It’s the quintessential American sports car. A front-engine, rear-drive throwback with 460 horsepower. No turbocharger, no hybrid-electric powertrain, nothing to suggest subtlety or civility. Heck, this thing even has stripes. One glimpse of the screaming yellow paint dressing the Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport and gut-churning speed rushes to mind. How could it not?
In other ways, the Grand Sport could not be more modern. Those Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires are a country mile wide not for laying down 11s at the drag strip—at least not only for that—but mainly for greater grip through the sweepers. Gulping intakes that would have once perched atop a hood bulge now feed air into a rear differential cooler. Perhaps we’ve fully moved on from speed for speed’s sake. Downforce for speed’s sake.
Packaged to sell.
It makes for an enticing package. The Grand Sport starts from $65,450 and the Z07 suspension, brakes, and tires package runs an extra $7995. The base Corvette Stingray provides its 6.2-liter V8 LT1 engine with 460 horsepower and 465 lb.-ft of torque; the Z07 suspension package is lifted straight from the 650-horsepower mega-Vette Z06. The resulting car is capable of impressive performance, yet it’s plenty visceral at low speeds too. Think of the Grand Sport as a plastic-bodied muscle car masquerading as a European exotic for less than the price of a GMC Yukon Denali.
A Force on the Road
About 115 miles southeast of Los Angeles, Palomar Mountain South Grade (S6) lacks the fanfare of many of Southern California’s greatest driving roads. But S6 does twist and dip and bend and climb with the best of them, and on a Monday morning you won’t have to share the road. The center console dial twists to Sport for tighter suspension and agility. Going uphill and rowing through the 7-speed manual gearbox, the Grand Sport’s big brakes are scarcely needed, even with greater San Diego County sprawled out below the guardrails.
The Z07 package quickly pays dividends. Each time S6 unfurls I check this Vette’s head-up display to see how closely I’m flirting with 1.0 G of force. Around 0.85 G you can feel the rear suspension adjusting itself to put power down. The Grand Sport comes standard with Magnetic Ride Control, which brilliantly adjusts the shock absorbers, like the little green bubble seeking equilibrium inside a level, to keep the Grand Sport balanced. The car stays flat, my spine nestled in $2495 carbon-fiber Competition Sport seats. Under normal circumstances, these cornering forces would require Tae Bo contortions to keep me from flying out the window. Instead, I’m free to focus on apexes and exit points.
Every few turns, the hillsides give way to reveal open air and a glowing white dome appears against crystal sky. We’re past 7000 feet of elevation—Smokey the Bear cutouts say the risk of fire danger is “Very High” in the thin, dry air. The Corvette rumbles to a stop in an empty parking lot surrounded by picnic tables. The silence is deafening in Palomar Mountain State Park, save for rapid-fire cracks from Acorn Woodpeckers you can single out among the conifers. A paved walkway leads past the Palomar Observatory gift shop and toward the dome.
A side trip worth taking.
I came to the Palomar Observatory not because I know anything about astronomy but because I admire obsession. George Ellery Hale secured funding for the Hale Telescope in 1928 and died before it was completed. A flatbed truck hauled the 200-inch and 14.5-ton mirror 23 miles up S6 in 1947. Hale envisioned the largest telescope in the world, and for 45 years, it was. Once assembled, scientists spent decades using the Hale to confirm the existence of quasars, and discover the universe was at least twice as large as previously believed.
Inside the stark white dome, you’re greeted by a bronze bust of Hale. After climbing the winding staircase, your field of vision belongs to the telescope. A civilization of mirrors, motors, and bearings, it’s impossible to grasp anything but the 530-ton telescope’s sheer size. The Hale, however, is no longer king: There are a handful of larger telescopes across the country, plus one in Canada and another in Spain. A telescope in Chile is currently under construction with a cluster of adjustable mirrors 137 feet in diameter. Attempts have been made to update the Hale, but old is old.
There are two smaller telescope domes at the observatory, but only Hale is visible in the Grand Sport’s rearview mirror as we descend S6 and return to sea level. The dial turns the opposite direction, to Tour, for greater comfort. Here the carbon-ceramic Brembo brakes shine, wrestling our momentum under control, then allowing the Michelins to do the real work around the corners. The Corvette Grand Sport is the ultimate evolution of an outdated ideology, but somehow competitive with higher priced exotics like the Audi R8, McLaren 650S, and Porsche 911. The engine elicited a sound from my daughter I didn’t know humans could make. My biggest gripe is minor: The side mirror design looks pedestrian.
Toward the bottom, nearly three hours on S6 hasn’t pushed the Grand Sport anywhere near its limit. You’ll need a racetrack for that. On public roads, Magnetic Ride Control functions as automotive concealer. It gives the car an artificial balance—flat cornering at higher speeds and forces—that once took race drivers decades to master. Driving the Corvette Grand Sport on S6 in the late morning light is to autopilot your way to automotive nirvana—the sensation of driving at an expert level, virtually all the time, for a fraction of the price of an exotic.
The last few miles down S6 are perfect. Maybe old is old. The Corvette Grand Sport breathes into it one last, glorious splash from the Fountain of Youth. It is soulful. It’s perfect. Stripes and all.
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Photo Credit: © 2017 Autoweb /Ryan ZumMallen