Droptop Duel

Driving the ’14 Z51 and the ’13 427 Convertible

Droptop Duel 1
September 5, 2014

It’s been a full year since we published our first road test of the 2014 Corvette Stingray. During that time we’ve written stories about a number of C7s, from stock coupes to supercharged convertibles. When we found out we could get our hands on a 2014 convertible from the GM press fleet, we weren’t sure what angle to take on the story—our reviews have thus far been uniformly positive; what else could we say about Chevrolet’s superlative new machine? Then we realized we had yet to drive a C7 back-to-back with a C6. Surely such a comparison test would shed new light on the Stingray. Given the seventh-gen’s increased performance, no standard C6 convertible would do. Therefore we decided to track down a 2013 427 Convertible, allowing us to compare the latest Corvette droptop to arguably the greatest.

Chevrolet had a lot to celebrate in 2013. Not only was it the final year for C6 production, it marked the Corvette’s 60th anniversary. “We wanted to do something really special, something we had never done before,” said Corvette Product Market Manager Harlan Charles of Chevrolet’s decision to build the 505-horsepower 427 Convertible, the most powerful convertible the carmaker has ever offered. Corvette customers had long clamored for a truly high-output droptop. The last time the carmaker offered such a model was 1969, when the convertible could be ordered with the fire-breathing L88 big-block. The fourth-generation ZR-1 couldn’t be had in convertible form, nor could the fifth-gen Z06. Then, eight years into the C6’s production run, Chevy finally relented to enthusiast demand.

Though it is powered by the Z06’s 7.0-liter LS7 engine, the 427 Convertible is not a Z06 convertible. Instead, it is based on the steel-framed Grand Sport, as reengineering the Z06’s aluminum structure would have been cost prohibitive for a single-model-year car. In addition to its high-output engine, the 427 Convertible received a number of upgrades over the Grand Sport, including Magnetic Selective Ride Control (MSRC) dampers, unique 19- and 20-inch wheels with machined faces and ZR1-spec Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 tires. To help offset the weight of its heavier steel chassis, the 427 Convertible was fitted with carbon-fiber front fenders, a carbon-fiber hood and floor panels featuring the same lightweight materials. As a result of these weight-saving measures, the model tipped the scale at a reasonable 3,355 pounds—156 pounds heavier than a Z06. Chevy claimed the car could hit 60 mph in 3.8 seconds, streak through the quarter-mile in 11.8 seconds, attain a terminal velocity of 198 mph and generate 1.04 g of lateral acceleration. Something special indeed.

Droptop Duel 2

In the fall of 2013, San Francisco resident Stephen Logan wasn’t necessarily in the market for a new Corvette, especially not one with a $75,925 MSRP; he was perfectly happy with his Velocity Yellow 2008 convertible, a car that had brought him back to the Corvette fold. Having seen the debut of the original Corvette at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in 1953, Logan counts himself as a lifelong devotee of the model. As a 19-year-old, fresh out of high school, Logan proceeded to buy himself a new ’62 Corvette. Living on Long Island at the time, he drag-raced the 300-hp machine at various East Coast venues, including the New York National Drag Strip. Eventually, however, insurance premiums proved too costly for the young Logan, and he sold the Corvette. It would be 25 years before he purchased another, an ’87, which he also bought new. But just three years later, not terribly impressed with the C4, Logan took yet another long hiatus from Corvette ownership. It wasn’t until he rented a C6 on vacation that he was wooed back to Chevrolet’s sports car. The thoroughly revised C5 had tempted him, but he wasn’t a fan of the model’s styling. He much preferred the C6’s appearance, but it took getting behind the wheel of one to prompt the purchase. Logan was bowled over by the car’s balance of performance and comfort. In that respect, the C6 proved to be light years ahead of his old C4.

Three years and many enjoyable miles in his ’08 later, Logan saw a brand-new 427 Convertible on the showroom floor of Dublin Chevrolet. Interestingly enough, his ’08 had just been awarded a perfect score at the Dublin Auto Show; he had stopped by the dealership with a few other show entrants after the event. Not only was the 427 Convertible painted Velocity Yellow, it had been fitted with every conceivable option—just the way Logan would have ordered it had he wanted to do so. This got him thinking. He loved the way the car looked, the fact that it was a one-year-only model and the 505 horses under its carbon hood. On the other hand, he was worried about his ability to contend with its manual transmission. (As with the Z06, all 427 Convertibles were fitted with stick shifts.) The onset of arthritis had led him to order his ’08 with an automatic trans. A test drive quickly allayed his fears, as Logan found the clutch action surprisingly light and the gear lever easy to row. Even though he gingerly sampled the car’s power, he was blown away by its acceleration, which was in another league compared with his ’08. Still, he had to think this purchase over; you don’t buy a car pushing $100K (with options) on a whim. A few days later, the Corvette was his, the 427’s lure having proved too strong for this ex-drag racer to resist.

