There is no doubt that Corvette is the most cost-effective performance car on the market. No other car in its class delivers as thrilling an experience for the money. That rests well with those who are privileged to sign on the dotted line and own one, but for the engineers and designers who conjure up the next best thing at Bowling Green, the burden of improving becomes heavier with each milestone. To keep the performance edge over the competition at a sticker price below the competition is a daunting task requiring sharp pencils and sharp minds working in unison.

GM’s commitment to the Corvette is indicative of its pursuit of excellence in the performance market. Building upon such a home run as the Z06 (and the coupes and convertibles as well) ensures product longevity in the marketplace and improved customer satisfaction. On the heels of last year’s introduction of the Z06 option, many were left wondering what innovations this year would bring to the Corvette stable. It can be summed up in two words: More Power!

We’re talking about Chevrolet, not a power broker whose clientele is simply interested in more seat-of-the-pants power without any concern for the consequences. Building more power into the Corvette is a formula in which emissions, fuel economy, broad customer satisfaction, and economics all play a part, and the 2002 Corvette has definitely raised the horsepower bar while satisfying all of these additional requirements.

The Z06 received a boost of 20 hp, bringing total horsepower to 405. If that number sounds familiar, it should. You’ll remember it as the final horsepower rating for the LT5-equipped ZR-1s that were produced up until 1995. Equaling the power of the exotic, four-cam LT5 with a pushrod engine is indeed a milestone for a production car. Sam Winegarden, chief engineer for GM Powertrain’s Small Block team, states, “Conventional wisdom out there will tell you that you need to have a four-valve overhead cam arrangement, and that is simply not the case. From an industry perspective it just tells you that the pushrod small-block has a bright future, and there’s more where that came from.”

The increase in power is a result of several factors. Gases flowing into and out of the combustion chamber pass by new hollow-stem valves. The stems of the exhaust valves are filled with a liquid sodium alloy, which allows for better heat transference. The lighter valves reduce valvetrain mass and allow the valvetrain to keep contact with the new, more aggressive cam profile. The cam profile, the greatest contributor to the increased power, allows more air to be pumped in and out, which equates to more power.

Another power increase for the 2002 Z06 came through the elimination of the dual-pup (pre-) catalytic converters found just past the exhaust manifolds. Eliminating these converters allows for increased exhaust flow, while the under-floor (main) cats have been modified and continue to meet NLEV emissions standards. All of these factors contribute to the 2002 Z06’s ability to achieve 0-60 times of 3.9 seconds, and quarter-mile times of 12.4 seconds at 116 mph.

Production for the 2002 Z06 is slated at 20 percent, but GM will “see what the demand is for this special model.” Denoting the increase in power, a badge with “405” will be integrated into the Z06 logo. Other changes include revised shock valving, a larger front sway bar, specific camber settings, Head Up Display now standard, and cast-aluminum wheels to replace the forged Z06 wheels of the 2001 model. The magnesium wheels are no longer available on the coupe and convertible.

To handle the increased horsepower and the additional 15 lb-ft of torque, the clutch on the Z06 has been redesigned. The disc thickness has been increased by 20 percent (5 mm to 6 mm) and the premium alloy steel wire damper springs were redesigned to increase wind-up rate from 33 Newton-meter degrees to 35 Newton-meter degrees.

The 2002 coupe and convertible have also reaped the rewards of improved engineering with better noise isolation, better idle quality, and improved fuel economy. Also, all Corvettes equipped with the optional Z51 suspension will receive (like the Z06) aluminum front stabilizer-bar links. The AM/FM stereo with in-dash CD player is now standard with the AM/FM cassette and 12-disk CD changer as an option. Navy Blue Metallic and Dark Bowling Green Metallic are cancelled and replaced by Electron Blue for the exterior color options.

Each year the fine folks at Bowling Green pull a rabbit out of the hat and give us Corvette lovers something to look forward to (or should I say, aspire to?) while inadvertently making next year’s job of improving upon it that much more difficult. And they make it look so easy! We can’t wait to prove Sam Winegarden’s words for ourselves: “If you can’t get out of that car with a grin on your face, you’re in the wrong business.” We expect to be grinning from ear to ear.