We'll be back with word on that in a moment. But first, a blast from the past.
Many American men of a certain age keep barrels of Corvette nostalgia down in the cellars of their psyches, and I'm no exception. The first two cars I owned were Vettes, and in some ways, they defined the extremes of the Corvette spectrum that has existed ever since. In 1961, I bought a '59 convertible, in "classic cream" with red coves and red upholstery. With its 283-cubic-inch engine, live rear axle, and brakes that, if memory serves, required that you mail GM a postcard should you ever want to haul it down from highway speeds, this little cream puff had a performance envelope thinner than a Harvard rejection letter. It was, however, outlandishly fun to drive in sunny Florida, so long as you didn't expect it to negotiate across gravel at speed without spinning into the next county. A few years later, yearning for something with more hair on its chest, I bought a three-quarter racing 1963 split-rear-window Corvette coupe, shortly after watching its triumph in heavy rain at a Palm Beach raceway one stormy Sunday afternoon. "Daytona blue" over a dark blue interior, it had a 327-cubic-inch, 300-horsepower engine, an unflappable four-speed transmission, a 4:11 independent rear end tight as a Timex mainspring, a stiff suspension, glass-packs, a full roll cage replete with fire extinguisher and competition belts, and "sintered metallic" brakes that worked best when hot. Its owner-driver, who was about to take delivery of a '65 with a 396-cubic-inch engine, gave me a good price. (Then, as now, civilian buyers regarded a track-time pedigree with as much enthusiasm as bachelor farmers pondering a bartered bride with a porno career in her past.) Driving the Sting Ray home that night, I was pulled over by a Sunshine State Parkway trooper who courteously explained that, having heard its rolling thunder and taken a gander at its racing stripes and numbers, he "just wanted to see what the hell this thing was!"
What it was, of course, was one of the great road gobblers of its day. In it, I could knock off the 1500 miles from Key Biscayne, Florida, to Evanston, Illinois, in twenty hours and twenty minutes-an average of better than 70 mph overall, more than a third of it on two-lane blacktop-then zip out west as readily as skipping a stone across water. When a friend shared the driving, in which case I would catch a few winks on an air mattress deployed in the rear, with stars shining through the twin rear windows and a thicket of U-joints whirring inches under my head, we could pretty much nail any destination in North America with an alacrity approaching that of a twin Beech. The '63 had its faults-most notable a tendency to motorboat at triple-digit speeds, its skyward-pointing fiberglass hood adding to the illusion that one was streaking across Lake Havasu-but all in all, it was as thrilling to drive as it was to look at, and Chevy dealers serviced it as eagerly as Daytona pit crews. Decades later, when Bob Bondurant blew past my 928 Porsche in a full-race split-window coupe at Sears Point, the sight of it shrinking to a powder-blue dot in my windshield was almost as thrilling as if we'd swapped lap times.
On paper, the sixth-generation Corvettes uphold the noble tradition of diversity within unity exemplified by my '59 cream puff and my '63 street racer. You can specify anything from an easygoing, fun car to a giant killer, confident that you'll be making a cost-effective purchase of a genuine sports car that's relatively easy to service (or even self-service; the engine is pleasingly laid out and some of its parts generously labeled for the benefit of shade-tree mechanics). But how do they hold up in practice, and where-if anywhere-is the sweet spot between price and performance, between sheer speed and street smarts? To find out, I drove the entire C6 lineup on a racetrack and on country roads in rural Virginia, then compared a C5 to a C6 on the rough streets and real-world byways of San Francisco.