The first American car to have a major body panel fashioned out of carbon fiber, the first mass-produced car in the world with a titanium exhaust (the legendary McLaren F1 was the first overall), 3,100 lb. curb weight, acceleration better than any ‘Vette up to that point along with breaking and handling chops to match, all at about $50,000.
Our third place ‘Vette of the 2000s (or “the Noughties”) would have easily been in contention to take the gold in any of our prior decades but its white ribbon finish here shows just how much advancement America’s Sports Car made during the first ten years of the millennium.
Introduced in 2001 with 385 HP and updated to a C4 ZR-1 matching 405 HP in 2002, the C5 Z06 can best be summed up as the deal of the century!
Let’s look at the performance specs a little closer. The C5Z could sprint to 60 MPH from a standstill in 3.9 seconds and continue to 100 in 9.5 seconds en route to a 12.4 second quarter mile. Stopping from 60 was equally impressive at 104 feet while knocking on the door of a full g of lateral grip on the skidpad (.99 g, so close!). When the Corvette team talks about the “law of diminishing returns” as a cause for the engine’s move amidships for the C8, the C5 Z06 is a great place to look for the evidence.
Since the C5Z went out of production in 2004, the top-dog Corvette has added an entire LS1 worth of power, jumping from 405 to 755 HP. The result? About one second faster to 60 and a second and a half in the quarter mile. Sure, the upgrade to expensive carbon ceramic brakes cut the stopping distance down to just 88 feet and new Super-Vettes can touch 1.12g of lateral acceleration but you’ll need to spend close to, or well over, $100k to achieve any of those numbers. The C5 Z06 can still pull-off eight to nine tenths of what any of its successors can today.
When new the C5 Z06 was a steal at a premium of only $3,000 over a base C5 convertible. These days, $25,000 will get you inside the lightest modern Corvette that feels every bit as special today as it did when it debuted in 2001. If it was a steal when new, it has become a complete no-brainer today at half of its original MSRP. P>
A total of 5,773 of already potent, first-year, 385 horse, models left Bowling Green before the upgrade which former Corvette chief engineer, Dave Hill justified to angry early adaptors who wanted their 20 extra ponies with this great quote: “The 405 HP version wasn’t ready and GM doesn’t sell wine before its time.”
If you are in the market and haven’t driven one, you probably won’t be able to tell the difference between one of these and a “405” example while also getting an even better deal but if you can afford it, the upgraded one is still the one to have because who doesn’t want the best possible ‘Vette that they can afford. The good news is that the market has a lot more updated Zs to choose from. Production for 2002 was up to 8,297 with a high-water mark of 8,635 units sold in 2003, and 5,683 rounding out the final year of C5 production. Similar to our best Corvette of the ’90s, you really should get in on these wonderful cars before the market wises up and prices start to climb through the roof like they have for similar vintage 911s and Japanese performance cars that won’t be able to hang with you at your next autocross or track day. P>
These incredible all-arounders are only in third place and you probably can guess the two ‘Vettes that are ranked ahead of them on our countdown this week but you’ll have to wait to see which one is next and which takes home all of the frankincense and myrrh before moving on to the long-awaited final week of our Corvette decade countdown!
Check out all of our Best Corvettes of Each Decade features:
- The Best Corvettes of the 1950s: No.3 – The 1953 Corvette
- The Best Corvettes of the 1950s: No.2 – The 1959 Corvette
- The Best Corvettes of the 1950s: No.1 – The 1957 Corvette
- The Best Corvettes of the 1960s: No.3 – The 1965 Corvette
- The Best Corvettes of the 1960s: No.2 – The 1963 Corvette
- The Best Corvettes of the 1960s: No.1 – The 1967 Corvette
- The Best Corvettes of the 1970s: No.3 – The 1978 Corvette
- The Best Corvettes of the 1970s: No.2 – The 1970 Corvette
- The Best Corvettes of the 1970s: No.1 – The 1971 Corvette
- The Best Corvettes of the 1980s: No.3 – The 1982 Corvette
- The Best Corvettes of the 1980s: No.2 – The 1986 Corvette
- The Best Corvettes of the 1980s: No.1 – The 1984 Corvette
- The Best Corvettes of the 1990s: No.3 – The 1996 LT4 Corvette
- The Best Corvettes of the 1990s: No.2 – The 1999 Corvette FRC
- The Best Corvettes of the 1990s: No.1 – The C4 Corvette ZR-1
- The Best Corvettes of the 2000s: No.3 – The C5 Corvette Z06
- The Best Corvettes of the 2000s: No.2 – The C6 Corvette Z06
- The Best Corvettes of the 2000s: No.1 – 2009 Corvette ZR1
- The Best Corvettes of the 2010s: No.3 – The C7’s Z07 Ultimate Performance Package
- The Best Corvettes of the 2010s: No.2 – The C6’s Z07 Ultimate Performance Package
- The Best Corvettes of the 2010s: No.1 – The 2019 Corvette ZR1