The thoughts of a journalist/libertarian–conservative/Christian husband, father, Eagle Scout and aficionado of obscure rock music. Thoughts herein are only the author’s and not necessarily the opinions of his family, friends, neighbors, church members or past, present or future employers.
Almost since its introduction 65 years ago, there has been a stigma in the automotive community that Corvettes are only driven by older, financially-well-off members of society. This reputation exists because of the common belief that these are the only people that can afford them. To the casual observer,this “stereotype,”(for lack of a better word,) tends to ring true.
When looking at the average age of active members is most Corvette clubs, or when frequenting car shows where Corvettes are on display, the owners do tend to be on the more mature side of the age spectrum. The seemingly obvious conclusion people come to is this – Corvettes are expensive and thereforerequire a budget that is free from the many financial burdens that are often connected with many of the younger demographics – such as paying for college, buying a house, raising a family, etc.
While the above argument sounds reasonable, and may even prove to be true in some instances, there are a number of Corvettes in the used car market that make ownership more affordable today than ever before in the brand’s history. While a 1963 Split-Window coupe is still going to be financially out of reach for many of us, there are whole generations of Corvettes that can be purchased today for under $20k, and some now sell for less than $10k, thereby throwing those earlier claims of “senior-level-affordability” right out the window!
To help illustrate this point, and to help potential future owners find their first Corvette, we decided to collect some pricing data on eight of the most affordable Corvette models in today’s used car market. In each instance, we shopped for the same car in five different cities across the United States and then calculated the average price of each model to provide the prices you see listed below. Although these dollar amounts are an average, they reflect the pricing (+/- $1,500) listed on each car we researched in each of the surveyed markets.
Here then is our list of Corvette models that can readily be purchased by just about anyone (from most-to-least expensive (on average)):
It may come as a surprise to many Corvette enthusiasts, but it is possible to find a low-mileage C6 Corvette for right around $20k.
The 2005 Corvette, which featured a 400 horsepower LS2 V8 engine and could be ordered with all sorts of cool options, has become surprisingly affordable over the past couple of years. Some say its because the 2005 Corvette was the first model year of the new generation, making it “more prone to issues” commonly associated with the roll-out of a new production vehicle. However, the 2005 Corvette includes a proven powerplant that promises exhilarating horsepower and performance. Moreover, it features a re-designed exterior that many enthusiasts praise as an improvement over the outgoing C5 model.
It should be noted however that the C6 Corvette was far more than just a redesign of its predecessor. GM engineers had approached the redesign of the Corvette with the understanding that, for the first time in the brand’s history, they were going to build an all-out sports car. In addition to tremendous acceleration and top-end power, the 2005 Corvette also featured strong stopping power and race-car worthy cornering. The sixth-generation Corvette provided owners with a driving experience that was far more refined than any of the earlier Corvettes that had come before it.
Still not convinced? Consider this…the 2005 Corvette was included on Car and Driver’s annual “10 Best” list and even beat out the 2005 Porsche 911 in a Car and Driver’s comparison test. Additionally, it took first place in a 2005 Road and Track comparison of nine sports-cars, a comparison that included: the Honda S2000, the Dodge Viper, the Porsche 911, the Porsche Boxster, and the Nissan 350Z, among others. As quoted from the article, written by Sam Mitani on February 16, 2005, the C6 had “no real weaknesses and many strengths. It possess world class performance, a high level of comfort and dashing good looks. And it’s available for nearly half the price of a Porsche Carrera S.”
When the Z06 Corvette was introduced in 2001, it was marketed as being a true, “race-ready” Corvette. While the C5 Corvette coupe and convertible had been praised by the automotive community as a whole, Corvette’s Chief Engineer David Hill had been dissatisfied with the power and performance aspects of the (then) current-generation car. He believed that some drivers simply wanted to “go faster” and have the “strongest automobile on the street.”
Early (2001–2002) Z06 Corvettes featured a 385 horsepower LS6 engine, while later models (2003–2004) featured a more robust version of the engine rated at 405 horsepower. This revised powerplant, which had been based on the LS1 engine used in the coupe and convertible models, propelled the Z06 from 0-60 in just four seconds. Per David Hill, “We’ve enhanced Corvette’s performance persona and broken new ground with the Z06. With 0 – 60 times of four seconds flat and more than 1g of cornering acceleration (skidpad), the Z06 truly takes Corvette performance to the next level. In fact, the Corvette Team has begun referring to it as the C5.5, so marked are the improvements we’ve made and the optimization of the car in every dimension.”
Today, the fifth-generation Z06 Corvette is far-less powerful than the sixth- and especially the seventh-generation models that bear the same designation. However, as the newer cars have emerged and claimed their place in the ever-changing rankings of “most-powerful Corvette,”the price of the fifth-generation C5 Corvettes have dropped considerably. And, while 385-405 horsepower may tremble in comparison to the 650 horsepower of the current Z06, these earlier-generation Z06 Corvettes are still an absolute blast to drive.
Even by today’s standards, the 2001–2004 Corvette Z06 is a “race ready (sports car) right of the box” and is still considered a bargain amongst comparably equipped sports cars from Europe – such as Ferraris and Porsches – from that same era.
Considering that the 1999 Corvette convertible had a retail price that started at $45,579.00 in 1999, it is nothing short of incredible that there are many low-to-moderate mileage examples of this car on the market today for well below $20,000.00! While this statement holds true for most of the C5 models, we selected the 1999 Corvette convertible because we felt it reflected the most value for the money of all the fifth-generation Corvettes on the used-car market today.
