2002 Chevrolet Corvette Long Term Road Test


2002 Chevrolet Corvette Z06: Grand Touring

September 27, 2010

Chevrolet Corvette Z06 at Ironstone Concours by A3.jpg

Took a big drive in the Corvette Z06 over the weekend, about 1,200 miles to Northern California and back. Apparently this is some kind of sacrilege in a sports car, because I sure didn't see many other sports cars on the road once I got outside of L.A.

Over three days saw two Porsche 911s, no Boxsters. No Z-cars. One BMW Z4 (top down on a day when it was 100 degrees F, so must have just bought it the day before) and no serious BMW coupes, much less any M3s. One Audi S4. One Ferrari F430 (had numbers on the doors, so maybe doing some kind of event). No Mitsubishi Evos or Subaru WRXs.

But I did see eight other Corvettes on the road. Mostly C6s, three C5s (maybe that was the same guy in the red C5 coupe both coming and going on the Tejon Pass), and one very nice C4.

Probably doesn't mean anything. It's a little late in the year for traveling and a blistering hot weekend up and down the state. Maybe Porsche and BMW guys have better things to do; you know, restaurants that have to be parked in front of, like that. Maybe the Evo and WRX guys didn't have gas money. Maybe Corvette guys are old and have nothing better to do than drive around aimlessly.

Or maybe the Corvette is a better GT car than anyone gives it credit for.

Phantom Corsair 2 at Ironstone Concours by A3.jpg

It was all the fault of Michael Lamm, the guy who co-wrote A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design , which is the best book about American car design ever written. Lamm has become a part of the Ironstone Concours d' Elegance on the grounds of the Ironstone Winery in Murphy's, California. It's one of those regional concours like Forest Grove or Palo Alto, where there's a bit more space for the cars and people to breathe than you get at Meadowbrook or Pebble Beach. Lamm has been trying to get me to attend the last couple years and finally shamed me into it.

The Ironstone concours has all the trappings of a first-class concours, including the gala luncheon with an auction to support the 4H Club and Future Farmers of America. There was a nice retrospective of American car design from the Teens to the 1950s, including an appearance of the remarkable 1938 Phantom Corsair , which was designed by Rust Heinz of the Heinz 57 fortune to be a vision of the aerodynamic future. And some motorcycles, classic travel trailers and even an old wooden Chris Craft boat.

So we left my brother's house in Sunnyvale, drove through the Altamont Pass, turned right at Stockton on CA Hwy 4 across the Sacramento Valley and straight as an arrow through the walnut groves, cherry orchards and corn until we hit the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Then the usual twisting road where you're stuck behind someone (a school bus first, then an RV) and finally to Murphy's above Angel's Camp, which is no longer an old outpost of the California Gold Rush but instead some kind of new winery region, with eight wineries that we saw and then the town full of espresso shops and Italian cuisine. Saw three Corvettes in the Ironstone parking lot for the concours.

We left just as the heat began to get bad, drove north on CA Hwy 49, the famous winding two-lane road through the Gold Rush country, and then cut over to Sacramento to have dinner with the kid going to school up there. Finally back to the Bay Area on Interstate 5 and back about 9 p.m.

Took about 13 hours. Went 364.3 miles, freeway and rural roads and a little urban driving. Nothing very fast (80 mph is about it), as this is California and the roads are full on a Saturday. Did it on one tank of gas. Averaged 46.8 mph, which is about 10 mph faster than the Corvette typically averages in a week of driving around L.A. Got 26 mpg even without any special balloon-foot driving technique and never even used the transmission's skip-shift feature (does anybody?).

So here you have a grand tour in a Corvette. Nice big cockpit with great air-conditioning, though no place to stash a water bottle. Enough trunk space for a two-week vacation if you like. Nice long wheelbase of 105.7 inches originally was chose for the Corvette C4 to improve high-speed stability in those years of the 1980s when 200 mph had become reachable in a street car, but it also a delivers a nice stable ride even on the awful cement slabs of California freeways. Lots of tire noise, which is what happens when you're in the same acoustic box as the trunk (something the Nissan 270Z and Porsche Cayman share for the same reason), but the radio has a strong tuner in the American style so you just turn up the Giants baseball game a little louder.

It's easy to think a sports car is just for showing off, but this little exercise reminds us that a car can also take you places. And if a crude opinion poll from a weekend in California is any guide, Corvette guys seem to understand this, while the BMW, Nissan and Porsche guys all wimp out and stay home.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com @ 52,227 miles

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