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2001 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

Speak the name Corvette and people automatically think one of two things: military gunboat, or fabled sports car.

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Speak the name Corvette and people automatically think one of two things: military gunboat, or fabled sports car.

Some might wonder, what the difference is.

For many, Corvette defines the sports car. The reputation has not always been warranted, but the Vette resides in the public mind alongside Porsche Turbos, Ferraris and other purebred marques.

Over the last 50 years or so since the Corvette's introduction, the Europeans and Japanese have made some fine sports cars, but only America had the Vette.

Enthusiasts alike will be pleased that in 2001, the Corvette offers more sports car per dollar than it ever has.

More than that, a new performance icon Z06 model stands atop the Corvette food chain.

The Z06, named for a specific high performance engine built in the car's heyday, delivers the legendary raw, gut-wrenching power for which the Vette is famous.

That power is managed through previously unheard of levels of electronic handling, slip recovery and traction control systems, all under the aegis of a single button intriguingly labeled "Active Handling."

Since its introduction in 1953 powered by a six-cylinder engine, the car from Bowling Green in the heart of Kentucky horse country hasn't always deserved its vaunted public image.

It's often been regarded as a performance poseur.

Through the 1970s and early '80s, it was an awful car.

Ill-fitting fiberglass bodies flexed and squeaked and the chassis rattled and danced unmanageably over bumps and road imperfections, as anaemic engines, in stock form, bellowed loudly to little effect.

Handling was forgettable.

The big front engine, rear drive coupe became an anachronism, its nadir reached in 1983 its 30th anniversary when GM deemed the '82 car to be not worth building as it ramped up production for a new model.

Prayers were answered with the entirely redesigned and reengineered '84 model. Enter 2001 and the all-round most potent Corvette ever, base price $65,980, is also the

nameplate's most expensive.

True, the former ZR1 model (1990'96) had more outright horsepower, but it didn't handle, corner or brake nearly as effectively.

Nor was it as solidly built.

At $67,850, Prestige Wheels' tester had one option: its exceedingly yellow "millennium metallic" paint, a $780 hit.

The first thing you notice on firing the engine is that birds scatter from nearby trees.

The bassoprofundo exhaust quickly settles into an easy, sonorous rhythm at about 700 rpm, its low-pitched rumble barely hinting at the vast reserve of power on tap.

Visual identifiers from the base model include red disc-brake calipers, an idea borrowed from Porsche; red engine manifold covers, borrowed from Ferrari, and ducts, all of which are functional, their purpose to cool the huge vented disc brakes at each corner. Four wide diameter exhaust pipes protrude from the rear centre valence.

The Z06 delivers eyeball-flattening acceleration from a standing start, plus accurate, responsive handling and, believe it or not, refinement . . . to a point.

The hulking, 5.7L overhead valve pushrod V8, makes 385 hp at the peak of its 6,800 r.p.m rev limit. Equally impressive: 385 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,800 r.p.m.; the Z06 can launch itself from stop to beyond legal speeds in seconds.

At 130 km/h in sixth gear, it lopes along barely above idle at 1,900 revs. The six-speed manual gearbox, built in house, shifted with reasonable ease, but felt less precise than the

German-built Getrag 'box it replaces. A five-speed automatic transmission is optional.

The precisely machined driveline is enhanced with the latest in electronic dynamic control wizardry. The Active Handling system instantly gives this road-ripping car the optimum intervention setup for all driving modes, from casual everyday grocery fetching trips, to heads up serious charging.

In startup mode, the Active Handling intervenes at the first sign of slip at either rear wheel, cutting engine power and applying brakes appropriately to arrest tail-out slides almost before the driver is aware they've begun.

Depress the centre console-mounted button once, and the active control is disabled. In this mode, and despite the best efforts of the steamroller Goodyear Eagle F1 performance rubber, the tires can be overwhelmed and turned loose at will, particularly in the first three gears, and most suddenly when tires and/or pavement are cold.

A more satisfying and safer move is to hold down the active handling button until the dash LED display reads "competitive driving."

This mode allows the driver to slide the rear end out a bit in tight corners, but intervenes before it can go far enough out of line to swap ends with the front.

Chevrolet has finally come up with the right Corvette. This car will help it attain its stated goal: to have it compete in the upper ranks of sports car performance and cachet.

That it performs at those levels for, give or take, about half the price of its direct competition, can only help.

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