Three Days in the D

Detroit proves to be the perfect place to test-drive the brand-new 2013 Corvette 427 Convertible.

Three Days in the D 0
August 10, 2012

Whether viewed as a struggling municipality that’s seen better times or a metaphor for America’s industrial decline, Detroit is anything but pretentious. The same is true of the Corvette. There are no airs about this sports car, whether you’re talking about the entry-level $49,600 coupe or the $111,600 ZR1.

There was then, perhaps, no better venue to sample the new, 2013 Corvette 427 Convertible Collector Edition than the streets of the Motor City. By its very name, this car recalls the halcyon days of big blocks, muscle cars and street racing on Woodward Avenue—the legendary thoroughfare that runs north out of the city and has long been metro Detroit’s cruising hot spot. The city was firing on all cylinders back in the ’60s, and there are signs today that the engine that is Detroit is starting to rumble back to life.

Likewise, the 427 Convertible illustrates the resilience and relevance of an all-American icon. It is the latest in the series of commemorative models that mark the end of a Corvette generation. The tradition dates back to 1982 and the end of the C3 generation, but never before has one of these models been so thoroughly re-engineered. As the name implies, the 427 Convertible is powered by the Z06’s 505-horsepower LS7 engine, but more than simply a factory convertible with a more powerful engine, it combines comprehensive changes throughout—from Z06 carbon-fiber front body components to ZR1 wheels and tires and uniquely calibrated Magnetic Selective Ride Control shocks—to create a well-balanced, high-performance sports car.

For the record, our tester was sprayed in lustrous Crystal Red and fitted with optional black “Cup” wheels, along with optional carbon-fiber rocker extensions and front splitter, as well as silver headlight housings. It also wore 60th anniversary logos that all 2013 Corvettes wear, which shouldn’t be confused with the available 60th Anniversary Design package that includes an Arctic White Exterior with a Blue Diamond leather interior. The options pushed our test car’s $75,925 MSRP up to about $80,000. A 427 Heritage package is available; it adds a hood graphic reminiscent of the classic stinger hood.

Our window of opportunity with the 427 Convertible opened on a Friday afternoon and closed on a Monday morning. It turned into three days of automotive happenstance that could only take place in the Motor City.

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Friday: 1 p.m.

It would be easy to assume this car is essentially a Corvette Grand Sport convertible fitted with the LS7 engine—and frankly, that was our assumption before sliding behind the wheel. But there is much more to the 427 Convertible than simply the 505-horsepower engine married to the convertible body, and it didn’t take more than the first five minutes behind the wheel for that fact to reveal itself.

The 427 Convertible’s suspension, including the calibration of the standard MSRC shocks, sway bars and leaf springs, differs from the Z06. The unique calibrations take into account the structural differences of its steel-chassis/convertible configuration versus the stiffer aluminum-chassis/coupe configuration of the Z06—as well as the wider ZR1 tires. The end result is a suspension tune that falls somewhere between the Grand Sport and Z06 in terms of firmness and response.

It would also be logical to ask why Chevrolet didn’t simply toss the convertible body on the Z06 chassis. This simply wasn’t feasible because the alloy frame wasn’t designed for a convertible body and would have required structurally debilitating surgery to the roof section. Beyond that, the Z06’s aluminum frame is a whole lot more expensive than the Grand Sport’s steel one, which would have pushed the price of the 427 Convertible beyond the target range.

Using the steel chassis and achieving a weight balance as close to 50/50 as possible required the use of lightweight carbon-fiber body panels, including the Z06’s front clip and adding its optional carbon-fiber hood as standard equipment. It wasn’t an inexpensive proposition for the Corvette team when they made their case for the 427 Convertible, but the payoff was worth the effort.

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Even the placement of the battery required some re-engineering. In the Z06, the battery is located in the cargo area, while the oil tank resides in the underhood battery location for LS3-powered cars. The issue with moving the battery to the trunk of the convertible is the power cable’s routing; the Z06’s would interfere with the folding-top mechanism. Engineers routed a new cable up and out of the way, but the solution exemplified how even seemingly simple things turn into complex challenges when it comes to developing production vehicles.

Engineers worked approximately 18 months to make the 427 Convertible more than merely the sum of its parts, and they delivered something that stands alone as a unique model with a driving experience unlike anything other model in the Corvette lineup.

Friday: 4:30 p.m.