Though Logan’s test drive had given him a taste of his new Corvette’s abilities, a long road trip from San Francisco to Fort Bragg, Calif., provided him the full measure of its incredible performance. He found the car had “no lean” on the mountain roads, yet the MSRC shocks provided a surprisingly good ride over broken pavement. But it was the 427’s speed that impressed him most. “It’s the fastest car I’ve ever driven,” says Logan. “You have to respect this car.”

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Logan is right: his car is fast, as we soon learned on our way from San Francisco to Pescadero, 45 miles to the south. What better way to test a pair of Corvette convertibles than to drive them down the California coast—with the tops down, of course. As it turns out, our Stingray press car was perfectly equipped for the task at hand. We were hoping it would have a manual transmission. Well, we got that, plus a whole lot more: Z51 Performance Package ($2,800), Competition Sport seats ($2,495), MSRC shocks with Performance Track Management ($1,795) and Dual Mode Exhaust ($1,195), as well as the 3LT Preferred Equipment Group. Obviously, the real coup was its Velocity Yellow Tintcoat exterior. This $995 option was paired with yellow-painted brake calipers, which added $595 to the car’s long tally of extras—$16,670 to be exact, making for a $76,470 Stingray.

I started out our afternoon journey in the C7. Having just received the car that morning, I was still getting acquainted with it as Logan followed me in his 427 Convertible on the freeway leg of our drive. It took me a while to dial in my seat and steering-wheel settings, as the Competition Sport buckets’ large hip bolsters impinge on elbow room, forcing me to place the wheel farther away than I usually prefer. Ah, but that wheel is still such a revelation. Perfectly shaped and smaller in diameter than the previous-generation unit, it is a pleasure to hold.

While loafing along at 70 mph in Seventh gear, the LT1 engine was barely ticking over and hardly whispering. Wind buffeting was nicely contained, as was tire noise, thanks to the Stingray’s relatively narrow-section-width Michelins: each one is a mere 285 mm wide, compared to the big 325-mm-wide meats on the 427 Convertible. It may have been tranquil inside the cockpit, but our bright-yellow C7 was causing quite a commotion outside. No, we didn’t find ourselves being chased by camera-phone-wielding fanatics, as was the case last fall, but the C7 still turns heads like a rock star; its supercar status appears here to stay.

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It certainly performed like a supercar once we got off the highway and onto the twisty ribbon of asphalt that would take us over the coastal mountains and down into Pescadero. Though traffic (and sanity) prevented me from drawing too deeply from its deep well of roadholding ability on this leg of the drive, I was able to take a few tantalizing sips. Even after having driven several Z51-equipped Stingrays, I’m still amazed at how well this car turns into corners. It does so with such immediacy and tenacity as to beggar belief. Seemingly no matter how hard you push the C7, it does not understeer, something that is essentially unheard of in a street car. Then there’s the pinpoint accuracy of the steering, which allows for minute mid-corner adjustments. It is deeply satisfying to drive a car that responds so slavishly to your commands. The C7 makes you feel like you’re master of the universe.

Much like the Stingray’s handling, there is an infectious immediacy to its 460-hp LT1 engine. This 6.2-liter V-8 is so bursting with low-down torque, that it almost feels like a giant electric motor. Even the slightest throttle prod catapults the car forward with vigor. If you dig deeper, the C7’s accelerative punch takes your breath away, with the bellicose exhaust note giving your eardrums a good drubbing in the process. Thanks to its sharply creased exterior styling and upscale interior, the new Stingray has an air of sophistication that distinguishes it from its predecessors, yet, just below the surface, it retains a primal quality that keeps it connected to Corvettes of yore.

It was time to switch cars. Upon climbing into Logan’s pristine, 5,000-mile 427, the first thing I noticed was the softness of its seats. Compared with the firm chairs in the Stingray, they felt decidedly squishy. Even with the 427’s adjustable bolsters fully deployed, the C6 seats don’t hold on to its occupants like the Stingray’s standard buckets, much less the even more supportive Competition Sport versions in our C7 test car. The other initial impression was that the 2013 Corvette’s interior seemed more open and roomy than the 2014’s. The Stingray’s slightly wider center console, combined with its wraparound dashboard, give it a more intimate cockpit feel than you’ll find in the airier C6. Though the plastics used in the 427’s interior look a little low rent compared with those used in the C7’s, the full-leather dash and suede inserts in Logan’s heavily optioned, 4LT-equipped example give it an upmarket look. In addition, the C6’s ergonomics—in terms of the relationship between driver and the controls—remains spot on. On that score, Chevy engineers had little to improve upon with new Stingray.

