Chevrolet introduced the redesigned 2003 version of its muscular sports car early, and an Anniversary Edition marked the 50th birthday of the fiberglass-bodied Corvette. Several trim packages are available for 2004 that commemorate racing successes of the past. A brand-new sixth-generation Corvette debuts as a 2005 model.
Last year, Corvettes gained what Chevrolet called the industry’s fastest, most powerful real-time damping suspension. Known as Magnetic Selective Ride Control, it controls wheel and body motion using magneto-rheological fluid in the shock absorbers. The system also integrates traction control.
Three versions are still offered: a hatchback coupe with a removable center roof panel, a convertible with a glass rear window and manually folding top, and the Z06 hardtop, which packs 405 horsepower rather than the usual 350 hp. For 2004, the Commemorative Edition Z06 gets a carbon-fiber hood. All Corvettes are built in Bowling Green, Ky.
The overall styling of Chevrolet’s two-seat sports car — which dates back to 1997 — stands pat for its final season. Familiar cues include side air scoops, hidden headlights and quad taillights. All Corvettes have fiberglass bodies atop a steel frame.
The high-performance Z06 coupe features functional bodyside brake ducting and special alloy wheels with wider tires than usual: P265/40ZR17 in front and P295/35ZR18 at the rear, compared to extended-mobility P245/45ZR17 front and P275/40ZR18 rear tires on the other body styles. No spare tire is included; the coupe and convertible are equipped with run-flat tires.
All Corvettes ride a 104.5-inch wheelbase, measure 179.7 inches long overall and stand just under 48 inches tall. The active handling electronic stability system can apply braking force to individual wheels and also retard engine power, thereby working to keep the vehicle on course during swift turns.
Every Corvette since 1953 has been a two-seater; today’s bucket seats are clad in leather. With a small glove box and a console bin, interior storage space is at a premium. Standard equipment includes a full collection of analog gauges, a low-tire-pressure warning system, an in-dash CD player, a theft-deterrent system and heated power mirrors.
A head-up instrument display, which is standard in the Z06 and optional in other models, projects vehicle speed and other information onto the windshield. Cargo capacity is 24.8 cubic feet in the coupe, 13.9 cubic feet in the convertible and 13.3 cubic feet in the Z06.
Under the Hood
Regular coupe and convertible models carry the 350-hp, LS1 5.7-liter V-8 engine, which pumps out 375 pounds-feet of torque with the optional six-speed-manual transmission and 360 pounds-feet of torque with the standard four-speed automatic. The 405-hp, LS6 5.7-liter V-8 in the Z06 produces 400 pounds-feet of torque and is available only with the six-speed gearbox.
All-disc antilock brakes and traction control are standard, but side-impact airbags are not available.
Corvette fans are willing to endure a lumpy ride, road noise and a snug cockpit to enjoy such precision handling and muscular performance. Today’s Corvettes are a lot more civilized than those of the distant past, but they accelerate with ferocity — even more so in Z06 form — and grasp the pavement with sure-footed tenacity.