As Classic Car Appreciation Day (July 13) approaches, we’ll be counting down each day with the greatest vehicle of each decade, from the earliest days of the automobile to the present. It’s by no means a final, definitive, for-all-time list, so please weigh in—respectfully—in the Forums with your comments, endorsements, and disagreements. Today: the 2000s
For over 60 years, the Chevrolet Corvette has been the benchmark by which the world has judged American performance cars. From the “Fuelie” cars in the late ’50s and early ’60s, to the monstrous L88 race engine cars from the late ’60s, the Corvette established itself early as a contender on the world stage. Then the mid-’70s arrived and emissions regulations and the oil crisis effectively killed off any worthy performance. Much of the Corvette’s street cred was lost in the shuffle.
While the late fourth-generation (C4) and fifth-generation (C5) Corvettes did bring some street-cred back to the table, the C6 is where the Corvette really showed up with a wallop of performance that forced people to pay attention. Just one year into the generation, Chevrolet stepped up its game further and reintroduced the Z06 badge. The package included a widebody kit, magnesium engine cradle, and carbon fiber floors, but the coup-de-grace was the 7.0-liter LS7 engine. This engine employed dry sump oiling and lightweight internals that made for a rev-happy engine capable of 7000 shrieking RPM and 505 horsepower.
In 2009, Chevrolet introduced a new apex predator that leapfrogged even the Z06, bringing the ZR1 name out of retirement for the second time. The previous ZR-1 of the early 1990s received a 405-hp, DOHC 350-cubic-inch engine. This time around, Chevrolet upped the ante to 638 hp out of a supercharged 6.2-liter LS9 engine. Much like the version from the ’90s, this ZR1 brought unrivaled performance previously unseen by an American automaker. Costing $103,000, the ZR1 brought unquestionable supercar-level performance to your garage for about half the cost of a Ferrari F430 and a third of the cost of a base-level Lamborghini Murcielago.
But raw power isn’t everything. A car has to perform in a variety of scenarios to get truly global respect. And when Chevrolet took the ZR1 to the Nürburgring for testing, the car laid down down an official lap time of 7:26.4. For comparison, that was within a second of the Ferrari Enzo and two seconds faster than the Porsche Carrera GT.
The 2009 Corvette ZR1 has done two things for the auto industry. It cemented America as a country not to be trifled with when it came to world-class performance cars. On top of that, the ZR1 poured a can of gasoline on the horsepower wars raging among the Big Three. Nearly 10 years on, in a world where technology and horsepower are rapidly advancing and a 707-hp Challenger is by now old news, the C6 ZR1 remains a more-than respectable performance car. While it is not the fastest on the block anymore, it still has plenty of punch to hang with many of today’s baddest cars.
The Bugatti Veyron was the fastest production car of the decade. It was a technological masterpiece that was able to effectively marry hypercar performance with immense luxury. It is arguably the genesis of the “hypercar” as we know it today.
The Toyota Prius was the first mass-produced hybrid electric vehicle. It proved to the world that gasoline-electric vehicles were viable and the market demand was real.