Advertising claims are all well and good, but do they stand up to close scrutiny? In 2001, then senior road tester Ben Whitworth set out to prove it in Chevrolet’s Corvette C5.
“GM’s latest Chevrolet Corvette advert is a shot of a ’Vette convertible that says ‘American Beauty £37,999’. Beneath it is a brief list of stats, the most eye-catching reading ‘Awesome maximum of 176mph, where permitted’,” he wrote.
Hence he found himself collecting photographer Tim Wren at 4.30am on a Saturday and heading towards the Channel Tunnel in the latest Corvette.
“As we leave Calais and head for Belgium, I give the 339bhp, 5.7-litre V8 a prod,” wrote Whitworth. “Bit like poking a hornets’ nest, really. The car flies, squatting back on its rear tyres and catapulting down the road with venom.
“The chugga-chugga low-rev soundtrack is replaced by a serrated crackle from the small-block eight that makes you dive for the redline at every opportunity. Dig into three-figure speeds and the ’Vette rockets along.”
Although the Corvette’s engine was evocative, other aspects of the American muscle car proved less enthralling.
“Flicking on the cruise control gives me time to study the cabin. It’s not good. If God is in the details, then the Corvette is Satan in a shiny red suit,” he wrote.
“As we leave France and rocket into Belgium, the roads deteriorate, as does the already poor ride quality. The suspension on the big American seems incapable of sponging away intrusions.”
When the duo arrived in Germany, they spent the rest of Saturday shooting the car and recceing the autobahn to find a straight section for the following day’s run. The ideal spot was found just outside Trier, between kilometre markers 252 and 253 on the A48.
The next day they return, accelerating the Corvette up to 5000rpm in top gear. “As I gun the Corvette in the cool early morning air, Wren starts snapping at the steadily ascending speedometer needle,” described Whitworth.
“When it hits an indicated 170mph, he readies his stopwatch. The noise is deafening. The engine, barking like a rabid Cerberus, almost drowns out the tyre roar from the Goodyear Eagle F1s, but it’s the wind shrieking around the fabric roof that has us wincing.
“The digital head-up display reads 190mph before I yell at Wren to start the clock. My senses are overloaded.
“The mechanical cacophony, the heat seeping into the footwell, the odour of hot metal, the coppery taste of fear in my mouth – all vie for my attention as I concentrate on keeping the bucking and bellowing Corvette in a straight line.
“Moments later, Wren scrawls ‘12.4sec’ in my notebook. As I come off the power and slow the pinking Corvette down to an easy 100mph, Wren punches the figures into a calculator: 180mph, bang on. Faster than advertised.”
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