- The Washington Times - Friday, April 12, 2002

The ZO6 story began with a car that never was. The stripper Corvette.

For years, rumors had spread about a heavy-on-the-hardware Corvette with fewer frills and a lower price tag. When the new fixed-hardtop model joined the other Corvettes in 1999, those rumors were squelched. Who killed them?

Corvette owners.

Market research done by Chevrolet found that Corvette owners didn't want their cars devalued by the introduction of a bare-bones alternative. So, the Corvette fixed-hardtop model was brought out and sold poorly. In only its sophomore season (2000), hardtop sales amounted to barely 6 percent of total Corvette production. It seems that there wasn't enough difference in price or performance to commend the hardtop over the coupe.

The hardtop was reborn in 2001 as the launching pad for a new, "super" Corvette. Lighter and stiffer than either the coupe or convertible, the hardtop was the perfect platform to build upon.

The ZO6 became the top-gun Corvette by using the time-honored approach for developing high-performance cars: lose weight and add muscle. Fat reducers in the ZO6 diet included a titanium exhaust system, lighter tires even thinner glass. The additional muscle was courtesy of a new LS6 engine, packed with high-tech hardware.

For 2002, the ZO6 is back, and Chevy's upped the ante once again. For openers, the LS6 engine is rated at 405 hp and 400 foot-pounds of torque plus 20 and 15, respectively, over last year. Chevrolet has also done some suspension tweaking, revising the rear shock valving. ZO6 wheels are now cast aluminum and optional magnesium rims are no longer available on coupes and convertibles.

A heads-up display is standard issue on ZO6. "HUD" projects key engine information speed, rpm and other gauge readouts onto the lower portion of the windshield. It's height- and brightness-adjustable so it's easy to see day or night, while keeping your eyes closer to road level.

Particularly if you have driven earlier-generation Corvettes, the new C5 models (1997 and newer) are a revelation. All the performance that you'd expect is there, but something else is too refinement.

Gone are the squeaks and rattles of earlier models. In their place is a level of smoothness never before achieved in the fiberglass flier.

The ZO6 is like the regular Corvette only more so. This means exceptional stick when cornering, but without the punishing rough ride that many ultrahigh-performance cars exhibit.

A long trip in the ZO6 will leave neither driver nor passenger the worse for wear.

The hardtop body style also comes with a bona fide trunk. Capacity is 13.3 cubic feet, but you need a healthy back to negotiate the lift-over height.

Cosmetically, there's little to distinguish a 2002 model from a 2001. Two Corvette colors bit the dust this year and were replaced by a beautiful metallic hue known as Electron Blue.

The eagle-eyed can spot the addition of the 405-horsepower rating on the small, oval ZO6 badge affixed to the front fenders. The 405 number is significant to Corvette cognoscenti because it is the same power rating as the ZR-1 the vaunted, ultrapricey Corvettes that disappeared after the 1995 model year. Indeed, the new ZO6 surpasses not only last year's model but also the former "King of the Hill" ZR1 in raw performance. In the hands of "an experienced driver" (as Chevrolet puts it), a 0-60 time of 3.9 seconds is possible, with a 12.4 second quarter-mile run: the quickest ever for a production Corvette.

Though a shade swifter than last year's model (.1 seconds from 0-60 and .2 in the ¼ mile), what you notice when you drive the 2002 is more the sound than the feel. Crack the throttle of a 2002 ZO6 and the engine's growl is a noticeable notch angrier than before. If you like the sound of fine machinery at work, this is a car that you'll drive with the radio turned off.

The ZO6 out-drives cars costing far more money and is far less temperamental to boot. It's a car that willingly pulls double duty as daily driver and weekend racer, if you choose to.

It even outstrips the legendary ZR-1 Corvette in performance, for considerably less cash.

While that may not make the day of ZR1 owners, it should put a smile on the face of anyone in the market for a high-performance car.

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