Somewhere beyond Earth's firmament, Zora Arkus-Duntov must be smiling.
The engineer credited with turning the Chevrolet Corvette into a street and racing icon has had his most rousing nameplate, the Grand Sport, return for 2010.
Of course, the new Grand Sport pays homage to the original in name only. Arkus-Duntov's five race-prepared examples were loosely based on the 1963 Corvette Sting Ray, except they weighed just 1,800 pounds (about 1,000 pounds less than stock 'Vettes) and were equipped with race-tuned 485-horsepower V-8 engines.
The abruptly instituted General Motors Corp.'s no-race policy back in the day effectively killed the Grand Sport's development, but some of the cars did enjoy competitive success in private hands, with secretive assistance by Arkus-Duntov.
The Grand Sport brand last showed up in 1996 with a run of 1,000 specially equipped Corvettes and returns for the 2010 model year with a renewed sense of purpose as a distinct model.
The Grand Sport differs from standard-issue Corvettes in many ways and is, in fact, a new bridge model between the base and high-performance ZO6.
Although both coupe and convertible body styles share the base 430-horsepower 6.2-liter V-8 and six-speed manual and automatic transmissions, it's the lengthy list of special features that places the Grand Sport several notches above the base 'Vette. Much of this content is derived from two sources. Last year's available Z51 package donates the stiffer shocks, springs and stabilizer bars along with unique manual-transmission gear ratios and rear-axle gear ratios on automatic-transmission cars. Chevrolet claims this content assists the Grand Sport in achieving a sub-4-second zero-to-60-mph time and up to 1.0 G in lateral acceleration before the car loses grip.
The other supply source is the high-performance ZO6 model that donates its wider front and rear fenders to help contain the 18- and 19-inch wheels wrapped in Goodyear Eagle F1 tires.
The hood scoop, rear spoiler and side ducts that direct cooler outside air to the brakes are also influenced by the ZO6 and the beefed-up stopping force comes from the ZO6-based front and rear brake rotors.
Of special note is the engine's dry-sump lubrication system for manual-gearbox-equipped Grand Sports (also featured on the ZO6 and ZR1). Rather than having the oil slosh around in a pan beneath the crankshaft, the reservoir is remotely located. This maintains cooler oil temperatures and ensures that vital engine parts are constantly oiled, particularly in high-speed turns.
Grand Sport identification is discrete, but can be found above the front fender hash marks. Beyond that, there's a wide range of standard equipment, headed by dual-zone climate control, leather seats with power adjustments for the driver, auto-dimming rearview mirror, seven-speaker audio system with steering-wheel controls and a one-piece removable body-color roof panel.
Available options, many of which are grouped in packages, include sport seats with premium leather trim, power tilt and telescopic steering wheel, removable transparent roof panel, upgraded audio package, a special exhaust package that's worth an extra six horsepower, and a head-up display that projects vital info such as vehicle speed, engine revs, coolant temperature and oil pressure plus lateral g-force readings.
The extra-cost checklist features a Heritage Package, consisting of two-tone leather seats, embroidered Grand Sport-logo-ed headrests and a contrasting color on the side hash marks.
The Grand Sport isn't the quickest Corvette, but it should easily prove to be a competent all-around sports car that's suitable for weekend track events. More importantly, the $55,700 (including destination charges) price tag for the coupe -- nearly $20,000 less than the 505-horsepower ZO6 -- makes the Grand Sport a great value since in many ways it actually is a ZO6, but without the extra power.
And since the ZO6 is not available in a convertible, the $59,500 Grand Sport roadster can't be beat by anything else in its price range, including any other model from Chevrolet.