After a few hours in the car, the genius of combining the LS7 engine with the convertible body and MSRC shock absorbers was very apparent. In fact, it might just be the most brilliant amalgamation since cookie dough met ice cream.

We instinctively braced for impact on the pock-marked, expansion-jointed and generally lumpy streets around Detroit, but the 427 Convertible absorbed surface irregularities like a pothole sponge, even with the suspension setting turned to Sport. More impressive was the car’s solidity. The body didn’t rattle, the windshield header didn’t shimmy and only on the sharpest of impacts did we detect some reverberation in the steering wheel.

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We asked Jeff Nowicki, ex-GM designer, longtime Corvette racer and former owner of Specter Werkes/Sports, to assist in some of the car-to-car shots we needed for our story’s action photos. He drove while we hung out of a chase car snapping photos, then we pressed him for an opinion. “I’m impressed,” he said. “I’ve driven countless C6s, but this combination of the LS7 and Magnetic Ride Control with the convertible is damn-near perfect. It would be easy to drive this car 1,000 miles and you’d know you would still have the capability to outrun just about anything on a road course. It would be interesting to test this car on the track.”

We thought the same, but our time with the car didn’t allow for instrumented testing. That means we’d have to rely on Chevrolet’s performance numbers, which include an estimated 0-60 mph performance of 3.8 seconds, eclipsing the quarter-mile in 11.8 seconds, lateral acceleration of 1.04 g and a top speed of more than 190 mph. The 427 Convertible’s curb weight of 3,355 pounds is within five percent of the Z06’s 3,199-pound figure. Factoring in the LS7’s output, the 427 Convertible has a power-to-weight ratio of 6.64:1. That’s better than the Audi R8 Spyder (7.58) or Ferrari California (8.31). More than its light touch on the scales, the 427 Convertible has a balanced feel. The car is very controllable and easy to place with both the steering wheel and throttle.

Friday: 7:45 p.m.

After the photo shoot, we ventured onto Woodward Avenue to check out the throngs of cars that appear on warm summer nights. Within a couple of blocks, we came up on a blue C6 with the vanity plate “CALIBR8,” which we knew belonged to tuner Greg Banish of Calibrated Success. His seminars, books and videos about EFI tuning are popular, and he puts his advice to use in his personal Corvette. Its twin-turbo LS3 engine pumps out about 670 horsepower. It was the first time all day we’d rolled up on something that might have an edge on the 427 Convertible. “Nothing to worry about with this car,” Banish said, laughing. “It’s all tire spin at the stoplight.”

After chatting with Banish about the finer points of fuel injectors and the tuning prospects for the direct-injected Gen 5 small-block V8 in the forthcoming C7 Corvette, we called it a day. It was on the way home that we realized the seats—revised for 2012 with new bolsters and carried over for ’13—add another dimension to the driving experience. They are more supportive than anything from the factory we’ve experienced in the past and the microfiber inserts provide a fair share of grip themselves, while looking very upscale.

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Saturday: 8:00 A.m.

Saturday in the “D” meant getting up early to take in the eclectic “Cars and Coffee” gathering at Auto Zone on Woodward. It’s a store filled with auto models, books and magazines, not the auto parts franchise. The gathering attracts everything from souped-up Novas to late-model Ferraris, often driven by designers, engineers and other auto industry types. We backed the 427 Convertible into a prominent spot and were soon flanked by a classic Morgan and a black C5 Z06.

By chance, the Z06 belonged to John Banach, an engineer with almost 35 years at General Motors; he worked on the runner design of the original L98 Tuned Port Injection engine for the 1985 Corvette. He currently works on the front accessory drive systems for engine applications in specific vehicles, including the 427 Convertible. “This one just has it all, doesn’t it,” said Banach. “I mean, it’s got the LS7 and it’s a convertible. What else could you want?”

There was no point to argue with him and we excused ourselves to put more miles on the car. There aren’t many curvy roads and certainly no canyons to carve in Southeast Michigan, but we flexed the Corvette’s muscles where we could, reveling in its handling precision, its instantaneous power and its incredible exhaust note. Like the Z06, the 427 Convertible comes with the pressure-actuated bi-modal exhaust system, which offers an amplified aural experience of the LS7 versus listening to it in a coupe. It’s not necessarily louder, but purer, as the mechanical wail at wide-open throttle is unfiltered by the coupe’s glass and roof panel.

