Introduction These colors don't run…they fly! By Chris Douglass Email Date posted: 12-22-2005 "I raced for 17 years. Ran the Daytona 24 Hours, NASCAR Southwest Tour, SCCA GT1 cars, IMSA, oval tracks. But I never raced a car with this much horsepower." That was the comment from our professional test-driver after his lap times in this latest American Exotics comparison test. Each of these — the 2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z06, Dodge Viper SRT10 Coupe and Ford GT — are more powerful than Formula One racecars of 25 years ago. Even today, relatively few racecars boast more than 500 horses. However, if you have good credit, your local Chevy, Dodge or Ford dealer can put you in a vehicle with more horsepower than a NASCAR Nextel Cup car set up for Daytona or Talladega. A Cup motor fitted with a restrictor-plate makes about 450 horses, while the Corvette Z06 is rated at 505, the Viper SRT10 Coupe at 510 ponies, and the Ford GT at 550. Our calibrated derrières suggested that at least Chevy — and probably Ford, too — was more than a bit conservative with those ratings. Another racecar comparison: While it's a challenge to find believable data on the peak torque of the current 2.4-liter F1 engine, you can bet it's less than any of these: Dodge (535 pound-feet), Ford (500) and Chevy (470). Still, that wondrous power is not the most amazing thing about this trio. Another also-ran in the Top Attribute contest is how relatively inexpensive two of these three cars are. If you have an above-average income and really want one — enough to sacrifice vacations, expensive homes, and relationships with the opposite sex — you can own a brand-new Corvette Z06 or Dodge Viper Coupe. Though unexpectedly welcome, we're also thrilled to report that each is friendly and forgiving when pushed to their limits — and beyond — on the racetrack: The once-feared Viper is now perhaps too easy to drive fast. (More on that later.) Finally, though none would be confused with a Camry, each is relatively easy to maneuver in everyday traffic. The most difficult thing about daily use is the occasional gawker who tangles up traffic flow around you. It wouldn't be outlandish to use any of them, but especially the Corvette, as a commuter car, though low ground clearance and summer tires mean you'd want to leave them home when it snows. And our particular Ford GT test car had the disconcerting habit of occasionally piddling what appeared to be transaxle oil. And we must provide some caveats to those who might consider using these as daily drivers. Super-grippy tires wear much more quickly than conventional rubber: Our experience suggests that aggressive drivers may wind up replacing rear tires at every other oil change. Or sooner. Third Place: 2006 Dodge Viper The Viper's shape remains an icon in the world of exotic cars, even if the performance underneath this skin is less than segment-leading in 2006. At one point in history, devices as varied as the longbow, paddle-wheeled steamboat, North American P51 Mustang, and 35mm film camera enjoyed reigns at the top of the technological mountain. Just as their reign has ended, so, too, has that of the once dominant Dodge Viper. From the very start of this comparison, it was clear the Viper SRT10 Coupe was going to be a 3rd-place finisher. Through the entire test, it did little to change that assessment. First, it was the most difficult to live with. Getting into the seat is challenging for many. Getting out is a challenge for virtually all. The combination of its long hood and lower seating position makes it only slightly less difficult to park than an Indy car. Front end first The 8.3-liter, V10 engine remains a paragon of torque. The exhaust tone has come a long way since 1992, but it's still less inspiring than the passionate wails emanating from either the Z06 or GT. It took much less than a lap of Willow Springs to figure out that Dodge has become very tired of the number of Vipers showing up on www.wreckedexotics.com. The SRT10 Coupe is a resolute pusher, its front tires losing traction long before the rears reach their peak grip. This makes the Viper handle unlike its tail-happy predecessors and very much like a Neon. Even when you try, the SRT10's rear doesn't want to step out. Such a setup (combined with a now standard antilock braking system) makes the SRT10 extremely stable, utterly forgiving and easy to