For model year 2004, the fifth generation Corvette (C5) would be making its last trip around the dance floor. Introduced in 1997, the C5 was then all new from the ground up—new chassis and suspension, new body styling, new rear-mounted transaxle, new all aluminum 5.7 liter V8 engine and a new interior.
Under the direction of Chief Engineer David Hill the C5 continued to improve during its lifetime. A fixed roof coupe was added to the lineup in 1999 and the standard LS1 V8 engine gained 5 hp in 2001 to reach 350 hp. The biggest news in 2001 was a brand new LS6 engine for the fixed-roof coupe. This über Corvette was give a famous name from Corvette’s racing past—the Z06.
The LS6 was rated at 385 hp giving the Z06 a 0-60 time of 4.5 seconds and a top speed of 165 mph. The Corvette engineers tweaked the LS6 for 2002 upping the output to 405 hp and dropping the 0-60 time to 3.9 seconds. The Z06, which was only available with a six-speed manual transmission, was given additional creature comforts and suspension improvements to make it THE car to have if you wanted to go quickly in style.
By the end of the 2003 model year 214,651 C5s had been sold. The C5 had taken Corvette to new levels of performance, refinement, comfort and sales, but its successor was waiting in the wings for 2005.
Le Mans Beckons
To many, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is the Holy Grail of racing. Keeping a car competitive for twice around the clock is the ultimate test of machine, drivers and crew. Participation in the 24 Hours is by invitation only. To be invited is a feather in any team’s hat. To finish the race is a cause célèbre. To actually win your class is racing’s ultimate prize—your team’s arrival in the racing pantheon.
Corvette Racing was invited to LeMans in 2000 and with a superb first-time effort, they finished third and fourth in class. They were invited back the following year and this time there was no denying Corvette Racing. Their two C5-Rs finished first and second in the GTS class with Ron Fellows, Johnny O’Connell and Scott Pruett taking the checkered flag ahead of teammates Andy Pilgrim, Kelly Collins and Franck Freon. Just to prove that that victory was no fluke, they returned to LeMans in 2002 and again finished 1 – 2. This time Fellows and O’Connell teamed with Ollie Gavin to finish ahead of Pilgrim, Collins and Freon.
For two consecutive years, the C5-Rs utterly dominated the world’s most important race.
It was only fitting that the Corvette design team would honor the outgoing C5 by saluting the C5-R’s finest accomplishments at LeMans. A LeMans Commemorative Edition package was offered on all Corvette models. The package included special LeMans blue paint, unique badging noting the LeMans victories, as well as polished wheels and a host of other Corvette options. A special shale interior was offered only on the coupe and the convertible, and featured embroidered LeMans emblems on the headrests.
A few extra special goodies were reserved only for the Z06. On the introduction of the Commemorative Editions, Dave Hill, Corvette Chief Engineer, said, “We’ve created the 2004 Commemorative Edition to share our racing achievements with Corvette enthusiasts, while bringing real performance and technology upgrades to the Z06.”
Special to the Z06 was a carbon fiber hood, marking the first use of this material for a painted exterior panel on a vehicle produced in North America. Carbon fiber is very strong and exceptionally lightweight, and was used extensively on the C5-Rs. Its use on the production Z06 hood saved about 10 lbs over the standard hood and brought an example of racing technology and heritage of the C5-R to the Z06 CE.
Silver and red graphics on the hood, roof and trunk were unique to the Z06 CE and were reminiscent of the scheme used on the C5-R LeMans cars for 2003. With a limited production run of only 2,025, the Z06 CE remains a highly sought-after Corvette.
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