At least, that's what we were asking just a short while ago. Obviously, we weren't thinking of the 2006 Corvette Z06 and the latest evolution of the fabled small-block that it comes with: the LS7. Bored, stroked, and totally stoked to deliver 428 inches of cubic capacity, the LS7 cranks out 505 cranium-melting hp and 470 lb-ft of torque, propelling the Z06 faster and quicker than any Corvette the factory has ever sold.
How does 0 to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds sound? A 12.0-second quarter-mile at 124 mph? Top speed of 198 mph? Redline at 7000 rpm? Not a shabby statistic in the bunch, especially for those of us old enough to remember the 1975 model year and Corvettes that reluctantly scaled the peaks of feebledom just long enough to deliver their pitiable maximum allotment of 165 hp at 3800 rpm. To those who would question the forward direction of man's technological progress, we point to the Z06 and rest our case. To those who would argue that pushrod, two-valve technology won't a sports car make, it is time to re-check the facts.
Actual top speed in the manufacturing validation examples of the Z06s we drove was not 198 mph but rather an electronically limited 191 mph, it pained us to learn. But as it turned out, we never had a chance to see the wild side of 160 mph, anyway. Out on the track, we were busy trying to learn the racer's line through strange corners. So consumed, we braked late, we braked early, and we generally clung to the inept journalist's line (also known as the loser's line) through the twisties, instead of worrying about going as fast as humanly possible down the straights. If we had been smarter, which is to say stupider, this would have been our chance.
That's because while certain stretches of German autobahn offered the occasional legal opportunity to throw the hammer down with complete abandon, road conditions made these windows more theoretical than practical. So did the long arm of the jambonerie in those places we'd pass through where the authorities continue to believe in speed limits. We regret to report that we didn't max out the Z06 in top gear, though we were able to make the acquaintance of all 505 of its horses in many lower gears, many times, and they are formidable in their unity and grunt. Praise must be sung. And in case you were wondering, the missing 7 mph of top speed will be restored in series production.
The myriad pleasures of immense thrust and 1.09 g's of grip aside, the Z06 experience is intensified by a twin-stage muffler that cuts in at around 3500 rpm, flicking a valve open to transform a low and muscular exhaust woofle instantly into a profound and psychotic wail, transporting driver and passenger from Main Street to front straight at the flick of a shoe. The sound of several Z06s gunning down the Nrburgring F1 course's front straight, exhaust valves cocked, is entirely recommended, except for those trying to sleep.
The new Z06 costs $65,800, which undercuts all of its possible high-end competition at home. It can't hurt in Europe, where the current dollar/euro exchange rate ought to make American goods cheaper.
Still, back at home, the 2006 Z06 commands an almost $13,000 premium over the previous Z06, a nearly 25 percent fare hike, which surely will push the model out of some shoppers' price brackets. But make no mistake: an upgrade that buys 25 percent more ponies for a 400-hp car plus all the modifications and reinforcements necessary to cope with all that extra power, and one that does all that without adding weight, in fact while losing it, is an outstanding value at $13,000. The aftermarket would charge fearsome multiples more for less.
Dan Michaelson, chief engineer on the LS7 engine program, reckoned that a good deal of the extra money goes into making the Z06's wild engine wilder. "Squeezing out 100 extra horsepower is not cheap," he averred. But, on the evidence, it's worth it. What Michaelson called "the small-block's gift to our best and favorite customers," the LS7 is one fancy piece of good old American engineering mixed with some cutting-edge metallurgy. Compact and relatively light at 450 pounds, the all-aluminum LS7 shares architecture, but few components, with the LS2, which carries on in base Corvettes. Driving both the coupe and the convertible, with their greatly improved automatics (how could six paddle-shifted speeds not beat four with a lever?), we came to realize that the term base hardly does justice to these perfectly complete, wickedly fast cars. Indeed, we could make the case for skipping the Z06 package entirely.
But we won't.