When my alarm went off at 5:30 AM on a rather chilly Los Angeles morning this past December, my initial reaction was to burrow further into bed. Under normal circumstances the thing to do would have been to silence the damn alarm, roll over and go back to sleep until the first rays of sunlight had begun to warm the city. However, that morning was anything but normal. Waiting just downstairs was a 2018 Corvette Grand Sport Carbon 65 and out in the desert, a members-only motorsports facility for me to run it around all day long. Also waiting for me: a “1963” Corvette Grand Sport built by Superformance. So I got out of bed.
Built with GM’s blessing, thus guaranteeing eligibility for the official Corvette registry, the Superformance Grand Sport is a continuation of the lightweight, purpose-built C2 Corvettes dreamt up by Corvette chief engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov in 1962. Duntov hoped to build 125 Grand Sports in order to satisfy homologation requirements that would allow the car to compete in the GT Class at Sebring and LeMans, but his bosses at GM killed the project after just only examples were built. As you might imagine, those five cars are extremely valuable — one is said to have fetched nearly $5,000,000 the last time it changed hands. Getting an opportunity to drive an original Grand Sport around a parking lot is highly improbable; flogging one on a track is not within the realm of possibility, at least not for mere mortals. Fortunately, Superformance turns dreams into reality.
The promise of running these two distant relatives around a closed course is stronger than any cup of coffee I could’ve found. By 5:45 I was enjoying the glorious racket of the new Vette’s LT1 6.2-liter V8 cold start. Its tires shuddered as I started my journey — Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s don’t like the cold, but they were in their element in short order.
Before morning traffic forms, it’s an easy run out of the city and into the desert. To say I was eager is an understatement: I’d been enjoying driving the Carbon 65 around Los Angeles for few days but had been dying to turn it loose. After all, the C7 Corvette is a legitimately great car for cruising thanks to overall improved build quality and GM’s ace in the hole, its MagneRide suspension, and since my example was decked out with loads of carbon fiber bits and the performance-enhancing Z07 package, it deserved to chance to really shine.
The Thermal Club gave it that chance and then some.
The Thermal Club is an automotive oasis at the western edge of the Sonoran Desert conceived and fully funded by a husband and wife who are rabid automotive enthusiasts. It’s an hour from Palm Springs and serves as the ultimate playground for petrolheads, thanks to its three circuits, skid pad, karting course, autocross tracks and a giant full-service garage. With an initiation fee of $85K and annual dues running $14K, it’s by no means for everyone. And yet judging by how many members have built trackside villas so they can sleep and entertain onsite, there’s certainly a market for it. After all, not everyone enjoys golf.
Members who don’t own a villa or just want to pop in for a brief session can fly into the nearby regional airport, or land at the private onsite helipad, where Thermal will have a vehicle waiting. With 5.1 total miles of tarmac to play on, members can hone their skills on their own or take advantage of professional instruction. Of course, some don’t need much improvement: TTC counts pro-drivers, race teams and manufacturers among their members. Fortunately, my visit fell on an off day, so no industry luminaries were around to critique my best impression of a hot-shoe. That being said, the C& Carbon 65 sure does make one feel like they could get out there and mix it up with a field of experienced racers. But then the Superformance Grand Sport quickly erases any such notion.
Therein lies the true value and beauty of these two Vettes existing in the same world: one is a high tech modern sports car to inflate your ego; the other is an analog classic to check it. Need an instant pick me up? Drive the Carbon 65. Want to humbly commune with the motorsports universe? Drive the Superformance Grand Sport.
The way the Carbon 65 charges through corners and devours straightaways is highly addictive. Even after an entire day spent going at full steam I wanted more, and the car would have been happy to oblige. I wanted more foot-on-the-floor corner exits during which the rear end somehow sticks its line, more third-to-fourth gear redline shifts, more aggressively deep braking that pushes your resolve to the limit. This new Corvette is like an arcade game that you have unlimited restarts on.
The Superformance Grand Sport is equally enticing, though certainly more exhausting. You’ve got to work for your moments in this car, but it still never feels like it’ll get away from you. That’s quite an achievement for a car that weighs about as much as a Honda Civic but sends 460 horsepower to the rear wheels. The only way that power to weight ration is tamed is via the very meaty classic-style Avon CR6ZZ tires/vented Wilwood brakes/Bilstein shocks/Tremec T-56 six-speed transmission combo installed therein. This “old” car is astonishingly well behaved, even to the point where I wish it was perhaps a little more unruly. Only the profoundly vintage seats, hot cabin (A/C off on the track for good taste, of course) and lack of sound insulation serve as a reminder that it’s technically a classic car.
After watching the kind of gorgeous sunset you only encounter in the desert, it was finally time to load up and head back to Los Angeles. Still buzzing from the experience, I selected “Eco” mode for the drive home, which turns the 460 hp and 465 lb/ft LT1 small block V8 into the tamest version of itself. I managed an average 24.6 MPG on that return trip, while earlier in the day I had pulled 1.21 g on the track. All the while I’d had the seat cooling fans running to keep my core at a comfortable operating temperature. Can’t do that in the Superformance Grand Sport. Of course, that’s not the point of the car, but it serves to further illustrate how good we have it these days. With the turn of a dial, we go from track weapon to ho-hum cruiser. One motor, two very different cars; both enlightening in the same way.