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Evolution of the Z06 Corvette

1963 Z06 Corvette
A 1963 Z06 Corvette

A Need for Speed – Both Then and Now

The Chevy Corvette has always been synonymous with affordable high-performance.  Since its earliest iterations, the Z06 Corvette has pushed the envelope of speed and handling, offering drivers the opportunity to purchase a car that was equally capable on the race track or the open road.

As far back as the late 1950’s, the engineers behind the Corvette recognized that some of their customers wanted more power, stiffer suspension and better handling than the standard production models could offer.  They knew that many Corvette owners were purchasing their cars to be driven exclusively on the race track.

While the base model coupes (and convertibles) offered a lot of “bang for the buck,” there was still a divide between a standard model Corvette and a car that was truly capable of competing at the track.

The 1963-1964 Z06 Coupe

A 1963 Corvette Z06.

You may not know this, but the first Z06 Corvettes were actually introduced at the launch of the C2 Corvette in 1963.

Corvette had already proven itself to be a performance-driven machine.  While early Corvettes were considered slow and sloppy, the evolution of the C1 Corvette was such that, by the 1962 model, it was anything but.

Still, recognizing the gap in performance, Zora Arkus-Duntov developed a competition package that could be purchased by consumers when ordering their Corvettes.  The package, which was tagged as regular production option (RPO) Z06, added stiffer suspension, a more robust braking system and a larger gas tank (to increase drive distances between pit stops.)

Because of the AMA ban on factory backed racing programs, Duntov (and Chevrolet) had to be cautious about marketing an option that would make a production Corvette race-track ready.  The solution was to incorporate an option that provided consumers with better handling and stopping ability that, when ordered in conjunction with other selectable upgrades, made their Corvette a formidable competitor.

1963 Corvette Fuel Injection Emblem
Front fender emblem from a 1963 Corvette indicating a “Fuelie” (fuel injected) engine.

Ordering a race-ready Corvette was a two-step process: First, consumers had to specify that they were purchasing a “fuelie” (fuel-injected) coupe equipped with a four-speed manual transmission and a Posi-traction limited slip differential.  Only then could the Z06 option be added to the car.

Of course, RPO Z06 came with a fairly hefty price-tag – an additional $1818.45 in 1963 – on top of the base price of the car.  Given the sizable cost of the add, few Corvettes were ordered with the Z06 option.  While estimates vary, most agree that approximately 200 Z06 Corvettes were manufactured between 1963 and 1964.

However, for those that did purchase the Z06 option, the upgraded Corvette proved to be a solid contender on the racetrack, holding its own against competitors like the Shelby Cobra in SCCA race events.

Interestingly, the Z06 moniker – which had garnered a quick reputation amongst Corvette enthusiasts as the top-of-the-line track version of the car – disappeared after its brief production run, and would not surface again for nearly thirty years.

The 2001-2004 C5 Corvette Z06 Coupe

2003 Corvette Z06 Coupe
A 2003 Corvette Z06 Coupe.

Based on the Fixed Roof Coupe that had been introduced by Chevrolet in 1999, the 2001 Corvette Z06 was built to rival the horsepower and performance that had previously been boasted by the fourth-generation ZR1 Corvette from 19901995.

As with Zora Arkus-Duntov before him, the idea to develop a true “race-ready” Corvette stemmed from the discontented mind of David Hill, Corvette’s Chief Engineer (at that time).

Hill felt that the current C5 coupe and convertible platforms lacked the performance that consumers increasingly demanded from the Corvette.  He recognized that not all Corvette owners cared about the comforts and convenience features offered in a weekend cruiser and instead wanted a car that was capable of being the strongest – and fastest – vehicle on the streets.

The Z06 naming convention was actually re-introduced to pay homage to Zora Duntov and the original “race-ready” Z06 Corvette package that he’d been instrumental in developing for the 1963 production model.

To further honor the famed engineer, Chevrolet engineers developed a new powerplant for the fifth-generation Z06 model.  Dubbed the LS6, the engine carried the same designation given to Duntov’s famed 425 horsepower big-block V-8 that was offered (though briefly) in 1971.

2004 Corvette Z06 Le Mans Blue Commemorative Edition.
The 2004 Corvette Z06 Commemorative Edition.

The new LS6 engine produced an impressive 385 horsepower and 385 lb.-ft of torque.  It was mated to a new six-speed manual transmission gearbox that included more aggressive gearing than that found on the base model Corvettes.