Elsewhere on the car, the 1999 Corvette featured a telescoping steering column, twilight sentinel headlamps and magnesium wheelsFor the 1999 model year, the engineers behind the Corvette had introduced a lot of awesome new technology into the car. One of the most exciting new features was the introduction of the “Heads Up Display”, a sophisticated and high-tech system that projected data – from speed to engine RPM’s – on the lower left section of the car’s windshield. The display was customizable and included a “check guages” warning light that would illuminate when the driver needed to pay attention to something on the dashboard gauge cluster that was not included as part of the heads up display.
But why recommend the convertible over the coupe? There is no black-and-white answer to this question. We selected the convertible over the coupe in this instance primarily because, having driven both version of this car at length, we felt that the convertible was simply more enjoyable – more fun – to drive. Although some might argue that the addition of a convertible top adds considerable weight to the car, thereby reducing its performance capabilities, the reality is that the 1999 Corvette convertible weighed only one pound more than its coupe counterpart. With a standing 0-60 time of just 4.9 seconds, the 1999 Corvertible was a solid performer, and still enabled consumers to drop the top without the trouble of having to store a hard top in the rear half of the car’s cabin area.
For many Corvette enthusiasts, the C3 is the very definition of what a Corvette should look like. The large fender flares, the swept back profile and the car’s long hood are all part of the car’s iconic look. This body design, which was the hybrid brainchild of Zora Arkus-Duntov, Bill Mitchell and Larry Shinoda, was built from 1968 to 1982, with only minor revisions to the overall look of the car during that entire duration. It remains the longest production run of any single generation of the Corvette.
The answer is two-fold. First, and probably the most relevant reason (as it relates to the topic of this article), is that General Motors reduced the number of available engines for the 1975 model year. As a result, the only available choices were either the stock 165 horsepower engine, or the optional L82 engine, which produced a modestly more impressive 205 horsepower. While neither of these powerplants offered consumers the blistering speed of the earlier third-generation Corvettes, this reduction in power has also made purchasing a C3 far more affordable in today’s used car market, providing you aren’t looking for high-output power.
The second reason that we selected this Corvette is that it marked two important milestones:
It was the last time that the C3 Corvette would be offered as a convertible.
It was the last time that a Corvette convertible would cost less than a coupe (when it was sold new), and is still a terrific value on the used car market today (NOTE:1975 Corvette convertibles sell (on average) for about $1800 more than the coupes, though there are still some amazing deals out there.)
Now we know what you’re probably thinking – our recommendation was for the 1975 Corvette coupe, NOT the convertible, right? When assembling this list of cars, we discovered that the 1975 Corvette coupes are now LESS expensive than the convertibles, though both are great values for someone interested in purchasing a third-generation Corvette. In fact,when it comes to buying a mid-generation C3 Corvette, the 1975 model year is about the perfect blend of classic design and affordability.
Known as the fastback Corvette (a re-design that was originally introduced in 1978), it is arguable that the 1979 Corvette was growing “long in the tooth” from a design standpoint. Chevrolet had been manufacturing the third-generation Corvette for more than a decade already, and while the fastback rear-end gave the car an updated appearance, it was argued by many automotive critics from that era that Chevrolet had “worn out its welcome” with the current body design.
Despite these criticisms, Chevrolet manufactured 53,807 Corvettes in 1979, a production run which set the record for the largest number of Corvettes built in a single year (a record that still stands today.)
The 1979 Corvette came equipped with either the base L48 engine, which produced 195 horsepower, or the L82 engine, which produced 225 horsepower. These powerplants resonated with consumers, and afforded owners a straight-line 0-60 time (when equipped with the L82) of just 6.6 seconds, a standing quarter mile time of 15.3 seconds and a top speed of 127 miles per hour. While these numbers are tame by today’s super-car standards, the performance and value of the 1979 Corvette could not be questioned back in its day.
So how come they’re so affordable and so readily available now?
The limited market value that the 1979 Corvette has today can be correlated from those same criticisms that many made against this model year when it was new. Namely, it was an uninspired design that had lived past its prime. Chevrolet had manufactured a lot of these cars, and while they sold quickly, their value also depreciated quickly, especially once the fourth-generation Corvette arrived on the scene. Moreover, while the factory engine offerings might have excited consumers back in the late 1970’s, the L48 and L82 powerplants were hardly noteworthy entries in this history of the brand.
Still, the intrinsic collectors value of the 1979 Corvette (along with the 1980–1982 models that would follow it) has rebounded some over the past (almost) thirty years. Like other cars from that era, the classic nature of the 1979 Corvette adds to its mystique. While the car may have lacked the factory power of its younger (and older) siblings, the overall aesthetic and allure of a late-model C3 is unmistakable. More than that, the abundance of these cars makes finding parts for repairs/maintenance far more manageable, which helps keeps costs down….and let’s face it, if you are going to consider buying a decades-old car, there will be costs associated with its upkeep.
However, if you on the hunt for a classic-looking Corvette that will show well at the Saturday morning Cars & Coffee meet-up, then a 1979 Corvette may be just what you are looking for!
For anyone that’s looking for affordable fun with genuine performance, you need look no further than the 1996 Corvette.
The 1996 model year was to be the last of the fourth-generation Corvettes. While Chevrolet was already geared up to begin production of the C5 model, the departure of the C4 was celebrated with a couple of special edition models – the 1996 Collector’s Edition Corvette and the 1996 Grand Sport Corvette – both of which were offered for just a single year. These cars (especially the Grand Sport) still retail on the used car market for considerably more than the base model coupe and convertible referenced in this article, but both of these “special editions” have also become increasingly affordable over time.
What makes the 1996 Corvette (and the late model C4‘s in general) such an exciting buy is that this car was really the first model of the Corvette brand to feature exceptional handling and drivability, and not just straight-line performance. The 1990–1995 ZR1 Corvette had catapulted the Corvette brand into supercar status, if briefly, but the base coupe and convertible had made performance driving affordable for a much broader audience than companies like Porsche or Ferrari.
