Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Great Sports Car Debate: 2011 Corvette Grand Sport Coupe v. 1976 MGB Roadster

As many of you know, our neighbor Wendy works for GM and occasionally brings her work home with her in the form of various cars that need to be driven.  And while I have yet to score my long-promised drive in a Chevy Volt, this weekend's driver was not going to escape me or Monique. Why? Because as you may have guessed from the title, Wendy brought home a 2011 Grand Sport Corvette this weekend.

And indeed, today Wendy was kind enough to let both Monique and I take the 'Vette for a little spin around the lakes on a sunny October afternoon.  Since I never did quite get around to putting "New Grand Sport Corvette" on my shopping list before I bought the MGB this summer, this made for an excellent opportunity to compare and contrast with a modern American sports car with a top speed of 185 mph with a mid-century British roadster with a top speed about half that.

What did we think? First, let's look at the tale of the tape:

2011 Grand Sport Corvette: Leather.
1976 MGB Roadster: Leather. (Hah! Take that, Corvette! The MGB's right with you so far.)

Curb Weight
2011 Grand Sport Corvette: 3,331 pounds.
1976 MGB Roadster: 2,335 pounds.

2011 Grand Sport Corvette: 175.6 inches.
1976 MGB Roadster: 153.2 inches.

2011 Grand Sport Corvette: 105.7 inches.
1976 MGB Roadster: 91 inches.

2011 Grand Sport Corvette: Less
1976 MGB Roadster: More (A surprise to you all after those length and wheelbase numbers, I'm sure, but quite true.)

2011 Grand Sport Corvette: 16 mpg city, 26 mpg highway.
1976 MGB Roadster: 22 mpg city, 30 mpg highway.

Safety Features
2011 Grand Sport Corvette: StabiliTrak® Electronic Stability Control System, three-point seat restraints, crumple zones, front and side-impact air bags(5), etc., etc., etc....
1976 MGB Roadster: Um, lap belts? Yeah, lap belts!

2011 Grand Sport Corvette: Guaranteed bumper-to-bumper 3 years/36,000 miles, drivetrain 5 years/100,000 miles.
1976 MGB Roadster: Guaranteed to force me to use my AAA card.

Driver Sight Lines
2011 Grand Sport Corvette: A digital windshield heads-up display appears just above the hood.
1976 MGB Roadster: The top of the windshield crosses just in front of my eyes.

2011 Grand Sport Corvette: 0-200 MPH physical indicator plus digital windshield heads-up display
1976 MGB Roadster: The speedometer waves cheerfully and randomly at the driver.

2011 Grand Sport Corvette: Starts at $55,000 and goes up quickly, depending on options.
1976 MGB Roadster: Less than 1/10th that. (Thank goodness!)

Chick Magnet Factor
2011 Grand Sport Corvette: Photographic evidence submitted above.
1976 MGB Roadster: Rust magnet factor.

Electrical Equipment
2011 Grand Sport Corvette: A full assortment of high-end 21st Century electronica.
1976 MGB Roadster: Courtesy of Lucas, Prince of Darkness. ("The proper gentleman does not go motoring at night.")

2011 Grand Sport Corvette: 6-speed manual.
1976 MGB Roadster: 4-speed manual with electronic overdrive.

0-60 MPH
2011 Grand Sport Corvette: Timed under four seconds.
1976 MGB Roadster: Timed with a sundial. 

2011 Grand Sport Corvette: 6.2 Liter 430-hp LS3 V8 engine 
1976 MGB Roadster: 4 plucky hamsters from Abingdon, England.

(For those who truly want to know, my MGB has a rebuilt 1.8 liter 4-cylinder engine that's been upgraded a bit with racing cam, performance headers & exhaust, Weber carb, and an electronic ignition.  It's a smidge stronger than a standard MGB motor, so at a guess it probably puts out around 90-95 hp.  I've never timed it, but I can probably go 0-60 in somewhere around 12-13 seconds ... if I get a stiff tailwind.)

And so, with the tale of the tape told, let's take these cars for a spin.

