(PITTSBURGH) — Tadge Juechter has spent nearly 30 years perfecting every generation of the Corvette. With the Z06, the latest Corvette to roll off the assembly line in Kentucky, he and his team of engineers are breaking new ground.
The sports car’s naturally-aspirated, flat-plane crankshaft V8 engine produces 670 horses, a feat neither Juechter nor his team believed was possible.
“Every design element centered around maximizing horsepower and track performance,” Juechter, Corvette’s executive chief engineer, told ABC News from Pittsburgh International Raceway, where journalists were test driving the car.
The Z06 races from 0-60 mph in 2.7 seconds. With the Z07 performance package, the time drops to 2.6 seconds.
“This car is more powerful than the last generation,” he went on. “When we started the project it was a bit of a gut check. We weren’t sure we could match the output of the supercharged small block [engine]. We pushed as much as we could.”
Enthusiasts and gearheads have been anxiously awaiting the Z06’s arrival. The track-focused sports car, with an 8,600-rpm redline and top speed of 195 mph, is the sole General Motors vehicle to be built with the all-new 5.5L LT6 engine.
It will also likely be the last. In April, Chevrolet posted a teaser clip of an electrified Corvette in camouflage, drifting and dancing on an ice track.
GM President Mark Reuss confirmed in a LinkedIn post that the Detroit automaker was currently developing a hybrid version of its storied sports car. A fully electric Corvette was in the works too, Reuss said.
The Corvette community has been “amazingly supportive” of the brand’s electrified direction, Juechter said, adding that some owners may need more convincing.
“There are people who have said, ‘That’s not for me, hope you sell internal combustion engines forever,'” he explained.
Tyson Jominy, vice president of data and analytics at J.D. Power, has a stern message for the doubters: electrification will make the Corvette even better than it is today.
“The things you can do with electrification far exceeds ICEs in almost every capacity. I don’t think that’s up for debate,” he told ABC News. “I recognize that not everyone thinks that way and it may take a long time for Corvette buyers to come around.”
The anti-electrification attitude in enthusiast circles may help explain why Porsche and Chevrolet have posted record sales of the 911 and Corvette in the last two years. According to J.D. Power, the midsize sports car segment now accounts for 0.5% of the U.S. auto market, up from 0.3% pre-pandemic.
Jominy expects eager buyers to pay well above the Z06’s MSRP of $103,500. Options and performance packages can push the price to $170,000.
“The Z06 is the spiritual center of Chevy and such an important vehicle,” he said. “Chevy is not building a lot of these. I expect demand to be extraordinarily high.”
John Pearley Huffman, senior editor at Road & Track, said the aural and tactical satisfaction of the Z06 can’t be matched in a hybrid or electric Corvette.
“It’s not just raw acceleration, you can feel the gears grinding in your hands,” he said. “It’s stinky rotten fast … and may be the last, great mechanical Corvette and the most satisfying to drive in the artistic sense. This is a quantum leap for Corvette.”
For the die-hards who will repent the end of Corvette’s famed V8 powerplant, Pearley Huffman said that would be a mistake.
“You have to embrace the future. Going electric doesn’t mean these cars and naturally aspirated engines will go away,” he noted. “They’ll be artifacts of the time. An electrified Corvette is still something to look forward to.”
Ivan Drury, director of insights at car-shopping service Edmunds, remembers the backlash when Chevrolet debuted the eighth-generation Stingray in 2019. The engine now sat behind the driver and the manual transmission option was gone.
“There was a lot of talk about alienation but there has been so much demand for a product that was very polarizing,” he told ABC News. “The C8 Stingray has shattered sales records.”
Drury expects even non-Corvette fans to seek out this Z06, one of the last sports cars on the market with a naturally aspirated engine.
“People are nostalgic about what’s going on in the industry. The Z06 will be seen as an investment,” he said, adding, “The car will become a museum piece. I want to see it alive, living and breathing on the tarmac.”
Brian Baker, the director of collections and education at the National Corvette Museum and a former GM engineer, said Corvette devotees can view the Z06 up close at the museum, including every Z06 produced since 1963, when Chevrolet introduced the nameplate. The museum, a 501(c), is raffling off a 2023 Z06 on Dec. 15.
Baker said his blood curdled the first time he heard the Z06’s engine being revved.
“It was like the hounds of hell being released,” he told ABC News. “The engine has a very different sound … more akin to what European exotics use. It’s a remarkable advancement for Corvette.”
As for Corvette going electric, Baker said longtime customers have to embrace the future.
“Corvette is not sitting still,” he said. “While we preserve the heritage, it’s a moving, living brand. We are moving into the 21st century.”
Workers at the Bowling Green Assembly plant, where 1.1 million Corvettes have been built since 1981, are busy filling the “flood of orders” for the Z06, Juechter said. Chevrolet capped production this year to meet unprecedented demand following the Z06’s reveal.
“The reaction from our customer base has been astonishing,” Juechter said. “Dealers have hoards of people wanting to get a place in line for this car.”
Even the harshest of critics — the car aficionados who revere Italian and German supercar performance — will be impressed with this Z06, Juechter said.
“The big picture was to emulate the soul of Ferrari but match Porche’s clinical speed,” he said. “This is the most aggressive aero we’ve ever done. But the Z06 is still a street car.”
Juechter pointed to the reaction of a Formula One driver who lapped the Z06 in Pittsburgh last month.
“He gave me a hug when he got out of the car,” he said. “The proof is in the pudding when you drive it.”
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