master. But slow. All this is great for owners who lack racing experience, but it limits the car's ultimate lap times when piloted by a veteran. Offsetting this understeer-biased setup is the Viper's super-wide Michelin Pilot Sports, huge 275/35R18s front and gargantuan 345/30R19s on the back. At the test track, the only performance test it won was skid-pad cornering power (which is more a tire test than a car test) at 0.95 g, and it finished 2nd in only braking (a negligible 2 feet back of the Vette's 60-0 mph), thanks to the combination of Brembo brakes, ABS and sticky tires. On top of all this, the SRT10 is considerably more expensive than its more capable Z06 opposition. Fast but slowest The Viper's leather-and-suede seats were supportive and proved a great place to sit during track time…at least until the cabin heated up. When the Viper RT/10 debuted as a '92 model, Dodge claimed its 8.0-liter OHV V10 produced 400 hp at 4,600 rpm. That was true. But unstated was that if revved higher, the truck-based pushrod mill made even more power. For the '96 Viper Coupe, Dodge claimed 50 more hp at 5,200 rpm. And a few more rpm probably made a few more horses in that engine, too. For the latest version, the bore of its aluminum block has been increased 0.03 inch and the stroke lengthened by 0.08 inch to gain another 0.3 liter of displacement, bringing the total to 8.3 liters. Along with other tweaks, this brings the claimed peak horsepower to 510 at 5,600 rpm. We wouldn't be surprised if a few more revs reaped a few more ponies. (Torque is 535 lb-ft at 4,600.) A prediction: SRT10 owners will spend tens of thousands of dollars with aftermarket tuners to make their rides as fast as the Z06 and Ford GT. Stock versions of the Z06 and GT, that is. Thanks in part to its torque advantage, the Viper's V10 is arguably more flexible than the power plants of its rivals. Don't know a double-clutch downshift from a double cappuccino? Just leave the six-speed Tremec in 3rd gear: In that gear it pulls strongly from 40 mph to well over 100. And on those rare occasions when you do have to shift, the Viper's tranny feels better sorted than the Corvette's, though both use the same Tremec unit. Go figure. Too much Mr. Nice Guy Offsetting this understeer-biased setup is the Viper's super-wide Michelin Pilot Sports, huge 275/35R18s front and gargantuan 345/30R19s on the back. While still a spectacular performer, the 2006 Dodge Viper SRT10 lacks the freshness of its predecessors. It also lacks much of its former bad attitude. That's at once a very good and a very bad thing. What Works: Understeer-biased handling keeps novices out of trouble; sticky Michelin Pilot Sports; a plethora of torque. What Needs Work: Understeer-biased handling limits racetrack lap time; ingress/egress challenging for even Bo Duke; has officially lost its king-of-hill title. Bottom Line: Though still a four-wheel Harley, the Coupe is more of an Electraglide than a Deuce. Second Place: 2006 Ford GT In terms of "exotic" appearance, the Ford GT dusts both the Dodge and Chevy in this test. The wide stripes and low overall height give the car a hunkered-down look that causes many a double take. Behind the wheel of the 2006 Ford GT, we couldn't help imagining ourselves at Le Mans, Sebring, Daytona, or the Nurburgring, battling boyhood heroes like Mario Andretti, Mark Donohue, Dan Gurney and Phil Hill. Since the GT40 racecars had less than the '06's 550 horsepower, we could almost imagine running ahead of the heroes of yore. But keep that between us: We don't want Dan or Mario coming out of retirement to spoil our fantasy. The Ford GT is far better than its inspiration. Racecars are hot, noisy, rattley, uncomfortable, and unforgiving. Forty years ago, suspension designers either didn't fully understand bump and toe steer or didn't have today's powerful computers to help work out the bugs. Or both. Chassis designers were unable to combine both stiffness and lightness; often achieving neither. Engines were so peaky as to make K2 look like Kansas. Comparing clutches and leg-press machines created distinctions without a difference. Steering was also exercise-machine heavy. Four-speed gearboxes were recalcitrant at best. Installation convenience, not driver ease of use, determined control location. And everything on the car broke. A lot. Real car and racecar The retro cues continue inside, where large toggle switches