Corvettes and Downforce: IT’S SCIENCE!!

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c4 corvette

I love sports cars, Scotch whisky, Formula One racing, and modern technology, but above all else I love SCIENCE! That wacky and wild section of the academic world that studies, experiments, and learns in order to create all those things I said I love. Yes, this seems like a really strange thing to discuss on the world’s greatest Corvette dedicated website, but everything on a Corvette is there because of science.

It was science that created that fiberglass, carbon fiber, aluminum, and magnesium alloy metals, and even the advanced rubbers in the tires that make the Corvette as lightweight and capable as it is. Science also gave us the art of aerodynamics, and that is where this story takes us back to Corvette Forum.

Forum member volkswagens-for-life (yeah, I don’t get it either) recently started a thread asking about how his 1987 Z51 Corvette feels safer at higher speeds. At around 105mph, he claims the car settles down, feels tighter, and travels down the road much more smoothly. And he wanted to know why.

Well my dear VW loving, Corvette driving friend, the answer is…. SCIENCE!

Two C4 Corvette ZR-1s (2)

It all comes down to aerodynamics and the results of a phenomenon lovingly referred to as downforce. Essentially once you reach a certain speed, the force and weight of the air hitting the car forces the car down into the pavement. The body work is designed to cause this to happen, so that as the car gets faster it still stays safe to drive. Think of it as an airplane wing that has been flipped upside down.

So yes, you are correct in thinking that your car gets better the faster it goes. It only works to a point though. The C4 may be an impressive car from a design standpoint, but you will reach a point where the aerodynamic downforce on the car stops becoming effective and the car will begin to feel unstable again. As I am sure you can imagine, this is a bad thing.

Also, just the usual caveat here. While science is freaking amazing and makes this cool stuff happen, driving on a public road at speeds that are double the average US highway’s speed limit is decidedly less freaking amazing. So be careful out there. I am pretty sure the highway patrol won’t accept “But officer, it’s safer for me to drive at 105. It’s SCIENCE!” as a legitimate reason for your speeding.

Finally, thank you for attending this short lecture from (not a) Doctor Moe: engineer, scientist, and hooligan extraordinaire.

Chime in with your thoughts on the forum. >>


Christian Moe contributes to many of Internet Brands' Auto blogs, including Corvette Forum, Club Lexus and Rennlist.

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