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Illustrated Corvette Series No. 186: 2012 Indy 500 ZR1 Pace Car -
"The 12th Indy 500 Corvette"
You have to hand it to Chevrolet, as they really know how to keep their fans on their toes. In the last year, Chevrolet has treated us to their 100th birthday celebration with the ‘12 Centennial Edition Corvettes, the 60th Anniversary ‘13 Corvette, the ‘13 427 Corvette Convertible, updates on the adventures of the C6.R ZR1s, the ZL1 Camaro, and the drip-drip-drip of news about the ‘14 C7 Corvette. Plus, Chevrolet also make a big splash because of their reentry as an engine supplier for the IndyCar Series with their twin-turbocharged, direct-port injection, E-85-fueled V6 racing engine. Was anyone thinking about a possible Corvette pace car? Because the arrival of an armada of 50 blue-striped, white SS Camaro courtesy cars in April ‘12,. I was expecting a Camaro pace car.
While we weren’t thinking of another Corvette pace car, Chevrolet sure was. So on May 8, 2012, just 2-1/2 weeks away from the 96th running of the Greatest Spectacle In Motorsports, Chevrolet dropped another bombshell on the Corvette community with the announcement that a specially prepared ‘13 ZR1 Corvette, dressed in 60th Anniversary livery would be the official ‘12 Indy 500 Pace Car. It left this writer/artist with a “What??? WOW!!!” response.
In truth, I was surprised that the ZR1 wasn’t pressed into service for the ‘09 Indy 500 as a way to announce the arrival of the world-class ZR1 supercar. Perhaps the event’s organizers felt that the Corvette had been given enough attention, as the race used Corvette pace cars from ‘02 to ‘08. Besides, the all-new ‘10 Camaro went on sale in spring of ‘09, so what a better way to kick off the return of Chevy’s pony car than a brilliant silver Camaro pace car with blood red strips and edgy graphics. Okay, let the Camaro have some limelight.
Many decades ago, when a car was chosen to be an Indy 500 Pace Car, a handful of the best performance version of the car was pulled from the assembly line and given very special treatment. To prepare for the task of pacing the Indy 500, everything was beefed up - suspension, brakes, engine, drive train, etc. The cars were prepared to pace the race and when needed, quickly get up to speed to “pace” the race cars whenever the caution flag was out. The cars had to be completely bulletproof. Plus, there were three or four ready-to-go pace cars, just in case one had a problem.
I often wondered why organizers waited so long to use a Corvette for the pace car. Although by ‘78 horsepower was way down from the late 60s and early ‘70s, the L82 ‘78 Corvette was more than capable of sustaining 100-to-120-mph for pace car duty. Certainly a ‘70-1/2 LT-1, a ‘68 L71 427/435, a ‘63 L48 Fuelie, or even a ‘57 Fuelie could have easily handled pace car duty. After all, any maximum high-performance street Corvettes could be turned into all-out racer with just the addition of one of Duntov’s “racer kits,” plus a good race car prep. A Corvette could have paced the Indy 500 21 years before the first Indy Pace Car Corvette in ‘78!
What’s astonishing about the ‘13 ZR1 Indy Pace Car is that the car’s official 205-mph top speed isn’t too far off of the qualifying speed of the ‘12 Indy 500 of 223.088-mph. Could a “stock” C6 ZR1 hit that speed at Indy? No, and it probably wouldn’t last 500 miles in all out competition. However, it’s worth pointing out that in ‘90 Tommy Morrison shattered speed records with a race prepped, ‘90 ZR-1 with an average 24-hour speed of 175.885, plus the Callaway Sledgehammer hit 254..76-mph. Top level, performance Corvettes have always had plenty of red meat left in them. But the C6 ZR1 is, without a doubt, is an unusual combination of race car/ performance luxury car, with so much “race car” built into it that the only thing that the ZR1 needed to fulfill its Indy 500 pace car duties was the roof lightbar, a few racing parts, and logos. That’s it!
