I can’t take credit for the headline; that’s all Maren Morris. But ‘The Bones’ was on my mind as I spent more and more time with the 2023 Chevrolet Corvette 3LT as part of my trip to Pride at the Dragon a few weeks ago. Chevy sent me this Elkhart Lake Blue example knowing I’d put roughly 1,500 miles on the odometer in a week. They knew where I was going and what the event would entail. And the car was heavy on nice-to-haves but light on performance-boosting features.
Okay, Chevy, the bones must be good. Let’s find out.
What Is It?
This is a 2023 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, now eclipsed by the C8 Corvette Z06 in ultimate performance but still plenty good on its own. Every C8 Corvette Stingray is powered by the same 6.2-liter V8, mounted just behind the seats for ideal handling and weight distribution. The lone go-fast option on my test car was the valved performance exhaust, which added five to the V8’s power and torque figures for a total of 495 horsepower and 470 pound-feet. Every Corvette Stingray is rear-wheel drive with a mechanical limited-slip differential and uses an 8-speed dual clutch transmission.
Where my car’s spec sheet was personally fascinating was in its luxury-first focus. Choosing a 3LT adds leather to the dashboard, door panels and center console, and the headliner, A-pillars, and sun visors are wrapped in microfiber. “GT2” seats are included, bringing a bit more support than the standard “GT1” seats on lower trims, but without as much aggressive bolstering as on the competition sport seats.
Notably missing was the Z51 Performance Package. While any C8 Corvette is plenty capable for hard street driving, Chevrolet claims the Z51 package is “required” for track use. Choosing Z51 adds larger Brembo brakes, an electronically-controlled limited-slip diff, a stiffer suspension, shorter rear axle gearing, larger rear spoiler, and beefier cooling system. Oh, and Michelin Pilot Sport 4S summer tires.
Also optional – and separate from the Z51 package – is Magnetic Ride Control. Chevy offers two fixed-rate suspensions on the C8, one softer and one stiffer, and then offers MagRide. Magnetic Ride Control is an adaptive system that changes damping based on drive modes, and it’s well-known by now for providing top ride quality in a variety of environments across a host of GM cars and trucks.
In any case, my car had Michelin all-season tires and the softest of the three suspensions. Other notable options included 20-inch wheels, carbon fiber interior trim, and the “nose lift” that allows the low front end to raise at your command or in GPS-programmed locations. MSRP came to $88,105.
The drive from Washington, D.C. to Tail of the Dragon is a straight-up slog. It’s eight hours of highway travel, with another thirty minutes or so of winding roads at the very end. I split the drive up into three portions as I was stopping in Asheville, North Carolina to drive the new GMC Canyon pickup truck. No matter, the Corvette was comfortable enough, with emphasis on “enough.”
For being a relatively large car – this isn’t a Miata, after all – the C8 Corvette offers reasonable storage in both front and rear trunks. But the passenger compartment felt a bit tight. Despite having driven many C8s over the past few years, this was my first time putting long highway miles on any of ’em. Those GT2 seats were comfortable, with enough leg room for my six-foot-one frame, but I wanted about an inch more headroom to keep my admittedly-tall hair out of that microfiber-suede-y headliner. I made use of every little interior storage compartment to hold my phone, keys, sunglasses, and other detritus along the journey.
Tunes were provided through a 14-speaker Bose Performance Series sound system that was excellent, both roof-in and roof-out. I elected to keep the roof installed for most of the drive, to help prevent wind-noise-induced fatigue, though I did finally pull over and pop it out for the mountain road sequence leading to Fontana Village. Yes, I had to move all of my luggage to the passenger seat. Yes, it was worth it.
On The Tail
Our group of over 200 LGBTQ car enthusiasts had several days of driving ahead, between back-roads runs to far-off lunch spots and small group drives up and down the Tail of the Dragon and other surrounding roads.
