The first Corvette Grand Sport was built out of necessity — the necessity for Chevrolet to beat the Ford-backed Shelby Cobra.
Engine: 6.2L LT1 V8
Power: 460 hp, 465 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: 7-speed manual, 8-speed automatic
EPA Fuel Economy (MPG): 16 city, 25 hwy
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 14.7 city, 9.4 hwy
US Price: Coupe starts at $66,445 (freight included)
CAN Price: Unavailable
Only five cars were built before company execs put the kibosh on the program, but a legend was born nonetheless, one of an automotive pissing contest that ended before it truly had a chance to get started.
More than 50 years later, standing in the pit lane at Atlanta Motorsports Park, the Georgia sun beating down mercilessly, heat rising dizzily from the asphalt, the latest in a short list of cars with a lineage that traces back loosely to those famous five awaits.
I slip into the driver’s seat of the 2017 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport, helmet pressed firmly, if not a tad uncomfortably, into the headliner, hands clammy from a combination of humidity and adrenaline. Clutch in, I start the car and a throaty growl emanates from the exhaust. I roll out of the pit box, right foot gently feathering the throttle, and the exhaust note transforms into a dull rumble, the calm before the storm. Exiting the pit lane, I pin the throttle and listen as the rumble transforms into an all-out roar, the thunder of the exhaust preceded only by the lightning of the car scorching the earth beneath it.
This, of course, isn’t the first rehash of the Grand Sport moniker; there were two before it, in 1996 and again in 2010. And much like those cars, this version, available in the choice of coupe or convertible, has been developed with track days in mind.
It starts life as a Corvette Stingray, but gets wider fenders and rear quarter panels to accommodate massive tires at all four corners, and chassis, suspension, braking and aerodynamic bits from the supercar-killing Corvette Z06. That means standard magnetorheological adaptive dampers, stiffer springs and thicker sway bars, as well as larger Brembo brakes, and a functional front splitter and wicker bill rear spoiler. It wasn’t simply a matter of bolting the parts on and rolling it out the door, though, with each component optimized, however slightly, for the Grand Sport.
Power comes from the same naturally aspirated 6.2-liter V8 found in the Stingray, with the addition of a host of goodies from the Z51 package, including a dry-sump oil system, designed to keep the engine oil from sloshing around too much under aggressive cornering, performance exhaust, and heavy-duty transmission and differential cooling. Output is 460 hp and 465 lb-ft of torque, which is a far cry from the Z06’s 650 on both fronts, but is more than enough on the street and the track. The naturally aspirated LT1 also helps the Grand Sport shave weight compared to its big brother, tipping the scales at 3,252 lbs, or about 100 lbs less than a Z06 ‘Vette, due in large part to the latter’s massive supercharger and related plumbing.
The engine comes mated to the choice of two gearboxes: A seven-speed manual or eight-speed automatic. The manual is buttery smooth, but is plagued by tight gates that make it easy to skip gears — say, from second right to fifth, as opposed to third — when shifting aggressively. This is likely a byproduct of the active rev-matching feature more than anything else, which inspires confidence for fast and hard gear changes with no need for fancy footwork. Aside from being a tremendous aide during aggressive driving, active rev-matching is ideally suited for those drivers with big clunky feet, like yours truly, for whom heel-and-toe downshifting is tricky at best. An added bonus is that it sounds phenomenal, blipping the throttle enough to remind everyone within earshot what’s under the hood.
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With the drive mode selector set to Track, traction control goes the way of the dodo, while steering and damping stiffen to add further feel and feedback. The elevation changes at Atlanta Motorsports Park are at times drastic and the corners challenging, both of which can be enough to unsettle even the most competent sports car. Not the Grand Sport, though, with its wide track, taut suspension and massive tires — the rear tires have a ridiculous 335-millimeter section width — keeping the car firmly planted and poised to rocket out of any turn. And with a meaty power band to work with, pulling the car out of corners is done with ease, the throttle responsive enough to waggle the rear end when flying out of apexes before the electronic limited-slip differential tidies things up.
Add the Z07 package for another $8,000 or so, with its carbon ceramic brakes and Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, and grip hits King Kong levels — cornering forces jump from a stout 1.05g to a ridiculous 1.2g — while your innards will quickly meet the inside of your ribcage thanks to organ-shifting stopping distances from 60 mph that measure about the length of a couple of coach buses. With replacement costs north of $10,000 for new brakes and $2,500 for tires, however, the proposition of the added grip and stopping power isn’t an inexpensive one.
For all its on-track accoutrement, the Grand Sport proves an excellent accomplice on the road. Spin the drive mode selector out of Track and into Sport or Touring, and the Grand Sport transforms into a grand tourer, proving comfortable enough for weekends away while still offering a plenty of performance chops. The automatic transmission handles gear changes with equal aplomb whether tackling the job on its own or in paddle-shifting manual mode, and learns on the fly using algorithms to adjust to driving style. Of course, the automatic lacks the edge the manual brings to the table, but is the way to go for lightning-fast launches on the way from zero to 60 mph in about 3.6 seconds.
The cockpit is tailored equally as well for track time as it is cruising the countryside, and comes decked out with an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone compatibility, 4G LTE WiFi hotspot functionality, and heated and ventilated seats. The infotainment system is also where the performance data recorder lies, measuring g-forces, zero-to-60-mph times and overall lap times, among others, which can help anyone become a better driver.
The interior isn’t perfect, however, with the seats proving comfortable and supportive despite the narrowness of the adjustable bolsters, while the coupe’s headroom leaves something to be desired, particularly on the passenger side. One way to combat this is to slide the seat forward to recline the seatback, but it’s a quick way for knees to meet dashboard. Visibility is also poor at best, particularly in the coupe, with wide pillars, massive rear haunches and tiny sideview mirrors making lane changes a strenuous task.
Pick Your Poison
The Grand Sport almost rivals the Porsche 911 when it comes to bespoke choices, with the options list resembling a fast food menu. The full gambit of Stingray colors are offered, with 10 exterior and seven interior choices, along with five available finishes on the 19-inch front and 20-inch rear wheels, suede and leather in the cabin, painted brake calipers, blacked-out badging, carbon fiber and aluminum trim, and a whole host of stripes and hash marks in every color imaginable. If all that isn’t enough, red seat belts can also be added for a price.
Skip the add-ons, and none of the trio of Corvette models on the market drives a harder bargain than this Grand Sport. Priced at $66,445 for the coupe, it’s only $5,000 more than the hardtop Stingray in Z51 guise and $14,000 less than the Z06.
The Verdict: 2017 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport Review
Back in the pit lane at Atlanta Motorsports Park, fresh off of a set of hot laps in a blue coupe with white center stripe and red fender hash marks, just like it was back in ‘96, the paths of past and present converge before my very eyes. A 1963 Corvette Grand Sport, the one driven by Jim Hall and Roger Penske at Sebring in 1965, rolls by in its all-original glory. I wouldn’t dare ask, for fear of having the question slapped right out of my mouth, to climb in let alone touch a piece of automotive history reportedly insured for $5-million. Instead, I put my helmet on and clamber my way back into the 2017 Grand Sport, the thunderous roar of the exhaust cutting through the thick air like a battle cry.
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