Corvette's Golden Anniversary celebration actually began in April 2002 with word that the pace car slated to run at the Indianapolis 500 was actually a preview model of the 2003 Corvette convertible.
Film star Jim Caviezel (Passion of the Christ, Pay It Forward), would pilot the C5 pace car for the 86th running of the famous Memorial Day weekend race, and the overall reaction to the Corvette was positive.
Pleased by the fan reactions, GM announced that the Corvette pace car was virtually identical to a 50th Anniversary Edition package, though the pace car featured far more graphics than the production variant of the car would.
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The 2002 model year showed no signs of slowing down for the C5 Chevy Corvette. While the Z06 had been an unquestionable success in its freshman year, the engineering team behind the flagship Corvette had no intention of allowing last years successes to be the measure of the new model year. Likewise, all variants of the Corvette were still being subjected to the same scrutiny and refinements that had already allowed the fifth-generation Corvette to become one of the best Chevrolet's of all time.
The Z06 had become the primary focal point for most of the engineering advances made to the Corvette in 2002. Perhaps because the coupe and convertible had already been refined during the first several years of its production run, the evolution of the C5 line as a whole now seemed to be centered around advances being made around the Z06 – and it was a decision that GM was certain would pay off.
That's not to say that the coupe and convertible were not to receive any improvements for the 2002 model year. Minor changes were introduced which included the introduction of an in-dash AM/FM/CD player which was now standard on both coupes and convertibles except in those instances when the car was sold with the optional 12-disc CD changer. In such instances, the factory installed stereo head unit would continue to include the AM/FM/cassette unit. For those Corvettes equipped with an automatic transmission, they would receive a lighter-weight transmission cooler case that was now manufactured out of cast aluminum instead of stainless steel. Lastly, the cast-aluminum stabilizer links added to the Z06 in 2001 were now included with the optional Z51 Performance Handling package.
To help with weight-savings, all 2002 Corvette Convertibles equipped with a Heads Up Display (HUD) received a slightly thinner, 4.8mm thick windshield (as compared to the previous 5.4mm that had been standard on all Corvettes prior to 2002.) This thinner windshield would provide a weight savings of 2.65 lbs per car. While some consideration was given as to whether or not the thinner windshield could withstand the additional wind/drive forces it was subjected to, it was ultimately approved that it should be included as a standard option on all Z06s that year as well. All base model coupes and convertibles not equipped with a HUD were still issued the standard 5.4 mm windshield.
For 2002, the Z06's 5.7-liter LS6 engine would receive an additional 20 horsepower, bringing the output of the small-block Chevy V-8 up to a robust 405 brake-horsepower. Additionally, torque was also increased by another 15 lb-ft, and was now rated at 400 lb-ft at 4,800rpm. These performance improvements occurred as the result of a new cam profile that allowed the engine's intake and exhaust valves to open .7mm further than before. By giving the engine the ability to breathe more freely, and by introducing some lower restriction components including hollow-stem valves, a low-restriction air cleaner, and a low-restriction mass-airflow sensor, the LS6 engine now matched the rated output of the highest-powered LT5 engine foun
found in the C4's ZR-1 Corvette. Better still, given its power-to weight ratio, the Z06 was actually faster than the ZR-1.
The increased horsepower and torque of the improved LS6 equipped Z06 was significant enough that it allowed GM to make some pretty impressive claims about its newest Corvette. While the aforementioned ZR-1 Corvette, in its best years, was capable of 0-60 times in 4.5 seconds, Chevrolet claimed that the Z06 Corvette could now produce 0-60 times of just 3.9 seconds. Likewise, while the ZR-1 maintained an average quarter mile time of 12.8 seconds at 111 mph, the newer Z06 could run the quarter mile in 12.4 seconds at a speed of 114 mph.
Of course, producing the level of power that the new LS6 equipped Z06 was now capable of would require modifications to other areas of the car. To withstand the additional engine torque, the Z06 received a redesigned clutch. The modifications to the existing clutch included the use of premium alloy wire during fabrication of the damper springs and the design of the damper springs were actually changed to increase the clutch wind-up rate. Lastly, the flange-late thickness was increased by 20 percent. In all, these improvements would provide drivers improved overall performance and added durability to the clutch.
The Z06's FE4 suspension also received several minor improvements for the 2002 model year. Among these was the introduction of revised rear-shock damper valving which provided improved handling on the track and produced less rigid handling during normal driving conditions. Lighter-weight cast-aluminum stabilizer links (which replaced the previously used rolled rod steel links) were introduced as a weight saving measure. When combined with the newly designed cast-spun wheels (which replaced the previous forged aluminum wheel set), a weight reduction of nearly two pounds was achieved. While such a small difference in the overall weight might not be considered noteworthy by some, a two pound weight reduction is significant when developing any vehicle whose primary purpose is out-running previously established performance records. The smaller two of the Z06's four catalytic converters were also removed to provide a 16 percent reduction in back pressure as well as providing additional weight savings. In addition to the performance and handling upgrades that the Z06 Corvette received, new higher-performance brake pads were introduced up front for improved brake lining durability and increased resistance to high performance brake fade.
Cosmetically, virtually nothing changed on the Z06 coupe. Chevrolet did decide to make the (formerly-optional) Heads-Up-Display standard on all 2002 Z06 Corvettes. This, combined with the many mechanical and suspension-related improvements, resulted in a significant price increase of $2,850 for the 2002 Z06. Still, even with a price tag that was just a few dollars away from $50,000, sales remained strong. Sales also remained strong for both the coupe and convertible Corvettes. For 2002, the prices increased to $41,005 for a coupe, $47,530 for a convertible, and $49,705 for a Z06 Corvette.
While the luster of the Z06's performance numbers attracted automotive enthusiasts into Chevrolet showrooms, an equally impressive racing season helped to further catapult the Corvette's reputation of being a world class sports car. The 2002 C5-R driven by Ron Fellows, Johnny O'Connell, and Oliver Gavin earned Corvette a GTS class victory at the 2002 running of the 12 Hours of Sebring. Later that season, Corvette would dominate its class in the 24 Hours of LeMans for its second straight year, completing 335 laps around the legendary race circuit. Fellows and O'Connell would achieve further victory that season when they placed first in class at the inaugural running of the Cadillac Grand Prix (located in Washington D.C.), and also placing first in class (and fifth overall) at the Road America 500 in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.
Beyond being a serious contender on the race track, the 2002 Corvette was once again bestowed with the honor of being the official pace car at the 2002 running of the Indianapolis 500. On May 26, 2002, the Chevy Corvette led the open-wheel race cars around all of the inaugural laps of the Indy 500, representing Corvette's fifth appearance at the historic racing event. Interestingly, this running of the 500 would be dominated by Chevrolet – fourteen out of the fifteen cars to finish at the 500 were powered by Chevrolet engines – including the top three racing contenders. Interestingly, GM decided against building a production version of the 2002 pace car. The primary reason for this was that the 2003 model year would represent the fiftieth anniversary of the Corvette, and GM wanted to celebrate the landmark event with a special 50th anniversary model. Additionally, the 2002 Corvette Pace Car actually featured a paint and interior color scheme that was nearly identical to the planned special edition Corvette color scheme. To that end, three prototypes of the fiftieth anniversary Corvette were built during the 2002 model year, allowing designers and GM management the opportunity to refine their design well in advance of the arrival of 2003 Corvette.
1.) The Pocket Book of the Corvette: The Definitive Guide to the All American Sports Car - Copyright 2003, Barnes & Noble