They say everyone has a dark side. I found mine a few weeks ago. It turns out that it’s only about three inches of pedal travel away.
You see, the latest Corvette has massive block of power sitting directly under your right foot. Push it down hard, and a unholy wail fills the cabin, blotting out the rest of world and shifting your field of view into fast forward.
After doing this for a while, it seems a little…evil. A little…abusive, maybe? But you just can’t help it. It feels so good. So…right. The Vette begs you to abuse it. It invites you to flog the hell out of it with wild abandon, and it just keeps bouncing back for more.
Approaching the car, you half-think it’s going to be complicated, like a high-maintenance girlfriend. It is, after all, a legendary sports car, and they all come with baggage, right?
But it’s not like that. The Corvette is a dream to drive. It’s the friendliest, perhaps most practical sports car on Earth. It’s like your favorite drinking buddy grew four wheels and a stick shift.
I’m a big guy, but I fit in the Vette perfectly. It starts easily, the clutch is as light as any car I’ve ever driven, and it pulls away smoothly from a stop. It has so much power that you really can’t screw it up. It will gladly idle along in first gear without any pedal input and without stalling.
For 2008, the engine has been bumped up to 430 horsepower. The result is this huge well of go-juice at any point in the RPM range. Put your foot down and the world turns into a blur. The powerband is so broad that it doesn’t matter how fast the engine is turning — the Vette is ready at any speed. Sixty miles per hour comes up in 4.3 seconds.
The first part of the course GM laid out for us was a cone-demarked twisty section on a huge asphalt pad named Black Lake. The Vette rocketed down anything resembling a straightaway, braking easily and surely for the corner, then blasting down the next straight.
(To approximate this without an actual Vette, alternate flinging yourself against a wall, shooting yourself from a cannon, then falling off the roof of your house. Repeat in rapid succession.)
The cone section exits the asphalt to a backroads “driving conditions” course with pre-worn roads full of the requisite potholes and uneven surfaces. The Vette’s suspension is stiffer than most, but it still handled everything with aplomb. There was just no rattling it. Shoot down a straight, brake for a corner, accelerate through it, then put your foot to the floor and the next corner screams toward you.
After the backroads the course merges back onto the asphalt in front of a quarter-mile of glass-smooth surface with nothing on either side. They may as well have put a sign somewhere that read “dragstrip.”
About the third time through the course, I got the idea that I could hit triple digits down this section from a standing start. Blasting through the gears, the speedo in the heads-up display couldn’t keep up. It was swallowing numbers four and five at a time — 83, 88, 93, 97. It hit 101 just as I banged into fourth gear with nothing under my right foot but floorboard and with the engine wailing away like a banshee.
(I did this again on the next run but I missed second gear. The Vette deftly avoided any drama — the rev limiter kicked in and the pedal went soft until the engine shaved off a couple thousand RPM. No harm, no foul. Thank you sir, may I have another?)
On the fourth or fifth time through the course, I became determined to rattle it. You had to be able to get it crossways, right? Combine that much power with twice as much stupidity, and physics should take over. I was sure of it.
The Vette has a bonehead filter consisting of traction control and adaptive braking. It will automatically apply the brakes and modulate power to keep all the wheels spinning in the right direction.
Undettered, I shut this off. I was determined to drift it around a sweeping 180-degree corner. No such luck. The display told me I was pulling a full G-force laterally, but the tail never moved. I gave it more power but it just accelerated and cornered faster, to the point where my left shoulder was bruising against the door panel. But the tail never twitched out of line.
I was beaten.
The Corvette was a popular car that afternoon. It never sat empty for longer than it took to switch drivers. It spent a four-hour stretch being mercilessly abused. Returning to the paddock each time, it reeked of clutch smoke. After the first hour, the front wheels went dark with brake dust and little flecks of rubber were kicked up on the panels behind the rear wheels.
All throughout, it never flinched. Despite making a dozen really crappy drivers look like Michael Schumacher, it pulled, braked, and cornered just as strong on every run.
Even now, in my mind, it’s idling in a dark garage right now thinking, “Is that all you have? Come on, Deane. Let’s go.”