January 10, 2010
"What You Get For...," a popular column in The New York Times, examines the real estate market based on a set budget. You know, what you get in Queens for $1,000,000 vs. what you can get in Belchertown, Massachusetts, for the same price. Needless to say, the results are predictable.
But the car market isn't the housing market, and for us this is a very, very good thing.
You see, with $20,000 cash in hand, we could have ourselves a brand-new Honda Insight, a Chevy Colorado or two Nissan Versas. Or we could give the new car dealership the finger, take our pile of cash and wave it in front of this guy we ran into who happened to be selling a Corvette.
He took the pile of cash. We took delivery of our newest long-term road test vehicle, a 2002 Chevrolet Corvette Z06. It's a $20,000 car powered by a 405-horsepower 5.7-liter LS6 V8. It's gonna be a good year.
What We Bought
In 2001, the C5-generation Corvette got a shot in the arm and a fancy new Z06 badge. The Z06 package, available only as a fixed-roof coupe (FRC), upped the output from the base Vette to 385 hp from 350 hp, added bigger brakes, reduced the weight and jacked a high-performance suspension under the whole package. But the 35-hp improvement wasn't quite enough, so the following year the 2002 Z06 got a bigger shot in the arm by way of 20 more ponies, bringing the LS6 V8's final tally to 405 hp and 400 pound-feet of torque. This was, of course, delivered to the rear wheels by way of a six-speed manual transmission. That's the kind of used Z06 we wanted — the most powerful one. Unfortunately, that usually means the most expensive one.
It was easy to find 2001 Z06s with reasonable mileage at or below our $20,000 ceiling. It was more difficult to find a 2002 Z06 with reasonable mileage, no aftermarket mods and a careful owner for the same price. We drove a few, ran Carfax on all of them and finally settled on a weekend toy owned by a guy who just couldn't deal with two cars anymore. It's a rough economy out there, so when we said $20,000, he threw us the keys.
The car we found had only two options: self-dimming mirrors and a memory function for the seat and mirrors. When new, these options retailed for $270. When the car was new it carried a sticker price of $51,180.
Why We Bought It
There's a badge on the side of the car that says "405 Horsepower." So that about says it all. The only question is, why didn't we buy one of these years ago?
Times are tough; banks are failing. The government owns GM. The Italians own Chrysler (and so, partially, does the government). Having a second car just isn't as easy as it used to be. But for those with the means and desire to have a metric bucket of fun, there are deals to be had.
The 2002 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 is one of the coolest Corvettes ever. It might have fewer horsepower than a standard 2009 Corvette, but that's missing the point. In 2002 this car had over 400 horses and 400 lb-ft. It ran with Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Vipers costing three times as much.
But with used cars — especially four-wheel toys like this — come a litany of question marks. How well was this car maintained? How much mileage does it really have left? What do 40,000 miles do to a 405-hp fiberglass tub that had questionable (that is to say, bad) materials, fit and finish even when it was new?
We'll find out.
We said in "10 Best Used Cars for Less Than $19,999" that the Corvette was "the fastest car on this list. That it's dropped down to under $20K makes it an astonishing bargain. Compared to the regular C5 Corvette, the C5-generation Z06 was produced in tiny numbers — just over 28,000 were built between 2001 and 2004. And many Z06s were bought by older buyers who wanted the best, but actually didn't put many miles on them. And many have been pampered. So if you're looking for one, scour the obits and hit the estate sales!"
We followed our advice, looked long and hard and bought what we hope is the right car for a staggeringly good price. For the next 12 months and 20,000 more miles, follow along on our Long-Term Road Test blog. It'll be fun; we've already done burnouts.
Current Odometer: 41,906
Best Fuel Economy: 14.9 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 13.6 mpg
Average Fuel Economy: 14.2 mpg
Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.