With prices in the collector car world going wild, it’s time to take a look at what may be the perfect “poor man’s exotic car,” the 2006 to 2013 Chevy Corvette Z06.
Every gearhead wants to drive something unique. We yearn for the thrill of g-sled acceleration, the feel of cornering as though on rails, and styling that makes you the envy of everyone at Cars and Coffee. This usually means an exotic or nearly exotic car. The excitement of being shoved back in your seat, hearing the wail of a high-performance engine, watching the scenery outside the window blur, seeing the speedometer approach warp speed, is an experience rarely matched elsewhere. The problem for most of us is affording that exotic car on your Uncle Plucky’s House of Chicken salary. So how do true car geeks scratch the itch to go fast, corner hard, and look cool without mortgaging their first born? The answer is the sixth generation Chevy Corvette Z06.
The Corvette Z06 returned in 2006, based on the standard Corvette coupe. With an emphasis on weight savings, the Z06 was awash with ultra-light materials. The roof was held in place by a magnesium support structure, and a magnesium-alloy cradle held the engine. The Z06 aluminum frame was 30 percent lighter than that of its base coupe counterpart. The front fascia was unique to the Z06, with enlarged air intakes. Front and rear fenders were wider to accommodate larger tires and wheels. The front fenders were constructed of carbon fiber. The floor was a carbon fiber and balsa sandwich. The battery was relocated to the rear cargo area behind the rear wheels. Sound deadening was kept to a minimum, and no power adjuster was available for the passenger-side seat.
The Corvette Z06’s 427 cubic-inch all-aluminum LS7 V8 was the largest-displacement small block Chevy has ever made. It was hand assembled with titanium piston rods and valves, an 11.0:1 compression ratio and 7,000 rpm redline, and produced 505 horsepower. This monster Corvette did 0-60 in just 3.6 seconds, 0-100 in 7.9, and 0-150 in 17.5, according to Car and Driver. The Z06 rolled on Goodyear Eagle F1 Run-flats. All this go-fast hardware necessitated serious braking power to stop. The Z06 was equipped with massive six-piston 14-inch brake discs in front, and four-piston 13-inch discs in the rear that could drag the Z06 from 70 to zero in just 162 feet. Handling was impressive, yielding an impressive .98 g on the skidpad. For performance stats like this, one would expect to shell out enough to buy a tidy starter home, but you can have it for less than a fully equipped new Camry. Current prices on sixth-generation Corvette Z06s with reasonable miles are in the mid-$30k to mid-$40k range, with low-mile examples edging a bit higher. Staggering.
Pros: You will be in a very exclusive club, performance-wise, and you can get there for what seems like a paltry sum. These Corvettes are fast, even by today’s standards. They are reasonably comfortable, with some minor compromises. They even have decent luggage space, allowing use as daily transportation. Power driver’s seat, stereo, A/C, power windows and locks, too. Compared to classics of not-that-long ago, these cars are positively luxurious. And you will have nuclear-grade performance on tap (there is something liberating about knowing you have all you will ever need, even if you never have to use it). Supercar-level performance that can be serviced at any Chevrolet dealer, at Chevrolet service rates.
Cons: Much of the sound-deadening material was eliminated to reduce weight, making the Z06 somewhat loud inside. The ride is stiff, and can be harsh. There was a recall on adhesive failure causing a separation of the roof panel from the support structure, and one due to premature valve guide wear resulting in catastrophic engine failure. If you live somewhere that experiences four seasons every year, you’ll probably need to own another car for inclement weather. Much of the car is built of materials specific to the Z06, so insurance may be higher. The temptation to let the 505-horsepower beast out of its cage, and listen to the LS7’s intoxicating 7,000 rpm song may also drive your insurance premiums and make you more familiar with the local constabulary.
Verdict: The Z06 is the current bargain king for raw performance. It saw running improvements over its lifespan, and as the later years will be slightly more refined, commanding a premium. This is not to say one should overlook the earlier model years, as they are very good. It is tough to match the bang for the buck, which has been the Corvette mantra for decades.