Hidden under the hood of the 1996 Corvette was either an LT1 engine, rated at a very-respectable 300 horsepower or, for the 1996 model year ONLY (and then, only in those cars equipped with a manual transmission), the optional LT4 engine, which was rated (very conservatively) at 330 horsepower. The LT4 engine, which many claim was underrated by GM for tax purposes, was a stepping-stone towards the more robust LS platform, which would prove to be transformative in the performance of future-generation Corvettes. Still, for consumers on a budget, finding the right 1996 Corvette will provide big-dollar fun without breaking the bank. Trust us, we’ve driven these cars, and they don’t disappoint.
These last two entries are all about fun on a budget.
The 1989 Corvette was introduced in conjunction with the Corvette ZR-1. While the ZR-1 was unveiled in 1989, its arrival would be delayed a year due to an “insufficient availability of engines caused by additional development.” However, some of the technology developed for the ZR-1 would find its way into the 1989 Corvette, including an all-new six-speed manual transmission.
The six-speed manual transmission was developed as a replacement to the never-popular Doug Nash 4+3 transmission, which had been part of the C4 Corvette program since its introduction in 1984. The new transmission was met with unquestioning approval, and would become a staple of the Corvette platform for the next 25 years (albeit with updates to the design).
The other big change for the 1989 Corvette was the inclusion of the Z52 suspension package on all models of the car. While the Z52 had previously been offered as an option, its inclusion as a standard feature in 1989 was a welcome addition among Corvette enthusiasts. The package included a combination of the Z51 handling package with a softer suspension on the base models. It also included a radiator boost fan, Bilstein shock absorbers, an engine oil cooler, a heavy-duty radiator, a faster 13:1 steering ratio and a larger front stabilizer bar.
Powered by the L98 V8 engine (the predecessor to the LT1, which would be introduced in 1991), the car produced a respectable 245 horsepower. This translated into a 0-60 mph time of just 5.4 seconds and a quarter mile time of 14.1 seconds, both of which were on-par with the European sports car offerings of that era.
When it comes to affordable Corvettes, you won’t find any on the market for less money than a mid-eighties C4, especially one built between 1984 and 1986.
While the 1984 Corvette tends to be the lowest price ‘Vette out there, we have excluded it from this list mostly because their actual value – even at such a low price point – is questionable at best. The 1984 Corvette was setup with both the Doug Nash 4+3 manual transmission as well as the incredibly finicky and fairly unreliable Crossfire Fuel Injection system. Yes, one can be had for less than $5,000.00, but the constant upkeep to keep the car on the road makes this one less desirable than its slightly more expensive younger brothers, the 1985 and 1986 Corvette.
In 1985, the engineers behind the Corvette abandoned the Crossfire Injection in favor of the more conventional, and utterly more reliable Tuned Port Fuel Injection platform. This new fuel delivery system, combined with a half-point compression increase (9.5:1) improved the 1985 Corvette‘s power output to 230 horsepower, a 25 hp gain over the 1984 Corvette.
So improved was the car’s performance that the 1985 Corvette was actually capable of performing at the same level as the Porsche 928, yet sold for approximately half the price when new. In fact, the 1985 Corvette was named the “Fastest Car in America” after achieving a top speed of 150 miles per hour!
The big news for the 1986 model year was the return of a convertible top, an option that had been absent on the Corvette since 1975. The 1986 Corvette also marked the second time in the brand’s history that the Corvette would serve as the official pace car of the Indianapolis 500. While convertibles today are a popular commodity, the price point of the Corvette convertible was high enough that the car did not sell very well its first year back on the market. Instead, the dominant – and the most readily available 1986 Corvette on the market today – is one equipped with the Z51 option.
Consider this, there are still a good number of available mid-eighties Corvettes on the road today. While the condition of these cars varies significantly, it is still possible to find one that has been well maintained and in good, working order. Better still, there are a number of reputable after-market parts distributors (both online and in actual store fronts) that sell just about every part conceivable for the fourth-generation Corvette.
What does all this mean? It means that buying a used fourth-generation Corvette is not only possible, but its an excellent way to try your hand at Corvette ownership. Naturally, you’ll want to do some homework and make sure the car you are buying is mechanically sound – unless, of course, you are intentionally looking for a project car (believe us, there are plenty of those out there too.) Still, with a little bit of patience and determination, it is possible to find a great Corvette for less than six-grand!
But What About That Stereotype?
You might recall at the start of this article that we discussed the stereotypes surrounding Corvette ownership. While the argument has been made that owning a Corvette is simply too expensive for most people, we’ve proven beyond reasonable doubt that this simply isn’t true.
Why, then, does the general consensus indicate that the majority of Corvettes are owned by older individuals/couples?
First, we don’t think the older demographic makes up the majority of Corvette owners as some have suggested. Yes, many Corvette clubs are made up of more senior members of society – but that’s largely because retirees have the time and resource to be actively involved in a club. Like many other car clubs across the country, Corvette clubs take multiple-day trips throughout the year, and so it makes sense that the majority of the participants would be retired – the rest of us are probably at work, wishing we could be out there on the open road with them!
Second, (for the two or three people on the planet who didn’t already know this,)Corvettes are strictly two-seat automobiles. The limited seating poses a challenge for anyone with children who need to be driven anywhere.
