A Historic Look Back at the Wheels that Vettes Ride On!
After much anticipation, the all-new C5 Corvette was released as a 1997 model. The new design was truly a “modern” Corvette. However, many of the basic components can be traced all the way back to the ‘57 “Q-Corvette” proposal. Yes, forty years before, Zora Arkus-Duntov was thinking about advanced hardware that included and all-aluminum, fuel-injected engine, an aluminum-case transaxle, inboard-mounted rear drum brakes to reduce unsprung mass, a lightweight pan chassis similar to the 356 Porsche, and four-wheel independent suspension. Fast forward forty years and you have the C5 Corvette. Lightweight alloy wheels eliminated the need for the inboard-mounted rear brakes and the new hydroformed frame rails replaced the pan body structure. Other than those details, body styling, and a lot of computerized components, the new C5 Corvette was the realization of the ‘57 Q-Corvette proposal.
As tire and wheel size grew to handle increased horsepower, it was now essential that the wheels be as light as possible for a production car. Additional unsprung mass from larger wheels and tires is the kiss of death for improved handling. The new C5 was riding on 17” x 8.5” front wheels and 18” x 9.5” rear wheels. In comparison, the ‘96 C4 Corvette road on 17-inch diameter rear wheels. Run-flat tires were now standard and for the first time in Corvette history, there was no spare tire. The new aluminum alloy wheels were painted bright metallic silver.
Four years into the C5 production run, new standard wheels were introduced. The new wheels had the same design as the $3,000 Magnesium Wheels option that arrived in ‘98. The new standard wheel was full-forged with a flow formed rim for a new more durable rim section. The new design gave the 2000 to 2004 Corvette a lightweight, expensive look.
In the beginning of the 2000 production run, there was a $895 polished finish option. This option looked so good and was so popular that Chevrolet decided to make a painted version of the new design as the standard wheel in order to allow more production time for the polished version. The painted wheels had the same basic design, but the spokes were slightly thicker.
The optional magnesium wheels that were made available in ‘98 stayed on the option list until ‘03. The once $3,000 wheels became a $2,000 option in ‘00 and ‘01, then a $1,500 option in ‘02 and ‘03. The polished aluminum wheels (same design) option cost $1,200 in ‘02 and $1.295 in ‘03 and ‘04.
For decades the Corvette rumor mill would occasionally tease the public with a high-performance strippo model for Corvette buyers that want to race their Vette. The ‘99 Corvette Hardtop started out as that car. However, it turned out that to lighten the car would cause a serious increased the cost. The only thing than Dave Hill and his Corvette engineering crew could do to move in that direction was to permanently bolt on and bond a convertible hardtop to the existing convertible. The net result was a 12-percent increase in stiffness for the new hardtop Corvette.
While this did not enhance the basic performance of the car, it did provide a platform for what would become one of the most popular Corvette variations ever made – the Z06. The new LS6 engine had an additional 35-horsepower over the stock 350-horsepower LS1 engine. The hardtop roof, along with rear brake cooling scoops and the racing-inspired new wheels made the Z06 a real standout. The new wheels were the same diameter as the stock wheels, but one-inch wider in the front and back. Riding on the new Z06 wheels were Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires. The new super tires were not run-flat, and a special tire inflator kit was included with the Z06. Remember, no spare tires for the C5s.
As good as the first C5 was, the all-new ‘05 C6 Corvette was even better. Now packing an even 400-horsepower, the base Corvette delivered performance unheard of back in the days of the optional big-blocks. Standard Corvette wheels just keep getting larger. The new C5 was now riding on 18” x 8.5” front wheels and 19” x 10” rear wheels, wearing Goodyear Eagle F1 EMT tires. The design was a very clean, traditional 5-spoke mag-style wheel. The tapered spokes had flat sides and a nice dish-shaped rim. With chrome plating, this was a very handsome new wheel that looked as good, if not better than many aftermarket wheels. It was one element out of thousands than make the C6 Corvette such an extraordinary car.
2006 – 2008 Z06 Wheels
Less than two minutes after the C6 was shown to the automotive press (the stun had to wear off a bit), the next obvious question was asked, “Where’s the Z06?” We would all have to wait a year, but is was worth it. The C5 Z06 was definitely a tough guy, but the new C6 Z06 was into bad-ass territory. The new Z06 had 105-horsepower more than the C5 version and had plenty of “try me” visuals to let you know of its arrival.
Once again, we have even larger wheels. The C6 Z06 wheels were 18” x 9.5” in the front and 19” x 12” in the back and wore run-flat Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires measuring P275/35ZR18 on the front and P325/30ZR19 on the rear. Technically called a 10-spoke style, the overall design was similar to the standard wheel, except that the center section of each spoke was cut away to lighten the overall larger wheel. The wheels were one part of a very serious performance package. Many buyers were in for a major surprise on their first full-throttle run with their new Z06, prompting many to say that Chevrolet should make attendance at a high-performance driving school mandatory. A suggestion that Chevrolet heard and made as part of the ‘09 ZR1.
While the public was getting used to 400-plus horsepower in the base Corvette, the Corvette development team was quietly working on the next wunder Corvette, the ‘09 ZR1. The new C6 was so refined that product planners turned their attention to decorative options. The ‘08 Corvette had two wheel designs. The new stock split-spoke wheel was part of the ‘07 Indy 500 pace Car option package. The size was the same, 18-inch in the front and 19-inch in the back, but there were two finish options – Sparkle Silver finish or Competition Gray.
Wheel option number two was more performance-oriented. Made of forged aluminum with a polished finish, the shape of spoke was the same as the new standard wheel, except that the center section of the spoke was not cut out, but smooth.
The ‘08 Corvette had a very nice selection of accessory options for new Corvette buyers. The Pratt & Miller-built C6.R racing Corvettes made their mark in road racing history with over 50 victories and 6 class wins at Le Mans. For buyers wanting a unique appearance for their Corvette that salutes the C5-R and C6.R race cars, there was the optional 15-spoke, polished-aluminum wheels, inspired by the successful road racing Corvettes. This was a dealer-installed option.
For years now, Chevrolet has been presenting Corvette buyers with many limited-edition, special-edition options. For ‘08, Chevrolet released the stunningly beautiful, Crystal Red Tintcoat 427 Limited Edition Z06. Under the brilliant paint and trim, this special edition is a standard 505-horsepower Z06. The stinger hood stripes are a salute to the old ‘67 427 big-block hood design. The major piece of eye candy for this special edition are the exclusive 10-spoke, chrome-plated alloy wheels. This is the same design that is now standard on the ‘09 Z06.
The ‘09 ZR1 Corvette is a car that will have Corvette historians taking for years. Corvette Chief Engineer, Tadge Juechter and his crew have served up the ultimate production Corvette that is a first-class example of how racing improves the breed. Once again, we see even larger wheels. The ‘09 ZR1 wears Michelin Pilot Sport 2 tires – P285/30ZR19 in the front and P335/25ZR20 in the rear, mounted on twenty-spoke 19-inch front wheels and 20-inch rear wheels. The wheels come in two versions – one, painted with Sterling Silver paint and the other with a chrome finish.
The ‘09 ZR1 is the first Corvette to have a 220 mph speedometer! Rumor has it that one of the LS9’s computer chips has a 210-mph governor limit. Any takers to prove or disprove that rumor? – Scott
You can catch Corvette Wheels Pt. 1 HERE
And Corvette Wheels Pt. 2 HERE.