The ZR1 pace car was trimmed to match the basic look of the ‘13 60th Anniversary Special Edition car, featuring pearl silver blue stripes, polished Z07 wheels, gray brake calipers, rear spoiler, 60th Anniversary badges, and interior trim. Unfortunately for Corvette collectors, no production version of the pace car will be offered. Over the last few years, the driver of the pace car has become an added attraction to the Indy 500 event. This year, car guy, Chef Guy Fieri, the wild and crazy host of the popular HBO reality TV show, “Diners, Drive-Ins, & Dives” got the thrill of a lifetime for any motorhead by driving the ZR1 Pace Car for the event.
The other Indy 500 tradition is that the winner of the race gets to take home the pace car. This year, not only did Dario Franchitti win his third Indy 500, but he and his lovely wife, actress Ashley Judd took home the ZR1! As the one of just a few ZR1 Indy Pace Cars, this machine will be very valuable one day. Could it get any better? Sure, but not much! - KST
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Illustrated Corvette Series No. 185: 2012 Corvette -
"The Boutique Corvette"
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Thank you, Charles Dickens. The first generation Corvette offered engine, drive train, and suspension options, along with some simple convenience items. But when the all-new ‘63 Sting Ray came out, it could be ordered as a luxury sports car with power everything and air conditioning, even with the 250/327. For most Corvette buyers, the only confusing part was picking the right engine for their needs, as it was easy to buy more Corvette than the average buyer wanted to drive every day. By 1968, if the L71 427/435 big-block wasn’t hot enough, you could hot rod the car yourself, or get a car from a “performance dealership.” Legends were quickly born that included Yenko, Nickey, Dana, Berger, and Baldwin-Motion. Already premium cars, and these “supercars” were often double the price of a “regular” 427 or 454 Corvette. Today, these cars are extremely valuable.
The C6 Corvettes that started out with two models - a coupe and convertible, followed by the ‘06 Z06. Then in ‘09, ZR1 was the fourth available model. A year later, the ‘10 Grand Sport coupe and convertible brought the total of Corvette models to a record six distinctive choices. Plus, from ‘07 to ‘13 Chevrolet offered nine delicious special edition Corvettes. But with six models and a staggering number of packages, options, and accessories, some writers commented, “Ah, this is actually kind of confusing.” I know, what’a problem! Everything should be going great, right? Well...
The final tally for ‘12 enters the Corvette history books with the lowest C6 sales figures. The base price was up only $575 from ‘11 to $49,535 and the ZR1’s price only went up $1,725. And while some magazines are still droning on about the Corvette’s seats, there are now some very nice interior trim packages and options to personalize the Corvette, inside and out. With a performance spread like the Corvette’s, plus a cornucopia of performance, suspension, interior, paint, stripes, and accessories, WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?
Two major issues came directly from GM. Seconds after the ‘10 Camaro came out, everyone asked, “So where’s the SS and Z28?” At around $40,000 the SS Camaro delivers a lot of bang for the buck. And instead of a Z28, Chevy offered buyers the 580-horsepower ZL1, priced at $54,095 - slightly less than a Grand Sport coupe.
The second issue has to do with the C6’s successor, the C7. Late in ‘08 photos of the Stingray Concept car used in the Transformers movie hit the net, followed by rumors of a mid-engine C7 Corvette. At that point, the clamoring for a new Corvette took off like a California wildfire. Then just as the economy started to shudder, Corvette sales nose dived to just 16,956 units for ‘09, a 52-percent drop from ‘08. It was a perfect storm. The internet rumor mill was on overdrive, the economy was not good, the GM bailout cast a shadow on all of their cars, and sales were tanking. While the ZR1 was met with glowing reviews, only 1,415 cars were sold in ‘09.
The new Grand Sport was also well received and may well be the quintessential street C6 Corvette. It’s got the tough guy wide body looks of the Z06, unique side vents, wheels, and branding, all wrapped over the base model Corvette - which for most buyers is plenty. If the GS had come out in ‘07, a year after the Z06, Chevy would have sold even more than the 40,451 Corvettes sold that year - the best sales year for the C6. So kudos to the Corvette product planners for creating a stunningly beautiful street machine Corvette.
