Google+

BBC Autos

If You Like...

If you like the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

Not-so-mellow yellow. (General Motors)

Not-so-mellow yellow. (General Motors)

The new 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray is, by all accounts, a beast.

It is the seventh generation in the sports car’s line – hence its nickname, C7 – and even the most basic version is powered by a 455-horsepower, 6.2-litre V8 engine. That’s enough to propel the car to almost 190mph before it can’t push itself through the air any quicker. It rips from zero to 60mph in four seconds or less. Notwithstanding impractical track-day toys such as Ariel Atoms and Lotus Elises, no new car in the world can keep that pace without costing at least twice the Stingray’s $53,995.

But driven gently, using the steep overdrives in its standard seven-speed manual transmission, the C7 Corvette can return astonishing fuel economy. Hold it at a steady 55mph in seventh gear, let the engine’s computer shut down half the cylinders so it operates as a V4, and the ‘Vette will return in excess of 30mpg. Short of the new breed of million-dollar hybrid hypercars,  no other car in the world, at any price, reconciles pupil-dilating performance with efficiency so wholly.

Of course, if you’re going 190mph, your fuel economy will suffer. And if you’re going 55mph, you are doing Corvette wrong.

The C7 Corvette Stingray at full throttle. (General Motors)

The C7 Corvette Stingray at full throttle. (General Motors)

The C7 is the first Corvette that’s built around an aluminium frame and structure. Like all previous Corvettes, most of the body panels are plastic of one sort or another, but there is no heavy steel truck frame hiding underneath any more. Meanwhile, the all-independent suspension has been thoroughly refined from the sixth-gen car.

The most satisfying component of the new ’Vette, however, may be the interior, which has been elevated from the chintzy, Cobalt-dwelling doldrums to realms of respectability – even desirability.

Press the humdrum start button on the C7 and it thumps to life in a low-growl idle. Yes, a six-speed paddle-shifted automatic is available, but the seven-speed manual shifts easily and operates with a tactile grace that belies the fact that it is mounted just behind the driver’s coccyx. Nudge the throttle, and the Corvette gently glides forward. At part throttle, this may as well be a milquetoast Malibu sedan. But slam the pedal and the Corvette roars forward like it’s being pushed by a bullet train. The engine may have only two-valves over each cylinder and pushrods actuating them, but 6.2 litres is a huge displacement. School bus displacement. Add in direct injection and variable valve timing, and Chevrolet knows how to let this fundamentally ancient technology rip and snort. The power plant revs quickly and feels as if each of its 460 pounds-feet of peak torque is wearing a hiking boot. People who worship classic muscle cars can only imagine their chamois-buffed machines performing as well and with such an unassailable American character.

Balancing this massive thrust is a chassis that is nimble, responsive and not half as brutish as the power delivery. And the adhesion from the Michelin Pilot Super Sport run-flat tires is brilliant. This is the Corvette everyone has always said the Corvette should be.

In spite of it all, there’s still one big problem. And that’s the dispiriting moment when you ask the valet to retrieve your car and he says, “Yours is the Chevy, right?”

Then try…

Rule no 1 of motoring:  any swanky place grows commensurately swankier when a driver pulls up in a Ferrari. Said driver might register necks cracking as heads swivel ‘round just to catch a glimpse. Men drool, women sigh and puppies wag their tails 32% quicker. And this is true of any Ferrari – even the “cheap” ones.

308 GTBi

Rosso, the official colour of Ferrari, looks good on a 308 GTBi. (Newspress)

At the Corvette’s $53,995 base price point (that is, before options push it beyond $80,000), the Ferrari to get is the still spectacular, mid-engine, V8-powered 308 GTB or GTS. Produced between 1975 and 1985, good 308s were selling for around $30,000 just a couple years ago. But collectors have gotten wise, and prime examples now crest $50,000. The 308 doesn’t lack for visual impact. It is the Ferrari that Magnum drove on Magnum, P.I., and it was the Ferrari that James Woods’ character memorably raced across Sunset Boulevard against Jeff Bridges’ Porsche 911 in 1984’s Against All Odds. And the basic Pininfarina-designed 308 shape was later adapted to produce the epic twin-turbocharged 288 GTO and world-slaying F40 supercars.

Magnum, P.I.

If it's quick enough for Magnum, P.I.... (Silver Screen Collection/Getty)

The most desirable 308s were offered at the beginning and end of the production run. Designed to replace the beloved Dino 246, the first few 308 GTB hardtops were built using lighter-weight fibreglass bodies, rendering them more desirable, and consequently more expensive. By 1982, the 308’s three-litre engine had evolved and now wore cylinder heads with four-valve (or Quattrovalvole) combustion chambers and Bosch electronic fuel injection. Translated: the early cars may be more interesting, but the later ones are easier to live with every day.

For the full Magnum effect, you’ll want a GTS with its removable Targa-style roof. But the rarer solid-roof GTBs are stiffer and usually better drivers.

308 GTS

Pop-up headlights were a distinguishing feature of sports cars in the 308's era. (RM Auctions)

All this in mind, there are still some serious drawbacks to any 308. First, none would be fairly described as fast by 2014 standards. Back in 1981, Car and Driver magazine tested a 205hp 308 GTSi that ran from zero to 60mph in 7.6 seconds and through the quarter-mile in 15.6 seconds at 89mph. A Honda Odyssey minivan will run quicker than that. Granted,  it won’t sound as good or look as nice, but it is quicker and has room for a pack of Cub Scouts.

Not only are they somewhat laggardly, the 308s are still 30- to 40-year-old Ferraris. Things will fail on these cars even if they have only slight mileage on the odometer. A Ferrari is great for arrivals, but can also cause acute embarrassment when it’s being flat-bedded over to Mario’s shop… again. New Corvettes come with warranties, old Ferraris come with commitments. And Mario’s parts and labour will never come cheap.

308 GTS

The interior of a 1978 Ferrari 308 GTS. (RM Auctions)

If you stretch the Corvette pricing up near $80,000, there are other Ferraris – F355s from the ‘90s, and maybe even a Miami Vice-era Testarossa – that may be tempting alternatives. But the Corvette will still be quicker, much more reliable and vastly less expensive to fix.

It won’t be a Ferrari, though. When everything is right with one of those, there is nothing more right in the world.

Black beauty. The rear gate of a 1978 Ferrari 308 GTS. (RM Auctions)

Black beauty. The rear gate of a 1978 Ferrari 308 GTS. (RM Auctions)