'I blip the throttle, and vroom, a boisterous, big band explosion of singing valves and muscular pistons come to life, seemingly aching to take you through the stratosphere.'
We may have kicked out the American GIs from their bases here back in the '90s, but the love for all things ‘Murrican still runs deep—fastfood, pop culture, clothing brands, and of course, fast cars.
Chevrolet has always had an uphill battle to gain everyman street cred since a decade ago, but growth in the past several years has been rapid: more than two dozen dealerships across the country, a growing community of satisfied customers, and a solid, mainstream lineup of passenger cars and utility vehicles. The love for the bowtie brand may yet accelerate with the imminent arrival of its hallowed sports car nee supercar, the Corvette.
Back in the '80s, Chevrolet had a wonderful catchphrase to sum up what it meant to its home country, "the heartbeat of America." Until today, take a look at the motoring population of American freeways, parking lots, and suburban driveways, and chances are you will find a Silverado, Tahoe or Suburban. In my short trip to Las Vegas and Detroit for this story, I lost count of how many late model Chevy trucks I saw on the road. And going against the tide of trucks and SUVs is its own Bolt EV, a rather popular model in the electric/hybrid market.
But of course the Corvette is king. I first fell in love with the Corvette when Arnold Schwarzenegger threw it around some corners (albeit a replica) in True Lies. Avid readers of Car and Driver and Road & Track during those publications' glory days will recall how it seemed the Corvette was in every other issue during the late '80s and 1990s.
And why shouldn't it? With a small block V8 throwing a lightweight, fiberglass body around with enough gusto to shame a Porsche, it was a typically American response to the challenge of physics: There is not much that cannot be solved with brute force. They did it with their fighter planes and their aircraft carriers. Why shouldn't they do it with the premiere American sports car?
And now we have this, the seventh-generation (C7) Corvette, possibly as close to perfect as you can get it while holding the line on price. Yes, price, because while Chevrolet is holding the pricing card close to its chest, my paper napkin math tells me the car will ring in under P10 million based on its US pricing.
There aren't a lot of cars you can get for that kind of money with this much power and chutzpah. It does the 0-60mph (that's 96kph) sprint in less than 4 seconds, the quarter mile in a hair over 12 seconds at 188kph (Motor Trend testing). And it does the deed with no aftermarket modifications needed, too.
In typical American fashion, there is also the nuclear option: a choice of a supercharged Z06 or the limited edition, bazillion horsepower (755hp, I shit you not) ZR-1, perfectly taking it into the “up yours supercars” category for under $120,000 (taxes not included). God bless America.
Our little trip to Paradise took us to Mountain Springs Raceway resort, a privately run nirvana for moneyed folks who want to get away from it all so they can drive the bejesus out of their cars. It has condos, private garages, and a 3.2km track with lots of runoff area and just enough turns, straights and tricky sectors to make you a better driver.
The in-house driving school is run by Ron Fellows, an accomplished driver in the American motorsports scene. We are met on track day by instructors Rick, JJ, and Cole, part of the small army of instructors whose job is to teach the hundreds of drivers who go through the course every month how to get the most out of the Corvette. Their fleet numbers at least two dozen Corvettes, Camaros, and Cadillac ATS.
Our session is limited to just one morning, but it's no Mickey Mouse program. Even in “base” Stingray trim, the Corvette is a beast: 455hp at 6,000rpm, seven-speed manual or eight-speed automatic. Curb weight of just 3,392 pounds, or 7.1hp/lb. A suspension that doesn't look like much on paper (rear leaf springs, really?!), but which has proven time and again to make the ‘Vette a formidable track star.
And of course, a 6.2-liter LT1 V8. For an Asian culture such as ours that has grown spoilt over overhead cams and four valves per cylinder, the pushrod LT1 seems primitive. The last time Chevrolet had an overhead cam design for the ‘Vette was way back in the late '80s and early '90s with the fourth generation ZR-1.
But team Chevrolet is quick to explain the pushrod design's benefits. A low profile relative to an overhead cam design of similar displacement, with a low center of gravity so the engine sits nice and flat under that low hood. V8s came out of God's firmament that way, so hell yeah. Plus it has all the new age goodies like direct injection, variable valve timing and active fuel management, too.
To behold a Corvette for the first time is both awe-inspiring and amusing at the same time. The silhouette is long and low, but also wide like a race car's. That long hood with the canopy-like roof profile evokes the F-22 Raptor, emphasized even more with swoopy lines down the side, broad shouldered fenders, and a graceful character line running from the front, rolling up and down the flanks and to the rump.
If it had wings this thing might fly. Arnold's second run-in with the ‘Vette was 2013's The Last Stand, where a souped-up ZR-1 was central to the plot and outran a helicopter.
Then it's time to get in. Even with my helmet on, it's easy to get comfortable in the cockpit. Controls for the HUD are on the left panel, you can adjust the wheel just so, and do a quick visual scan all around. There are few blinds spots in this sports car that it almost feels… Japanese.
Until I blip the throttle, and vroom, a boisterous, big band explosion of singing valves and muscular pistons come to life, seemingly aching to take you through the stratosphere. “Now that, gentlemen, is the sound of freedom!” I say to no one in particular as I settle down in the cockpit.
Over the next few hours, my instructor Cole patiently teaches me the Way Of The 'Vette. We have the bare minimum of driver aids in use (ABS on, traction control off, engine cutoff on at 6,500rpm), so it would be incredibly easy to stuff the car into a wall. I watch as a colleague inadvertently spins the car after just a tad too much throttle on the warm-up oval track.
Driving the car fast is an exercise in finesse and confidence. Cole instructs me to brake later and later into the corners, to carve the wheel into the apex and smoothly get into the power on the straights.
At first, he senses I'm timid with the car, braking too early, getting on the gas too early, and understeering out of the corners. No joy.
“Trust the brakes. More steering, less brake on entry, feather the brakes if you have to through the curves, dig into the throttle as you exit,” says Cole.
I remember that the Brembos are the size of a Wigo's stock wheels. Maybe larger. The car has very little body roll, allowing you to really carve up each corner as if you were in a proper race car.
A low center of gravity coupled with 50/50 weight distribution means it is as neutral as you could get a sports car to be. You have to be both smooth and aggressive to get the most out of it. Aggressive because you can use brute force to power your way IN and OUT of the corners. Smooth because too much pressure and you'll get all crossed up.
Soon enough, I'm edging the car (and myself) closer and closer to the limit. I'm braking later and later into the corners, clipping the apexes, getting the tires right on the rumbles and flooring the throttle on the straights. I bang through the gears 2-3-4-5 and down again.
The V8 threatens to flick the tail with just a split second's injudiciousness, but I manage to keep all four wheels on the track before it's time to head to the pit. The sweet aroma of burnt rubber, brake pads, and clutch greets me as I egress the car for the last time here in the US. I take a minute to just stand there, letting the adrenaline subside. I can't help but caress the carbon fiber hood as I would a thoroughbred dragon that had just been tamed.
Well, not really. I'm pretty sure I barely scratched the surface of what the car could do, and I'm just happy to have done a decent accounting of my skills. I doubt relatively few real-world Corvette owners will ever take their car to the edge of its performance envelope, but for those who dare, the line for Philippine-bound units starts in the fourth quarter of 2018.