and a wide gauge cluster echo Le Mans in 1966. The magnesium center console has an upscale look and feel, but the parts bin window switches and steering column stalks do not. The Ford GT is how nonracers imagine racecars to be. It's comfortable and quiet, at least in the realm of super-high-performance cars. Except for its go-kart view of life among Freightliner-sized SUVs, the GT is docile and easy to drive in traffic. The interior is spartan but controls are easily employed. On the racetrack it was surprisingly easy — no, make that shockingly easy — to drive at its lofty limit: It took us a couple of laps to believe its benign manners. Despite its good behavior, as we entered Turn 8 at 150 mph, we wished for six-point belts and a chrome moly roll cage. And those without racing experience — or good judgment — will also wish for stability control. Ford's "modular" overhead-cam engine has powered everything from Crown Victorias to E-350 Super Duty Chateau vans. Production configurations have included 4.6-liter V8s to 6.8-liter SOHC V10s, both of those with iron blocks and two valves per cylinder. Even the Jaguar S-Type's V6 claims modular lineage. For the GT, Ford chose the modular's long-stroke 5.4-liter, four-cam, four-valve V8 configuration with aluminum block and heads. Topped by an Eaton supercharger, it makes a neck-snapping 550 hp. This force goes to the ground through a Ricardo six-speed manual transaxle. The result: An impressive 4.0-second 0-60 mph on a very dusty (but controlled) parking lot. It covered the quarter-mile in a blazing 11.8 seconds at a shocking 126 mph. Bolted onto the GT's all-aluminum spaceframe chassis are unequal-length (a.k.a. short-long arm) control arms and P235/45ZR18 front, P315/40ZR19 rear Goodyear's Eagle F1 Supercars. These are the narrowest tires in the test: Imagine calling 315s "narrow"! Still, the GT recorded the fastest slalom run at 69.5 mph. About the only place it didn't shine was braking, where it trailed the Z06 by 9 feet 60-0 and 14 feet 100-0. Still, we experienced no fade from its Brembos on the track. No flaws at full throttle It may be a 5.4-liter, supercharged V8, but unlike the SVT Lightning engine this one uses an aluminum block and dry sump oil lubrication. It also makes a bit more power than the "truck" engine it springs from. Criticizing the GT is like finding blemishes on Victoria Secret models. There's no luggage space for much more than a toothbrush, T-shirt and workout shorts. And its doors are problematic. If you don't open them all the way, you'll slam the top of your head into the door edge: It only took us four head smacks to figure it out. Finding a parking place that allows you to open them all the way will be a challenge: You'll hunt for the farthest one in the row to prevent another car from blocking you in. The prominent left-side A-pillar blocks a good chunk of forward vision, making it disconcerting in heavy traffic and requiring extra care when placing the car for tight left-handers. But our best advice when driving a 2006 Ford GT is simple: please aspire not to curse when you reach wide-open throttle. What Works: Precise, yet forgiving handling; 550-plus supercharged horsepower; Le Mans-winning styling. What Needs Work: Still a challenge to get one at MSRP; reliability remains unproven; needs double-wide parking places. Bottom Line: A trip back into '60s racing lore where reality is better than fantasy. First Place: 2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 In a perfect world the Z06 would have a bit more distinction from the standard Corvette, but for drivers who prefer their exotic performance in a stealth package it's perfect. It's important to know what the 2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 is not. It's not just a regular Vette with a bored-and-stroked small block stuffed into its engine compartment. Certainly the hand-built 7.0-liter OHV LS7, which boasts titanium valves and connecting rods, and a forged-steel crankshaft, is the star of the show. But power alone isn't significant. What counts is a vehicle's power-to-weight ratio, and the Z06 offers the best in this comparison. If you believe the manufacturer's numbers, the Z06 has 6.2 pounds per horsepower against 6.3 for the Ford and 6.7 for the Viper. The Z06 earns this rating thanks in part to its aluminum frame and magnesium engine cradle, which are both steel on regular