Bringing Back The Z06 Badge For The Corvette C5
After the dismal first half of the generation for the Corvette C4, things had started to look up in the early 1990s as the ZR-1 was released, the base spec options were increased, and interest in the branding started to grow again. However, by the time the high performance ZR-1, which had an at the time astounding 375 HP, had been developed and released, in its first year it was listed at $58,995 (approximately $133,700 in 2022 USD). This made it exorbitantly expensive, and a car for the wealthier of the Corvette enthusiasts.
Just under 7,000 ZR-1’s were made, proving that there was a demand for higher-performance, race-car-derived Corvettes. Chevrolet took notice of that and while the Corvette C5 was being developed, they increased the base car’s performance with the LS1 V8 to 350 HP. As well, to reduce the overall cost of the C5, it was a totally new design, unlike an evolution of the previous generation’s chassis and design from the first four generations. It was affordably priced at $37,495 (about $69,100 today) and proved extremely popular from the start, selling almost 10,000 cars in 1997 alone after going on sale in August of that year.
However, from the start of production, there were plans to both create a race car version of the car, the Corvette C5.R, and a subsequent “race car for the road” version based on it. However, as the ZR-1 tag was still heavily associated with the fourth generation as it entered into the secondary and auction/resale market, another tag that signified racing performance in a road car was needed. The car itself was coming along nicely, development was going smoothly, but there was no tag attached to it.
In what we can only imagine was a meeting in a nameless boardroom at General Motors where an employee that was a Corvette history enthusiast suggested looking at the first year of the C2, as the Z06 code simply screamed out from the annals of history. As the C5 Z06 was going to be a lightweight, race-car derived option package, it was the perfect fit. This time around, however, the marketing and design team at Chevrolet were not bound by a ban on advertising a car as a race car for the road, and were not prevented from referring to the 1-2 victory of the C5.R at the 2001 24 Hours of Le Mans. The design team drew up a badge or twenty, and once one was selected, the Z06 made its first appearance on the side of a Corvette in August 2001.
For the Corvette C5, it was a mild upgrade, boosting the LS1 engine to 385 HP and codifying that upgrade as the LS6. A year later, that power was boosted to 405 HP, making the C5 Z06 one of the few American sports cars at the turn of the century that boasted over 400 HP. The Z06 was also restricted to being a hardtop coupe only, had race-derived FE4 suspension and springs, larger wheels and tires, functional brake cooling ducts (supercar level technology at the time), a special gear ratio setup for acceleration and top end speed, and featured a titanium exhaust system, thinner glass, a reduction in sound proofing, even going as far as using a lighter weight battery for the car.
As a result, the Corvette C5 Z06 was rapid, with 0 to 60 times in the low 4 seconds, sub-12 second quarter miles, and could hold over 1.02 G in skidpad testing, making it one of the best handling, fastest sports cars at the time. The Z06 sold like hotcakes despite being priced $10,000 above the base C5 coupe, as of the nearly 250,000 Corvette C5’s sold between 1997 and 2004, 11.5% were Z06s, or put another way, just under 29,000 C5 Z06’s were made.
As we all know, the subsequent generations that had race car versions also had a Z06 version come out a couple of years afterwards, including the current Corvette C8 Z06, the one of the most powerful cars that Chevrolet has sold. Ever. But, starting with the sixth generation, there was another badge that you could have affixed to the front fenders (or rear air scoops for the C8) of your Corvette…