The week started off with a healthy amount of rain, leaving no “dry line” on any road we took. The Corvette’s Michelin Pilot Sport all-season tires immediately proved themselves as I was asked to lead a group on the Cherohala Skyway to lunch. They moved water easily and offered great turn-in and mid-corner grip. I was actually thankful for the Corvette’s soft suspension here, as I retained good body control without the car feeling skittish. That mechanical LSD, while perhaps not offering quite as much precision control of lockup compared to its electronically-actuated Z51 brother, helped put power down in a predictable manner, corner after corner.
Our Friday was supposed to be spent taking great roads to lunch, then continuing on another hour or so to get ice cream in a small town. But as we sat down for barbecue, the rain stopped and the clouds parted. We’d have dry roads by the time lunch was over. Tyler looked at me from across the table. “So I think we’re gonna skip the ic…” I grinned and knew where he was going with his sentence. “Great, let’s do it.” I took the roof off of the Corvette, my friend Josh hopped in the right seat, and four cars left the parking lot with the Tail of the Dragon on our minds, our own sweet treat for the afternoon.
By the time we made it to the Tail, there was indeed a dry line where other cars had cleared water. We had grip. I put the Corvette in Sport mode and the transmission in Manual. Second and third were all I needed for the lower speeds of the Tail itself, and it was here that the car came alive. It had been competent in the wet, and was downright playful in the dry. Not “playful” in a messy way, rather “playful” in an exacting, we-will-do-the-damn-thing-together kind of way.
It was here that the mid-engine layout of the C8 took the lower grip of the all-seasons, the soft shock damping and the lower spring rates and just said “meh, fine.” The entire car was willing to pivot around my and Josh’s hips, as if a pole was planed in the center armrest at every corner. Body roll was minimal and everything was composed. I had grip, I had turn-in, I had power on the exit. I didn’t have to fight to make the Corvette do what I wanted… it just did it.
Saturday was yet again gorgeous, and I spent much of it running up and down “Hellbender,” the portion of US-28 that takes you from Fontana Village to the actual Tail on US-129. Hellbender is more wide open than the Tail, with on-camber curves you can see through as you establish a rhythm with your inputs. I’d take one PatD attendee down to US-129 with someone else riding in a car behind us. We’d swap passengers and head back to Fontana. Over and over, the *crack!* of a full-throttle upshift in Sport mode made each rider giggle. It was here, with slightly faster speeds, that I eventually found reasonable limits of what the most mechanically-basic C8 Corvette wanted to achieve.
Nevertheless, I ran through almost an entire tank of 93 octane in one day. On the base suspension. On all-seasons. It was a riot.
This was my second time attending Pride at the Dragon. I was dealing with some major life changes at last year’s event, whereas this year provided a fresh take on the same kind of gathering. Having and creating the space for so many LGBTQ car enthusiasts to show up is valuable beyond words. It’s why we host events of our own, but attending one where my involvement was minimal offered a different perspective. Driving and a love of all-things-car is what brings us together, and being able to socialize with so many great people is what keeps us coming back.
Could I have had “more fun” in a Corvette Z06? Or in a Stingray with the Z51 package? I mean… sure. It would’ve been a bit grippier and a bit faster and a bit stiffer and so on. We as enthusiasts often figure we have to get “the best” of what’s offered to make a performance car really worth buying. I’ll be the first to admit I feel that way whenever I’m playing with the latest build-and-price tool online.
So then, it was fascinating to introspect about my initial feelings on this particular Elkhart Lake Blue Corvette. I initially called it an “old man spec” given the extended leather and the tires. But throughout our time together, my feelings softened. A lot. Part of it had to do with the trip itself and part of it had to do with the car.
I made memories with so many people, friends new and old. We laughed about superficial things and we had real conversation about deeper things. My and our experiences would not have been markedly better with Brembo brakes or Magneride. At no point during my five days of driving – on some of the best roads on the east coast – did I actually wish for higher limits.
Not all “base spec” performance cars are this good right out of the box. Many need a few options to really showcase their potential. But in this case, The Bones Are Good and as Ms. Morris says, the rest don’t matter.