The chassis is set up with a little negative camber on all four wheels, good for cornering and tough-looking if your eye is sharp enough to see it. After a lot of chopping and changing over the years on wheel and tire sizes, the Corvette Z06 comes to us with 17 x 9.5-inch front wheels and 18 x 10.5-inch rears. The front tires, 265/40ZR-17s, are more than an inch narrower than the rears, and the grip balance seems, to us, just about perfect. No spare tire is carried, and the handed and directional tires fitted are not run-flats, so it is important that there be low-pressure sensors in the cockpit and a can of repair goop in the trunk. One day, perhaps, there will be an adequate emergency solution for cars with four different tires, or tires that just don't go flat, but for right now hoping for the best seems to be the approved technique.
The wheels themselves are bespoke for the Z06, claimed to be lightweight, and definitely both light and strong in appearance, with plenty of open area to let you admire the bright red calipers and the big vented brake discs. There are a lot of differences between the first Corvettes of 1953, every one of them white with red interior, and the 2001 Z06 model, but perhaps nothing marks the maturity of the Z06 as much as its wonderful brakes. Conceptually and dimensionally, the original Corvette was closely based on the contemporary Jaguar XK120: same wheelbase, same bad seating position on top of the same type of thick ladder chassis frame, same engine type and configuration (in-line six), same steel disc wheels bolted to inadequate drum brakes that were prone to overheating and severe fade when used in anger. Not that there was much performance potential in the Corvette's three-carburetor Blue Flame Six, hooked up as it was to a two-speed automatic, the only gearbox available until 1956.
The poor ergonomics of the Corvette and the XK120/140 remained as long as those cars stayed in production, but, while Jaguar went on to incorporate better brakes and kept its twin-cam six, Corvettes got a light, powerful V-8 and kept the bad drum brakes. Ceramic-metallic linings in the late 1950s helped a bit for racing but were useless on the road, unless you drove with your left foot riding lightly on the pedal to keep them warm enough to work at all. Through all the years, through all the 4.3- to 7.4-liter V-8 powerplants that raised performance to awesome levels, Corvettes had brakes that were just not as good as those of the competition, even when four-wheel discs arrived.
No more. When we blasted this year's ultra-high-performance models--the Porsche 911 Turbo, the BMW Z8, the Ferrari 360 Modena, and the Z06--around the very tight confines of the Waterford Hills racetrack, we were as confident of the Z06's stopping ability as we were of that of the European thoroughbreds, and that's saying a great deal. Those big discs are the capstone of the Corvette's arrival at the summit of mass-produced world-class sports cars. Forthcoming exotic supercars, the McLaren-Mercedes SLR, the Porsche Carrera GT, et al., may move performance benchmarks but at prices that would let you buy a Z06 in every color and still have money left over to pay for the insurance. In terms of value for money and raw performance, you really can't do any better than this extremely well-focused design, and in terms of the cars available on the U.S. market, we could not find a better Automobile of the Year.