The Corvette Z06: A Look Back

The Corvette Z06: A Look Back

Z06. One letter and two numbers that symbolize a higher level of Corvette performance.

Fifty-one years after the first Z06 Corvette was born, the option package lives on with the 2015 Corvette. Over the years there’s been an RPO Z06 in 4 of the 7 Corvette generations. Click past the jump to take a look at the significance of the Z06 moniker – past and present.

The Z06 option code first appeared in 1963 as a package for those looking to flog their C2’s out on the track. Buyers opting for the Z06 option package got a 1963 split window coupe with a larger front stabilizer and larger-diameter shocks and springs – almost twice as stiff as the stock pieces. The cars also received power assisted brakes with sintered-metal brake linings, finned drums, a dual-circuit master cylinder, and vacuum brake booster.

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All 1963 Z06’s featured the 360-horsepower fuel injected 327 between the front fenders which was bolted to a 4-speed manual. Later in the model run a 36.5 gallon gas tank was made available. This allowed drivers to make fewer pit stops during longer races. Of the 199 Z06’s produced in 1963, just 63 of them had the “big tank” behind the seats. Back then RPO Z06 added about 40% to the base price a Corvette Sting Ray. Today a pristine example can set you back about $250,000.

After 1963 ended the Z06 moniker was extinct for 38 years until it returned in 2001 on a fixed roof coupe (FRC) version of the C5. After a luke warm reception to the FRC on 1999 and 2000 (roughly accounting for just 10% of production) Chevrolet upped the ante in 2001. The base LS1 was gone now replaced by a new 385hp LS6. A year later output would be bumped up to 405hp. All cars switched gears via a 6 speed manual transmission. Like the original model, the C5 Z06 was intended to be the ultimate track-ready Corvette. Features like thinner glass, titanium exhaust, lighter wheels, reduced sound deadening, and a smaller battery made the Z06 about 100lbs lighter that its coupe and convertible siblings. The fixed roof body style produced a much stiffer car better suited for race duty.

Other enhancements included the FE4 suspension which contained larger-diameter stabilizer bars and shocks, quicker steering, and a larger wheel-and-tire package.

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For its final year in 2004, the C5 Z06 could be ordered with RPO Z16, a commemorative package signifying Corvette’s success at Lemans. A new carbon fiber hood took another 10lbs of weight off the car. That same year Corvette became one of the vehicles to lap the Nürburgring in less than 8 minutes. A total of 28,388 fifth generation Z06’s were built.

After a 1 year hiatus, the Z06 returned on the new sixth generation Corvette in 2006 and continued on until 2013. This time the fixed roof Z06 was built on aluminum frame which was 136 pounds lighter than the base car’s. The big news was under the hood where a new 505-horsepower, 7 liter (427ci) LS7 engine now resided. That LS7 was the most powerful factory rated Corvette motor of all time. The light weight and big power combined for a power-to-weight ratio of 6.2:1 allowed it to race from 0-60 mph in roughly 3.7 seconds and complete quarter-mile in the low-11’s. Top speed was north of 190mph.

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Overall the sixth generation Z06 borrowed heavily from the highly successful Corvette Racing program. Technologies such as titanium connecting rods and even a dry-sump oiling system were now part of the package. Other high end features included wider front (carbon fiber) and rear fenders, unique front and rear spoilers, front and rear brake-cooling ducts, lightweight 18-inch front and 19-inch rear wheels, and 14-inch 6 piston front brake rotors and 13.4-inch 4 piston rear rotors with four-piston calipers. Suspension upgrades included Z06-specific stabilizer bars, spring rates, and shocks. Later in the model run a Z07 package could be chosen which added on carbon-ceramic brakes, more carbon fiber exterior bits, Magnetic Selective Ride Control, and Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires to create the ultimate Z06. A Z07 equipped Z06 lapped the Nürburgring in 7:22.68 – over 30 seconds faster than the C5 Z06. In the end 27,979 C6 Z06’s left Bowling Green which included 740 with the Z07 performance package. A total of 27,994 C6 Z06’s were produced during its 8 year model run.

RPO Z06 took another year off in 2014 only to return with a vengeance for the 2015 model year. The 7th generation Z06 is said to be most capable production Corvette ever. 2015 will mark several firsts for a Z06. It’s the first to be offered with a supercharged engine – the 6.2L LT4 throwing down an estimated 625hp. It’s the first to be offered with an available paddle shift automatic transmission, this time with 8 speeds to run through (in addition to the 7-speed manual). It’s also the first Z06 to be offered with a removable roof panel.

The latest top dog Corvette was developed in conjunction with the Corvette Racing team and the C7.R race car. Various track-ready goodies allow the car to deliver greater down force, more cornering grip, and higher braking performance than ever before. Again a Z07 Performance Package will be available adding in Michelin Pilot Super Sport Cup tires and carbon ceramic brakes. The Z07 package also includes larger spoiler winglets and an adjustable, see-through center section on the rear spoiler. Early testing shows that the C7 Z06 is faster on a track than even the C6 ZR1. A carbon fiber aero package will tack on a carbon fiber front splitter with aviation-style winglets, carbon fiber rockers and a larger rear spoiler with a fixed wickerbill. All these features give the C7 Z06 the most down force of any GM car ever.

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So after 50-plus years the Z06 option package continues to put Corvette at the top of the performance mountain. Racing inspired technologies continue to make their way to the streets to provide for some of the most capable street cars in the world at a fraction of the price of their exotic competitors. The 7th generation Corvette Z06 builds on its lengthy legacy and is the next logical progression in the evolution of America’s sports car destined for success both on the track and the street.

General Motors

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