1966 Chevrolet Corvette: Huge Fun, Once You Stop Being Afraid Of It
August 4, 2015
There's an uneasiness about driving our 1966 Chevrolet Corvette that's hard to reconcile with the car's reputation. This is, after all, a revered sports car, right? Truth be told, it's terrifying. Initially, at least. I know because I was the guy wheeling the Vette for its recent comparison test vs. the Toyota Camry. It's rare for any car evaluation to reach the conclusion that faster isn't always better, but that's our finding with the Stingray.
Every move I made in my first few minutes behind the wheel of the Vette came accompanied by an unmitigated sense of horror. You see, the realm of comfort I'd prefer in a modern car — let's call it 8/10ths driving — is the worst place to drive this Stingray. Drive it like that and it's both alarmingly unstable and regrettably slow.
The problem stems from a supreme sense of disconnectedness that's obvious from the first turn of the thin-rimmed wheel. Compounding that are abundant secondary motions giving the impression that any attempt at purposeful driving will immediately issue in a pile-up of kinematic disasters. The truth lies somewhere in between.
But so does the magic.
Don't be a sissy, hammer the throttle, commit to the steering, and the old Vette comes to life in ways that are enlightening and engaging. It's still terrifying, but it's also utterly worth it.
Ignore the unsettling body motions, the delayed responses and the fear of crashing long enough and you'll find yourself with the need to countersteer. A lot.
Get the counter-steering right and there exists a steering/throttle equilibrium with the tail out and the throttle down. Surprisingly, this balance in bias-ply land is remarkably manageable.
It's the reason Zora Arkus-Duntov was born.
This isn't the same surgical-style control you'd exercise with your wrists driving sideways in a modern Stingray. Rather, the moves are big and exaggerated and lack precision to the same extent that this car's exhaust lacks subtlety. That there are no shoulder belts means this is a whole-body commitment to maintaining momentum. Controlling the Vette once it's sliding is real work, but it's an art you can master.
Unwinding the wheel to match perfectly with corner exit is the hardest part. Unwind too little and the Vette will hook to the outside when forward and lateral motions meet. Do it too fast or too much and you'll find yourself sawing away in a vain effort to avoid a tankslapper. Getting it just right and ending the slide precisely at the edge of the track is among the most rewarding experiences I've had in anything with four wheels.
Both second and third gear are adequate to motivate a slide at any speed where you'd actually want one. Though there's never any kind of power that might justify the exhaust noise, the sound from the side pipes is worth it. And the engine is flexible enough to keep the tires spinning at low rpm, which simplifies control and keeps those big arm inputs realistic.
It's worth noting that by today's standards the Stingray's reflexes are comical, but in 1966 this was cutting-edge control. Relative to anything else GM built that decade, the Vette was tight, sharp and immediate.
Bottom line? It's not something you could ever experience anywhere except a race track, but this old Vette turns out to be a driver's car on a level I'd never expected. And that's just plain cool.
Josh Jacquot, Senior Editor