By Mark Elias
Saturday, Apr 17th, 2010 @ 12:00 pm
 
Back in 1963, when real race cars swept through turns at Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen and Nassau, there was a legendary prototype racer built by Corvette Godfather Zora Arkus-Duntov. Dubbed the Corvette Grand Sport, it was originally slated to be a class of 100 cars built to satisfy homologation orders. Reality placed the actual number built at 5 copies. And a legend within a legend was born.

Move forward about 47 years, and the Corvette Grand Sport is resurrected as a sixth-generation - or C6, in Corvette-speak - derivative for model year 2010.

Available as a convertible or coupe, it moves the evolution of the beast in a positive direction, at least until the C7 finally hits the road. We spent two weeks with the Grand Sport, both on the street and on the road course of our official test facility, Palm Beach International Raceway (racepbir.com) in Jupiter, Florida.

What is it?
A hybrid design - not as we refer to hybrids today, but in the powertrain department - it is a combination of the existing LS3-based powertrain with the bodywork and suspension from the Z06 model.

A few extra bits of kit are thrown in for good measure, like Grand Sport stripes and unique alloy wheels.

What's it up against?
Chevrolet slots the Grand Sport up against some pretty heady company. GM says the Corvette goes up against such legendary rides as the Porsche 911 and Cayman, BMW's Z4 and 6-series and the Aston Martin Vantage. In truth, we doubt most Corvette buyers spend a lot of time cross-shopping.

But if you want to be with the big dogs, you have to think like them.

Any breakthroughs?
How about a sub-four second 0-60 time for starters?

Then there's the so-called Z52 dry sump performance package with the manual transmission coupe and roadster, which offers more efficiency in oiling the powerplant, as well as a track-based and tested suspension system. Launch control shows up with manual transmission models.

Oh, and did we mention family sedan-like 16 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway?

How does it look?
The new Grand Sport looks like a natural progression of this animal. Evolving from the slick sides of the current C6, the new Grand Sport is a combination of a reliable car with badass Z06 intentions. To the current C6, add the nose scoop, front splitter, brake intakes, tall rear decklid spoiler and wide stance of the Z06. A nod to practicality calls for equipping this Grand Sport with composite versions of the body parts that show up as carbon-fiber pieces on the Z06. They're cheaper to replace when you rub them against a parking lot barrier.

Various degrees of bling show up around the car, but most prominently displayed are the Grand Sport eyebrows mounted over the body's dual side gills. Otherwise, picture a Z06 Convertible. If you like, the Grand Sport's trademark hash marks can be ordered draped over the front fenders as it was on the original.

And on the inside?
Equipped with the $9,700 4LT Premium Equipment package, our test "˜Vette was beastly from the get-go. A two-toned leather interior holds sway, from the single-needle stitched dashboard topper to the special leather wrapped steering wheel. The power-adjustable sport seats with crossed flag logos stitched into the headrests are just a portion of the excess in this Grand Sport. We like the added touch of the entry and exit mode that moves the steering wheel and driver's seat into a predetermined spot at the push of a button.

Well-placed gauges in the binnacle did their job, but with the Heads Up Display (HUD) with track data and G-meter readouts, we found ourselves hardly looking down to see what we were up to. A six-inch diagonal LCD screen houses the XM radio information as well as the navigation and Bluetooth connections. At the base of the center stack were buttons controlling the seat heaters, which happened to come in handy with the unseasonably cold weather we experienced in South Florida these past two weeks.

Materials are acceptable throughout, but the interior just doesn't give off the premium feel that this price should require.

And, of course, there's that three-spoke ubiquitous GM steering wheel that simply should not show up on the Corvette.

To our eyes, the two-tone look harkens back to an older era, It's not bad, but it just seems a throwback to the fifties era "˜Vettes that were known for their two-toned scalloped sides. And, anyway, Corvettes have never appealed for their interior trappings - quite frankly, we haven't seen a genuinely nice Corvette interior in 40 years.

But does it go?
Of course, the reason you buy a Corvette is for what's under the hood.

Combining the best of the LS3 and Z06 worlds, the Grand Sport is a very versatile package. With it, you get one engine choice. And it is a good one.

The 6.2-liter V8 is mated to either a stellar Tremec 6060 six-speed manual or GM-built automatic transmission. In stock form, it produces 430-horsepower and 424 lb-ft of torque. Check off the order form line for the two-mode exhaust system and you will receive a freer-breathing unit with 436-horsepower and 428 lb-ft. of twist. Also included is an amazing aural occurrence every time you mash the loud pedal. This is a must-have option on the Corvette.

The hydroformed steel frame with alloy sub-assemblies forms the basis of the car, and offer a well-sorted platform for all the other goodies that attach to it. The braking system is boosted directly from the Z06 parts bin and includes six-pot calipers that pinch a pair of14-inch drilled and cooled rotors up front in concert with a duo of four-pot units in back that squeeze the 13.4-inch discs in back. The suspension is a combination of unequal double wishbones with a composite transverse-mounted leaf spring and monotube shocks in front and rear. Electronic traction control and an active handling system keep help to keep things flat and on a rail, as well as managing to keep most drivers out of trouble.

On the road course of PBIR, we felt the tail begin to rotate and break loose. Without the Active Handling package, that might have happened but in ours, the AHS snapped it back into place. Working in concert with the antilock braking system and stability control, it managed to keep the 3,289 lb. sportster clearly in control.

On the street, depending on the weight and aggression of your right foot, the Tremec will allow you to bang through the gears sequentially, or with an eye to fuel economy, suggest a shift from first to fourth gear. That's one of the tricks used to get 26 mpg out of this Corvette - and it's one that will take a little getting used to for most drivers..

Overall, the Grand Sport is an amazingly well sorted, if potentially pricey, package.

Why you would buy it:
You want the cache and handling that come with a Corvette ZR1 or Z06 but don't want to toss a bunch of cash toward your local Chevrolet dealer.

Why you wouldn't:
Because 436 horsepower and 428 lb-ft. of torque is not enough power to satisfy your need for speed. Clearly, you are absolutely crazy.

Leftlane's bottom line:
The Corvette Grand Sport is one of the best-sorted sports cars we have driven to date. With the power of the standard C6 and the suspension (not to mention the accompanying good looks) of the Z06, Chevrolet has one of the best hot rods in the market.


But the question keeps popping up: What is the company doing to court newer buyers? Current Corvette fans are aging baby boomers, with beginning hair plug treatments and gold chains to offset their white chest hair. It will likely be rare to see someone graduate from their Nissan GT-R into a "˜Vette. And that truly is a shame, for this is one fantastic-performing sports car that can be ordered from any Chevy dealership in just about every small town in America.


2010 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport base price, $58,580. As tested, $74,465.
4LT Package, $9,700; Chrome alloy wheels, $1,995; Navigation, $1,750; Dual-mode performance exhaust, $1,195; Pedal covers, $250; Destination, $950.

Words and photos by Mark Elias.

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