A school-bus yellow Z06 Corvette in city traffic is about as subtle as a fox in a chicken coop. This special-edition, 385-horsepower 'Vette is a seriously fast car for serious driving enthusiasts, but unless you want to attract undue attention, pick a color other than yellow.

The hardtop, track-ready Z06 is the hottest current Corvette, but it is about to get even hotter for 2002 when horsepower will jump to 405. The Z06 designation was used initially back in 1963 when Zora Arkus-Duntov, the Corvette's first chief engineer, applied it to a racing Sting Ray.

The hardtop is used as the basis for the Z06 because it has the stiffest body structure and is 99 pounds lighter than the coupe and convertible. It looks cool, too like a convertible with a fixed roof. Mesh screens in the front grille slots, light-gray wheels and air scoops aft of the doors to direct cooling air into the rear brakes are part of its unique look.

The Z06's aluminum, 5.7-liter V-8, now designated LS6, has been substantially modified to produce greater torque and horsepower to withstand the rigors of racing, and it is not available in any other model. New camshaft profiles, a new intake manifold and cylinder heads that flow more air and have higher compression are the source of the extra power. The block has been reworked for sustained high-speed operation, too. Curiously, in spite of the added power, fuel mileage has improved by one mile per gallon.

The Z06 feels livelier, and more responsive, than other Vettes, no doubt because of the lighter weight and greater power. The LS6 engine can be both docile and ferocious. Chevrolet says it hits 60 mph in 4 seconds and speeds through the quarter-mile in 12.6 seconds. The low-restriction titanium exhaust system, 50 percent lighter than standard, has a slightly higher pitch that gives it a unique signature sound. This is the first time a titanium exhaust has been used in a production car, and it is expensive.

The six-speed manual gearbox allows the engine to loaf along on the highway, saving gas and lowering the noise level. This engine has so much torque it will accelerate from 1,200 rpm with no hesitation. The transmission has a stiff, businesslike linkage, and the lever falls right into your hand next to the wheel. One thing I don't like about the transmission is the way it forces the shift lever to go from first to fourth when youÕre driving slowly. It does this to save gas. Drive harder and it doesn't come into play, or clip a couple of wires and the feature is disabled, but it seems like the wrong thing for a performance car.

The Z06's FE4 suspension is tuned to handle the demands of extra horsepower and the rigors of a racetrack. The ride is taut and handling precise. You may not want to take an all-day trip in it, but it is still remarkably comfortable given its performance potential. The dark-gray, Z06-specific wheels are an inch wider and shod with Goodyear Eagle SC Supercar tires.

All 2001 C orvettes get the second-generation Active Handling System that provides vehicle stability without heavy-handed intrusiveness. Power through a turn too enthusiastically and the system allows a certain amount of wheelspin before it intervenes. A competition mode allows the driver to turn off the traction control part of the system for racing or autocrossing.

The all-black interior is essentially the same as other Corvettes except each seat has the Z06 logo stitched onto it. A very subtle, and clever, checkerboard pattern is used on the face of the speedometer and tachometer.

If the Z06 has a downside, it would be that you need a track to exercise its capability. For diehard Corvette enthusiasts, however, the Z06 is a piece of living history, a link to the glory days of the first racing Sting Ray, and that will be reason enough to shell out the extra money.

The base price of the test car was $48,055. The Millennium yellow paint, memory seats, electroc omic mirrors, body-side moldings and floor mats brought the sticker price to $49,570.

Three years or 36,000 miles.

Point:The Z06 is a special Corvette that will endear itself to the faithful. Powerful and agile, it is probably the most civilized, high-performance sports car on the market for the money. The late Zora Arkus-Duntov would have been proud.

Counterpoint: The Z06 is a fairly noisy car at high speeds, the shifter lever is pretty stiff and the skip-shift feature is annoying.

Engine: 5.7-liter, 385-horsepower V-8
Transmission: Six-speed Rear-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 104.5
Curb weight: 3,115 lbs.
Base price: $48,055
As driven: $49,570
Mpg rating: 19 city, 28 hwy.
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