Droptop Duel 5

Once underway, the 427’s boisterous LS7 engine quickly became the star of the show. A little flat off idle, the big V-8 quickly gathers steam. Then, at around 4,000 rpm, it kind of goes berserk with a big surge in power that rises, unabated, right up to its 7,000-rpm redline. The LS7 revs like a race engine, which comes as no surprise given its lightweight reciprocating parts and aggressive cam. It also sounds Le Mans ready, with a brawny roar that hardens as revs climb. Thanks to its extra heft, the 427 Convertible is not quite as quick off the line as a Z06, but when you jump on its throttle at speed, it accelerates with the same delicious urgency as its aluminum-framed sibling.

Not unlike its seats, the 427’s ride quality felt plush. At least initially, the car seemed smoother-riding than the C7, a little less edgy. Fortunately, this did not translate into body roll in the corners. With the chassis remaining resolutely flat and the wide Michelins providing loads of grip, this C6 could be hustled through bends with grin-inducing gusto. However, the car did not respond to driver inputs as quickly as the C7. The steering is slower and less precise, making it harder for me to place the front end exactly where I wanted it. The connection between throttle application and the car’s handling balance was also less direct in the 427, whereas in the Stingray it felt hard-wired. While the C6’s brakes seemed ultimately just as strong as the C7’s, they didn’t have quite the same initial bite as the new Corvette’s binders. Dynamically, the Stingray is simply a far more responsive machine.

As I learned after encountering a few mid-corner bumps, the 427 also lacks the C7’s unflappable handling composure. Though it is not as jittery as the more stiffly sprung Z06, the 427’s rear end still has a tendency to step out when encountering surface irregularities with the suspension loaded and the throttle applied. While this issue didn’t turn my knuckles white, it did force me to proceed with heightened caution through the twistier and bumpier sections of our route. The C7 was far more confidence inspiring through such sections, adroitly dispensing with mid-corner bumps and accelerating out of corners more securely—its dramatically stiffer frame, updated MSRC shocks and electronic rear differential paying huge dividends in these regards.

Droptop Duel 6

Upon stopping for a break at an ocean-front parking lot, Logan emerged from the Stingray with a big smile on his face; he had clearly enjoyed his time piloting the new Corvette. “I’m impressed,” he said. “They did a great job on it.” He was quick to compliment the car’s handling, calling it “superb.” Remarking on the quickness of the helm, Logan said, “You don’t have to fight the wheel as much.” He also felt that the C7 rode more smoothly than his car, adding that it reacts less to bumps. He said the tramlining that keeps him from driving his 427 in the rain was absent from the Stingray.

On the powertrain front, Logan liked the immediacy of the LT1’s torque, noting that it takes longer for his car’s LS7 to wind up. He also liked the shift action of the seven-speed manual gearbox. While Logan felt the C7 sounded good, he said he prefers the big-bore bark of his 427. We wholeheartedly agree with him on this count.

Logan was a little guarded when I asked him for his take on the Stingray’s styling, but he did say he liked the attention to detail Chevy designers lavished on the car, such as the way the fender crease flowed into the headlights. Our particular C7’s black-painted wheels (a $495 option) were not to his liking, however. He said he doesn’t like this trendy look, as it make the wheels disappear into the fender wells. Logan is right on this point, especially considering how the beautifully scalloped alloys on his car accent its curvaceous appearance. We love the C7’s looks, but curvy it ain’t. The C6, especially in wide-body form, looks so much more organic by comparison; it’s a beautiful car.

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In our road test of the 427 Convertible back in Issue 76, we wrote, “As we look forward to the next-generation Corvette, we admit being hard-pressed to imagine how Chevy could improve upon the sublime driving experience of the 427 Convertible.” Well, it did, particularly in the handling and interior departments. However, this is not to say this C6 does not still have its strengths or its allure. Most notable is its LS7 engine, which provides the thrilling high-rpm rush that the LT1 lacks and gives the 427 Convertible the edge in terms of top-end acceleration. For one of our photos, we had Logan accelerate past us in the Stingray as we cruised down Highway 1. Seeing, and hearing, that Velocity Yellow Corvette zoom by left a lasting impression, as did yet another few days behind the wheel of the incredible C7.

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Also from Issue 93

  • 1965 "Spartan" Sting Ray
  • History: Saving the C5 Program
  • Buyer's Guide: $15K
  • Top Flight 1995 ZR-1
  • 1969L89 Convertible
  • C3 Land-Speed Racer
  • Racing: C7.R, DP Compared
  • C5 Z06: Supercar on a Budget
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