The Corvette is steeped in heritage. The car’s iconic status is so pervasive in Americana, racing, and automotive culture that the Corvette almost seems to have more history than Chevrolet itself. For 2010, Chevrolet is reaching into the Corvette’s rich past to introduce a new trim level under the Grand Sport moniker. The Grand Sport name traces back to 1962 when chief engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov began developing a Corvette to beat Carroll Shelby’s Cobras on the racetrack. That program was halted after just a handful of cars were built, but in 1996, Chevrolet turned out 1000 Grand Sport Corvettes. The limited-edition coupes and convertibles were built to commemorate the end of fourth-generation Corvette production with 330-horsepower V-8 engines, black ZR-1 wheels, and a unique paint scheme.
The new Grand Sport is a much different idea than either of those two previous cars. This time, Chevrolet expects the Grand Sport to be a big-volume seller, accounting for up to half of all Corvette sales. Mechanically, the Grand Sport replaces the Z51 package from last year. Over the base Corvette, the Grand Sport adds stiffer springs and dampers, larger anti-roll bars, and bigger brakes. The parts are a mix of Z06 and Grand Sport-specific items, creating a bridge model between the base and Z06 Corvettes. Power comes from the base 430-hp LS3 V-8 and can be routed through either an automatic or manual six-speed transmission. An optional dual-mode exhaust system raises the output to 436-hp and sounds phenomenal during quick acceleration. Chevrolet will offer the Grand Sport in both coupe and convertible body styles.
True performance enthusiasts will be most interested in the manual-transmission coupe. Obviously, that car features greater rigidity than the convertible and a gearbox that leaves full control to the driver, but it also includes a few notable powertrain enhancements. A dry-sump oil system borrowed from the Z06 and ZR1 ensures the engine is lubricated in high-G turns. The battery is also moved to the rear of the car, and a differential cooler allows the Corvette to run harder and longer on the track.
Visually, the Grand Sport receives the subtle tweaks of the Corvette Z06. That means wider fenders, a small air intake on the hood, rear brake cooling ducts, and a taller rear spoiler. The Grand Sport also receives unique wheels, badges, and three (rather than one) vertical cooling slits behind the front wheels. Buyers can also opt for the Heritage package that adds hash mark decals on the front fenders and a two-tone interior treatment.
Flogging a Corvette Grand Sport around the road course of GM’s Milford proving grounds, we came to two conclusions. First, the Grand Sport is – unsurprisingly – very much a Corvette. The Grand Sport retains the same balanced and eager character that makes Corvettes so rewarding to drive hard. Second, the upgrades are perfect for the Corvette driver who pushes his car more than the average owner. With the stiffer suspension and wider tires, the Grand Sport can pull over 1 g in lateral acceleration. That means the ability to carry more speed through turns, while the large brakes do a fine job of reigning in that speed when necessary. The 430 hp is still more than sufficient, even when you’re on the track. However, most of these cars will spend the majority of their life cruising public streets, and the Grand Sport also provides the ride and style, that most buyers want.
New for the entire Corvette lineup in 2010 is a launch control feature standard on manual-transmission cars. The system works by cycling to the appropriate stability control mode, shifting to first gear, flooring the throttle, waiting for the rpms to settle, and dropping the clutch as fast as you can. The result is a flawless launch with consistent repeatability. In our testing, we got lucky and beat the launch control program on our first 0-60 mph run in a Corvette ZR1. But our human limits had our times varying by more than half a second while the launch control kept each successive run within a few hundredths of a second.
The Grand Sport’s substantial suspension upgrades and the slightly more aggressive face of a Z06 make it a convincing choice among Corvettes. Chevrolet will charge a premium of about $6000 over the base version for the Grand Sport models. That also invokes another Corvette tradition. With the manual coupe starting at $55,720, the Corvette Grand Sport delivers excellent performance at a bargain price.