Bowling For Speed: A Four-Part Journey In Building A Faster C6

I ‘ve been around cars since I was about 15. Since then, I’ve had a variety of cars. So many in fact, the running joke amongst the neighborhood where I live is, “at least he doesn’t go through wives like he does cars!”

Hardy, har, har. Please note my utter lack of laughter and excessive eye-rolling.

Yes, I go through a lot of cars; the most recent one is a 2012 Centennial Corvette Z06 with every single option available to form the mystical “Z07” package. Think of it as a ZR1 with an LS7.

I’ve said before that I thoroughly enjoy a car that wants to kill me every chance it gets, but once you tame it, she’s yours for life. When looking for my next monster, the criteria for me was pretty simple: American, RWD, LS-powered and have amazing brakes (power is easy to find in the LS platform). This pretty much narrowed it down to the Corvette/Camaro line-up.

That’s how I came to the Z06 searching late one night on the interwebs. I wanted a car that fit the criteria but also had carbon ceramic brakes, that was the big one for me. You see, a car can only go three-ways; forward/reverse, side-to-side and stopping. I am absolutely obsessed with a car’s stopping power. After a discussion with Jeff Schwartz about his Corvette and how he loves his carbon ceramic brakes saying, “they are the best part of the car, I love these brakes.” I was determined that this was the only way to go.

I thoroughly enjoy a car that wants to kill me every chance it gets.

A little-known secret to finding decent cars in the internet age is to trawl through Craigslist in various parts of the country, searching for poorly-advertised cars; cars where the owner hasn’t put a lot of thought or effort into selling it, takes terrible photos or maybe doesn’t quite know what they have. This can take time, I’ve done this on several occasions and it has netted me more than one beauty.

Braking Down The Search

The search for a car with carbon ceramics wasn’t that easy, as most people don’t advertise this fact very well. After more investigation, there’s a sub-set of folks who really despise the carbons for their cost. So, I was left with few options as the C6 Carbon Editions were going for big money and the C7 Z06 was just a little out of reach, budget-wise.

What you need to have is patience, cash and the ability to spot what the owner has failed to publish. In this case, I found my Z06 in Fort Smith, Arkansas. That’s 750 miles from my home in Minnesota, but a little drive wasn’t going to bother me. The owner had advertised it as being a Centennial “Carbon Edition” Z06. Now, the “Carbon Edition” cars were only made in 2011 so I knew the owner wasn’t really up to speed, but two small footnotes were of high importance; engine work completed by a very reputable shop and carbon brakes. The owner almost seemed to think these weren’t of high mention, but I found them when digging through poorly shot pictures.

Whomever bought this in 2011 wanted a ZR1 with an LS7. This was my view for many hours, the local cops had more than one “fundraiser” on our way home.

To be fair, I was fairly new to the Corvette game and all its variants and “special editions,” so I enlisted the help of Randy Johnson of D&Z Customs and John Boos of Boos Performance, both fairly well-known Corvette fanatics. They both said, “Eric, if you want a collector’s C6, get the ZR1, but if you want to drive it and have fun, get the Z06.” Armed with that and other questions to ask, I called the owner and he agreed to give me the VIN so I could make an informed decision. He also sent me pictures of the build sheet from the window sticker.

I looked the window sticker over carefully and saw that virtually, every single box had been checked. Whomever bought this in 2011 wanted a ZR1 with an LS7 and that’s exactly what this is. I ran the VIN through a few sources and they all checked out with five previous owners and 26,000 miles on the clock. None of this scared me away.

The interior on the Centennial has upgraded materials with red stitching, Alcantara seats and a unique steering wheel. The Jake skull floor mats were a birthday gift to match.

What I did find through my digging, was that that this particular car, with this particular combo was rare. Very rare. Like, only sixty made worldwide. Now, I understand that rarity does not always mean desirable, but in the Barrett-Jackson-esque way, it does. That wasn’t why I was buying it, but it did add the final cherry on top.

My son loves rides in the Corvette. Every car has to get his seal of approval. His favorite part? How hard it brakes. Before any mods can be made, the car needs to pass a few other tests. Grocery getter?

The sticker price was a shade over $105,000 brand new and I can assure you I paid nowhere near that. Needless to say, we both walked away feeling like we got a deal. My lovely bride flew with me to pick up the car and drove it back home, making a zig-zag pattern all the way home, visiting Branson and then picking up some Kansas City BBQ before our final jaunt back home.

