The Perfect Balance of Street and Track in a Corvette

Some of you might know how the “Grand Sport” name for the Chevrolet Corvette. If you don’t, let me explain. In 1963, Zora Arkus-Duntov was hoping to build 125 lightweight, high-power homologation-special Corvette Sting Rays so Chevrolet could qualify for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. GM smashed that plan to smithereens after Chevrolet had built just five of the so-called Corvette Grand Sports. All five were quickly spirited under the table off to legendary racers with last names like Penske, Foyt, and Hall. All five cars were raced without any factory support.

Since then, Chevrolet has revived the Grand Sport name twice – once in 1996 and once in 2010. Both of those times, the badge meant special editions with beautiful bodywork, but no massive performance gain, unlike the 1963 Grand Sports. The 1996 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 and 2010 Z06 would still outperform the Grand Sports. Of course, the 2010 Corvette ZR1 was still the most serious Corvette of that generation of Corvette.

Of course, Chevrolet’s engineers went hog-wild with the C7 Stingray Z06. It’s a combination of a massively powerful engine that has been described as one of the best-sounding engines ever (I agree), absolutely brilliant suspension, and enough computing power to sequence the human genome. Yet, it’s so approachable for the average driver that it’s truly mind-boggling. It also costs around $80,000. It’s a true giant-killer, especially with a professional driver. Even without a professional driver, this is not a car you want to tangle with.

The Z06 is also quite unlike the Corvette Racing C7.R that competes in one of the highest echelons of motorsports – endurance racing. The C7.R’s that quite simply walked away with the win at this year’s 24 Hours of Daytona actually make less power than the Z06 you can get on your dealership’s showroom floor. There’s no supercharged 6.2-liter LT4 V8 shrieking under the hood of the race-winning C7.R – those drivers have to make do with a 5.5-liter V8 sucking air through a restricted air intake the diameter of a garden hose. Because power is handicapped by a rule book (which didn’t stop NASCAR legend Smokey Yunick), the Corvette Racing team wins races with unworldly grip and highly aggressive aerodynamics. Let’s put it this way – their strategy works well.

It’s interesting that the new Grand Sport, which is the mid-range model, lives up to the “street-legal race car” cliche. It’s got some of the best street tires in the world, aggressive aerodynamics enhancements, and stock engine. Oh, and it comes with a warranty, something most race cars can’t brag about.

Let’s start off with the tires – Michelin Pilot Super Sports are standard tires, or even stickier Pilot Sport Cup 2s with the Z07 high-performance option package, which are the same tires you can get on the Z06. They’re much wider than the standard Stingray tires (40 mm wider up front, 50 mm wider out back), which means that Chevy had to put the Z06’s massive, bulging fenders to clear the massive tires.

GM’s truly brilliant Magnetic Ride Control is standard equipment, as is the highly advanced electronic limited-slip differential, as are the Z06-derived chassis sports custom stabilizer bars and springs. You can pair the brilliant 460-horsepower, 465 lb-ft, dry-sump LT1 V8 with a fantastic 7-speed manual transmission or a pretty darn good 8-speed automatic, both of which come with the Stingray and Z06. What does the Z07 package add? Carbon ceramic brakes, and even more aggressive aero, mostly.

Now, let’s move onto the beautiful bodywork. It’s mostly borrowed from the Z06 part bin. However, it’s got Grand Sport-specific front fender vent inserts. What about from the Z06? It’s got the Z06’s wider track (how far apart the wheels are from each other), an open-mouth front grille, and big differential cooling vents on the rear fenders. The Grand Sport has a Z06-spec front splitter, front splitters, and wickerbill rear spoiler, all of which are finished in carbon fiber in the Z07 trim. Chevy claims that they all create downforce, but the Z06’s clear plastic Gurney flip isn’t available on the Grand Sport. Oh, and then there’s a Heritage package, which adds the traditional front fender hash marks, which are now connected in a horseshoe shape. I somehow forgot to mention that Chevy has more than the entire rainbow’s worth of body, hash, and full-length racing stripe combinations.

Inside the Grand Sport, there is badging depicting the 1963 Grand Sport #002 (the only roadster out of Zora Arkus-Duntov’s original five Grand Sports) on the floor mats, headrests, and on a dash plaque directly ahead of the shifter. The brushed aluminum halo on the right of the center stack has a subtle racing stripe, which is created by rotating the brushing pattern on the metal 90 degrees during the polishing process.

Chevy says that the Grand Sport will hurtle it’s way to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds, and blast through the quarter mile in 11.8 seconds. I’m going to say that’s probably because the Grand Sport has much better tires than the Stingray does.

The Grand Sport weighs in at 3,252 pounds, which is 98 pounds lighter than the Z06. Because there’s no gigantic supercharger, the hood is lower, affording much greater visibility of the road.

Even with the windows up, the A/C on full blast, and the engine contentedly burbling along at 1500 rpm in one of the Grand Sport’s many overdrive gears, you’ll still easily pull over 1 g without the car breaking a sweat. You won’t either.

We’ll move onto the price now. The Grand Sport coupe starts at just a freckle under $66,500, which is a $5,000 premium over the Stingray. It’s also about $14,000 cheaper than a Z06. If you want to drop the top on any Corvette, plan to shell out an additional $4,000. Do you want the Z07 package? Give Chevy $8,000. Even if you buy the Grand Sport convertible with the Z07 package, that still gives you about $2000 to get some accessories, or haggling wiggle room.

