Despite the monster engine, the Lingenfelter is a sweetheart to drive. Thanks to the high-rpm power bias, it actually seems to hook up off the line at least as well as a stock Z06 (that's also down to the tires). And once the revs come up, the power is simply devastating. As the engine comes on cam, the Harley V-twin idle commotion fades away, the power smoothes out, and things actually seem to quiet down, as if you're outrunning your own exhaust noise. On paper, it looks like the Vette should be faster than the Viper, but the Z06 downplays its own abilities while the Viper strives to convince you that you're driving possibly the fastest car in the galaxy.
Soon enough, we put that perception to the test. I'm back in the Viper, and senior editor Joe DeMatio is ahead of me in the Corvette. We haven't agreed to a race, but you know how these things happen: we're trundling along at sane speeds when we crest a hillock to find the road stretching before us, desolate, for about a mile. I bury the throttle in third gear, and out ahead of the Viper's nose, I see the Vette squat as DeMatio does likewise. The corn blurs out of my peripheral vision, and I focus on the Vette as the Viper cabin fills with a cacophony of wind noise and ten cylinders of barely contained internal combustion. At 124 mph, I grab fourth gear and hold on tight. But for all the white-knuckle drama and violent acceleration, the Vette is walking away from me.
The test numbers support the result of our impromptu hound-and-hare chase across the farmland. While both cars reach 60 mph in 3.7 seconds (in first gear, no less), the Lingenfelter pulls away as speeds increase. The Viper's 12.1-second quarter-mile run at 123 mph is suitably heroic, but the Vette cracked off an even more ridiculous 11.7 at 127 mph. And in just under 30 seconds, the Vette is at 180 mph, a speed that requires the Viper an additional eleven seconds to attain. "Time to 180" is a pretty arcane performance statistic, but it gives you an idea of how effectively the Lingenfelter modifications assert themselves when you're running wide-open.
Of course, this is a pitched battle, a tuner Vette versus a stock Viper. Hennessey Viper owners would probably point out that they could run 11.7-second quarters with one turbo dragging behind the car like an anchor. But as a literal vehicle for prognostication, I think the Lingenfelter Z06 gives us a good idea of how things are going to shape up when Chevy pulls back the curtain on its own factory supercar.
Limited-edition, high-power Corvettes have always had two defining characteristics--off-the-charts performance wrapped in styling that, for better or worse, looks a lot like the base Corvette. Whether it's the ZR1, the Z06, the Lingenfelter Z06, or whatever comes next from Chevy's skunk works, these are supercars that can pass mostly unnoticed among the general population, their numerous lesser brethren acting as decoys that cloak the capability of the few. So while the Viper and the souped-up Vette look like competitors on paper, their underlying philosophies are so at odds that I feel like you're either a Viper person or a Vette person, and ne'er the twain shall meet.
The Lingenfelter Z06 is the livable, understated Ferrari-eater, and those traits will probably be still more pronounced in Chevy's factory effort, which could have even more power and ought to idle like a car instead of a paint mixer. The Viper, though, is the attention-getter, the charisma car. It's visceral and loud and feels faster than the Z06 even though it's not, which speaks to a question you could extend down to, say, a Mazda MX-5 versus a Saturn Sky Red Line--what's more important to you, the sensation of speed or the hard numbers?
It's possible the upcoming hero Corvette will be a little more outrageous, packing a little more visual punch to go with its underhood firepower. Who knows, it might not even have cupholders. But as it stands, there's a simple metric that applies to the Lingenfelter Z06 and the 600-hp Viper: Buy the Viper if you want to get noticed. Buy the Vette if you want to win the race.