Perhaps one episode best describes what sports-car enthusiasts can expect from the 2001 Chevrolet Corvette Z06, which begins arriving in showrooms in the next few weeks.

When invited to unveil the Z06 at a Midwest Automotive Media Association rally in Chicago, Corvette assistant brand manager Cheryl Pilcher hopped behind the wheel and motored the 300 miles from Detroit in "about four hours."

After a little coaxing Pilcher fessed up that "about" meant "less than" and that while state troopers must have been on a coffee break, the control tower at O'Hare International Airport did track her trip.

The 2001 Z06 is the vehicle that is supposed to make folks forget the ZR-1, better known as the King of the Hill when it was marketed from 1990 to 1995 as the ultimate power machine.

"This is not a new King of the Hill," Pilcher insisted. "The Z06 is quicker and faster. The ZR-1 (375 horsepower when introduced, 405 h.p. by the time it was dropped from the lineup) did zero to 60 in 4.4 seconds, the Z06 (385 h.p. with an emphasis on off-the-line quickness) does it in 4 seconds."

Never argue over 0.4 seconds with someone who can make the I-94 run in less than four hours, a trip that takes five to six hours Earth time.

But, Pilcher admits, the Z06 isn't for everyone. It's billed as "race ready" and aimed at hard-core gearheads and performance nuts. Drivers, not motorists.

And if Z06 sounds familiar, Pilcher notes that Chevrolet offered an $1,800 Z06 "race-ready option" on the '63 Corvette Sting Ray. The Z06 designation was chosen for the 2001 model in honor of Zora Arkus-Duntov, Corvette's first chief engineer who in '63 created the original Z06 package. By the way, for 2001, $1,800 won't even pay the sales tax on the machine.

Corvette has been marketed in coupe, convertible and hardtop editions, the hardtop the latest offering in 1999. For 2001 the trio will be called coupe, convertible and Z06. The hardtop designation has been dropped, though the Z06 will be offered only with fixed hardtop.

Though Pilcher insists this is not a King, the first time you stomp the pedal and your cheeks become one with your jowls, you realize this is royalty nonetheless.

The Z06 differs from its coupe and convertible siblings in that it is propelled by a 5.7-liter V-8 dubbed the LS6 and tuned to delive r 385 h.p. at 6,000 r.p.m. and 385 foot-pounds of torque at 4,800 r.p.m. The coupe and convertible, with a slight tweak to intake and exhaust valving, are powered by 5.7-liter LS1 V-8s that deliver 350 h.p. at 5,600 r.p.m. and 360 (automatic) to 375 (manual) foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 to 4,400 r.p.m., an improvement over the 345 h.p. and 350 foot-pounds of torque at 4,400 r.p.m. in the 2000 versions.

The LS6, available only in the Z06, features different cylinder heads and valve springs and larger fuel injectors and a reduction in exhaust back pressure by using a titanium exhaust system to get more power than the LS1.

The Z06 is offered only with a rather smooth 6-speed manual that requires little pedal effort. No automatic transmission.

"The 6-speed is the trans of choice of performance enthusiasts," Pilcher said, "though that's not to say we'll exclude an automatic in the future."

Depending on your age, the Z06 brings out your Juan Montoya or Walter Mitty fantasies. When you launch the Z06, you'll take comfort in the fact that the initial burst of power propels you forward with a sprinter's lung.

When we tested the potent Jaguar XKR (Cartalk, May 14), we noted that when you kick the pedal hard at takeoff, the 370-h.p. supercharged V-8 tends to give you an adrenalin rush as the front end appears to lift from the torque, putting you in position for launch upward rather than outward.

The Z06, on the other hand, concentrates on getting you going quickly in a straight line by forcing the front end to sit still and flat. A race is run, the saying goes, one step at a time, and you get to the checkered flag quicker if the first step is toward the finish line, not toward the sky. The Z06's first step is sure-footed and directly ahead. It doesn't first lift and pause to flex its muscles before springing into action like the XKR.

