A Brief History Of The Chevy Corvette Z06

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For many, the Z06 is the perfect Corvette.

We're still early in the lifecycle of the current Chevrolet Corvette C8, which means there's a lot of anticipation for the upcoming high-performance derivatives. The two most anticipated are the Z06 and ZR1 performance models. Based on the last generation of the Corvette, the Z06 is the one suited for performance street driving. In contrast, the considerably more expensive ZR1 (it went for around $120,000) is geared more for the track than the street. Of course, the ZR1 is considered the most badass road-going Corvette you can buy. Still, unless you're regularly at the track, then it's a cost that's hard to justify as the level of performance it delivers isn't ideal for exerting on the public road.

All of this makes the Z06 the perfect road-going package for the Corvette driver that likes to carve the hell out of corners and enjoy the track regularly - that $50,000 saving relative to the ZR1 will get you a lot of track days, tires, and brake pads. However, the Z06 didn't start as the street racer choice, and it has evolved to create some startlingly fast Corvettes. Let's delve into the back story of the Z06.

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How The Z06 Package Came To Exist

In the early 1960s, General Motors (GM) was still part of the Automobile Manufacturers Association and supported its ban on factory-supported racing. The ban had come about following some devastating and high-profile crashes in racing, particularly the 1955 Le Mans disaster and the 1957 NASCAR crashes, both of which involved driver and spectator deaths. However, Zora Arkus-Duntov, the engineer who pushed the Corvette to start becoming the sports car it is today, pulled some amazing stunts against the ban as he knew racing was key to developing the car. He convinced management into letting him develop parts for people that tracked their cars in 1962. His commitment to enthusiasts paid off when GM lifted the ban across its brands as the Corvette had many of the components for a Regular Production Option (RPO) performance package. Individually, the parts had previously been hidden, and you had to know what to ask for, but now the parts were available as a package from the factory.

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1963 Corvette C2 Generation Z06

The original Z06 package was comprehensive and, at $1,800, doubled the price of the car in 1963. It came only with the L84 5.4-liter V8 engine, and with the factory exhaust manifolds needed to keep the car eligible for SCCA production classes, it made 360 hp. Part of the package was a larger gas tank to start with, but that was changed to an option later, while the 20 percent thicker front anti-roll bar, improved brakes, and much stiffer shocks and springs were consistent in the package. Only 199 were built to order, including a solitary convertible, but it was enough to embed the Z06 designation in the Corvette community's hearts.

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2001 Corvette C5 Generation Z06

It wasn't until the next century that Chevrolet reintroduced the Z06 package to capitalize on the long memories of Corvette fans who recalled the original. Initially, the C5 Z06 arrived with 385 hp from its LS6 V8 engine, and despite that number being lower than the Z05 ZR1's output, it was quicker in every way except top speed, as the new Z06 was lighter at just 3,118 pounds. To make the Z06 lighter than its standard hard-top sibling, it came with a titanium exhaust system, thinner glass, lighter wheels, less sound dampening material, a lighter battery, and the radio antennae was fixed so it didn't need electric motors. Upgrades included bigger wheels and tires, stiffer suspension, improved brakes, better brake cooling, and, in 2002, a power boost to 405 hp. The C5 Z06 was less expensive than the previous ZR1 but could hit 60 mph from a standing start in four seconds and run the quarter-mile in 12.4 seconds, which is blisteringly fast for a turn of the century road car and still fast today. According to Chevrolet, the car could also lap the Nurburgring in under eight minutes.

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2006 Corvette C6 Generation Z06

The next Z06 landed in 2005 as a 2006 model, but it wasn't a heavy landing as it weighed just 3,130 pounds. That makes it, to this day, the lightest Z06 model and the largest factory-installed small-block GM engine yet produced - the 7.0-liter LS7. It was hand-built and made a whopping 505 hp and featured connecting rods made out of titanium alloy and a dry-sump oil system, suggesting it was aimed at the track. The chassis upgrade list is extensive, and weight-saving was drastic with the use of materials like magnesium alloy for the engine cradle. Chevy was not messing around when it came to the C6 Z06, and it cranked up to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds and ran the quarter-mile in 11.7 seconds. In the corners, it could hang with the Porsche 911 Turbo for a lot less money - if you could deal with a lesser interior and a choppy ride.

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2015 Corvette C7 Generation Z06

Chevrolet didn't blow its wad with the innovations in the C6 Z06. The engineers went to work and sent another stunner out into the world for 2014. Its 6.2-liter LT4 engine was supercharged to deliver 650 hp and 650 lb-ft of torque, and the weight-saving measures extended all the way to the two magnesium frame seats. The chassis was dramatically upgraded and included adaptive dampers, while the car also got Brembo ceramic brakes and an electronic limited-slip differential. It was a hell of a lot of car for the money at under $80,000. Amazingly, as part of an extra package, customers could go and take part in assembling the engine themselves. The interior also improved, and Chevrolet could genuinely call itself a competitor to more upmarket cars while being nowhere near as expensive.

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2023 C8 Generation Z06

Now that the Corvette is mid-engined, the recipe has changed a little, and the Z06 will arrive with a 5.5-liter V8. However, that's not a downgrade as the new LT6 engine features a flat-plane crank and makes a naturally-aspirated 670 horsepower at 8,400 rpm. It promises to be a phenomenal and truly race-derived engine that will power the C8 Z06 to 60 mph 2.6 seconds while the chassis also goes toe-to-toe with supercars. Other performance features include an aggressive aero package, new six-piston calipers from Brembo, and magnetic ride suspension. Essentially, Chevrolet is building a world-class supercar with a price tag of around $85,000. Currently, you can't get into something with the same level of performance for under $100,000.

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