We Toast the C5 Corvette's Final Year with a Test of the 2004 Corvette Z06 - Page 5 of 6

by Hib Halverson
text and images ©2004 Hib Halverson
No use without permission

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Uh...not our favorite seat. Ok. It's not as bad as a Barcalounger, but we say, put' em in Cavaliers. Let's hope C6 gets something more substantial.
Image:  Author

More on the plus side: other switches and controls are placed well. We like the sound system. We like the shift feel. Pedals are placed well and we like the metalic brake and clutch pads. There are even a couple convenience options I've grown to like, such as: the "memory package," which stores different seat and mirror adjustments, handy for a Vette shared by two, and the dual-zone air conditioning which allows me to run the HVAC cold but has my fiance, the Fairest Sandra the Red, not feeling like she's a passenger on the Idarod dog sled race.

Cargo space in a Z06 is certainly limited. It's less than even the Convertible. As the Z06 is a reasonably nice road car, this may be an annoyance to Corvetters who like to take long trips to events in their cars, but because Z06's emphasis is on performance with little compromises; we'll take the reduced luggage space in exchange for the stiff structure and less weight that come with the coupe body style. If you want to take trips, either pack light or buy a C5 Targa.

The outside of this car drew a lot of compliments with its rich, Le Mans Blue base color (which an English friend of mine insisted was "Royal" blue) and the stripe package matching the '03 C5R race cars. The wide white/narrow red stripes and the carbon-fiber hood are unique to Le Mans Commemorative Edition Z06.

On first glance, the hood appears to have a narrow section of unpainted carbon-fiber as a sort of visual proof that the hood is made of that ultra-light material. Close examination reveals this section to be part fo the stripe package rather than the actual CF surface, but there's no conspiracy there. To finish, clear coat, then mask-off a narrow strip of the hood prior to painting the rest of the panel would have been impractical in an assembly plant environment, so a section of "faux" carbon fiber was added to the white and red hood stripes which are a part of the car's overall graphics package. Trust us. The hood is, indeed, carbon-fiber. You feel that the first time you open it. Well...it's not just for the 10 lbs. less weight. GM wanted a little field experience with carbon-fiber body parts in a production application.

Click on picture for enlarged image.We asked Dave Caldwell, GM Communications' spokesperson for Corvette engineering issues about the use of "CF". "The trick on the 04 Z06," Caldwell told the Corvette Action Center, "is that the carbon fiber appears on a 'class A' painted exterior surface. (It's) Much easier to use carbon fiber in a location that is less visible - as it's really tough to get that show-quality appearance with this material and make it match the rest of the car visually. That was the essence of the engineering exercise on the 04 Z06, and we acheived it on the hood.

"Carbon fiber has obvious advantages, and some enthusiasts really value it. But it has drawbacks, too. Corvette has an established, stated mission to be a great value, to be a surprisingly good daily driver/tourer, to look great years into the future, etc. Carbon fiber doesn't really help us on those important aspects of the Corvette mission & legacy.

"So, yes, getting CF into production was a really important exercise for us, stretched our technical expertise, provided something unique and cool to the car. And it will no doubt help us evaluate if (and precisely how) we might apply this advanced material in the future."

Mr. Caldwell gets paid to both tell us the parts of the Corvette "story" GM wants us to know. He also gets paid to avoid telling us what GM doesn't want us to know...yet.

My spin on this carbon fiber thing is: GM wanted first wanted to try it in a low-volume application (about 2000 Le Mans Z06s were to be built) then evaluate not the results before it would consider "CF" in a subsequent, larger build of products. Will we see carbon fiber hoods on hundreds of thousands of Malibus? No way. How about the entire C6 line? Probably not, again, because of cost. Another clue that CF will not be used on all C6es is that, if GM was evaluating CF for that, the '04 use of it is too late in the process.

Click on picture for enlarged image.To date GM has learned that using CF in a high-volume application is more difficult than it thought. At the Bowling Green Assembly plant, the CF hoods are painted like all the other sheet molded compound (SMC) body parts. Early in the '04 model year, GM discovered that the CF hoods could not sustain the temperature levels in the drying ovens used to cure the paint. It took a while to solve that problem and that delay made Z06/Z16s hard to get at the beginning of '04. Later GM had trouble with the CF hood suppliers not eing able to produce the volume they agreed to make. This also slowed GM's ability to make the Le Mans Commerative Z06es. A GM source told the Corvette Action Center in late February that only 780 Z16s had been built. Our guess is GM will not reach it's goal of 2000 cars so the Z06/Z16 end up more unique than originally planned.

Might a more limited build of "special" C6es for Dave Hill's "extreme performance enthusiasts" have a wider use of carbon fiber...say a hood, the top and the trunk lid? I'd say there's a chance of that. Combine that with the aluminum frame about which we've heard a lot of scuttlebutt and you'd have a noticable reduction in weight.

Ok. Back to the real world. In summary, fit and finish of the panels on this '04 road test C5 was what we expect of a car costing fifty-six large. The paint shop and final assembly at the Bowling Green plant earn our compliments for putting a nice finish on the car in-spite of the troubles caused by the carbon fiber hood.

We've always liked the C5 profile, even the rear fascia which has drawn a fair amount of opinion since '97. The only exterior item I'd change is the exhaust. I've always had trouble with the look of C5's four-pipes. Two, big, fat, black, round or oval outlets would be my choice.


With a MSRP of $51,585 and it's refined performance, the Z06 is a value-heck, it's a bargain. Even with the Le Mans Commemorative Edition Package, and its $4,335 surcharge, the car still represents one of the better performance sports car buys.

Not only is the Z06 fun and available at a reasonable cost, but it's fairly cheap to operate too. Our observed fuel economy, over a distance of 634 miles was 22.3 mpg which seems to support the GM's composite EPA number of 23 mpg. Additionally, anecdotal evidence we've found on various automotive forum sites on the Internet indicates that other operating and maintenance costs for Z06es are less than some of its competitors, amongst which are: various Porsche 911s and the Boxter S, BMW Z-4, Audi TT and the Dodge Viper.

So...we're back to were we started, with bang-for-the-buck. No question, the 2004 Corvette Z06 has a ton of it.

Site Administrator's P.S.

Hib Halverson's road test of the 2004 Z06 Le Mans Commemorative Edition was originally written as a much shorter article for the February 2004 issue of Hemmings Muscle Machines magazine. In the spring of '04, Halverson worked more material into the story and added some late news about the Z16's carbon fiber hood then posted this article, here, on the Corvette Action Center.

Does Halverson put his money where his "road test mouth" is? You bet. He emailed us the other day saying that, in mid-March, he and his fiance purchased an '04 Z06/Z16 from Tom Henry Chevrolet in Pennsylvania. Interestingly, Hib and Sandy's new car is serial number 00039, only 14 numbers later than the car used for this road test. - Rob Loszewski, Site Administrator, Corvette Action Center