As both a Corvette owner and a father of three, I can tell you that I don’t get my car out on the road as often as I’d like. It’s a “juggling act” at times – finding time to drive my car when there are dance classes, soccer tournaments and countless other kid-friendly activities to attend to. Still, I find the time – often early on Saturday morning – where I get to hit the open road for a few hours while my wife and kids continue to sleep…but this isn’t just a Corvette-thing – my good friend, who is several years older than me, gets out during this same time to ride his Kawasaki Vulcan motorcyle – a vehicle that is commonly purchased by all age demographics both young and old!
Still, my comment proves a point. The fact is – most Corvette owners who can routinely drive their cars are one of the following: single, a young couple who either don’t yet have children or who have either elected not to have children or have since raised their children and now live only with their significant other. These lucky couples have the opportunity and ability to jump in their cars and go out wherever, and more importantly WHENEVER they choose.
See where I’m going with this?
Short answer – don’t let the “old men own Corvettes” stereotype prevent you from buying into your dream of Corvette ownership. Age is not a defining characteristic of Corvette ownership…and for most of us, it’s also NOT a mid-life crisis playing itself out.
These cars are designed to enthrall, to excite, to remind us why we are alive. If you’ve dreamed of owning one of these cars but have been waiting for the right time to buy one, let me suggest that the right time is just about NOW.
Take some time and explore the cars available to you in your own backyard, or across this beautiful nation of ours….and if you have to fly across the country to land an amazing deal, justthink of the adventure you’ll have driving your new Corvette – or at least NEW TO YOU Corvette – home.
Young or old, the feeling of driving your Corvette for the first time is priceless and it will be a memory that you’ll treasure the rest of your life.
The C3 through C5 Corvettes all meet my definition of what a Vette should have — a manual transmission (except for 1982), T-tops or.a targa top, and hidden headlights. The c$ is hampered by being the most difficult Vette to get out of, and the two hideous instrument panel displays.
Readers know I have been, shall we say, skeptical about the C8 Corvette, a mid-engine design GM is unfamiliar with, which lacks a proper (manual) transmission and is grossly overpriced.
A quarter-century ago, though, GM had an idea for the Corvette that would have been bigger, in one sense, than anything in the C8. R&T (the upgraded Road & Track, or something) tells the story:
The original Dodge Viper was a game-changer. With its outrageous proportions and massive 8.0-liter V-10 engine, it outclassed pretty much anything else out of Detroit at the time. Except maybe this one-off V-12-powered Corvette.
Chevy built this experimental Corvette in the early Nineties as its answer to the Viper, and it’s a beast. Called the ZR-12, it uses the C4-generation ZR-1 as a base. The entire nose was stretched to accommodate the 600 cubic-inch V-12, built by Ryan Falconer Racing Engines. The all-aluminum engine was rated at 686 hp and 680 lb-ft of torque when new—far more than the then-new Viper’s output of 400 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of torque.
Of course, the ZR-12 never made it to production. The sole example languished at GM’s Heritage center for a number of years before being moved to the Corvette Museum, where it currently resides, according to LSX Magazine. The car used to have side-pipes and a different set of wheels, but has since been converted into a more subtle specification.
The DtRockstar1 YouTube channel was lucky enough to get insider access to the Museum while the ZR-12 was started and driven around, giving us a chance to listen to the unique engine note (above). Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t sound like your average Corvette.
This was far from GM’s first attempt at a V-12. Cadillac had one in the 1930s, along with a V-16. In World War II Rolls–Royce’s Merlin and the Allison V-1710 powered planes. Packard’s V-12 was placed (three each) in PT boats.
Each bank of a V12 engine essentially functions as a straight-six engine, which by itself has perfect primary and secondary engine balance. By using the correct V-angle, a V12 engine can therefore have perfect balance. The even firing order for a four-stroke V12 engine has an interval of 60 degrees, therefore a V12 engine can be perfectly balanced if a V-angle of 60 degrees, 120 degrees or 180 degrees is used. Many V12 engines use a V-angle of 60 degrees between the two banks of cylinders. …
At any given time, three of the cylinders in a V12 engine are in their power stroke, which increases the smoothness of the power delivery by eliminating gaps between power pulses.
The weirdest V-12, perhaps, was GMC’s, and I have seen an example of one reported by Driving.ca:
When you think of a V12 engine, your mind runs immediately to the high-tech, rev-happy, screamers made by Ferrari and Lamborghini. But did you know that between 1960 and 1965 GMC made a V12 of their own? And it was the size of two Ferrari 599 V12s combined.
It’s outrageous now to think of a gasoline-powered semi-truck but, in the 1960s when fuel was cheaper, a sizeable percentage of operators preferred gasoline power. Chevrolet offered a heavy-duty version of its famous 427 V8 to truck operators, but GMC knew they could do one better. They needed an engine with cubic inches, and lots of them. So they took the basic design from their 5.7L V6 and made a monstrous 11.5L V12.
This was not just two V6s bolted or welded together. The V12 had its own block, cam, a special oil pan that held 15L of oil, and a special crankshaft that weighed 82 kilograms. The engine was an absolute monolith. It was 1.3 metres long and weighed more than 680 kg fully assembled. Due to its inherent weight and girth, it wasn’t an engine you could simply bolt into a Chevy C10 pickup and drive around in. It was installed in full-on semi-trucks, and also as standalone power units for irrigation. It was never installed into a passenger car or truck by GMC, but many hot-rodders have shoved it into service for hot rods, and custom pickup-trucks.
For all its size and displacement, the V12 wasn’t a horsepower king, it was made for torque. It made just 275 hp at 2,400 rpm but produced a freight-train-like 625-lb.-ft. of torque at just 2,100 rpm. If those numbers aren’t enough for you, a Florida-based shop called Thunder V12 will happily sell you a rebuilt one in any specification from bone stock to tractor-pull stormer. Prices start at US$10,800 for a complete engine, so get your chequebook ready. Beat-up originals can be found on eBay for around $5,000, but buyer beware as no more spare parts are being made for these beasts.
