlier models will more than likely be less expensive as C5s haven't really retained too much of their value for one reason or another. But, even for 30 grand, there is no car on the market today that can come close to the performance of a C5 Z06 for the money, which is exactly what Chevrolet intended when it was new, and some things never change.

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