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Affordable performance – the 2001-’04 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

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2001 Chevrolet Corvette Z06. Images courtesy Chevrolet.

“Speed costs money,” the old saying goes, “so how fast do you want to spend?” There are exceptions to this rule, and one notable example is the C5 Chevrolet Corvette Z06, produced for the 2001-’04 model years. Given their performance potential, prices are (relatively) low today, but don’t expect that to be the case much longer.

As the Corvette faithful know, the Z06 name first appeared in 1963, attached to a package designed to turn the then-new Sting Ray coupe into an SCCA contender. Initially available only on split-window coupes, the Z06 package required the fuel-injected, L84 V-8, rated at 360 horsepower, with the M20 four-speed transmission. Checking the box next to the RPO Z06 option gave the buyer a 20-percent larger front anti-roll bar; vacuum brake booster; dual-circuit master cylinder; sintered metal brake shoes; 11.2-inch finned aluminum brake drums with front brake cooling ducts and vented backing plates; firmer dampers and stiffer springs; and a Positraction rear with 3.70:1 gearing.

1963 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

1963 Chevrolet Corvette Z06.

Coupes ordered with the Z06 also came with a 36.5 gallon fuel tank (giving them the “Tanker” nickname), but when the Z06 package was offered on convertible models, the standard 20-gallon tank was retained. Just 199 Z06 models were built before the option went away, and the name would remain dormant until the 2001 model year.

Following the launch of the all-new C5 Corvette in 1997, the Corvette lineup needed a distinctive high-performance model to fill the void left by the departure of the 405 hp ZR-1 in 1995. In 2001, Chevrolet dusted off the Z06 moniker for a new track-tuned Corvette, one that would offer comparable performance to the exotic ZR-1 but at a lower price point.

2002 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

2002 Chevrolet Corvette Z06.

Beginning with the stiffest variant in the Corvette model lineup, the Fixed Roof Coupe (FRC), engineers went to work shaving weight wherever they could. Thinner glass was used, and sound deadening was kept to a minimum. The exhaust system was made of titanium (saving 19 pounds), and a lightweight battery and fixed antenna were fitted. Though wider wheels (9.5-inch front and 10.5-inch rear) were standard, the use of conventional Goodyear Eagle F1 tires (instead of run-flats) saved a total of 23 pounds in unsprung weight.

LS6 5.7L V8, as used in the Chevrolet Corvette Z06.

Power came from a revised version of the 350-hp LS1 V-8, which Chevrolet dubbed the LS6. Starting with the same 5.7-liter block, the LS6 received a redesigned intake manifold, revised cylinder heads with smoother intake and exhaust ports, a higher compression ratio (10.5:1 compared to 10.1:1 on LS1), revised exhaust manifolds, a revised camshaft, different valve springs, and stronger pistons. Torque went to the ground through a stouter clutch, a six-speed gearbox with unique ratios for quicker acceleration, a larger aluminum drive shaft, and a strengthened rear axle with a shot-peened ring gear.

Output on the LS6 was raised to 385 hp, which fell 20 hp short of the final ZR-1 (but matched the Lotus-designed engine in torque, with 385-lb-ft). It was a moot point, and since the Z06 was 87 pounds lighter than the ZR-1, it matched or exceeded the latter’s performance in every area except top speed, which, at 168 mph, fell 7 mph short. Car and Driver measured a 0-60 mph time of 4.3 seconds on the 2001 Z06, en route to a quarter mile in 12.7 seconds at 113 mph.

2003 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

2003 Chevrolet Corvette Z06.

Cornering ability was equally impressive, thanks to the Z06’s FE4 suspension. In addition to the aforementioned wider wheels and lighter tires, this included a larger tubular front anti-roll bar, a stiffer transverse rear leaf spring and a revised front and rear camber adjustment. As a result, the Z06 was capable of pulling 0.98 g in a corner, a feat which then ranked it among the world’s best-handling cars.

For the Z06’s sophomore year, Chevrolet upped the LS6’s output to 405 hp and 405-lb-ft of torque, courtesy of a of a larger air intake, modified mass airflow sensor, lighter (sodium filled) valves; and a camshaft with higher lift and duration. As a result, Car and Driver timed a 0-60 mph run in 3.9-seconds and a quarter-mile in 12.4 seconds at 116 mph, respectable numbers even today.

2004 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Commemorative Edition

2004 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Commemorative Edition.

New, the Corvette Z06 was priced at $47,500 in 2001, but by 2004 this had risen to $52,385 (or $56,720 with the Commemorative Edition package, celebrating Corvette’s back-to-back class wins in the 24 Hours of Le Mans). Today, well-preserved examples can be had for far less money, and a quick search of the Hemmings classifieds turned up a dozen (nine at dealers, one at auction and two with private owners), ranging in price from $21,995 (for a 39,000-mile first-year example at an Arizona dealer) to $39,800 (for a 1,200-mile 2004 Commemorative Edition Z06 at a Florida dealership).

2004 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Commemorative Edition

Even the 2001 model is too new for NADA to get a fix on, but Hagerty estimates that a 2001 Corvette Z06 in #2 (Excellent) condition should price in the neighborhood of $27,200, which is $2,200 more than three years ago. The insurer lists a 2004 model at the same price, with the exception of the Commemorative Edition, which it estimates at $33,600, up from $31,000 three years ago.

Commemorative Editions excluded, that’s a reasonable amount of money for the level of performance delivered. Weak spots include valve spring failures on 2002-’03 models, high oil consumption on cars regularly run to redline, and the parts-bin plastic interior shared with other Corvettes of the period. These points aside, the C5 Z06 remains a solid choice for those seeking a track-capable performance car on a budget.