The 427 Convertible’s brakes are borrowed from the Z06, with enormous 14-inch rotors and six-piston calipers up front and 13.4-inch rotors and four-piston rotors in the rear. We couldn’t find a fault with them in terms of stopping distances or brake fade, and we liked the pedal feel. The best thing about the brakes is the confidence they inspire—in fact, we found ourselves checking the rearview mirror in traffic, because the car stopped so quickly, we feared those behind us wouldn’t.

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Saturday: 5 P.m.

Saturday evening we attended the 70th birthday party of a retired GM designer. Many of the attendees were retired or current GM designers and engineers. And in a coincidence that could only happen in the Detroit area, we found we weren’t the only ones who showed up in a Corvette 427 Convertible Collector Edition. There were three of them at the party. So much for exclusivity.

After our fill of birthday cake, we dropped the top and again headed out on Woodward Ave., stopping this time at a Shell gas station that is the de facto hot-rod headquarters. We talked with a couple of Chevrolet die-hards who leveled the only criticism at the car we heard all weekend: “The 427 badges are almost invisible,” they opined, adding it was difficult to tell the car was a special edition.

They had a point. The 427 hood badges definitely evoke the spirit of big blocks past, but they are difficult to read at a glance. Placing them on the front fenders may not be in sync with Corvette heritage, but that would definitely make a more visible statement. As mentioned, a stinger-type hood graphic is available for the 427 Convertible; we suggest ordering it for anyone who wants to ensure his or her car doesn’t go unnoticed.

Sunday: 11 A.m.

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Our final day with the 427 Convertible was Father’s Day and this writer celebrated it with his five-year-old daughter, Mary, by attending the Eyes on Design show at the Edsel Ford estate located on the east side of Detroit. Eyes on Design is a prestigious, charity-based concours-like event focused on the design statement of automobiles; it is judged by designers from the industry, including GM’s Ed Welburn. It was the event’s 25th year and the milestone was marked by several displays of silver cars, including a stunning circle of silver Corvettes.

The half-hour drive to the event provided the sort of unvarnished, completely objective opinions that only a five-year-old could utter. Mary astutely compared the car with the only other vehicles she is familiar with, including her father’s 1990 Corvette coupe, an equally old Ford F-250 and a 2002 Camaro SS. On the car’s acceleration: “Whoa! Daddy, this car is a lot faster than your Corvette and the Camaro. I mean, a lot!”

“Thanks, honey,” I replied, thinking she didn’t exactly have to rub it in with that second, more emphatic “a lot.”

As for the 427 Convertible’s handling, which we experienced while taking an on-ramp rather briskly, Mary’s summation was flat and direct: “It feels a lot better going on a turn than your truck.”

I grinned and told her I’d definitely pass that information along to Corvette Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter, and that I was sure he and his team would be happy to know their 2013 Corvette goes better through a turn than a 22-year-old pickup truck.

Mary gave another thumbs-up to the new touch-screen radio system, which she figured out just as quickly as her father. The articulating screen moved out and down to provide access to the CD player and a slot for the navigation disc. When I casually mentioned the nav disc slot said “DVD,” Mary immediately wanted to try a movie. I told her it wouldn’t work, but then again, I wasn’t 100-percent sure. So, in the interest of science and the appeasement of a five-year-old who wouldn’t stop saying “pleeeeeeeease,” we slipped in a Mickey Mouse Clubhouse disc and got a screen message that said something to the effect of, “the inserted disc isn’t a navigation disc.” No movie. At least we were sure—if not a wee bit disappointed.

Heavy rain moved in on the way home from Eyes on Design, effectively wrapping up our top-down driving and our time with the 427 Convertible Collector Edition. It left us surprised and delighted. To be frank, we expected a convertible with a Z06 engine—powerful, but maybe a bit ponderous. We were thrilled to be mistaken, finding instead a 505-hp convertible supercar you can drive every day. The ride is really that good.

As we look forward to the next-generation Corvette, we admit being hard-pressed to imagine how Chevy could be improve upon the sublime driving experience of the 427 Convertible Collector Edition. Detroit’s legacy shines brightly with this Corvette, but we can’t wait to see what’s next.

Also from Issue 76

  • 1967 Restomod
  • C5 Buyer's Guide
  • 1957 Convertible Restoration
  • 2004 C1 Conversion
  • Tech: MSRC Shocks
  • 1973 Manta Ray GT
  • Racing: Le Mans
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