ATLANTA, GA- “We make news every year with Corvette,” asserted Corvette chief engineer Tadge Juechter. Well, this year the news is the launch of the coveted Grand Sport variant of Chevrolet’s flagship. Combine elements of the top-dog Z06 with the base Stingray’s naturally-aspirated engine, throw in some unique visuals, and you have the track-ready 2017 Grand Sport.
The Grand Sport’s heritage is almost as important as the car itself. Back in 1963 then chief engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov facilitated the build of five specific Grand Sports for racing, completely in contempt of General Motors’ brass, which at the time had implemented a ban on all company sanctioned involvement in motorsports. Zora didn’t care and built the five cars anyway, then sold them for one-dollar to a young oil tycoon in Texas. By selling the cars, they evaded the crusher, which is where GM executives ordered they be sent.
Zora going rogue was not misplaced. His goal was to be the best in the grand touring class of motorsports, specifically wanting to beat Shelby Cobra. So with his five cars, he and some of his engineering staff would use vacation days to go with their babies to the track, and they won, even without the official support of GM.
While the original five Grand Sports were far from production cars (in fact, they shared virtually nothing with anything in production at the time), GM brass took note. Ultimately the concept of the Corvette Grand Sport became an officially-sanctioned “thing” at GM and the nameplate has been used sparingly since.
The formula behind the 2017 version is certainly nothing like the original, but the pedigree is remarkably familiar. The original was to be amongst the best of track cars, which is exactly what this 2017 car accomplishes.
Paying homage to the past, the foundation of this Grand Sport is its naturally-aspirated 6.2-liter LT1 V-8. There’s no power bump from the base Stingray’s 460 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque, but that’s not problem. Instead, the base engine has been reinforced with a dry-sump oil system so she can stay cool when all 1.05g’s of grip are utilized on track day, which is undoubtedly when this Corvette shines. By the way, that maximum grip figure can jump all the way to 1.2g when properly equipped.
Not unlike the sixth-generation GS, this one is borrowing a lot of parts from the Z06. The 14-inch, six-caliper front Brembo brakes, a similar grille and electronic limited slip differential are all Z06 parts. But the bigger story here is that Grand Sport buyer can now opt for the Z07 package that is available on the Z06. The Z07 package adds carbon ceramic brakes and the grip-tastic Michelin Pilot Sport 2 Cup tires. It’s an option box worth checking.
Collectively, the subtle mechanical changes yield a Corvette that is an absolute joy on the track. We recently sampled the new GS at Atlanta Motorsports Park; a privately owned course designed by a former F1 driver, so naturally it is a highly technical circuit and the perfect spot to really push this car.
With the foundation of this car being a Stingray, there’s several positive attributes about the GS that are predictable. The first is the LT1 V-8 and Tremec seven-speed manual, both of which are a joy in the base car and in this one as well. The LT1 consistently provided ample amounts of torque to lap AMP, while the gearbox’s short throws made those constant 2-3 shifts easy and quick. The Tremec’s active rev matching also proved useful and causes grin-inducing exhaust noises.
The real story here is the GS’ dynamics. This isn’t a case of the Corvette having an abundance of power but completely lacking the dynamic ability to get a decent lap time – oh no, not at all. With the optional Z07 package, this car can take nearly anything even a skilled driver can throw at it.
Shooting out of the carousel at AMP, the car immediately came alive to hit triple digit speeds before the first s-curve in the course. In the bends, the car’s magnetic ride control kept the GS feeling planted, while the electronic LSD unquestionably aided steering ability during really aggressive maneuvers. On the final straight the carbon ceramic brakes got a workout, halting the beast from north of 120 mph in an instant with a strong initial bite and virtually no fade after dozens of laps.
Where this particular car shines in one two particular corners on AMP. The first is a very sharp, off-camber right that immediately elevates upward after the apex. This corner proves challenging even for seasoned racers, but demonstrated both how insane the level of lateral grip and the shear power the LT1 has in climbing what really is a steep elevation change. It was this particular corner that—if taken too hot—the ‘Vette’s rear wheels may start to hop.
As soon as the crest is reached, there’s another blind right turn followed by an immediate left that highlights the GS’ steering, which isn’t over-assisted. With this car, the wheel isn’t constantly trying to default back to on-center, it let’s the driver do their thing. While that’s foreign to most of the public these days, it absolutely is appreciated at a highly technical course like AMP.
So, the new Grand Sport is a phenomenal track car. Perhaps it goes without saying, it’s just as fun on the twisty back roads, but there’s an added benefit to this car being out in public. Chevrolet has really leveraged the car’s heritage with a lot of visual updates making this arguably the best looking C7 to date, and you’ll definitely want to show it off.
Of course the visuals include the GS’ iconic hash-marks on both front fenders, as well as a center stripe. Additionally, the GS cars have unique cup-style wheels and blacked-out emblems. Chevy is proud of the Grand Sport legacy, so they’re giving customers nearly limitless options in terms of colors, wheel finishes and interior accents on the GS. The customization options can be put atop any of the Corvette’s paint colors. Adding to the custom effect of this car are specific Grand Sport logos throughout the interior, including an embossed number 12 car found on the center stack.
Embedded with all of those unique interior “Easter Eggs” is the usual assortment of technology features. The GS owner gets 4G LTE WiFi, the Corvette’s performance data recorder and a host of other features everyone expects in today’s world. But this is a grand touring coupe, so its heritage and custom look trump the tech.
That very heritage and uniqueness is essentially why there is a C7 Grand Sport. According to product manager Harlan Charles, a GS of the C7 was not in the original plan. However, the Corvette team has taken note of how loyal Grand Sport buyers have been and decided the C7 needed the GS treatment. Unlike the original, this one wasn’t developed in Warren under wraps from the GM c-suite.
The new Corvette Grand Sport is already in production in both coupe and convertible fashion. With a starting price of $66,445 for the coupe and $70,445 for the drop-top variant, this is one of those rare occasions when you look twice at the price because it’s that insane of a value for a world-class sports coupe.