Driven: Corvette Grand Sport Convertible

When I received the 'phone call from Morgan telling me they'd had to cancel the Three Wheeler I was supposed to be taking to Wilton House, I don't mind admitting that I was gutted.

A belt-driven, two-cylinder, super-lightweight, three-wheeled car may not sound like the kind of thing to make a keen driver giddy with anticipation, but I was so looking forward to driving one that I'd cancelled my birthday celebrations in order to pick it up from Malvern and had even made plans to borrow the obligatory aviator's goggles and leather jacket. Alas, it wasn't meant to be...

Chris-R must have sensed my disappointment because; aware of my fondness for plastic American cars with 'aloominum' V8s he suggested that I bring a Corvette instead. One 'phone call to Bauer Millett later and use of this white Grand Sport Convertible was mine. I suppose that now is a good time to confess to you all before we go any further that I, silversixx, am a card-carrying Corvette fanboy.

I like the fact that they offer bona-fide supercar performance but without all the expense, impracticality, and servicing intervals that can be measured in feet. I like the handling too (more on that later). They just work in a blue-collar, rough-around-the-edges sort of way.But even so I won't make any excuses for their shortcomings. You can only get them in left hand drive for starters. The interior is at best dull, and at worst plain unacceptable in such a car. Comfort itself isn't an issue - there's plenty of space and ample adjustment in the seats and steering wheel - it's just that you can't help but wonder why they didn't spend a little more time and effort trimming them a bit better. There is a leather option for the top of the dashboard and the doors which helps a great deal... so why not just make it standard in the first place? Oh and lateral support from the seats is woefully inadequate.

When I picked the car up there was another problem - one which would be an issue at Wilton House - and that problem was noise... or an acute lack of it to be exact. You'd expect a car with the 'Vette's appearance and a 6.2 litre V8 to sound heavenly, but this Grand Sport didn't have the vacuum-actuated exhaust bypass valves, so even though the induction noise under load was pleasant enough, there was no discernable note from the exhaust to accompany it, which is frankly a waste of a V8. Thankfully, Bauer Millet have now rectified this with a new system.

The Grand Sport is, if you like, a Z06 'lite'. You get the wide body and the Z06 suspension and brakes (6-pot calipers on the front) but the frame is steel, not aluminium, and a dry-sumped version of the 6.2 litre LS3 V8 replaces the hand-built 7.0 LS7. Compared to the Z06 weight is up and power is down, but with 436bhp and 428lb-ft to drag around 1500kg the GS is still a properly fast car.

But Corvettes have been churning out big horsepower for decades. What GM have managed to do in recent years though is to make them handle, as the current list of Nurburgring lap times for road cars proves. Of course the list is changing all the time, but that the Americans have built not one, but two cars which have lapped quicker than the vast majority of European cars ever made (and every car from Japan) simply cannot be ignored. That they've done so with two-valve, pushrod motors and a leaf spring spanning the rear uprights almost adds insult to injury.

The Grand Sport, despite its significant shortcomings, gives you access to the kind of neutral handling that's put the Z06 and the ZR1 near the top of the list. On the way back from Wilton House I left the motorway early and pointed the GS at a twisty section of undulating A-road and selected 'Competitive Driving Mode' which allows a little bit of wheel-slip before the electronics take over to help prevent you from binning it.

Push hard into a corner and the car displays epic levels of grip, thanks in part to the Magnetic Ride Control (which at this point had been switched from Touring to Sport). Push harder still and the front tyres will begin to lose grip shortly before the rears follow-suit, but frankly to regularly breach this cars' grip limits on a public road you'd have to be a borderline nut-job.

Jump on the brakes and the effect of having separate brake pads for each piston (...six leading edges acting on each front disc) are that if you are a borderline nut-job you've every chance of scrubbing-off speed before your nut-jobbery gets you into trouble. The only handling gripe is a slight woolly feeling to the steering when in the dead-ahead position on a less-than-perfect surface. Other than that, it's all good news.

This one is £69,995, and despite the on-track heroics of Corvettes at both LeMans and the 'Ring (to name just two areas where they've handed the competition their backsides), there will always be some people who see that as too much for a plastic American car. But make no mistake; if you're serious about accelerating, braking, transferring weight, cornering, and top speed you'll have to look hard to find anything that can out-do one.

...and if you do it will be a lot more expensive and less-practical.

Pix: Dom Romney/Influx

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Comments (84) Join the discussion on the forum

  • macky17 12 Sep 2011

    Saw one of these (Gran Sports) in red recently and it was a stunning looking car - even the chrome alloys worked and I'm not a fan. I think for a convertible such as this, the slightly low rent interior IS a bit of an issue because soft tops, almost by definition, are as much about image as performance. I own a C6 Z06 in red and believe me, you don't spend much time looking at the interior in that! It's plenty good enough - better than my old 'Blob Eye' Suburu Impreza at any rate. I can also confirm that the suspension is relatively comfortable - better than my 911 turbo was. Ditching the runflat tyres (which I will do soon) will improve matters still further. LHD takes about 2 weeks to get used to, probably less in a narrower car.

  • thewheelman 05 Sep 2011

    LuS1fer said:
    Well that's not irony and it's just typical of people like you to say that. wink

  • LuS1fer 05 Sep 2011

    Well that's not irony and it's just typical of people like you to say that. wink

  • thewheelman 04 Sep 2011

    I find it ironic the amount of people that like/buy American cars, that can't stand having their cars stereotyped, are often seen stereotyping others.

  • LuS1fer 04 Sep 2011

    big_rob_sydney said:
    Despite the obvious flaws in your final paragraph, let me put it a different way - living in the UK, I saw so many sunroofs and convertibles, that it made me laugh. Never let it be said that brits are without a sense of humour, nor can they be accused of not being optimistic. I am genuinely pleased at that.

    But the simple fact is, that a convertible in the UK has no interest for ME. I dont want a car with a cloth roof, as there are too many idiots willing to slash it. Metal folding roofs are better, but they are generally heavy, and a lot of these cars suffer from poor structural rigidity anyway. I prefer a more solid car (sedan or coupe), as I think its generally faster and better built than a convertible.

    OTOH, when in Spain, I do, in fact, see the point of a convertible. I still wouldnt buy one, but it comes in much closer as a proposition to own.
    I'm with you all the way on a coupe, I rate handling over posing. I spend just as much time in Spain laughing at people in convertibles being burnt and blown about, especially the rear passengers in the "mid-life crisis 4 seater rental" that they've paid a small fortune to hire. I suppose it depends on the season but in the height of summer, we literally had to run to the hire car to get the air con going, we'd have fried in a vert.

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