The Z06 is a great car – don’t get me wrong. However, the Grand Sport was designed with a different purpose in mind. The Z06 is powerful in a way that you’ll rarely be able to enjoy. 650 horsepower is more than you’ll ever be able to use on the street – with one quick stab of the gas pedal, you’ll be well on your way to jail. On the track, it goads you into probing it’s incredibly high limits, all the while serving a main course of absolutely brilliant chassis tuning and suspension, with a side of driver aides for that moment when you push it too far. To do that on public roads, you’d better have a top-notch lawyer, a very good health insurance plan, and a glovebox filled with bribe money. OK, you can forget about the last part. Cops really don’t like it if you try and give them $20,000 in $1 bills…

The Grand Sport does something truly incredible. Chevrolet designed this car to have the same absurd limits as the Z06, but never leave you feeling like it’s a waste of horsepower because you can never floor it. While grip, balance, and power all work together, which is what makes low-power sports cars so fun, they become magical when you turn the dial up to 11.

What would happen if you put the optional Z06-spec Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires to your Corvette Stingray Z51? It’s obvious that sticky tires are key to making a good car handle well. However, good tires won’t work as well unless the chassis and suspension are dialed into those tires. Even if you somehow figured out how to make those tires fit under a stock Stingray Z51’s seductive bodywork (remember that the Z06 is three inches wider in the back), you still would have a lot of work to do. The ABS system wouldn’t be properly calibrated. Stability control intervention would be much more sudden, and the brakes would slow you down almost instantly because the Z51’s brake calibration is designed for less sticky tires. That means it would apply more brake than necessary. The electronic limited-slip differential wouldn’t perform as well, either. The suspension would also be woefully undersized relative to the massive amounts of grip that the tires generate, which would make the car feel sloppy.

What does this all boil down to? It’s more than a sloppy badge job, far more than a Corvette with some random Z06 parts, and more than a throwback to a legend. It’s the real deal, folks. This car isn’t tuned to within an inch of it’s life (and yours). This is a race car for the…wait, I don’t endorse illegal activities here.

The Most Infamous Stock Car Ever!

What’s the most famous stock car?  Good question that I can’t answer.  NASCAR aficionados will argue until the cows come home.  But, ask them what the most infamous stock car ever to pound the pavement is, and you will immediately know that it is the 1966 Chevrolet Chevelle Grand National modified by Smokey Yunick.  There’s no denying that it is awesome.  Even Smokey Yunick said so.  The black and gold beauty shown below never raced.  Why?  Read below.  1966 Chevrolet Chevelle Grand National Race Car Front Three Quarter In Motion

Smokey Yunick himself once said of the car that it was “The little car that could…but didn’t.”  The car itself was so inventive that it failed to pass the technology inspection at Daytona in the summer of 1966.  Long after cars that won at the Daytona 500 have been forgotten, the 1966 Chevrolet Chevelle Grand National lives on in myth and lore.  “Experts” say it was never a Chevelle, but a 7/8 model.  Some say that it was powered by a destroked, nitros-oxide powered big-block.  Then, there’s the story of the missing gas tank, a role model for racing cheaters.

According to the story enshrined by any NASCAR lover, Yunick hid oversized gas lines in the rails.  The technical inspectors didn’t find the gas lines, but they ordered Smokey Yunick to take out the fuel cell and fix ten other irregularities.  Yunick snapped, “Make it 11,” and knocked down one of the inspectors.  He tore out of the tech inspection arena in a haze of tire smoke, leaving the fuel cell on the ground.

Of course, the creator of the car was the cause of much of the confusion.  In his uproarious autobiography, he describes every detail of the car, but had also written two magazine articles about the car.  No two accounts of the car were the same.  Mark Mountanos, the car’s current owner, bought the car in 2000 when demand was high for old stock cars.  In fact, the Chevelle raced on many dirt tracks until the mid-1980s, when Yunick bought the car and restored it himself from spare parts collected in 1967.  As longtime NASCAR historian John Craft notes: “Smokey put everything he’d learned about NASCAR into that car.”

The secret of Smokey Yunick?  His somewhat-magical ability to coax almost 150 horsepower out of an engine. That, and his ability to bend the rules in creative ways.  It wasn’t cheating in his eyes.  He viewed it in this simple way:  If the rulebook doesn’t say anything against it, then it can be used to your advantage.  His success started with stepped-down Hudson Hornets, and he was the man who brought the Chevy small-block to NASCAR.  His history with the Chevrolet Chevelle started in 1965, when his good friend, Bunkie Knudsen, the head of Chevrolet asked him to prep their then-new muscle car for the upcoming Daytona 500.  The driver, Mario Andretti commented on the car.  “Every detail of the car was perfect,” recalls Andretti, who wrecked the car early in the race.  But it was just diabolical to drive.  I’ve never been so happy to crash in my life.”  The car was designed for superspeedways, so it feels out of place on road courses.  How fast the car can go is a question none can answer.  Smokey’s previous Chevelle won first place at Daytona in 1965 at 180 mph, so this car should go around 210 mph.  Why?  The bigger engine helps, the oversized gas lines, and the tuned four-speed Muncie “rock crusher” transmission.  210 mph is about today’s race pace, and that’s quite impressive for a car that was created in the 1960’s.  Some may say that the Richard Petty Plymouth Superbirds were the most infamous, but they weren’t nearly so diabolical.  And the debates go on.