In a car capable of 0 to 60 m.p.h. performance in 4 seconds, fractions of seconds saved or lost getting the machine in motion are what keep performance purists awake at night.

The 6-speed manual in the Z06 also comes with different gear ratios than in the coupe or convertible to allow for more rapid acceleration, especially in first and second, as well as more aggressive driving at all times.

The Z06 we tested is for folks who thrill at high-speed performance, but who accept stiff ride in exchange for smooth, precise handling and the ability to maneuver as if the machine was bolted to rails.

Though the suspension is stiff, what you sacrifice in ride you more than make up for in crisp, precise, go-where-you-point-it handling. Maybe a lump or bump or two when it comes to vertical movement, but the Z06 remains glued between the lines in your lane, and you can approach that corner with the confidence that you'll glide into it and sling-shot out of it while sitting flat in the saddle because lateral movement is under control.

And a second generation active handling suspension is standard to ensure handling agility. The system uses on-board sensors to measure lateral acceleration and steering-wheel angle to determine whether to employ the anti-lock brakes or traction control (a combination of ABS and throttle regulation to help reduce tire slippage) to maintain stability and balance.

As an added benefit, the Z06 sports an FE4 suspension with larger front stabilizer bars and stiffer rear springs for high-speed operation and comes with 17-inch radials up front, 18-inch radials in the rear, both with more compliant sidewalls for on-track durability and optimum on-the-road handling. The FE4 isn't offered on the coupe or convertible.

The Z06, which is 117 pounds lighter than coupe or convertible, also differs from that pair in that it boasts brilliant red brake calipers visible at the wheels, as well as equally brilliant red Z06 fender badges and Z06 stitching on headrests. That same brilliant red shows up on the knee bolster under the steering column, as well as on the leather trim along the lower door panels and on the seat bottoms and backs. Not to fault the design staff, but it probably would be more apropos to call it bordello red.

Other noteworthy Z06 attributes are the 18 m.p.g. city/28 m.p.g. highway rating, better mileage than you'd expect from a 4-second, zero- to 60-m.p.h. machine; dual air bags with a passenger-side cutoff switch in a too-tiny glove box and an "air bag off" warning light in the center console; wide supportive seats with a special dual density foam in bottoms and backs for comfort, and well-padded and properly positioned side bolsters that hold you in place in aggressive maneuvers or allow you to sit back and relax when cruising; and a power trunk lid, with a button in the lower dash, that once open, offers enough room to hold a set of golf clubs.

But there are some gripes. The outside mirrors are t oo small and limit side vision when passing. Also, the gearshift lever blocks the cell phone power plug, which sits low in the instrument panel. There's another power plug in the center console storage compartment (along with a power gas filler-door release button), but you need to leave the console open to use it.

The Z06 starts at $46,855, the coupe $39,830, the convertible $46,355. Add $645 for freight, and, of course, options, though there are very few on the Z06.

Pilcher said Chevrolet expects about 20 percent of the 'Vette build (31,000 units total for 2000) to be Z06 versions. The Z06 will be marketed in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

2001 Chevrolet Corvette Z06
Wheelbase: 104.5 inches
Length: 179.7 inches
Engine: 5.7-liter, 385-h.p. V-8
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Fuel economy: 18 m.p.g. city/28 m.p.g. highway
Pluses: This 5.7 packs a wallop. Chevy boasts that it's quicker than the former ZR-1 or King of the Hill. Sits flat at takeoff and in corners and turns. Bring on the pylons: Precise performance handling with standard active suspension to maintain control over a variety of road conditions. Smooth 6-speed geared for aggressive driving. Respectable mileage considering the power. Holds the golf clubs, if you take your clubs to the track.
Minuses: Fixed top only and 6-speed manual only. Ashtray door can bite. Outside mirrors a tad small. Power plug for cell phone blocked by shift lever.