Officially it is still possible to buy a Corvette in the UK, although the Dealer Locator page on the Chevrolet website now has more tumbleweed than actual outlets. Indeed, there seems to be only one sales operation left - Ian Allen in Surrey. Yet even before sterling's recent plunge against the dollar the 'vette has always struggled to gain any ground in Europe, thanks mainly to the need to offset import costs against miniscule sales. Back in the States the Stingray is priced hard against an entry-level Cayman, whereas in the UK it's most of the way to 911 money. And that's with the steering wheel on the wrong side.
So it's probably a good thing that, having driven the new Corvette Grand Sport in the US, there's minimal chance I'll get to experience it in Britain. Because in rural Michigan I absolutely loved it, and I'd hate for anything to cloud the memories of this holiday romance.
Middle of the road
Porsche runs the Porsche 911 model strategy like a military timetable, with a new variant or go-fastered version pretty much once a month. GM marches to a far slower drumbeat. The standard C7 Stingray was launched three years ago, the supercar humbling Z06 followed in 2016, and now the Grand Sport arrives as the third model variant, sitting in the middle of the range and pretty much splitting the difference.
So while it sticks with the regular Corvette's naturally-aspirated 6.2-litre V8 - yes, the one that still features pushrods - it gets the brash bodywork and much of the reworked chassis hardware of the Z06. That means a mere 460hp, a number that only really looks inadequate when compared directly with the Z06's 650hp, with the official 3.8sec 0-60mph time proving the continued vitality of the GS's power-to-weight ratio.
The Corvette remains one of the cars you could identify while blindfolded, certainly if you've ever experienced one. Firstly, because you're almost certain to bang your head on the way into the tight-fitting cockpit, GM refusing to acknowledge that the average American man is getting on for twice the size as when the original 'vette was launched in 1953. But mostly because of the smell, an evocative aroma of glassfibre and resin that rises up as soon as the door is opened. It's similar to the scent that TVRs give off, but subtly different. GM could bottle it; it would go well with a half-open shirt and a big gold medallion.
The cabin seems to be pretty much identical to that of the regular Corvette, which means it's good at making a first impression but with plenty of cheap bits when you start to look more closely. There's a big central touchscreen running GM's standard North American suite of apps, and a VDU rev counter that's flanked by a conventional speedo on the left and fuel and temperature gauges on the right, the brightness of the different sections not quite matching up.
The car I drove had the Z07 pack, including some outrageously sized 335/25ZR20 tyres on the rear axle that'd put a road roller to shame. Despite the track-focused rubber and suspension it didn't feel anything like as compromised on road as circuit specials often do. Which was a good thing as I didn't have a track to go and play on, just the public roads around Chelsea in Michigan. By happy non-coincidence, these happen to be one of the favourite testing venues for GM's development engineers as well.
The roads are certainly challenging, with some big cambers and poor quality surfaces doing a half-decent impression of a poorly maintained British B-road. Yet thanks to the range of the switchable dampers, controlled by the rotary dynamic control switch with Tour, Sport and Track modes, it didn't feel harsh even at a fairly serious lick. It's definitely firmer than the regular Stingray, but also better lashed down over surfaces that would likely get its boggo sister feeling floaty. The steering is also crisper than the regular 'vette, with a searingly fast turn-in that takes a while to get dialled into.
The rest of it impresses too, certainly on its home territory. The optional carbon brakes are fine on road, working quietly and without any drama when cold. The manual gearbox is a peach too, probably the one area where U.S. sports cars are now clearly ahead of their European equivalents - both the weighting and action are pretty much spot-on. Crucially the rev-matching system can be turned on and off as well.
Americans often complain about the awesome European market performance cars the motor industry denies them, from SEAT Cupras to Audi RS6s. With the recent death of the Dodge Viper the Corvette and its Camaro sister are the only real examples of when the tables get turned, and anyone dedicated enough can indeed buy one here.
But this could well be the last Corvette we're denied. Work is already advanced on the next car, which is going to be mid-engined and - you'd imagine - with its huge development costs offset by the need to broaden sales. With Ford showing the way with the right-hand drive Mustang let's hope that Chevrolet has the sense to follow. Oh, and not to try and stick Vauxhall badges on the finished car if it makes it over here.
CORVETTE GRAND SPORT
Engine: 6,162cc V8
Transmission: 7-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 460@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 465@4,600rpm
Top speed: 175mph
Weight: 1,590kg (manufacturer figure)
MPG: 25 (est.)
CO2: Are you, or have you ever been, a communist?
Price: Depressingly cheap over there, annoyingly expensive here