GM and the Last Chance Saloon, 2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Review, 2006 Pontiac Solstice
By Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief
SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Chevrolet
2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z06
It was something out of a Western.
You know the scene, sleepy little one horse town with a saloon and always weary of the bad guys. Remote, surrounded by mountains with only coyotes disturbing the eerie silence at night. Until I got there with slightly more than one horse. 505 in fact.
The place was totally quiet, the road deserted. It was time for action. I floored the loud pedal of the new Zo6 Corvette and suddenly it was mayhem! Those who appreciate mechanical symphonies cheered, those to whom it was just a noisy automobile were shaking their heads. Ed Barrett-my partner in crime and I were grinning like a couple of school kids.
Within seconds we were traveling at over 100 miles per hour and as these days the sheriff does not chase the bad guys on horseback but with a radar gun and all sorts of other goodies a certain amount of prudence was called for much to our chagrin.
We envied the GM engineers who tested this car for weeks on end at Germany’s legendary Nurburgring where there are lots of straights, tricky corners and positively no speed limit.
Having recently returned from Maranello and having driven the 430, the 430 spider and the Superamerica I did have some basis for comparison. All these Ferraris are capable of speed in excess of 190 miles per hour and so is the Zo6 except for a faction of the cost.
To make sure that I had my facts I popped into the nearest Ferrari dealer to check on prices. A two year old 360 Spider was for sale at over 180 thousand dollars. A new Zo6 can be yours for under 70 thousand dollars brand new. No contest for most readers I would have thought.
The statistics are pretty awesome as well. Aluminum space frame, carbon-fiber, balsa and fiberglass composite body, race tested Goodyear run-flat tires and last but not least a 505 horsepower 7 liter V8, one of the sweetest sounding engines I’ve ever come across.
I didn’t quite know what to expect from the 6 speed gearbox-not exactly a GM specialty until now. Must have come from Germany, it was excellent as was the clutch.
I didn’t expect to be comfortable but I was. I can only assume that old friend Bob Lutz-who is taller than I am at 6ft 4in must have had something to do with it.
It has been suggested that maybe the interior fitting could have been more up-market for 70 big ones, but the sheer joy of the whole package made that for me at least a minor issue.
Is the Z06 glorious? Yes.
Would it be possible to drive it for several thousand miles, say across the States and not be worn out? Absolutely.
Could it be done without getting a ticket? Well, yes. Except that you would have to be a saint.
2006 Pontiac Solstice
Considerably less horsepower but also a great deal less money-like 50K less - would buy nearly as much fun in the other GM “revival special” - the Pontiac Solstice.
Stunning looks, a very comfortable seating position, an excellent manual gearbox , the result- an instant sell-out and a long queue of eager customers. Which proves that there is no magic to this car business: build an exciting, value for money automobile and people will buy it.
In this instance Bob Lutz and the Board have decided that something dramatic was called for to change people’s perception of the company in general and Pontiac in particular.
They assembled all the various bits the company makes in a huge warehouse that could have been considered as a potential component bearing in mind the urgency of the matter. The result-an Ecotec engine from the HHR, a five speed gearbox from GMC pickups, fog lights from the Pontiac G6, even air vents and mirrors from Fiat.
Driving the Solstice in the desert was huge fun. At 20 thousand dollars I can see young couples buying it before the little ones arrive, just like we had an MGB before Nicholas and Annabelle joined the family, very thoughtfully within fifteen minutes of each other!
Dislikes-only one really and that relates to living in San Francisco. The positioning of the handbrake is such that making frequent 4 way stop on the hills would a. be very tiring b. would wear the clutch out pretty soon. On the other hand it is possible to drive down Van Ness to avoid Fillmore.
The great rival-Mazda’s Miata is a very fine car but there is a certain déjà vu attached to it, in various guises is has been around for a long time.
Also, and this is something to bear in mind with both the Zo6 and the Solstice-these are GM cars and there are literally thousands of dealers around the country. Should anything go wrong, most bits are readily available.
Could the Solstice do with more power? Certainly. In fact there is a 250 horsepower turbo on the way and according to the engineers I’ve been talking to they could even squeeze a 6 cylinder engine in there should the need arise.
If this sounds like a bit of a eulogy for GM, well, it is for these two cars. If these are the shape of things to come and if all the various and difficult problems can be solved then hopefully the once profitable company will return to its former glory but with vastly improved products. The alternative is just too horrible to contemplate. Not because there would be a shortage of cars and trucks but because we would be talking well over a million newly unemployed people by the time the GM workers, suppliers such as tire makers, instrument makers, steel manufacturers and others are taken into account. It is, as top GM executives will be the first to agree a close run thing but I have a feeling that - with a great deal of goodwill and understanding on all sides-they will come out of it on a positive note.