The GMC V12 was made between 1960 and 1965 and, in that time, they made about 5,000 of them. Nobody’s sure quite how many are left but most guess that there can’t be any more than 1,500 in semi-serviceable condition. After the big V12 ran out of production the writing was on the wall for gasoline-powered trucks. At 11.5L it remains one of the largest gas engines that ever powered a road vehicle, and we’ll never see a dinosaur like it again.
Sure, you’ve got a V8 in your Chevy, but you could’ve had a V12.
At least now you can.
A new Australian outfit called V12LS has created a 12-cylinder version of the venerable General Motors LS1 V8 and is putting it on sale.
The company started out by taking two LS blocks, lopping off a couple of cylinders and melding them together to create a V12, but has now developed its own single cast block that is compatible with many LS parts. The last time GM made its own V12 was the GMC “twin six” truck engine in 1966.
V12LS is currently offering a 9.0-liter crate engine with an iron block good for 717 hp for $35,000, but is working on an aluminum version. Various kits in different states of dress run from $21,300 for a basic builder package to a dyno-tested turnkey engine for $46,200.
Those prices include shipping to the USA.
For that matter, while GMC was producing V-12s, Cadillac was contemplating a V-12 for its new front-drive Eldorado personal luxury car. Caddy never built a V-12 Eldorado, but Popular Mechanics reported in 1988 that since BMW was developing a V-12, other luxury carmakers would, including Cadillac.
Cadillac worked to develop a V-12 with Lotus for its Solitaire concept car, the two-door version of its Voyagé concept car.
As an aficionado of big coupes, as you know, I would definitely drive that.
Not to be outdone, Cadillac proposed in 2003 the Sixteen, powered by, of course, a V-16.
“Would you like to drive our 13.6-liter/1000-horsepower V-16 sedan?” asked GM’s Jeff Holland. Even though we knew there’d be extra-sticky driving rules and caveats regarding the $2 million concept’s mechanical polish, there was only one possible answer: “Duh.” Next thing we knew, we were piloting Caddy’s sexy showstopper around GM’s Milford, Michigan, Proving Ground. The Sixteen has been literally the biggest thing to roll onto the auto-show circuit this season. Bob Lutz, GM’s vice chairman of product development and chairman of GM North America, says it’s “a modern interpretation of everything that made Cadillac the standard of the world.” But is it merely a lavish reminder of a once-glorious past or a relevant vision of the future? Enough scene-setting. What’s it like to drive almost 19 feet and 16 cylinders of handbuilt concept car?
Remarkably sweet. Entering the Sixteen requires punching a button on the key fob or lightly squeezing a microswitch inside the top of the front door. There are no door handles to clutter the Sixteen’s lyrically curving body sides. Once inside, you’re surrounded by the rich scent of fine leather, glints from polished walnut and aluminum, and thick carpets–woven of silk, no less.
The driver’s leather bucket is large, soft, and gently contoured. It power-adjusts to a comfortable position, surprising given the lack of ergonomic work that usually goes into a turntable toy. Likewise, the leather and polished-wood steering wheel can be powered into a just-right spot, which lets you easily read the speedo/tachometer gauge in the center of the dash.
To start, step on the brake pedal and push a green button to the right of the wheel. You’ll hear a strange, aircraft-style starter whine, then the mammoth V-16 erupts in a raggedy roar that quickly settles down to a somewhat bumpy idle (virtually no tuning was done on the powertrain’s five engine mounts). As the engine starts, the instruments–including the clock–cycle and sweep their needles to calibrate themselves, emitting odd ticking and ratcheting clicks.
From inside the cabin, the engine’s sound is neither the jungle murmur of a Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG nor the near-silent thrum of a Bentley or Rolls. It’s slightly rowdy and clearly coming from something in large displacement, particularly as you blip the throttle. Asked if they’d done any exhaust tuning, one powertrain engineer shrugs and says, “Well, we had four mufflers, and we threw two away.”
Ease into the throttle, and the car moves with a quickness that belies its mass and size. The automatic transmission has four gears, but we feel only two shift surges during our drive. This huge sedan glides precisely, with a catlike balance that puts us at ease. The steering feels light, and the car drives smaller than it looks. Give it more gas, and the result is a Mississippi River’s worth of torque that surges the car forward. We back off to listen for crunching, grinding, or banging. Nothing–impressive for a machine whose primary purpose is to dazzle a show crowd. The Sixteen’s ride is a bit jiggly, which doesn’t say anything positive about the suspension, since the pavement is billiard-table smooth.
The brakes don’t feel up to the engine’s grunt. Despite six-piston calipers and 16-inch rotors, not much happens when the brake pedal is depressed. Perhaps that’s because the master cylinder is remote-mounted in the trunk and operated via a tangle of electronics. We remember that our GM support crew warned us about “green” brake pads.
There isn’t much turnaround room for us at the end of one particular Proving Ground road, but four-wheel steering comes to the rescue. Turning in opposite phase to the front wheels at low speeds, the rear wheels tighten the car’s long turning circle to approximately that of a midsize sedan.
The Sixteen isn’t as polished as a production car; understandable, as that’s not its mission. But it’s easily the most refined concept car we’ve driven, which further teases us about what sort of production potential it, or some of its componentry, might have. The car’s design represents an updated, and somewhat more elegant, variation on Cadillac’s crisp-edged design language; perhaps some of the Sixteen’s themes will show up on the upcoming Seville/STS and the next-generation DeVille.
Does anyone need 16 cylinders or 1000 horsepower? No. But the idea–like the engine itself–sounds simply wondrous.
