I’ve driven a few different cars in my time, but usually stuff I own and maintain myself. I’m a pretty young dude, so people aren’t always eager to hand me their keys. But I recently starting making friends at a weekly car meet way up in Angeles National Forest, where people can see that I can in fact drive when my GTI haunts their rearview mirror. I leveraged this newfound faith into a quick drive in my friend Tyler’s centrifugal supercharged 600 WHP manual C7 Corvette.
Took long enough. I’m also very bad about asking to drive other’s things and usually do it awkwardly and clunkily, preferring to wait for an offer from the owner. Tyler offered, thank God.
Tyler bought this car with a supercharger kit and tune from a dealer, and the promise that the dealer would replace the Delinte D7 tires it had with a set of Michelin Pilot Super Sports, at Tyler’s cost. The dealer did no such thing, and Tyler got his tire money back upon delivery, and road tripped the Corvette across the American southwest back home to California. Eventually, the car landed in my hands for this drive.
“I could never be a ‘Vette guy.” I said to my friend.
“Nor could I, though I respect the performance…” she replied.
Indeed, I was keen to find out if, maybe, I actually could be a ‘Vette guy.
We hopped into his bitchin’ ‘Vette on a gorgeous day on Angeles Crest Highway. I got familiar with the inputs of the C7, which impressed me as an avowed Euro snob. A factory Z51 car, the Corvette has a dry-sump oil system, magnetorheological suspension, a trick differential, some coolers, and had some seats with aggressive upper bolstering but nothing much for the thighs.
The shifter was surprisingly slick and a little rubbery and long, but still satisfying with closely spaced gates from side to side. As I adjusted my seat down and forward for my small frame, I found a nice steering wheel that presented itself to me and my hands with generous proximity and searched for the start button that brought the supercharged LT1 to life. The center LCD flashed a big “CORVETTE” and the analog gauges surrounding it swept their full range lazily as the V8 lumped up to life with a wet, loose idle.
Immediately, the sound of the open-air bypass from the centrifugal supercharger took over for the idle with a constant, loud whoosh. A quick dip at the throttle silences the whoosh with a lazy V8 bark. My first American sports car experience was ready to go. A surprisingly short clutch devoid of much feel resisted my left foot with medium weight, and that funny shifter plunked into place with reassuring effort. So far, the ‘Vette didn’t feel like the mild shitbox I was raised to believe.
Exiting the Newcomb’s Ranch parking lot with some gentle short shifts to get the feel for the clutch takeup and timing of my shifts, the Corvette immediately gave the sensation of shrinking around my limbs; a totally natural and intuitive driving experience. This, I did not expect. Whatever jinba ittai translates to in Bowling Green, Kentucky, I suspect they internalized it a little bit. The inputs aren’t as clear or resolved as, say, a Miata, with the shifter, in particular, being slightly awkward but good, but they are still impressive and probably a few cheap mods away from being fabulous.
Even with the completely garbage Delinte D7 tires communicating the road to my hands and coccyx, the steering and sensation of rotation is pretty spot-on, even for an electrically assisted rack. The Corvette did a commendable impression of steering “feel” which lacked granularity but made it up with great buildup of effort and an actual sense that there are 50-pound spinning metal donuts at the end of the tie rods. I really enjoyed the steering in particular, and it paired nicely with the way the car rotates around you and not behind you, a new sensation for me as well.
That’s all before I gave the almighty engine a prod. Sure, other engines with more camshafts or whatever make more peak power. This cam-in-block ruffian makes so much power everywhere, something we call “power under the curve”, or average power over the entire rev range. This is what makes the LS and subsequent LT engine so effective, if a bit blunt. The centrifugal supercharger takes this average power, and makes it linear and revvy, thanks to it being (in essence) a belt-driven turbocharger, with boost rising in direct proportion to RPM.
The power at 3,000 RPM felt like plenty, and I still had another 3,000 RPM to go. I enjoyed cruising the engine while momentum driving the car on bad tires to get a decent feel for the chassis, but at the first straightaway, I finally sunk into the full travel of the throttle. GM’s excellent Performance Traction Management (PTM) kept the hootenanny in a straight line for the first second, then the Corvette exploded in third gear, revving with a mostly flat but subtly linear curve to 6,000 RPM. The power wasn’t shocking or scary, but satisfying and kind of heartening in the sensation of flight that your chest gets, almost like your heart soaring to good news. It’s hard to describe, but it was a goddamn hoot.
Our friend the PTM was working overtime as I began to feel confident in applying some more power on corner exits, and this is where I truly started lamenting the rubber that could have shod this Corvette. The grip was very low, and while the car did a trick similar to a BRZ with cornering speeds and bad tires, the Delintes were overwhelmed quickly. It did the flat seats many favors; I didn’t need much lateral support.
I brought it home with a final full-throttle three-gear blast on the straightaway to Newcomb’s Ranch, and parked up shocked by the experience. I know, I’m last to this party but holy shit GM can build a great sports car? I’ve driven some Alpha platform cars but none of them are quite like this, with its dual wishbones and aluminum frame. I wouldn’t call it precise, but it offers the driver a satisfying sort of leeway and very early indications of rotation that make the Corvette easy to adjust before and during a corner, and the PTM kept me from being a sideways lunatic.
The 600 horsepower was the least impressive part to me. This is a great handling car, with nice intangibles, even if everything felt a little squidgy. I counted those flaws as part of the personality of the car, where it erred on the side of comfort rather than thrashy, direct fatigue. It got me thinking.
“Maybe I could be a ‘Vette guy.” I said to my friend as I clambered out. “That was really decent.”
The moment I can afford a C7 Grand Sport, I could become a Corvette guy indeed. I suspect that it only gets better from here.