The Corvette story is never boring and as we roll into the C6’s final year, Chevrolet has dished up two unique Corvettes, the 60th Anniversary package and the 427 Convertible. Will sales rebound? While we all hope so, I have my doubts. The C7 will make its formal debut in January ’13 at the Detroit Auto Show, and orders accepted in the Spring. With sky-high expectations, there’s never been more riding on a new generation Corvette. If the C7 blows everyone away, Chevy won’t sell many ‘13 Corvettes after January. If buyers have to warm up to the C7, like they did in ‘97 for the C5, there could be a wave of “Get a C6 while you still can!” The ‘96 last C4 outsold the ‘95 model, so, it could happen again. I suppose we’ll all know soon. - KST
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Illustrated Corvette Series No. 177: 2012 Centennial Edition ZR1 Corvette -
"The Best of the C6 Corvettes? We'll see!"
The last few months we have been looking back at the last year of each generation Corvette and asking, “Is this the best....?” It’s unfortunate that Chevrolet didn’t start their special editions before the 1978 25th Anniversary option. Certainly a special edition ‘67 and ‘62 could have been sweet. The ‘82 Collector Edition was a beautifully decorated car, but did not have any performance enhancements. The ‘96 Collector Edition was a handsome package and could be ordered with the optional 330-horsepower LT4 engine. The ‘04 Commemorative Edition option was a genuine stunner, but like the ‘82 Collector Edition, had no performance enhancements. All three of these cars can be described as very, very nice cars.
As we come to the close of the C6 generation, two significant milestones are upon us. 2013 will be the Corvette’s 60th anniversary. As of this writing, there has been no announcement of a 60th anniversary option. 2013 will also be the 50th anniversary of the Sting Ray. Again, no word yet of a “Sting Ray,” option. Would Chevrolet offer two special editions? They surprised in ‘96 with the Collector Edition, the Grand Sport, and the optional LT4 engine. After the C6 Z06 arrived in ‘06, no one was clamoring for a performer above the Z06, let alone the supercharged intercooled ZR1! As we rolled into 2012, no one was expecting the PDE option with Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires on lightweight wheels. This is as close to an all-out racing wheel/tire combo as you can get for a street car and NOT an option for street car in the rain. The tires are just a few grooves away from being slicks! These kinds of options were unimaginable back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s and the stuff of bench racing. But I can’t help but wonder two things. First, will this be the hottest of the C6 Corvettes? And second, will Chevrolet completely blow our minds with another over-the-top special edition? We’ll know for sure by Spring of ‘12. For now, let’s take a quick look at the Centennial Edition option and then trick out the ultimate ‘12 ZR1.
The Centennial Edition is available on all ‘12 Corvettes and includes the Carbon Flash Metallic paint, cast-spun aluminum black satin-painted wheels with a red outer wheel bead, and red brake calipers. The wheels are specific to the car, so coupes, convertibles, and Grand Sports all get standard size 18-inch front and 19-inch rear wheels. The Z06 and ZR1 get the same wheel design, but in the standard Z06/ZR1 19-inch front and 20-inch rear wheels. Special graphics are on the B-pillar, wheel caps, and embroidered on the seat headrests. The standard cross flags has “100” in place of the fleur-de-lis symbol. The interior is trimmed with ebony leather-wrapped instrument panel, and doors with red stitching on the revised steering wheel, seats console, and shifter. And yes, the seats have been improved with a flatter seat bolster, wider shoulder area, and taller sides. Like the ‘04 Commemorative Edition and the ‘96 Collector Edition, there are no performance enhancements, but the aesthetics are sinister and cool-looking. The cost of the Centennial Edition option is $4,950.
What’s left to trick out a bad-boy, ultimate C6 ZR1? The $1,495 PDE option almost seems like a bargain. The cast spun-allow wheel/Pilot Sport Cup tires combo shaves five pounds off the weight of each wheel/tire, a significant reduction in unsprung mass. The combo gets you 8-percent more grip, making the car capable of 1.13g on the skid pad without jarring your teeth out. The package also includes the full-width racing rear spoiler and close-ration 6-speed transmission. There’s also the new optional 9-speaker Bose sound system. And we might as well throw in the $5,800 Engine Build Experience and Museum Delivery options for a total of just north of $128,000.
So is this “it,” the maxed out C6 Corvette? Will Chevrolet slip in an engine enhancement for the ZR1 and goose the power up to an even 650-horsepower? Maybe, maybe not. Aside from aesthetics, can anything else be done to the C6 platform? Let’s hope they have one or two more aces up their sleeve. - KST