The car boasted an impressive power-to-weight ratio of 9.09 pounds per horsepower, with a 0-60 time of just 4 seconds and a quarter-mile time of just over 12 seconds.

As with the earlier Z06, the fifth-generation variant included upgrades to the suspension and braking systems.  Unlike the earlier model, the new Z06 also featured an improved, higher-output exhaust system and track-ready tires.

For the 20032004 models, improvements made to the LS6 engine increased output from 385 horsepower to 405 horsepower.  For the 2004 model year, Chevrolet also introduced a Z06 Commemorative Edition which featured a carbon-fiber hood, and special badging celebrating Corvette’s success at the 24 Hours of Le Mans the previous year.

The 2006-2013 C6 Corvette Z06 Coupe

2013 Corvette Z06 Velocity Yellow
2013 Corvette Z06 in Velocity Yellow

By the time the C6 Corvette was introduced in 2005, the Z06 marquee was immediately identified for representing high-performance and handling with Corvette fans the world over.

The Z06, which had emerged from the shadow of the FRC in 2001, had transformed the Corvette from just a sports car to something more – a super car that could now stand up to the likes of the Dodge Viper, Ferrari and Porsche.  Despite this, the absence of the Z06 package at the unveiling of the sixth-generation Corvette left some enthusiasts wondering whether another “super-Corvette” was forthcoming.  If it was, what form would it take?

The answer came just a year later.

As with the C5 variant a few years before, the new Z06 emerged under the careful eye of David Hill.  Taking lessons learned from the C5.R Corvette Race Car during its previous American Le Mans and 24 Hours of Le Mans racing season, the new Z06 was not only a race-track ready Corvette, but rather a Corvette that had evolved from it race-car counterpart.  It represented the growing connection between the Corvette production vehicle and the C5.R.

The car’s body design was an evolution of the 2005 Coupe, albeit with some significant improvements.  Carbon fiber components helped to lighten the car’s overall body weight,while improved manufacturing processes resulted in more structural rigidity to the car’s chassis.  Functional air scoops were introduced to assist with brake cooling and to drive air into the throat of the engine.

505 Horsepower LS7 Engine
The 505 Horsepower LS7 engine was introduced in the 2006 Corvette Z06.

And even among the Corvette’s LS engines of the day, the Z06’s was a beauty!

The powerplant in the 20062013 Corvette was an LS7, the-then-new 427 cubic-inch engine that was intentionally designed to operate like one of the big block engine from yesteryear.

The Z06 now featured an engine that was capable of 505 horsepower at 6,200 rpm, with an engine rev limit of 7,100 rpm.  Similarly, the LS7 engine produced a total of 475 lb.ft of torque at 4,800 rpm, and even produced an impressive 385 lb. ft of torque at just 1,600 rpms.

As with all other Z06 models (save for the 2015 Z06 Corvette, which features an optional 8-speed automatic), the 2006 C6 Z06 version came equipped with a beefed-up six-speed manual transaxle.  In addition to the transmission, the Z06 also received an upgraded clutch, half-shafts, U-joints and limited-slip differential. 

Another of the race-car inspired touches that were to be included in the C6 Z06 centered around the introduction of a special transmission oil pump that sent fluid to the car’s main radiator, a secondary heat exchanger, before returning to the gearbox, where it could aid in cooling the differential oil, especially during more rigorous driving conditions.

White Rom Fellows 2007 Corvette Z06 Championship Edition
The 2007 Ron Fellows Championship Edition Corvette paid homage to Canadian race car driver Ron Fellows for his many victories while driving for Corvette Racing.

The Z06’s braking system featured larger, 14-inch front rotors and 13-inch rear rotors, all of which were cross-drilled for added cooling.  Larger-than-stock, one-piece calipers were mated to these rotors.  The front calipers featured a six-piston braking system while the rears included a four-piston system.  All of the calipers were painted bright “Corvette Red” which was a defining characteristic of the C6 Z06.

Interestingly, the suspension system for the Z06 remained mostly the same as the base model coupe, featuring independent short/long aluminum control arms and transverse leaf springs.  However, the Z06 suspension did feature different, higher rate springs, special mono-tube dampers and larger sway bars that worked in conjunction with the larger tires and wheels.

