The stench of fiberglass resin brought to mind being in a bass boat, and the C7 Corvette Grand Sport I was driving was tramlining so aggressively on the rutted roads outside Grand Rapids, Michigan, that I thought I might get punted into the trees before I ever made it to Grattan Raceway. Sure, I was enjoying the sounds coming from the 6.2-liter V-8, but as I looked around the Corvette’s ergonomically funky and cheap-feeling cabin, all I could think was that the upcoming mid-engine C8 model can’t come soon enough.
I was heading to a track day organized by a friend, and when I arrived at the 2.0-mile winding circuit, the paddock was packed with cars and enthusiastic drivers. As seems to be the norm at most track days—at least around here—Corvettes and various Porsches dominated the field. Several Corvette owners asked me how I liked the GS, and, well, I cannot tell a lie. They looked at me like I’d just kicked their firstborn, and most couldn’t begin to understand where I was coming from. They loved their Corvettes and couldn’t figure out why anyone would buy anything but a Corvette.
And you know what? Running the wheels off the GS at Grattan reminded me they may have a point, and the Corvette is certainly not all doom and gloom. The 460-hp Chevy performed brilliantly around the challenging Grattan road course, and that’s without the track-focused Z07 and aero package. As such, it wasn’t wearing carbon-ceramic brakes or sticky, barely street-legal tires. But the standard Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber held up extremely well to hard use and the steel brakes did fine as long as you respected them (this particular GS was running racing brake fluid, as recommended by Chevy). Even in the least-inhibiting Performance Traction Management (PTM) mode 5—or one notch further, with all stability systems off—the Corvette was a completely controllable and docile. Yet it was still very fast and totally rewarding to push hard lap after lap. Clearly, GM knows what they’re doing when it comes to setting a car up for the track. It’s impressive.
But that positive experience at the track doesn’t make the outgoing C7 Corvette a car I’d recommend unless price-to-performance ratio is your number-one focus. We can’t live at the track each and every day, and my time in the more powerful Corvette ZR1 late last year reminded me that the Stingray Z51 or the Grand Sport are the Goldilocks models of the range. The extra power in the Z06 and ZR1 simply overwhelms and dilutes the goodness in the rest of the package and shows the limitations of the aging chassis. Contrary to the views of many car enthusiasts, more power doesn’t always make a car better. The top-spec Corvette only proves that truth. As in the GS, all I thought about as I drove the ZR1 was the mid-engine Corvette.
So what do I want that clean-sheet C8 Corvette to be? First and foremost, it needs to have the same fantastically friendly on-track personality. And hopefully GM engineers have spent a boatload of time in cars like the Porsche Cayman to get an idea of what the best mid-engine sports cars feel like and how they fundamentally handle. (Hopefully they ignored the four-cylinder engine, though.)
But I don’t want Chevy to simply copy Porsche. A Corvette must be properly American—more aggressive and extroverted than the Cayman. I want it to have a raw, muscular feel, with a loud, brash engine that features gobs of low-end torque. Smoky burnouts should be easy and approachable. And I’m hopeful for major advancements in rolling refinement and ride characteristics—not to mention interior design and quality—compared to the current Corvette.
It’s no secret that traditional Corvette buyers are aging. GM needs to use the C8 to wave goodbye to the Russian doll repetitiveness of the past several Corvette generations of the long-serving two-seater. Sure, some changes with the C8 will piss off certain loyal customers—hello, engine placement!—but it probably makes sense for them to keep building the current C7 for that buyer, as is rumored. I want a proper world-class sports car from GM. We’ve waited far too long for that Corvette, despite what overexcited and overly positive cover stories from certain corners of the automotive media have been saying for decades. It’s important for American sports-car fans to judge and celebrate the home team without bias. And while the Corvette engineers are putting the final touches on the new model, let’s hope they’ve made sure to eliminate that foul fiberglass smell.