The long-running Corvette Z06 package has always been a solid option for turnkey performance on the street and track. First appearing in 1963 on the first stingray, The Z06 would take a nearly 40 year hiatus before re-appearing as the top of the line version of C5 Vette. While stock Corvettes are cushy grand touring sports cars, the Z06 is much more performance-oriented. It accelerates faster, brakes harder, and slings more G-forces at the track. Read on to learn what makes each generation of this car a winner in our books.
C2 Stingray Z06 (1963-1967)
The first Z06 package was born out of odd corporate compromise. General Motors executives in the early 60's were shying away from supporting motorsports efforts, so they didn't want to offer a track=ready package for the C2. Of course, the Corvette's developers quietly made one anyway. Similarly to the first run of Pontiac GTOs, this first Z06 was only available as a custom catalog order option, and wasn't advertised by Chevrolet. Officially, the Z06 was known as the "big tank" package because it offered a massive 36-gallon fuel tank, perfect for endurance racing. If you knew what the Z06 was really about, and checked that box, a suite of performance goodies would be thrown in to go.
The most obvious upgrade is the 327 cubic inch V8 outfitted with Rochester mechanical fuel injection. That was cutting edge high-tech for a 60's American V8, The result was 360 horsepower out of a relatively small displacement engine. All other mods were handling focused, with much stiffer shock absorbers, an enlarged front sway bar, and heavy duty brake lines feeding a dual master cylinder. Functional side scoops also fed a steady stream of air over the brakes, giving them motivation to last over many laps of hard driving. Essentially, a roll cage was only needed addition to enter this car into official SCCA races. All in all, only about 200 were produced, and it was unceremoniously retired with the arrival of the new C3.
C5 Z06 (2001-2004)
At the turn of the century, GM surprised everyone by reviving the Z06 as an officially sanctioned special edition Vette. This ultimate version of the C5 lived up to the spirit of predecessor, with naturally aspirated power and race car handling. The Ls6 engine used in the Z06 shared most of its components with the base model 5.7-liter LS1, but stiffer valve springs and a more aggressive camshaft allowed it to rev higher and make more power up top. Initial rating for the LS6 were 385 horsepower and torque, but it would immediately get bumped up to 405 horsepower with 400 lb-ft of torque for the 2002 model year. The 2002 version could also sprint to 60 in four seconds flat. A six-speed manual was the only available transmission.
This Z06 was even more than a fantastic engine. The targa-style roof on the typical C5 was replaced with a solid coupe design, which improved chassis rigidity and saved weight. Larger performance tires were wrapped around lightweight alloy wheels, and cooling ducts kept the brakes in working order. Other weight-saving measures included reduced sound deadening, titanium exhaust, and thinner glass all around. In total the Z06 dropped about 100 pounds off of the standard C5.
C6 Z06 (2006-2013)
The C6 Z06 carried on the legacy established by the previous generation, with similar stiff suspension, brake cooling, weight reduction, six-speed gearbox, and fixed roof. While the C6 grew in size, a new aluminum frame for the Z06 kept weight much the same as before. The engine, meanwhile, was not like anything that had been seen in previous GM products. The race-bred and hand-built LS7 may be the peak of GM's many small block V8 projects. Starting will an all-aluminum block, both bore and stroke were increased to get a massive seven liters of displacement. With that size, you'd think the LS7 would be an low-revving torque machine, but no! It goes all the way up to 7,000 RPM, out of an old fashioned pushrod engine! A dry sump oiling system was borrowed from the C5.R race car to keep those big rotating parts running healthy.
The engine was rated at 505 horsepower, with 470 torque, making it the most powerful naturally aspirated engine ever installed in a street car up to that point. It also made the C6 Z06 the most powerful Corvette, until that honor was taken by the supercharged ZR-1 around 2009.
C7 Z06 (2015-2019)
After reaching the zenith of naturally aspirated performance in the C6, Chevy went another direction with the C7 Z06, replacing the 7.0 small block with a 6.2-liter V8. A supercharger and direct injection boost power and torque up to an astounding 650 figure. To reign in that power, there are massive six piston Brembo brakes, large spoilers at each end, and cooling ducts all over the place. These direct air, through brakes, radiators, the new intercooler, and create some downforce of their own. Tires are about as large as you can find on a street car, 285 millimeters up front and 355 at the back.
The C7 can still put down insanely quick numbers at track, but for the first time, some comfort concessions were made on the Z06 package. The C7 is the first Z06 to be available with the removable clamshell roof, or even with a convertible top. It also has the first automatic transmission option, with paddle shifters. Luckily, tech advancements mean the autobox can shift just as fast as its manual cousin. GM's magnetic ride suspension system is also installed, able soak up road imperfections without sacrificing cornering prowess.
C8 Z06 (2023-?)
The all-new mid-engine C8 is still fresh in our minds, and the official unveiling of another Z06 is just around the corner. Chevy is set to pull the cover off of it on October 26, 2021. We don't know exactly what the car will be, but examples of it have been seen running around in camouflage, so fairly confident guesses can be made. First of all, we're certain it will retain the C8's mid-engine, rear wheel drive layout, probably using a similar dual clutch gearbox. It also has an obvious large spoiler on the back.
Based on how the prototype sounds, the C8 Z06 could also mark the return of high-revving NA performance. The exhaust note coming out of those camouflaged cars sounds mighty similar to the flat-plane V8 used in the C8.R, with a distinct lack of supercharger whine. No matter what it's got in it, the new Z06 is pretty much guaranteed to put down the fastest laps Corvette fans have ever seen.
If you're looking for a Z06 of your own, look no further. The newest arrival to The Starting Line's inventory is a C7 Z06 in brilliant blue. Call (434) 830-1183 or E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.