ELKHART LAKE, Wisc. -- Climb into the glove-tight cockpit of a Z06 -- quickest production Corvette in the slinky sports car's 54-year history -- but cinch that seatbelt tightly because we're zipping Chevy's supercar around the twisty loop at Wisconsin's Road America, our favorite track.
When the 7.0-liter V8 that's stuffed into Z06's rocket-long snout fires up, note the deep-note snorts from a herd of more than 500 horses.
Now slip the manual stick into the bottom rung of six forward gears, ease off a way-tight clutch and roll to the starting line facing Road America's quarter-mile front straight. When the starter's flag drops, stomp the throttle and unleash fat 19-inch Goodyear F1 Supercar tire rubber as shoulders sink into the leather-wrapped seatback.
Then hang on: This thing flies down the track in an awesome burst of horsepower and torque. A speedo needle in the instrument panel passes the 60-mph notch in fewer than four seconds and it can reach the quarter-mile post in less than 12 -- running over 120 mph.
Road America's first turn comes in a hard right as the velocity climbs, so ease off the pedal and test those humongous disc brakes. In reaction, Z06's front end dips and we're in the curve now, cutting to the apex before shifting up to third gear.
Speed builds through wiggles descending into a broad right sweeper. Tap toe to brakes again and the rumble strip indicates we're clear, drifting to the outer edge.
Now the thrills: It's the long inside straight, where highest speed comes -- 160 mph if gutsy enough to hold off braking until only a block out of the downhill dog-leg left.
Drive Road America's four-mile loop conservatively with a sportster less powerful and less capable than this Z06 and you won't come close to busting three minutes. Take it with aggression in the Z06 and you might cross the line in something under two-fifty.
Fun on four wheels won't feel any better than this -- and neither will a Corvette, as Z06 represents the pinnacle for this series.
The Z06 model emerged in 2001 packing an upgraded LS6 V8 engine with more power points than the LS1 V8 of standard Corvettes of the C5 generation, along with performance upgrades for suspension, wheels and tires.
But Chevrolet rolled out a new C6 generation of Corvette in 2005 and the subsequent Z06 edition goes much further than the previous iteration.
Actually, a Corvette historian would point out that the Z06 tag tracks clear back to 1963 when Corvette's chief engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov concocted a showroom race car version of the then-new Corvette Sting Ray split-window coupe. The Z06 RPO (Regular Production Option) Sting Ray contained a heavy-duty suspension with stronger brakes, an expanded fuel tank, fuel injectors, GM's Positraction rear axle and a four-on-the-floor manual shifter.
Z06 for 2007, like the rare issues of 1963, also adds up to a showroom race car -- yet its bottom line does not.
The MSRP hits $69,175, a substantial sum to be sure, but you could not find any supercar import with comparable power and handling components for twice the price.
Z06 begins with the new C6 chassis and the body of Corvette's fixed-roof hatchback coupe.
A longer wheelbase for the C6 platform enhances smooth-ride traits for Corvette while also adding space to the two-seat cockpit.
Essential components of the remarkable chassis center on unique hydroformed rails extending from tip to tail and united by aluminum cross members to forge an incredibly firm foundation for a sports car.
The C6 platform is lighter but more rigid than for predecessor C5, with stronger disc brakes aboard and a responsive independent short/long-arm suspension, plus a range of a chassis control system using GM's Magnetic Selective Ride Control (MSRC) device.
Z06 adds an aluminum body structure and magnesium engine cradle plus carbon-fiber for fenders, wheelhouses and floor panels. These lightweight but strong materials pare pounds from the base Corvette's curb weight, and also boost the weight distribution front-to-rear so the Z06 turns and swerves and dances through a curvy set of road wiggles like an exotic car.
Then there's the new LS7 small-block V8 engine making massive torque to spin the rear wheels.
The 7.0-liter plant delivers 505 hp at 6300 rpm with torque of 470 lb-ft at 4800 rpm to a car package tipping the scales at only 3,132 pounds.
It works strictly with a six-speed manual gearbox in conjunction with a limited-slip differential.
All of Z06's warp-speed go-power is countered by serious stopping power. The four-wheel disc brake system uses 14-inch vented and cross-drilled rotors up front and 13.4-inch vented and cross-drilled rear rotors.
Wheels and tires are special. The cast aluminum wheels measure 18 x 9.5 inches in front and 19 x 12 inches in back, with tires of 275/35ZR18 forward and 325/30ZR19 trailing.
Special body modifications identify this Z06:
* The broad front fascia carries a forward-facing grille and wheel opening extensions along the flanks. And high intensity discharge (HID) headlamps are standard issue, as are foglamps.
* A cold air scoop is housed in front of the hood.
* The extra-wide back fenders with flares shield the humongous wide rear tires.
* The spoiler on the tail is taller and holds LED taillights.
Z06's cabin is luxurious with lots of gear aboard, and the seats are clad in fine leather hides.
tandard contents of the cockpit include dual-zone air conditioning and air filtration, a gauge cluster with tachometer (7000-rpm redline) and oil pressure gauge, and a through-the-windshield head-up display (HUD) which adds a special track mode and a g-force meter.
The list of options is long -- a Bose audio system with six-disc CD changer in the dash, a telescoping steering wheel, heated bucket seats, a pair of side-impact air bags, a built-in navigation system with GPS, OnStar telecommunications and XM satellite radio service.
The C6 Corvette is also available as a coupe or a convertible with the 400-hp LS2 6.0-liter V8.
Corvette the coupe has a removable roof panel, while the convertible's fabric lid operates manually or with optional power controls.