Naturally, the sixth-generation Z06 came with a more-robust price-tag than the coupe or convertible models, but it also provided drivers an experience behind the wheel that was on-par with many of the premier sports cars from around the world.  In 2006, the Z06 Corvette had a base price of $65,800.00 (excluding any available options). Yet, despite the dramatic price increase, the Z06 accounted for nearly 20% of all Corvette sales throughout the remainder of the sixth-generation Corvette’s production run.

The 2015 – ?? C7 Corvette Z06 Coupe AND Convertible

2016 Corvette Z06 and C7.R
The 2016 Corvette Z06 was the most track-capable Corvette up to the introduction of the 2019 Corvette ZR1.

Identified as “the most track-capable Corvette ever,” there is no doubt that Chevrolet had a singular focus when building the new 2015 Z06 Corvette: to create a track-ready super-car that shared the DNA of its C7.R race car counterpart.

The statistics speak for themselves:

  • 0-60 mph acceleration in 2.95 seconds with the eight-speed automatic and 3.2 seconds with the seven-speed manual transmission.
  • Quarter-mile times of 10.95 seconds at 127 mph with the eight-speed and 11.2 seconds at 127 mph with the seven-speed transmission.
  • A lateral acceleration of 1.2 g.
  • 60-0 mph braking in only 99.6 feet – the best of any production car tested by General Motors.

At the heart of the 2015 Corvette Z06 was the new LT4 supercharged 6.2L V-8 engine The LT4 was SAE-certified at 650 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 650-lb-ft of torque at 3,600 rpm.  This certified performance rating identified the Z06 Corvette as not only the most-powerful production car ever built by General Motors, but also one of the most powerful production cars available in the United States up to that point in time.

While the Z06 Corvette was a powerhouse that rivaled the C7.R Corvettes that were being developed as part of the racing program, Chevrolet also recognized the importance of building a platform that enabled drivers of all levels the capability of maximizing the performance they got out of their cars.

“The Corvette Z06 is a great example of the technology transfer between racing and production Corvettes.  First, we took what we learned on the Corvette Racing C6.R and applied that to the all-new Corvette Stingray. Then, using the Stingray as a foundation, the Z06 and C7.R were developed to push the envelope of performance on the street and the track.”

–  Tadge Juechter, Corvette Chief Engineer

The Z07 package was introduced as part of the 2015 Corvette Z06 roll-out.  The Z06 package added adjustable front and rear aero components to the car. It included adding larger winglets to the front splitter, along with an adjustable, see-through center section on the rear spoiler for track use. With this package, the C7 Corvette Z06 delivered the most aerodynamic downforce of any production car GM had tested.

While the 2015 Z06 Corvette was developed specifically for track-ready, high-performance driving capabilities, the interior of the car was also developed in conjunction with the C7 Stingray to offer drivers a level of luxury that had been notably lacking from earlier iterations of the Corvette.

2017 Corvette Z06 Convertible
The 2017 Corvette Z06 Convertible.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the new C7 Corvette Z06 was the fact that it was offered as both a coupe and a convertible.

Thanks to recent technical advancements made by GM’s engineering team, including advances in computer-aided engineering, metallurgy and manufacturing – many of which did not exist five years ago – Chevrolet was finally able to produce a frame strong enough for a Z06 Convertible.

The new aluminum structure was engineered to be 20 percent stiffer than the previous, fixed-roof Z06. As there were no structural reinforcements needed for the Z06 Convertible, its curb weight was nearly identical to the Z06 Coupe.  Both versions of the car also shared the same chassis tuning, powertrain output, driver technologies and equipment options – which included a track-focused Z07 Performance Package.

So What’s Next?

Considering the evolution of the Z06 platform – from an early upgrade that circumvented Chevrolet’s inability to manufacture a race-ready production vehicle, to the Z06 of today which IS (essentially) a race-ready production vehicle – there’s no doubt that Corvette engineers, owners and enthusiasts alike have had an unyielding obsession with ever-increasing speed and performance.  With the 2019 ZR1 on the horizon, and a mid-engine super-Corvette just over the horizon, there is little doubt that America’s sports-car will continue to thrill future-generations with hair-raising horsepower and unrelenting performance for many years to come!