We collect the Vette and the Viper and head into the cornfields of northern Ohio, a land where the roads are straight and the cops are elsewhere. Curves here are hard to come by, but we already know these cars can slay a racetrack, so we're more interested in finding out what they'll do when the road stretches straight to the horizon and you flatten the throttle until you run out of either courage or pavement. My first stint is in the Viper, a car I haven't driven in its latest incarnation. I'm amazed to tell you, the new Viper is a revelation, a silky, refined piece of machinery that feels like nothing so much as a 600-hp Honda.
OK, good. Just making sure you were paying attention.
The Viper is still the crudest, most brutal car on the road. If the Viper had any more testosterone, it would be an essential component in female-to-male gender reassignment programs. ("Betty, on your path to becoming Bill, first you must take these keys . . .") Within fifteen miles, I've already suffered a heart-stopping moment when I depress the clutch for an upshift and my shoe catches the brake pedal, too. While the pedals are adjustable, the Viper's pedal box itself is sized for elves. Barefoot elves.
The sidepipes bark in your ear as you wind up that 8.4-liter maelstrom under the hood. It sounds like a punched-out old Dodge 360-cubic-inch V-8 with two extra cylinders grafted on, because that's basically what it is. Accompanied by the sound track of hell's own bar brawl, revs build so fast in the lower gears that your brain doesn't have time to react to the red shift light that warns of impending redline. I bounce off the rev limiter a few times in first and second gears before I begin to aurally anticipate the shift points. Flattened back in the seat and praying that the rear end stays glued down (the Viper laughs at your traction control systems!), by the time you hit 100 mph you feel like you're doing Mach 100. That copiously vented, razor-fendered nose is bobbing back and forth over the rippled Ohio two-lane, and I squeeze the brakes because I'm seriously concerned about inadvertently making an early harvest, Viper-style. As I roll up to an intersection, a guy driving a Chevy pickup on the perpendicular road drifts onto the shoulder and nearly broadsides me. It's certainly true that your car tends to go where you're looking, because his eyes were fixed on the Viper. This, it turns out, will not be an isolated incident. I guess when there's a Viper in your cornfield, you keep an eye on it.
The Lingenfelter Corvette is a Lexus by comparison--high-tech, refined, and a little bit anonymous. While the Viper sports a shallow, cup-shaped indentation for an ashtray that's emblazoned with the enigmatic warning "Not a cupholder" (it would be more accurate if it said, "Not a very good cupholder"), the Z06 has two unapologetically functional Starbucks holsters. It has keyless ignition, traction control, stability control, heated power seats, a Bose sound system (the Viper rocks an Alpine), and a head-up display. The ride is quite comfortable. Even the look-at-me Lingenfelter fender badges come off as understated, since the stock Z06's boastful "505 hp" badges remain in place, vestiges of the car's slower self.
It's a good thing the Lingenfelter wears those quasi-race Michelins with their 80 treadwear rating, because once that lumpy, grumpy cam finds its happy place, great fury is visited upon the atmosphere, the pavement, and your inner ear. Hooked up in first gear, the Z06 can exert 0.76 g of acceleration. So let me drop a little math on you: If you weigh 185 pounds, as I do, that means the Lingenfelter Z06 on full boil can make it feel like you've got 141 pounds pressing your body back into the seat. And if a train left the station at 8:40 and the Lingenfelter Z06 left at 9:00, the Lingenfelter Z06 would still be way cooler than the train.