Of course it does.
Back to the original premise: What about a V-12 Corvette?
Remember that this was right after Chevrolet debuted the King of the Road, a Corvette with a double-overhead-cam 32-valve-per-cylinder V-8 designed by Lotus and built by Mercury Marine in Stillwater, Okla.
Given GM’s history with the Northstar V-8 — an unfamiliar engine design (also DOHC, built for Cadillacs and Oldsmobiles) that became notorious for head gasket (actually head bolt) failures, which result in antifreeze in the cylinder walls and engine oil in the radiator, with really bad result (If you’re driving when it’s, say, 10 below zero and your car starts to overheat, that’s not good) — the thought GM could have successfully designed a V-12 that would have worked as designed for every Corvette is, well, optimistic. A V-12 designed by someone else, as the King of the Road V-8 was, might have made more sense.
Whether a V-12 Corvette could have performed better sales-wise than the King of the Road (whose sales slowed after the first year) is a better question. For years Corvettes have seemed to pale in comparison with more exotic Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Porsches (even though they are powered by mere flat-sixes) in part because of interiors perceived to be subpar, despite the Corvette’s superior horsepower-per-dollar. (The mid-engine C8 is GM’s attempt to compete with more expensive supercars, though ironically the C8’s V-8 still uses pushrods, as every Corvette except for the first two years of the C1 and the King of the Road.)
It’s not clear that the wealthy snobs who apparently drive supercars would be interested in a V-12 Corvette any more than they were interested in the DOHC Corvette. People who appreciate American-made performance and value might have had a different opinion.
The phrase “bargain Corvette” might seem as much an oxymoron as “jumbo shrimp” or “(insert branch of armed services here) intelligence.”
And yet that phrase has crossed my online reading twice recently. First, in manufacturing chronological order, Scott Oldham:
Chevrolet had the stones to call it the most advanced production car on the planet. The TV commercial said the all-new 1984 Corvette was superb in its engineering and technology and defiant in its performance. Sure, the advertising was lame, but the car was extraordinary.
The C4 Corvette was among the fastest cars you could buy during President Ronald Reagan’s first term, and its handling and braking redefined street performance at the time. The media swooned, and sales erupted. Chevy sold more than 51,000 units the first year, making 1984 the Corvette’s second-highest-volume model year ever.
It was a car we were all waiting for. Yearning for. The C3 had been around since 1968, and its chassis dated to the split-window Sting Ray of 1963. Design sketches for the fourth generation of the “plastic fantastic” were drawn as early as 1978, and its first clay models were produced in ’79.
Despite rumors of a mid-engine design, Chevy stuck with the front-engine layout that had served America’s sports car well since 1953. Chevy also kept the transverse leaf spring suspension that debuted with the C2 in 1963. But there was an all-new structure, aluminum A-arms, and 16-inch 50-series Goodyear Gatorback tires so massive we couldn’t believe our eyes. A targa-style, removable roof panel was standard, as was the busy, ahead-of-its-time digital instrument panel.
The C4 debuted with the anemic 205-hp L83 V-8 carried over from 1982, complete with Cross-Fire injection. (There was no 1983 Corvette.) A retuned suspension and real power arrived in 1985, when the Corvette got the 230-hp L98 that shared its tuned port injection with the Camaro and Firebird. Now the Corvette could top 150 mph.
In 1986, after an 11-year hiatus, Chevy reintroduced a Corvette convertible. A year later, the L98’s output climbed to 240 horsepower, but the transmission options remained the odd Doug Nash “4+3” four-speed manual (with three overdrives) or the four-speed automatic. Quarter-mile times dipped into the high 13s.
In 1989, Chevy added 17-inch wheels and tires and replaced the Doug Nash 4+3 with a ZF six-speed manual. The following year, the C4 got a new cockpit-style interior with airbags and plenty of gray, hard plastic. Most of the digital gauges were gone, too. New exterior styling with more-rounded lines came in 1991, and in ’92 the L98 was replaced with the second-generation small-block, the LT1. That engine made 300 horsepower, and although its Optispark ignition proved delicate, aftermarket solutions are readily available.
This engine family peaked in 1996 with the 330-hp LT4, optional on all Corvettes equipped with the six-speed. It also powered the Collector Edition and Grand Sport models, both of which exceed the $15,000 mandate of this page. We haven’t even mentioned the 1990–95 ZR-1 or the twin-turbo Callaway models.
They’re spendy, too. But other C4s remain cheap. Of note are the 1985–89 cars that feature the L98 paired with the retro charm of the harder-edged exterior lines and original interior design. They offer heady performance for little money, and they’re old enough to be retro cool. C4 Corvette prices are flat, but they’re starting to tick up as Gen Xers begin to seek out the cars they wanted in high school. As always, buy the absolute best one your budget can afford.
Road & Track adds an owner interview:
I’ve always liked the compact look of the C4 Corvette. I finally bought one—a 1988 convertible—in 2009 and have put about 4000 miles on it since. It shares the garage with an ’87 Camaro I bought new and a trio of ’57 Chevys. The C4 had 62,000 miles on it, and the body and the interior were perfect. But it had been neglected mechanically, so I replaced the clutch and the radiator and rebuilt the pop-up headlight buckets. Now that it isn’t nickel-and-diming me anymore, it’s the perfect car to go out and cruise in on a nice day. I love the Doug Nash 4+3 transmission, with overdrive in second, third, and fourth gears. It’s like having a seven-speed. Compared to my Camaro, the Corvette is a whole different animal and outperforms it in every way.
