With the debut of the all-new 2023 C8 Corvette Z06, General Motors has redefined the track-focused Corvette model. More closely related to the C8.R race car than the Stingray, the new Z06 is a dramatically different machine than its C7 predecessor in more ways than one. We sat down with some of the engineers behind the new sports car to discuss the change in philosophy surrounding this all-new track-day monster.
The C7 Corvette Z06 first arrived at dealerships back in January 2015, and with it came a new take on the Z06 nameplate. While both the C5 and C6 Corvette Z06 models received bespoke naturally aspirated engines, the C7 model instead opted for a blown and modified variant of the standard powertrain. The 6.2-liter supercharged V-8 engine, known as the LT4, produces a healthy 650 hp and 650 lb-ft of torque. That is quite a bit more than the 505 hp that the LS7-powered C6 Z06 that it replaced could muster, but that doesn’t mean fans were immediately sold. In fact, lead development engineer for performance cars Aaron Link explained that many customers were vocal about their preference toward the older C6’s recipe.
More specifically, buyers revered the feel and character of the naturally aspirated 7.0-liter engine, particularly its ability to rev to 7000 rpm. The team members behind the Corvette were also huge fans of naturally aspirated engines, but Link notes that the LS7 was about as extreme as a naturally aspirated small-block could get while still meeting emissions standards. This left GM with a dilemma, as the Corvette and the small-block V-8 are as intertwined as any pairing in automotive history. Link would relate this situation to the one that Porsche faced in the late 1990s, as the transition from air-cooled to water-cooled engines took place. Similar to Porsche in that regard, GM chose to move forward with new technology.
The LT6 engine that powers the new C8 Z06 is then a spiritual successor of some kind to the LS7. Of course the two engines don’t share any physical similarities beyond the traditional 4.40-inch bore spacing, but that doesn’t mean they are entirely different. The LT6 is a much smaller displacement engine than the LS7, measuring in at just 5.5 liters. Like the LS7, however, the LT6 loves to rev, with a redline set all the way up at 8600 rpm. That impressive feat is a result of the LT6’s flat-plane crankshaft, as well as the trick DOHC setup. The unconventional-for-Corvette engine design does come with some advantages, namely 670 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque to play with. That makes the LT6 the most powerful naturally aspirated V-8 engine to ever enter mass production. The previous record holder was the Mercedes-AMG M159 V-8, which makes 622 hp out of 6.2 liters of displacement. The C8 platform allowed Chevrolet to invest in such a powertrain as hood height was no longer as big of a concern as with the high-performance C7 models.
“I think to get the breathing room you almost have to do the flat-plane crank,” said Link. “I mean, if it is just a naturally aspirated V-8 with a cross-plane crank, that is a good recipe. But I think that the idea was to really go big, and I will say it has exceeded initial thoughts.”
The exotic nature of the LT6 engine hasn’t been lost on GM or its engineers. Corvette chief engineer Tadge Juechter noted to Road & Track in an interview that he personally wanted to see an engine like this in the Corvette for some time. Link reiterated these internal desires, likening a mid-engine car with an atmospheric V-8 to automotive utopia.
“This car kind of stands on its own now in the industry,” said Link. “There’s nothing really like it, and I think that’s what we’re hoping customers see. Maybe you’re pining for what you used to be able to get from an Italian driver’s car, so here we are offering it.”
Perhaps that is the largest difference between the C7 and C8 Corvette Z06 models. While the C7 Z06 remains an impressive and enjoyable sports car, the experience offered up by its LT4 engine isn’t unique. In fact, GM will still sell you an LT4-powered Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing or a Camaro ZL1 this afternoon. And while the LS7 wasn’t a Z06 exclusive for long, the engine did truly separate the track-oriented Corvette from the lesser base model. Yes, the C7 Z06 was an inspiring machine, but it still drives like a front-engined, rear-drive coupe. The move to a mid-engine chassis has in turn transformed the Z06 into something beyond a traditional American performance car.
While the C7 pushed the boundaries of the Z06 formula in an attempt to improve it, the C8 embraces the traits that built the nameplate. The Z06 is now more akin to something you’d expect to see leave Maranello over Bowling Green. Of course the Z06 has just enough American attitude to correct such a mistake from taking place. In that sense, the C8 Z06 remains a shining example of America’s sports car. Just one that can really, really rev.
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