In 2001, Chevrolet proudly stated that its Corvette C5 could reach a top speed of 176mph - and Autocar set out to test the claim
Matt Burt
30 July 2015

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.

Our Verdict

Chevrolet Corvette

This smaller, lighter, faster Chevrolet Corvette continues to fly the flag for the old-fashioned, all-American sports car

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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.”

Previous Throwback Thursdays

4 March 1899 - Steam, electric or combustion engine? 

26 June 1906 - The first French Grand Prix

9 July 1907 - The beginning of Brooklands

14 February 1913 - 100 miles in one hour

8 April 1916 - Making post-war predictions

25 March 1922 - Caterpillar tracks are the future

4 July 1925 - Citroën lights up the Eiffel Tower

2 February 1934 - The ethics of skidding

6 July 1934 - A tour of Cowley

1 June 1935 - Introduction of the driving test

22 June 1945 - Driving through post-WW2 Europe

21 January 1949 - Tidier tails

24 April 1959 - Aston Martin enters Formula 1

27 January 1961 - Ford Thunderbird road test

17 November 1961 - TVR Grantura road test

6 May 1971 - Driving Ford's Supervan

10 July 1976 - Land's End to John O'Groats on one tank

13 May 1978 - Ferrari 512 BB road test

19 January 1980 - Talbot Horizon road test

13 February 1982 - 4x4s tested on the farm 

17 April 1985 - Secrets of a lost British supercar

28 April 1993 - BL's unseen concepts

16 March 1994 - Bentley's Concept Java

16 April 1997 - When Bugatti bit the dust

4 April 2001 - 0-260mph in 6.0 seconds

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