The Afterglow

I had always been told that if you want to go fast on the cheap, get yourself a decent Corvette and throw a set of good tires on it and you’ll be fast, fun and economical. For the most part, that is true. The Corvette platform, being GM’s flagship sports car, is a well-built machine. That doesn’t mean it can’t be improved upon. I’ve only owned my C6Z for little over six months and I’ve already heard the, “oh, so you think you’re smarter than a team of professional GM engineers, huh?” To be frank, no. No, I’m not.

The driver has the greatest potential to go faster, not a new pair of shocks or wheels and tires.

However, GM engineers have many constraints – I do not. So, when the world is completely open, the possibilities are limitless. So, what’s a guy to do if you have this beautiful machine in front of you but you want to go just that little bit further and get more out of it? That little bit will open the Pandora’s Box of options, so knowing the ultimate goal will guide all future decisions.

These are the tires that come stock on the C6 Z06, Pilot Sport Cup 2’s. Believe it or not, these still have lots of life left, they aren’t even to the wear bars yet. To run in the Autocross class of CAM-S, you need a 200 treadwear tire or greater, these Falken 615+’s should do the trick nicely.

For me, that goal was, in the immortal words of Ricky Bobby, “I wanna go fast!” And not just any type of fast, but corner-carving, cone obliterating fast. That means being able to not only accelerate, but also turn left and right and stop on a dime. I’ve done wheel-to-wheel racing and I don’t have the stomach for the cost involved, so that’s out of the question. However, the best bang for the buck (and safety) is out there in the form of autocross.

Tightening The Nut Behind The Wheel

There is no more humbling experience than to go to your first autocross all jazzed and excited because you’ve played the living crap out of Forza or Gran Turismo and think you are fast. Only to be utterly decimated by a showroom stock, 20-year-old 120hp Miata.

The temptation will be great and plentiful to upgrade your car. This is where I highly suggest you stop and take a step back. If you are new to pushing your car faster, this is not the time to fiddle with things. The best thing you can do for the rest of this current autocross season is to just learn the car as well as yourself. This advice will be repeated to you a million times by every experienced auto-crosser out there. The driver has the greatest potential to go faster, not a new pair of shocks or wheels and tires. I’ve been in that position and the pull to replace everything will be great; but do whatever you can at this point to just learn how to drive.

We got the Corvette on the autocross track and shook it down for alterations. We were quick after we fixed a couple of the “Corvette” sloppiness, but more on that later. Photo Credit: Chris Adams

The Corvette is often said to be the car that no one drives and no one ever sells. But to break that mold a little and push these cars the way they were meant to be manhandled is to truly get the most out of a high-potential platform.

To get the most potential, you must learn the car which means running it through many events to get a feel for what the car (and you) really need. I highly encourage people to take the freely-given instructors with them on every chance you get. Those folks tend to be the most seasoned of the bunch.

Sitting patiently in my new driving shoes, the autocross awaits for my first couple shake down runs.

I consider myself a “quick” driver, certainly not a “fast” driver; I can hold my own, but not the fastest driver on the course. My Z06 is a solid platform with the best brakes on the market and a fairly soft suspension. The motor has head and cam work, so that’s not a current area of concern. While the car is safe, there could be a few upgrades in that department to keep the driver a little more secure. The wheels and tires are good, but unfortunately don’t meet the class requirement that I run in, so that will have to be addressed as well. The car also has decent aero bits slapped on it, but the class I run allows for a bit more, so we can address that area later on. The car has a good base platform and the aftermarket scene is bursting just to take my money.

Knowing what we wanted to change, we ordered the appropriate upgrades. Here are boxes of goodies all ready to be unpacked. We’ll start the informative transformation in the next step.

Corvette’s value and performance make them a great competitive canvas to play with. Over the next few articles, we’ll follow the progression of this 2012 Centennial Corvette Z06/Z07 to push it to that next level of performance. I’ve connected with some of the best folks in-the-know to pass on what I’ve learned. The best part of all? Everything I’m going to be doing is completely reversible and when I want to go back to the stock life, it will only be a matter of swapping parts. So, follow our journey to find that last little bit of speed without going full racecar!

About the author

Eric McClellan

Eric McClellan has been working with high performance cars for the last 20 years. He has authored two successful automotive technical books, and currently develops web content while competing in local autocross and street car competitions.
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