I have a few problems with the C4. Two would be right in front of me if I owned one:
The first photo is of the 1984–1990 C4 instrument cluster, known derisively as the “Star Wars” dashboard. That would bug me no end if I owned an early C4. The other problem is that, to no surprise, that cluster is known to die without warning. Chevy replaced it with the instrument cluster in the second photo, which for some reason still included a digital speedometer.
Since the second cluster was part of an interior redesign, no, you can’t swap one into the other. There are other alternatives …
… for a price, of course.
I’m not enamored with the original wheels either, which to me look like the wheel covers of my former 1975 Chevy Caprice.
They do look appropriate somehow for those interested in the last-generation Caprice. (These are actually the next wheel design, which looks better.)
Poor wheel aesthetics can be fixed, too, for a price.
The C4 lasted from the spring of 1983 (as a 1984 model) to 1996, when it was replaced by the C5. Which leads us to Jack Baruth:
It was the first modern Corvette to challenge the world’s best sports cars on truly level ground, the first Corvette to take a class victory at Le Mans, and the last Corvette to feature those oh-so-cool hidden headlamps. But the fifth-gen Vette (C5) came very close to not existing at all. According to Russ McLean, platform manager for the model, General Motors management made the decision to “sunset” America’s most iconic sports car in the Nineties. McLean and a group of rebels ignored the decision and continued development of the Corvette, much of it off the books and on their own time.
Eventually, the big wigs came back around to the idea of building the C5. Celebrated as world-class upon its debut, it would go on to win everywhere from the SCCA Solo Nationals in Topeka to the Mulsanne straight in France. Now caught in that uncomfortable middle ground between new-car smell and classic-car kudos, the C5 is arguably the greatest performance bargain on the market. It can still cut the mustard on a road course, at the drag strip, or at a Saturday night cruise-in.
If you’re looking for chrome trim, bronze-tinted T-tops, or ashy door handles that disappear into the horizontal surfaces, you won’t find them here, but much of the traditional Vette ownership experience persists, from the stubborn sag of the massive doors to the copious heat blasting from the transmission tunnel. At least there’s plenty of power. Fire up the V-8 and marvel at the lazy torque that can roll the car forward from a standstill in the (optional!) manual six-speed’s fourth gear.
The C5’s shoestring development shows through in the mismatched interior controls, the perishable nature of the interior trim, and the hilarious necessity of leaving a door open when you close the rear hatch, because there isn’t enough passive venting to let the air escape otherwise. But there’s plenty of smart engineering under the fiberglass skin. (Corvettes have always been known for having fiberglass body panels, but since 1973, General Motors has steadily increased the amount of plastic resin in what is now called sheet molding compound, or SMC, such that the h-generation Vette’s body panels used just 20 percent fiberglass.) Its hydroformed steel structure is four and a half times as stiff as the previous Corvette’s. Elsewhere, the use of aluminum, magnesium, and even balsa wood (in the door sections) cut weight. The aluminum LS1 V-8 was a clean-sheet design, sharing only bore spacing with earlier Chevy small-blocks. A few minutes at speed will dispel any doubts. Considering that some modern six-cylinders outpower a ’97 Corvette’s 345 hp, the C5 is no longer truly rapid by modern standards, but a well-driven example can still see off a challenge from today’s hot hatches, and a mint-condition Z06 is almost a match for a new Stingray.
We’ve most likely passed the bottom of the market for manual-transmission C5 Corvettes in good condition. Early coupes and convertibles with automatics can sometimes be had for 10 grand or even less, but expect to pay $15,000 and up for six-speed coupes and FRCs. The 405-hp Z06s sit at the top of the price spectrum, with transaction prices for clean 2004 Z06 variants often approaching $30,000. If you’re buying for the long term, don’t consider anything but a Z06. But if you’re looking for a daily driver, keep in mind that $5000 in upgrades to a coupe or convertible will enable it to leave a stock Z06 in the dust. …
The C5’s performance came as a surprise to many owners, so look carefully for crash damage and be sure that the car’s steel backbone is intact. Despite having plastic body panels, Corvettes can corrode underneath, which makes a full inspection worth your time. The first few years used fussy tire-pressure sensors and key fobs, so budget $500 or so to bring them up to 2001–2004 spec. If you aren’t sure about the condition of the clutch or transaxle, get it looked at before purchase, because they are labor-intensive to repair.
The LS1 and LS6 engines are renowned for durability and ease of tuning. Swapping the heads, cam, and intake can yield as much as 500 hp at the crank. There are also well-tested supercharger upgrades.
The C5 was raced extensively in the SCCA T1 class and elsewhere, so there are virtually limitless options for firming up the handling. If you’d rather improve the street usability of your Corvette, there are aftermarket solutions, from upgraded seats to complete interior swaps. For about $1000, you can replace a tired targa top with a tinted aftermarket variant that recalls the spirit of 1970s Vettes.
The C5 has one particular feature no Corvette afterward has — hidden headlights, which are for me a requirement. (The first Corvette I ever saw was a C3.) The C5 also fixed the C4’s bad-instrument-panel-design issue, though as you read fit and finish are a problem. (As with every GM car I have ever seen, including the two we own.)
Some people don’t like the C5s because of their (in their opinion) generic styling. The C4s look more like the C3, and I find it interesting how much the C6 looks like the C4. The C5s, however, have more horsepower than any C4 other than the ZR1, with its 32-valve V-8 built by Mercury Marine’s stern drive division.
The C4 and C5 eras also have cars available in my favorite color:
Whether a particular car is “affordable” depends on your definition of that word. It also recalls the aphorism that you get what you pay for.
Years ago I interviewed a classic car dealer, and he said that a lot of people wanted a Corvette from the year of their high school graduation. Corvette aficionados know that means I won’t own a Corvette. (For those who aren’t: I graduated in 1983. There is no 1983 Corvette because the 1984 Corvette, the first C4, came out in the spring of 1983.)
