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Second-Hand: Chevrolet Corvette

The Corvette is America's sports car is one solid you can take to the bank.

  • The image of cars on a parking

In a world choking on media hype and marketing hyperbole, it’s hard to locate a reputation that rings true.

That the Corvette is “America’s sports car” is one solid you can take to the bank.

Over its 50 years, the ‘Vette has remained true to its mission: With two seats and a big V8, this Patriot missile has always appealed to car enthusiasts who like their fun in big dollops fuelled by a rock-‘n’-roll soundtrack.

For our purposes we’ll look at the fourth and fifth generations of Corvette. (For the record, the first generation spanned from 1953 to 1962; the second to 1967, and the third to 1982.) It’s no coincidence that the Corvette was born during the early days of rock.

CONFIGURATION The fourth generation, unveiled for 1984, represented a quantum leap in the Corvette’s development. While previous generations grew out of relatively crude hot-rod technology, the C4 was the culmination of the General’s latest and best thinking.

The C4 used a galvanized-steel “uniframe,” instead of a separate chassis and “birdcage” to support the fibreglass body panels. A central tunnel enveloped the powertrain, adding to the structural integrity.

Aluminum, magnesium and plastic were used extensively to keep weight down, although the standard 5.7-litre V8 remained cast in iron for a while.

Saddled with throttle-body fuel injection initially, the engine was only good for 205 horsepower, but made 290 lb.-ft. of neck-snapping torque.

The cockpit was wide and spacious, with creature comforts no Corvette designer could fathom in 1968. Digital instruments were standard, part of the craze that swept the industry in the early 1980s.

In response to more powerful competitors, Chevrolet introduced the limited edition ZR-1 in 1990. Powered by an all-aluminum 32-valve version of the 5.7-litre motor, it had 375 hp.

With the arrival of the outrageous 400-hp V10 powered Dodge Viper, the ZR-1 was squeezed to make 405 hp for 1993. An optional engine that made 300 hp was offered on lesser models.

The C4 Corvette remained relatively unchanged through the rest of its production, although engineers made 400 design changes to reduce noise, vibration and harshness.

The C5 arrived for 1997, employing a structure four times stiffer than the outgoing car, despite stretching the wheelbase by 21 cm.

The added length was apparent behind the seats where the transmission now resided. By separating the engine and tranny with a stiff “torque tube,” the configuration opened up the traditionally narrow footwells and made the car almost perfectly balanced.

Weight-saving aluminum and magnesium parts were everywhere. The floor was a fibreglass-balsa wood sandwich.

The C5 was powered by the all-new LS1 engine. Still a pushrod two-valve design, it used optimized valve-train geometry to reduce internal friction, making 345 hp and 350 lb.-ft. of torque.

Run-flat tires were standard on the C5, negating the need for a spare. Trunk space was suitably enlarged – enough for two golf bags.

ON THE ROAD The Corvette is about pure, unbridled speed.

Only the first model year of the C4, with 205 hp, could be considered disappointing. Zero to 96 km/h came up in 6.7 seconds.

The 1990 ZR-1, on the other hand, was blazingly fast, hitting highway velocity in just 4.5 seconds.

The C5 was similarly quick, reaching 96 km/h in 4.9 seconds (with the six-speed). The Z06 performance edition, using the 385-hp LS6 motor, shaved almost one-half second off that.

Great speed should be matched with authoritative braking power, which the Corvette had in spades. The ZR-1 could haul down to a standstill from 112 km/h in just 49 metres; the standard C5 needed one-half metre more, the Z06 three metres less.

Roadholding is another Corvette trademark, at least since the arrival of the C4. It generated 0.90 g of grip on a circular skidpad; wider tires offered in later years only improved that figure.

The C4’s kidney-jarring ride never let you forget you were driving an all-out sports car regardless of which suspension package, or setting, you chose.

“I do find myself paying a little too much attention to (the) road surface ahead rather than the traffic on the road ahead,” confessed the owner of a ’95 model, who is preoccupied with seeking the smoothest path for his car.

The C5, with its supremely rigid chassis, provided better ride control and some semblance of comfort.

WHAT OWNERS REPORTED “World-class” and “best bang for the buck” were common accolades for both the C4 and especially the refined C5.

While the C4 employed a lot of exotic materials and technology, it still displayed characteristics that plagued all previous fibreglass Corvettes: cowl quiver, water leaks and a cacophony of squeaks and rattles.

“I just assumed that owning a ‘Vette meant putting up with a rough-riding, noisy, leaky car. That is not the case with the C5, at least not yet,” wrote the owner of a 1998 model, who previously had a 1971, ’82 and ’94.

For a supercar, the care and feeding of a Corvette is very reasonable. Even gas mileage is surprisingly good: 14 L/100 km city; 9.4 L/100 km highway, owners reported.

The usual GM electrical gremlins were evident, along with failed fuel and water pumps, seized U-joints and transmission woes.

If you can get used to that, and can find a car that received appropriate attention from its previous owners, you’ll be rewarded with both an entertaining and dependable ride.

Posted the owner of a 1996 model on the Web: “In the first two years of its life (42,000 km) there were absolutely no reliability issues at all, a nice surprise for a GM product.” We would like to know about your ownership experience with the following models: Toyota Corolla, Mercedes-Benz M-Class and Ford Windstar. Send your comments to Mark Toljagic, 2060 Queen St.

East, P.O. Box 51541, Toronto ON M4E 1C0. E-mail: toljagic @ ca.inter.net.

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