Our drivers:

Wendy (left) and Monique

The road test:

Hey, wait for me!

Speed limit 45 mph? Yeah, right.  (Actually, we were both far too scared on behalf of our insurance rates to go much over the speed limit in the 'Vette, tempting though it was.)

Windy Michigan roads in October. A good idea in any car, frankly.

Oooh, look at the Corvette with its fancy-shmancy functioning taillights. I doubt a Corvette owner ever feels the sense of accomplishment I achieved when I got my MGB's courtesy light, parking lights, taillights, and headlights to *all* work at the same time ... after only ten weeks of ownership. 

The Review:

So what did we think? First off, the Corvette Grand Sport is an awesome car. It's one thing to read about horsepower and torque numbers, it's another to tap the accelerator when you're going 35 mph in 3rd gear and watch the speedometer shoot up over 60 mph in a silky-smooth instant. And when I took it through a series of curves and hills near us that present a nice, windy challenge for the MGB, it cruised through them at 50 mph as if the road was straight as a string.

But there's its problem, too.  I know I'll be subject to public mockery for typing these words in the Motor City, but the Corvette Grand Sport is waaaaaay too much car to drive on the street.  Seriously, I never really got it out of third gear (out of six) on the little roads around us because the speed limit is 45-50 mph.  Did I mention that this thing has a top speed of 185 mph?

Don't get me wrong.  The Corvette Grand Sport was tons of fun to drive, even if I never did get it to more than 1/3 of its top speed.  But it was also weirdly frustrating because the car is so clearly designed specifically to do things that a variety of very good state and federal traffic safety laws expressly forbid.  I would love to own one of these things.  But I'd immediately need to go up to the Waterford Hills Road Racing track and sign up to run hot laps every day because this car obviously wants to do things that no sane person would do on a public road. It's the automotive equivalent of using an M-60 machine gun to go squirrel hunting.

And I would never in a billion years want this car to be my daily driver because I might just as well go down to the Michigan Secretary of State office and surrender my license.  They'd have it in three months, anyway, so I might as well save myself the speeding fines and points on my record.

The MGB on the other hand, for all of its dodgy electrical systems and its wee little engine, is a lot of fun to drive on the same roads that the Corvette tames effortlessly.  The handling transmits the bumps and curves very directly to the driver, and its little engine is still peppy enough to zip you along the road nicely. And with the top down there's an earnest rawness to it that seems to be missing in the Corvette, which seemed kind of bored with the incredibly modest demands we made of its much greater talents.

Maybe that's the key to why we've enjoyed the MGB so much this year.  It makes it feel as if you're driving a bit faster than you really are.  And that turns out to be a surprisingly good thing.

The final verdict?  

Well, I was prejudiced in favor of the MGB, of course, but after talking with Monique I think we both agree on this one:

2011 Grand Sport Corvette: Enormously more car.
1976 MGB Roadster: Probably more fun.

(But I plan to pester Wendy tomorrow to let me drive the 'Vette again for a few more hours, just to make sure.)


  1. P.S. Several of the MG jokes above are blatantly cribbed off the MG Experience forums ( an excellent place to visit for anything you'd ever want to know about MGs.

  2. The best empirical comparison of these two sports cars one could read anywhere. But "Fun MG", your license plate, John, tells it more pithily and with more imagination.

  3. Hi John, reminds me of having owned a '68 MGB roadster and a '73 Alfa Romeo Montreal V8 together. The Alfa was a lumbering beast in town driving but on an open road ... 100 to 150 MPH like out of a slingshot. The MGB on the other hand, didn't need 17 quarts of oil, a 12 hr tuneup every month, or need its motor pulled and rebuilt if the water pump went ... it was just plain fun :)

  4. If you could only have got in front of the Corvette, you could have slowed her down with a shower of oil and miscellaneous MGB bits , then made good your escape!

  5. Ha-ha! Fun post. (I still want a ride in the Roadster.) Maybe when I hand you your shiny new original artwork. ...the only downside is: I'm not sure the artwork will fit in your Roadster.

    We'll think of something,
    Ryan Claytor
    Elephant Eater Comics