Every gearhead wants to drive something unique. We yearn for the thrill of g-sled acceleration, the feel of cornering as though on rails, and styling that makes you the envy of everyone at Cars and Coffee. This usually means an exotic or nearly exotic car. The thrill of being shoved back in your seat, hearing the wail of a high performance engine, as the scenery outside your window blurs, as you watch the speedometer tell you you’re approaching warp speed, it’s an experience few others eclipse. The problem, for most of us, is that exotic car experience is usually accompanied by a hefty price tag, and that job working at Uncle Plucky’s House of Chicken hasn’t impressed your loan officer enough to finance a new Aventador. So, how do the true car geeks among us scratch that itch to go fast, corner hard, and look cool without selling off our first born? Look for those rare-but-attainable affordable exotics. As the average price for a new car is just over $33,500, I have tried to find exotics with an entry price around $40,000. Compared with the sticker of the 2018 Ford GT (around $450,000), Porsche 911 Turbo ($159,200 base), Ferrari 488 ($245,400), and the Lamborghini Aventador ($399,500), $40k begins to look like an absolute bargain.
Corvette Z06 2001-2004- Offered as a stand-alone model, and based on the 1999-2000 Corvette Hardtop (FRC or Fixed Roof Coupe, as it came to be known among the VetteHeads), the Z06 came equipped with a 385 horsepower LS-6 displacing 5.7 liters. The block for the LS-6 was quite similar to the stock LS-1 block used in the rest of the Corvette line, but with a host of specific modifications designed to milk another 35hp from the engine. The exhaust was the first mass-produced titanium system, and shaved an additional 19 pounds of overall weight. The Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires were 23 pounds lighter than the stock coupe and convertible tires. As none of the C5 generation Corvettes came with a spare tire, the Z06 was simply equipped with a flat repair kit. The Z06 came with numerous performance options standard, and every Z06 was outfitted with the 6-speed manual transmission. For the 2002 model year, power was bumped to 405 horsepower. Performance was impressive and suitably quick, with a zero to 60 time of 3.9 seconds, and the quarter mile passing in 12.3. Top speed was rumored to have been nearly 170mph.
Pros: Corvettes have long been known not only as the kings of performance, but also the pinnacle when it comes to bang for the buck. Right now, these fifth generation Corvettes are trading for well under the $20,000 mark. Service is available at any Chevrolet dealer, at Chevy hourly service rates. Parts are readily available. If you can keep your foot out of the throttle, the Z06 even returns pretty decent fuel economy, yielding 17mpg in town and 29mpg on the highway. The Z06 is a great platform for performance modification, with many examples producing up to 800 ponies and beyond. This is the super car for the common man; affordable, easy to work on, economical, easy to modify, and simply collectible.
Cons: As has been a common criticism of past Corvettes, the quality of the interiors is not up to that of its more expensive competitors. Corvettes are known to develop squeaks and creaks with time and age. Cargo room, though better than previous generations, is still somewhat limited. There was a steering wheel lockout recall issued on some C5 Corvettes-you will want to be sure this has been addressed. Due to being so low to the ground, and having seat bolsters designed to provide positive lateral support, said bolsters will show wear before any other part of the seat. It is nearly impossible to get in and out of the car without dragging the bolsters.
Verdict: Affordable, economical, with great performance, handling, braking, and acceleration, the Z06 seems like an obvious bargain. It has reasonable parts prices and dealer service rates, and exclusivity without excess sacrifice. If you can live with the smallish cargo area, and some small noises won’t drive you nuts, the Z06 is a stellar performer.