Corvette Grand Sport Driven


Pics Dom Romney/Influx

//The Location//

There’s a strange sort of irony in picking up the latest Corvette Grand Sport from the centre of the Industrial revolution’s Eden. Venerable dealer Bauer Millet – who specialise in all sorts of Euro exotica as well as Americana – are situated underneath the arches, right in the heart of central Manchester.

The location is the quintessence of New Britain. Conference centres, swish boutiques and cafés now sit amid the dark Satanic mills, bridges, canals and institutional edifices that are the sweatshops of the digital age.

You’ll still find folk wandering up and down these gentrified streets humming metaphorically the theme tune from Corrie. But Manchester feels more European than London these days – and there’s more quietly humming trams about than rumbling V8s.

On the day we drive the Corvette a pall of black smoke rises from somewhere in the city centre. More looting? I try a mental calculation as to whether fibreglass burns easily.

Video shot for Influx by Tom Dawson

//The Car//

The orginal, 1963 Corvette Grand Sport was the end result of a factory mission to compete and win at classic venues like Sebring and Le Mans – and to add another name to a roster of American victors headed up by Carrol Shelby.

But the project, set into motion by chief engineer Zora Duntov, hadn’t been sanctioned by the GM board and was Kiboshed – but not before a handful of lightweight machines with a 6.2 litre small block V8 and all-round disc brakes were produced. All five of the originals are still in existence, each worth millions apiece.

So while a huge amount of energy in the American motor industry is looking toward alternative futures, the current Corvette Grand Sport is an echo of the past that resonated with the best of contemporary tech. But it’s not just the name and the badge that echoes Corvette’s past glories. Genuine research and technology have gone into this flagship of Yankee pride.

There’s electronic launch control with the short throw six speed manual box; there’s variable-ratio steering, which allows a mix of sharp –turn-ins and straight-line stability; there’s a relatively unobtrusive electronic handling system that makes the best of available grip – and can of course be switched off easily when you want to cut loose. Corvettes, too, were among the first production cars to offer magnetic selective ride control that assesses road surface conditions on the move and adjusts damping accordingly.

Under the hood there’s the most powerful standard Corvette engine that has ever been produced – a 6.2 litre LS3 V8 which is a direct descendent of the small block engine that originally appeared in the 1963 version of the GS. There’s an array of track-derived features in this baby, including a high-lift cam, and a high flow intake manifold and cylinder heads. The result is a super-reliable 437 Horsepower package with 575 NM of torque. GM reckons there’s a whacking 100,000 miles between major services on these engines – but they don’t choose to highlight this claim on the Corvette. With this brand-within-a-brand the marketing is all about performance, heritage and experience.

//The Experience//
When you first encounter the Grand Sport you can feel that there’s something ‘un-American’ about it. Not that this is some subversive pinko o a car. The original from 1963 looked and felt as if it were aspiring to a kind of European aesthetic that Shelby and his Cobras downright ignored. On this car there’s something about the light clusters, the positioning of the cooling intakes and the low, road-hoovering stance that owes more to the drawings of Pininfarina and Bertone than the boxish brutalism of American muscle.

The type and the nomenclature obviously keep reminding you of the car’s all-American heritage, but it’s a refreshingly outward looking, East Coast sort of Americana.

This Corvette is, after all, a relative lightweight contender with a curb weight of a little over 1500KG (only 20KG heavier) Ferrari’s 458. This is mainly to do with that trademark composite shell – and driving over the cobbles of Manchester you can see its wings quivering with the effort.

We’re loving the short throw gearbox (and don’t believe that any ‘Vette should come with flappy paddles, which are available if you so desire). The limited enthusiastic driving we were able to do availed us of the right amount of oversteer and grunt through those huge rear wheels.

Bury your boot and it’s pleasantly torquey and easy to fishtail through the gears – but the package, especially when switched to the more sedate touring mode, makes the car usable, even dignified. Visibility with the top down feels surprisingly good and the clutch requires no monster thigh action.

In fact, the whole drive feels very user friendly with satisfying slush-box clunks and fluid engagements. The one annoyance is the relatively convoluted stopping and starting sequence, which requires you to select reverse before leaving the car – and to switch off the intrusion sensor you have to reach over to the glove box and flick a switch. Irritating when you’re in and out of the car as we were, but probably less so when involved in day-to-day use.

//The Verdict//
We’re impressed. The thing about Corvettes is that they represent the sort of Americana that has always looked to Europe for its aesthetic inspiration. If you’re after the sort of high-octane swagger and design brutalism that characterises muscle cars – the Corvette isn’t it. If however, you’re after something that harnesses the glory of big V8 engines and marries that with some impressive tech, then this may be your answer.

Thanks to Mitch @ Bauer Millett