Corvettes are fast—this much is clear. What’s less clear is why they’re so fast. Sure, a big V-8 engine in the front or middle is the obvious answer, but Chevrolet employs a structure of three-character codes to essentially designate Corvettes as fast, faster, and fastest. That’s the gist of the Z51, Z06, and ZR1 titles commonly associated with Corvettes. Let’s break down what the Corvette codes mean and see how they affect performance.
Where Stingray is the standard Corvette specification, think of Z51 as a sport package which readies the car for track use and hard driving. Stickier tires, bigger brakes, improved cooling, enhanced traction, and a power bump are typical aspects of the Z51 mix.
In the context of the new C8, Z51 brings larger Brembo brakes, an altered axle ratio and electronic limited-slip differential, adjustable performance suspension, Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires, and upgraded cooling. It also adds a sport exhaust system which bumps the LT2 6.2-liter V-8’s power to 495 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque, increases of five in each measure.
Z51 C8s will be visually distinguishable by a lower front splitter and two-piece rear spoiler which work to provide up to 400 pounds of downforce. It’s key to unlocking the C8’s alleged 3.0-second 0-60 time and 194-mph top speed.
If Stingray is a comfortable bruiser and Z51 is a sharpened all-rounder, Z06 spec makes the Corvette legitimately track-ready. It brings grippier tires, stiffer suspension, further cooling for the engine and brakes, downforce-generating aero, and stronger stoppers all around. Ah, right, and an engine that seriously turns up the heat over the standard Stingray’s.
In the C5, it was the LS6, a 5.7-liter unit with up to 405 hp. The C6’s LS7 grew to a whopping 7.0 liters of displacement and made 505 hp. The C7 generation brought forced induction, adding a supercharger to the 6.2-liter LT4 for 650 hp. All Z06 Corvettes have a six-speed manual transmission as standard, although an eight-speed automatic was made available on the C7.
As of yet there’s no official word on the C8 Z06, but our latest intel suggests a twin-turbo setup pushing on a flat-plane crank to take power to new levels.
The ZR1 is, simply put, the ultimate Corvette. Whether road course ripping, drag strip crushing, or top speed chasing, ZR1 keeps the Corvette name in any conversation about the finest exotic cars.
ZR1 was first used on the C3 Corvette, where it indicated a strengthened transmission, more powerful brakes, upgraded cooling, and stiffer suspension; similar enhancements remained hallmarks of later ZR1s. For the C4 generation (to be specific, called the ZR-1) it brought a model-exclusive engine: a 5.7-liter mill with dual-overhead camshafts, contrasting the standard engine’s pushrod valvetrain. For the C6 ZR1 (no hyphen) a supercharger was strapped to its 6.2-liter engine for 638 hp, while carbon ceramic brakes and numerous carbon-fiber body components added lightness.
Chevrolet revived the ZR1 badge for the C7’s swansong, and made it the hardest-core Corvette ever. Again, a supercharger was employed, this time a larger unit which necessitated a bulging hood to fit. That plus stronger internals resulted in engine output of 755 hp, making it the most powerful production Corvette ever. Extensive aerodynamics were part of the performance cadre, including an available carbon-fiber wing, which provided 950 pounds of downforce.
It’s still too early to know anything about a C8 ZR1, but if—rather, when—it becomes reality it’ll no doubt run with the fastest vehicles ever produced.
C8 Corvette Z Mode
It’s not to be confused with any of the above models, but all C8 Corvettes have a new feature: Z Mode. Enabled by a button on the steering wheel’s left spoke, Z Mode provides instant access to a customized calibration of the driver’s preferred suspension, steering, and powertrain settings. The C8 will also have Chevrolet-defined modes ranging from performance and comfort, but Z Mode activates the driver’s personalized mix at the touch of a button.
So why the Z? It’s a tribute to the vision of Zora Arkus-Duntov, the GM engineer and so-called “father of the Corvette.” He knew a mid-engine layout would elevate the vehicle to new heights, but didn’t live to see it come to fruition.