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Chevrolet Corvette Z06 (C5) | The Brave Pill

Oversexed, overfed and over here - one of the best-regarded versions of America's favourite sports car

By Mike Duff / Saturday, July 6, 2019

Pill's Saturday slot means that this arriving a little behind the U.S.'s July 4th shindig. But - as the holiday takes over the whole weekend - we can be pretty sure that many of the hangovers are still either pounding or being worked on. It's all the excuse needed to go full apple pie in the sleek form of this spectacularly yellow C5 Corvette Z06.

The cultural divide between Britain and American has kept stand-up comedians and the writers of The Simpsons in material for decades. But behind the whole Tomayto-tomato thing our tastes on many things are pretty close. People on both sides of the Atlantic watch Netflix, eat at McDonalds, wear Levi jeans and spend too much money on Chinese-made Apple products.

But when it comes to of American cars, the divide is as real and unbridgeable as that between a proper appreciation of the noble sport of cricket and misguided regard for a glorified game of rounders. Barring the rule-proving exception of the current Ford Mustang, U.S. cars have almost always failed to be taken seriously over here, especially the quicker ones.

Stateside the Corvette has long been seen as an entirely credible rival for a Porsche 911. A point you will often proved at U.S. trackdays where quicker 'Vettes often prove themselves to be - quite literally - the apex predators. Also in the magazine comparison tests where they consistently prove they can outgun snooty European rivals costing significantly more.

Over here, there's as much laughter as love. A Corvette in Blighty is a strange, alien species. They have a vocal and passionate following, dedicated fans prepared to put up with left-hand drive and waiting for parts and jokes about cowboy hats and pushrod engines. But this has always been a small one, many of who will already own at least one example of the breed.

Which is why selling a Corvette isn't the easiest process. Non-specialist dealers are generally terrified of them, which will be reflected in part-ex offers, while private sales tend to be largely within the existing brotherhood of 'Vette enthusiasts. Our Pill is the only Z06 currently to be found in the classifieds, but with a price that puts it in the pack of standard C5s with similar age and mileage. The vendor's insistence of being in no rush to sell suggests what may turn out to be a realistic attitude to the business of shifting such a rare beast.

Because our Pill is something pretty special by Corvette standards, the Z06 sitting at the top of the C5 tree and - when new - one of the fastest sports cars in the world. Chevrolet has a long tradition of releasing faster and more expensive variants throughout the lifespan of each Corvette, with the wedgy previous-generation C4 having been spawned a ZR-1 with a 385hp Lotus-developed aluminium quad-cam V8 in 1990.

While hugely powerful, the ZR1's exotic engine also meant it was expensive, costing twice as much as a base 'Vette, and therefore rare. So when plans were being drawn up for the daddy iteration of the successor C5 it was ordered to use a tuned version of the pushrod LS1 V8 from the regular car. Named after the highest performance version of the C2 'Vette, the C5 Z06 was launched in 2001. With 385hp it matched the early C4 ZR1, but thanks to weight saving including thinner glass it was lighter and actually quicker. Indeed it was quicker than practically anything else, with a sub-five-second 0-60mph time outgunning any contemporary 911 short of the Turbo.

I can attest to the shirt soaking performance. Soon after the Z06 was launched a few came to the UK as grey imports, and the magazine I was working for borrowed one from a dealer in Manchester. I wasn't expecting much and, on first impressions, the Corvette played up to my prejudices. The cabin was filled with greasy-feeling plastics and the strong smell of fibreglass resin soon made me feel queasy. It was hot, loud and crude, and a decent percentage of the attention it attracted seemed to be people pointing and laughing. But once onto the open roads of the Pennine moors the Vette became immediately better, enormously fast and surprisingly well composed when asked to deal with British bumps and cambers. Dynamically it spanked the Mercedes CLK55 AMG we had brought along to compare it to.

Not that the Z06 was in any risk of catching on over here. It was possible to buy the regular C5 through a small official dealer channel, but the Z06 was never part of this modest import effort. The tiny number of cars that have come here have all been brought in privately and - to judge from an MOT history that only began in 2018 - ours is a recent arrival. The price also seems to be pretty close to what similar age-and-mileage Z06s are being offered for in the 'States. Given the considerable costs of getting one over here and registered it nobody is going to be making bank shipping them in. With a Camaro on his drive and a Mach 1 Mustang fastback in the garage, our seller is clearly a big fan of American performance.

They have also made several relatively subtle visual modifications, although the XXL 'BRIDGESTONE' lettering on the tyres seems like an odd choice. All of these should be easily reversible for a new owner craving originality. In a radioactively yellow Corvette you don't really need to try hard for attention, let's be honest. Mechanically it seems to be completely standard, which is a good thing - unlike lesser American muscle cars Corvettes tend to be less tolerant of big power increases.

Yet this is still a car for somebody with a stout heart and a willingness to embrace risk. While mechanically the Corvette is considerably simpler than pretty much anything else this quick, it still needs to be bought carefully and benefits from the sort of specialist knowledge that is going to be hard to find over here. Parts support is good, but with the obvious proviso that most of those parts are in the 'States meaning waits and complications when rarer spares are needed. Accept all that, though, and this is a huge amount of performance for the money. Plus, it has pop-up headlights; it's hard not to like any car with pop-up headlights.

So what do you think, is the car from the land of the free also the home of the brave?




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