ALL CORVETTES ARE RED. THE REST ARE MISTAKES.

DSC00822_495a594cbdde3-lightboxI’d previously owned a 2001 C5 convertible for 3 years and when the C6 was launched, I felt a distinct sense of déjà vu. I wasn’t keen on the styling compared with the C5 (I’d initially felt the same about the C5 versus the C4), and the UK list prices were rather optimistic (just as C5 prices had been before lack of sales convinced GM to reduce prices). So my master plan was to sit back, wait for the C6 to grow on me, and for GM to reduce prices…

My annual pilgrimage to Stratstone Park Lane at the end of 2007 seemed promising, with the heavy discounts on their existing stock of 2007 models hinting that maybe a dose of realism would be applied to list prices for the upcoming 2008 models. I’d decided to wait for a 2008 model for the uprated engine (6.2 versus 6.0 litres), improved steering, updated automatic gearbox, and better interior. A call to Stratstone Reading at the end of January gave me the usual silly list prices but with the promise of an “early bird” discount… One test drive and a bit of haggling later, I placed an order for a C6 convertible (you can’t beat a rag-top) in Victory Red with the 6-speed auto box, Sat Nav and polished alloys (the latter thrown in for free).

The car was in stock in Europe, so I just had to sit back and wait for it to make its way to Reading. I’ll spare you the details (I can hear the lawyers breathing a sigh of relief), but it wasn’t the painless buying experience you expect when handing over a large pile of cash…

Finally the big day arrived, and from the moment I arrived at the dealership I just couldn’t stop grinning (and I still haven’t stopped 12 months later!). Formalities over, I lowered the roof (it was one of the few dry days in March), hit the start button, and drove off into the sunset (OK it was actually mid-afternoon, but you get the idea). The main photo on this page was taken when I arrived home – I’m not big on cleaning cars so couldn’t let the combination of sunshine and shiny paintwork go to waste…

Having demonstrated its ability to cope with dry, sunny conditions, the ‘Vette was given a bigger challenge the next day when my journey to work was conducted in torrential rain, standing water and floods. It coped admirably, demonstrating that contrary to what many US-based owners believe, ‘Vettes don’t dissolve when they get wet.

The first 500 miles were a test of self-restraint, the handbook insisting on a maximum of 55mph… You might be able to get away with that in the US, but over here it’d be suicide so I decided to just go with the flow and avoid hard acceleration.

So what’s it like to drive? Essentially it’s a pussycat when you just want to cruise, and hugely entertaining when you want to play. You just have to remember that it’s got a serious amount of power and torque so needs to be treated with respect even with all of the electronic safety aids we’ve come to know and love. Having previously owned a couple of left-hand drive cars (Camaro Z/28 and Corvette C5), that side of things was pretty straightforward, and the only time it’s a pain in the rear is at ticket barriers without a passenger. Lucky it’s so easy to live with really, as it’s my only car!

Performance is more than adequate, with the effortless acceleration you only get with a big-capacity engine. According to GM, it’ll do 190mph and 0-60 in 4.1 seconds. It pulls strongly from near idle speed right up to the red-line, which is at 6,500rpm for the 6.2-litre LS3 engine. The in-gear acceleration is even more impressive when you take into account how highly geared the C6 is: 2000rpm in 6th is nearly 90mph. From rest, you rarely need 1st gear – 2nd offers plenty of grunt and takes you to the far side of 80mph (where laws permit…) on a wave of torque. The exhaust is a little on the quiet side at low revs and part throttle, but that’s probably a good thing if you have neighbours; give it some serious stick and it produces a suitably rousing soundtrack.

The 6-speed auto box is good, but not perfect. The good bits include fairly snappy response to the wheel-mounted paddles and rev-matching on downshifts. The bad bits include occasional harsh shifts in Drive when slowing down then hitting the throttle, and the fact that the paddles are small and attached to the wheel making it hard to find them unless you keep your hands at quarter-to-three all the time. I tend to use the paddles all the time and treat it as a clutch-less manual (but a lot smoother).

Handling is pretty neutral, with plenty of grip, and it feels better the harder you push it. The ride quality is firm, but on the right side of harsh (unlike the BMW Z4 that I traded in for the Corvette). The brakes are excellent, although under moderate application they squeal like a banker asked to hand back his bonus. The ‘Vette copes very well in the wet, but you have to remember that it’s on fairly sporty rubber – forget to exercise some restraint with the loud pedal and you can easily spin the rear tyres up in 2nd or even 3rd gear, especially when the temperature drops to freezing or below.

Moving to more mundane topics, the build quality and interior are OK (overall no worse than the aforementioned Z4, and far better in some areas), there’s loads of interior space, and the boot is huge by convertible standards. I’ve always been sceptical about keyless entry and ignition systems, but the ‘Vette system works very well. With the fob in your pocket just walk up to the car, squeeze the door “handle”, jump in, hit the start button, and off you go. Everything else works as expected, although the Nav system is very fussy when it comes to playing MP3 CDs – the manual offers little help, but the US Corvette forum came up trumps. One thing definitely worth mentioning is the Head-Up Display; in an age where speed cameras lurk around every corner, being able to keep a close check on your speed without taking your eyes off the road is a potential licence-saver.

So far, nothing has gone wrong (other than the remote fob needing a new battery), and running costs have been very reasonable. Insurance is £550 a year for business use, fuel consumption has averaged 21 mpg including a lot of local trips and “spirited” acceleration – on longer journeys it’ll average close to 30 mpg, and just a little restraint will nudge it over 30 mpg. The car’s just had its first service at Whitequay Saab which was a very reasonable £250. The only other cost has been to repair one of the wheels after an argument with a multi-storey car park; suddenly free polished wheels seemed like a bad idea with an official replacement price of nearly £1,500 and even the repair coming to nearly £200!

So why choose a Corvette rather than something more predictable like a 911? At the end of the day it’s a very personal decision, and I’m sure people who like Porsches will find my choice as baffling as I find theirs. I love the way the ‘Vette looks, the noise it makes, the way it goes, and the fact it really is a car you can use every day. I also like the fact that its “primitive” 2 valves-per-cylinder, pushrod engine delivers the goods (430BHP and 424 lb.ft) but needs nothing apart from oil-changes for 100,000 miles (when you finally have to replace the spark plugs) – no cam-belts or chains to worry about.

Then there’s the rarity value… There really are very few of them in the UK, and fewer by the day as the strong Euro means many are disappearing over to the Continent. Last, but by no means least, it gives you access to the Classic Corvette Club (CCCUK) – everyone’s very friendly, and the gatherings give you the chance to drool over some of the older cars (a certain blue ’65 C2 convertible in particular!).

If you want fun, cheap, serious performance buy a Corvette – you know it makes sense!

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Gary Walsh