Vettes. In addition, there are lightweight carbon-fiber front fenders, wheelhouses and floorboards. This effort at lightening not only offsets the Z06's list of additional mass-increasing features, but also makes the Z06 almost 50 pounds lighter than the regular 400-horse Corvette Coupe. The result of more power and less weight: A 0-to-60-mph acceleration run in a dusty parking lot of 4.4 seconds, topping out with an 11.9-second, 124-mph quarter-mile. This even though the two-three shift is more than a bit difficult with the hardy-yet-primitive Tremec six-speed transmission. Racecar bits and performance Maybe it's the seamless torque, maybe it's the wailing exhaust, or maybe it's the simple joy of knowing the Z06's power comes courtesy of good old pushrods. Whatever the case, this 7.0-liter V8 is one of the most rewarding engines on the planet. To help keep the LS7 alive at its 7,000-rpm rev limit, and during the car's extreme cornering forces offered by it's light weight and sticky tires, is a racecar-style dry-sump oiling system. A dry sump moves the oil reservoir from its traditional position below the crankshaft to a remote location. Among other things this prevents the oil pump from being starved during hard cornering and keeps the crankshaft from splashing through the reservoir; the latter not only foams the oil but also creates power-sapping drag. In the past, Corvette brakes were far from its most robust component, but that's changed. The '06 Z06 gets monoblock six-piston front brake calipers and four-piston rear calipers that grab onto vented and cross-drilled rotors, 14-inch diameter front and 13.4-inch rear. Large cooling ducts keep the brakes at peak efficiency even on the racetrack. The result is the shortest stopping distance in this comparison: 106 feet 60-0 mph and 300 feet 100-0 mph. Transmitting the power to the ground are massive Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires: The Z06's P275/35ZR18 front tires are but 10mm narrower than the regular version's rears and the P325/30ZR19s dwarf those on many racecars. This rubber works through unequal-length (a.k.a. "short/long arm") forged-aluminum control arms. This helped give the Z06 a second-best slalom run at 68.3 mph. Racetrack terror The 325/30ZR-19 rear tires do their best to control the engine's 505 horsepower, but the Z06 will still get light in the rear if you aren't prudent with throttle application during track testing. At Willow Springs Raceway, the Z06 was more than a bit of a handful, twitching into oversteer (a.k.a. "loose") at the exit of most corners. Perhaps it didn't get a fair shake. Its Goodyears had suffered through photographer-pleasing burnouts that took them down to just above their legal tread limit. Perhaps this also reduced rear grip by revulcanizing the rubber. Or perhaps the Z06 is always a handful at the limit. Virtually all owners will be thankful for the two-stage (normal and competition) stability control system. (We replaced the rear Goodyears after Willow and before the slalom and skid pad runs.) Gripes include an overly optimistic g-meter on the Z06's otherwise excellent head-up display. On the skid pad, our tester kept an eye on it the entire lap. It never went below 1.0 g and often showed 1.04 and above. The true average cornering power was 0.92 g. The winner Transmitting the power to the ground are massive Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires. One of the Z06's strengths — the fact that it blends into traffic far more easily than its opposition — is also one of its weaknesses. Driving a Ford GT there's little chance you'll pass yourself on the highway, but in a Z06 Corvette, you're likely to see a visually near identical (but non-Z06) vehicle piloted by an orthodontist or a recent divorcee every 10 minutes. Yet, the bottom line remains: Chevrolet applied the time-honored formula of adding horsepower and reducing weight with brilliant success on the Z06. Rated at grins per dollar, the '06 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 is the best supercar bargain of all time. What Works: Weight-saving aluminum frame and magnesium engine cradle, potent bored-and-stroked LS7, two-stage stability control, head-up display. What Needs Work: At-the-limit handling balance too much toward oversteer (a.k.a. "loose"), lacks exclusivity of other exotics. Bottom Line: The best value in the entire supercar kingdom.