A New Frontier: How Chevrolet’s C8 Z06 Revolutionizes the Supercar Market in a Way that None of it’s Predecessors Ever Could
In 1953, the Chevrolet Corvette was introduced to the masses as General Motor’s first foray into the sports car market. Touted as a sports car for the common man, it promised the performance previously offered by only high-end exotic manufacturers like Ferrari and Porsche at a fraction of the price. Since then, Chevrolet has continued to deliver on that promise, only elevating the Corvette’s performance and styling while still maintaining it’s astounding affordability in comparison with its competition. As the market has evolved, so too has the Corvette, becoming ever more capable with each new iteration. The latest; the one pictured above, has redefined, elevated the Corvette brand and will change the sports car market in a way no other Corvette has ever done before.
It is called the Z06, a track-ready high-performance monster of an automobile built to challenge the toughest supercars on the market. The variant was first introduced during the fifth generation of the Corvette in 2001 and has been a part of the Corvette line ever since. Aside from the ultra-high-performance (and often ultra-pricey) ZR1, the Z06 is routinely the fastest, lightest, most powerful Corvette you can buy. It’s the car that chews up Porsche 911s and spits them right back out. It’s the angry American heathen with a roaring, throaty V8 that the Ferrari snobs despise on track day, and it’s the one Chevrolet sports car that all other American manufacturers (mainly Ford and Dodge) routinely try to play catch-up with. Up until the C8, the Corvette has been very similar in appearance and configuration to all other American sports cars, a front engine car with boxy proportions and cheap options (Ferraris have $2,500 cup holders, Corvettes do not). This new iteration, however, is closer to its competitors than ever before.
Upon its release, most people were blown away by the C8 Corvette and it’s new mid-engine architecture. The reviews were overwhelmingly positive and the car was completely sold out for an entire model year before it was even released. I, however, was not sold in the slightest. As a die-hard Corvette fan, I wasn’t initially fond of GM’s decision to deviate from their unique, American styling and instead bare a closer resemblance to their European competitors. I called it a poor man’s 488 (a Ferrari model to which it appears similar), feeling that they threw away everything that made the Corvette unique and ever so likeable. The Corvette was never as pretty as a Ferrari or a Lamborghini, sure, but they were often just as fast and not nearly as pricey. There was something so American about the 5th, 6th, and 7th generation Corvette that seemed to be lacking in the C8. The front end was too short (because of the engine being in the back for the first time ever) and the grille was underwhelming to boot. The rear looked like a direct copy of the C7 (it pretty much is) and the mid-engine idea seemed unoriginal (i.e. un-Corvette). It took about a year and a half for GM to change my mind. As soon as I heard that the Z06 would house a flat-plane crank engine, the same type of engine in the Mustang GT350 (a car that I love and would buy without question despite my devout hatred of everything Ford), I started to sing an entirely different tune. I was excited for the release of the Z06 rather than completely disinterested as I was when the original C8 was released. Needless to say, my expectations were not only met, they were greatly exceeded.
The initial rumor had been that while the Z06 would house this new, flat plane crank engine that revved to a screaming 8500 rpm, it would experience a horsepower downgrade of about 50 (going from 650-600). This wasn’t too much of a shock, as the GT350 was far less powerful than the GT500 that had come before it as Ford’s pony car king, but it was a disappointment. After all, when it comes to making a world-beating supercar, horsepower is priority one (particularly in American cars). Upon release, this rumor was put to rest after Chevrolet did the unthinkable, creating the most powerful naturally aspirated V8 to ever be put in a production automobile, making 680 horsepower (30 more than its supercharged predecessor). The result is staggering. The car goes from 0-60 in 2.5 seconds and rather than it’s closest comparison being a Mustang or a Dodge Challenger, it is now comparable to cars like the McLaren 720S or the Ferrari 488 GTB (both cars that cost twice as much as the Z06). Couple that with a paddle shift transmission (a first for the Corvette brand) as well as carbon fiber options (you can get carbon fiber wheels, spoiler, front splitter, and interior accents), and you have a true American sports car the likes of which we have never seen before. As such, the C8 Z06 demands more from its competition and will likely be the spark that ignites a revolution within the American sports car segment. If the Corvette’s competitors want to keep it from pulling away into another realm, they’re going to have to emulate it as best as they can.
For all the good it has done for the sports car market, there are some things the Z06 will change that aren’t seen as particularly positive, in my opinion. First off, there’s the pricing. While it hasn’t been revealed yet, there is simply no way that the C8 Z06 will be comparable in cost to it’s predecessor. How could you possibly sell a car with a hand-built engine (the most powerful of it’s kind, nonetheless), Italian-esque architecture, and carbon fiber wheels for under $100,000? You would think that Chevrolet would lose money undertaking such an endeavor. If the car is; in fact, more expensive than it’s predecessor (say, $140,000), it is of my opinion that; at that point, GM will have done the same thing they had done with the original C8. They will have ruined what made the Corvette so great: it’s “common man appeal”, as I call it. The Corvette is meant to be affordable, a sports car for the average joe rather than the tux-wearing, wine-tasting millionaire who spends the weekends on his yacht, driving the car less than his valet at the Venetian. Thus, in elevating the Corvette brand, GM risks tainting it’s identity. Secondly, the car really doesn’t look all that great without the Z07 Performance package, which happens to be the most expensive option on the car. Without it, the Z06 just looks like a C8 with a wider grille. That said, with it, it looks like the penultimate mid-engine racecar.
From what we have seen so far, it is undoubtable that the C8 Z06 will serve as a worthy challenger to the supercars it attempts to emulate. Despite my initial doubts, GM’s decision to change the architecture of their premiere sports car seems to have paid off. If pricing rumors hold true, the C8 Z06 could be the best bargain automobile ever made and potentially the greatest American performance car of all time. There is no doubt that this car cements the Corvette as the king of the current American performance car market, but it remains to be seen whether or not it can topple it’s pricey foreign competitors after taking a page from their book. With it’s release set for March, the world will be watching to find out if the Z06 is merely the best track car in America or if it truly has entered a new frontier, battling for the crown of supercar world title.