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2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

The 2006 Corvette Z06 unleashed in anger is the automotive equivalent of Jerry Lee Lewis let loose on Great Balls of Fire.

VIRGINIA RACEWAY, VA. – The 2006 Corvette Z06 unleashed in anger is the automotive equivalent of Jerry Lee Lewis let loose on Great Balls of Fire.

It's outrageous, it's wonderful, and there is nothing on Earth quite comparable.

But that is only half the story. For all the raw aggression it displays when given its head, the Z06 can be the model of decorum when reined in for a Sunday drive – as polished and refined as a Strauss waltz.

It's nice to have that flexibility with the $89,900 Z06, but chances are most of its well-heeled owners will opt for the rock'n'roll persona, choosing a solo race or a lapping session for their Sunday outings.

If they don't, they are wasting a treasure. It's the kind of car that begs to be flogged, and returns the favour by making even the most ham-fisted driver look like an expert.

The original Z06 was the 400hp high-performance variant of the C5 Corvette, introduced mid-cycle as a fixed-roof coupe.

Now that the standard C6 Corvette is making 400 hp, the Z06 version had to raise the performance ante at least another notch, and it does – two or three notches, in fact.

There is a direct linkage between the Z06 and the Corvette C6R racers, which won at Le Mans for the fourth time this year and have already clinched the ALMS GT1 title for the season. You can see them strut their stuff at Mosport this weekend in the capable hands of Ron Fellows and American co-driver Johnny O'Connell, and their teammates in another 'Vette, Olivier Beretta and Oliver Gavin.

In many respects, including their aerodynamics, the C6R and the Z06 were developed together, according to chief engineer Dave Hill.

The new Z06 looks much more like the racer than did its predecessor, from its widened front and rear fenders to its deep front air intake and splitter-like lower air dam. And, as on the racers, all its air inlets and vents are functional.

Hill's approach to developing the Z06 was very much like that of developing a race car: maximize power, minimize weight and aim for a perfect balance.

The power side of the equation was pumped up by a displacement increase from 6.0 to 7.0 litres – the same as in the racer.

Hill set his team a goal of 500 hp for the all-aluminum, Gen IV small-block V8, and they came through with five to spare. The engine is rated at 505 hp at 6300 r.p.m. and 470 lb.-ft. of torque at 4800 r.p.m., with a 7000 r.p.m. red line.

"We weren't really shooting for 505," says Tadge Juechtter, assistant chief engineer. "We didn't have much time, so we just threw everything we had at it to be sure we made 500, and 505 is what we wound up with."

The engine, which is hand-assembled to racing standards at GM's Performance Build Center in Wixom, Mich., fairly bristles with exotica, such as CNC-ported cylinder heads, titanium connecting rods and intake valves and sodium-cooled exhaust valves.

Increased intake airflow through a 90 mm throttle-body and big, straight-shot intake ports enhances power output, as does a new free-flow exhaust that includes hydro-formed headers and 7.6 cm exhaust pipes that extend all the way to the quad exhaust tips.

An electronically controlled valve in each muffler opens when engine speed tops 3500 r.p.m., unleashing a few extra horses and a magnificent bellow that evokes memories of CanAm days.

With all that power, the brakes also needed an upgrade: six-piston Brembo callipers up front, four pistons in the rear, with a separate pad for every piston to ensure optimum contact.

All that additional performance and braking hardware, as well as bigger wheels and tires 275/35ZR18 in front; 325/30ZR19 in the rear set the Z06 up for a significant increase in mass. But Hill had that side of the equation covered, too.

When the C6 was on the drawing board in 1998, he set vehicle systems engineer Ed Moss the task of first determining how much mass could be saved by replacing the car's hydro-formed steel frame with aluminum, then figuring out how to do it.

"See that black bar," Moss said to me, pointing at a sturdy tie-bar connecting the A-pillars, about knee height, on a rolling Z06 chassis. "We painted it black to highlight that it's the only piece of steel left in the structure."

And it is. Everything else is either aluminum, magnesium, titanium or some form of composite. Among the magnesium bits, several of which are Canadian-sourced, are the entire cradle for the front suspension and a roof insert to stiffen the open-topped hatchback coupe on which the new Z06 is based. Carbon-fibre composite is used to skin the car's unique balsacore floors.

The net result: a mass of 1,420 kg, 50.2 per cent of which rests on the rear wheels. That's 22 kg lighter than the barest of regular C6 coupes, and about 50 kg less than those typically equipped.

More power – less mass. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the Z06 has to be a rocket. And it is, ticking off 0 to 100 km/h in 3.9 seconds, delayed by the need to up-shift the six-speed transaxle just before reaching 100.

For those with a drag-racing frame of reference, it turns the quarter-mile in 11.7 seconds at 201 km/h, and for you solo racers, it pulls 1.04 g on the skid-pad.

Impressive as the numbers are, they don't begin to define the driving experience. Push your right foot down and the car explodes into motion – from any speed in almost any gear.

But it is a controllable explosion. Never does the Z06 feel untidy, or suggest that it is about to get away from you – at least so long as you leave the Active Handling System engaged.

On the 17 turns of Virginia International Raceway's long track, which is replete with elevation changes, the Z06 stuck as if on Velcro, no matter how I abused it.

It flicked through the esses with the ease of a formula racer, the steering carving a smooth ribbon, not lurching from point to point as in some other high-performance cars I've driven.

And it catapulted off the corners.

By the time I had reached my personal limits, I still hadn't approached the car's limits.

Then I caught a ride with O'Connell and learned just how far away from those limits I really was – and how far out they really are. I was truly humbled, both by the driver and the car.

The $89,900 price tag is a relative bargain, considering both the performance level and the degree of refinement. Nothing else I've driven comes close to matching that combination for anything close to the price.

Gerry Malloy, a freelance writer (mgmalloy@aol.com), prepared this report based on travel provided by the auto maker.

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