I suppose I could buy a 1988 Corvette to represent the year of my college graduation. Or I could buy a red 1999 Corvette to represent my two favorite Prince songs …
The all-new mid-engine C8 Corvette’s impressive $59,995 starting price is only good for the first year, as we reported back in August, and unless it goes up by $20,000, Chevrolet will continue to lose money on low-trim cars, a senior GM source tells MotorTrend.
We had a feeling the $59,995 starting price was too good to be true, and a GM source confirmed as much to us explaining the price would rise for the 2021 model year. This isn’t much of a surprise, as the base price of a C7 rose nearly $2,000 in its second year and by another $2,000 the following year. While we still don’t know how much the C8’s price will rise in 2021, a more senior GM official tells us it would have to go through the roof in order to cover GM’s cost.
According to our source, the original budget for the C8 project assumed a starting price of $79,995. This is certainly reasonable considering the enormous amount of work needed to redesign the car into a mid-engine configuration, but it’s a huge jump from the C7. In order to keep customers from revolting, Chevy is taking it on the chin and willingly losing money on every C8 it sells for less than $80,000. No doubt a factor in the C8’s laundry list of options and dress-up parts is the hope buyers will load up their cars with extras and turn their $60,000 Stingrays into $80,000-plus Stingrays. The C8 Stingray Z71 3LT we tested rang up at $88,305.
More critical are the base prices of upcoming performance variants including Z06 and ZR1. According to our source, the sweet spot for profit and volume is between $80,000 and $100,000. Once the car crests six figures, our source says, sales volume drops off precipitously. This will be a trick for Chevrolet, because the C7 Z06 starts at $82,990, which doesn’t leave the company much room for an increase without upsetting customers and breaking out of the sweet spot in price and volume. The C7 ZR1, meanwhile, already starts at $135,090, so Chevrolet has more discretion to price the C8 ZR1 knowing full well it will be a low-volume car.
Apparently GM has learned absolutely nothing from its bailout. (Which should never have happened; GM should have been allowed to go through the bankruptcy courts, as many companies have. A GM bankruptcy would not necessarily have meant the end of GM; the GM bailout ended up costing U.S. taxpayers $11.2 billion.)
Companies go under when they lose money on what they sell. Previous Corvettes made money for GM. This one won’t.
This weekend Chevrolet is bringing a 2020 Corvette to Road America in Elkhart Lake.
I’m not going. I have other plans. Although I’ve always enjoyed Road America since the first time I went there in the 1980s (where there are photos of me appearing to break into a Ferrari and I got one of the worst sunburns of my life), I prefer the July vintage event, during one of which I found this:
Chevrolet also released its dealer tour schedule. The C8 is going to make one appearance in Wisconsin, on Sept. 30. (Which, if you consult your 2019 calendar, is on a Monday.) It will make two in Illinois, and one in Iowa.
The color I would like …
… isn’t offered, of course.
Readers know that I have been skeptical about this Corvette, largely because of its lack of manual transmission, which is a basic piece of any sports car. The rear/mid-engine placement of the engine is an application of technology from a company with historical difficulty in bringing new tech to the public that works as intended all the time.
It has been reported repeatedly that Zora Arkus-Duntov, stepfather of the Corvette (he didn’t create the Corvette, Harley Earl did, but Duntov wrote a detailed letter to GM chronicling everything wrong with the first Corvette, and so GM hired him), thought the Corvette should be mid-engine. (Which the Corvette actually has been for several years. A mid-engine car has its engine either behind the front wheels or ahead of the back wheels. Duntov sought a rear/mid-engine instead of a front/mid-engine.)
Well, with all due respect to Duntov, and not being an automotive engineer myself, I wonder how many rear/mid-engine cars he actually used on a daily basis, or got a dealer to fix, or tried to fix without having actual automotive engineering skills. Those people, not car engineers, are the owners of Corvettes.
The design of the Sting Ray had been the source of many clashes between Bill Mitchell and Zora Arkus-Duntov. Duntov was contemptuous of the car’s nonfunctional styling gimmicks and poor aerodynamics; the C2 had low drag, but an alarming amount of high-speed lift. Duntov was only an engineer, however, while Mitchell was a vice president of one of GM’s most powerful departments. Although Mitchell never enjoyed the almost unquestionable clout of his predecessor, who had had the patronage of GM chairman Alfred P. Sloan, GM’s senior management was well aware that Mitchell’s work was responsible for a great deal of GM’s market domination. In a clash between Duntov and Mitchell, the victor was inevitable.
Duntov wanted the Corvette Sting Ray’s replacement, which originally was slated to appear for the 1967 model year, to be smaller, leaner, and more aerodynamic, ideally with a rear- or mid-mounted engine. Mitchell, for his part, loved to make cars look aerodynamic, but he wasn’t terribly concerned if they actually were or not.
Like Harley Earl before him, Mitchell was a believer in the formula of longer-lower-wider, and he felt sports cars should have long hoods. He was no fan of the rear-engine layout that Duntov wanted, which he thought would be ugly. Mitchell envisioned the third-generation Corvette more like the XP-755 show car, known as Mako Shark.
Contemporary automotive journalists sneered at the many gimmicks of the Mako Shark and its successor, the 1965 Mako Shark II, both of which were the work of stylist Larry Shinoda, designer of the Sting Ray. Duntov didn’t care much for it either, but public reaction was favorable and in short order, the Mako Shark was approved as the basis of the third-generation C3 Corvette.
As for Duntov’s desired mechanical changes, GM senior management had no stomach for an expensive revamp of the Sting Ray platform. With Corvette sales on the upswing, there seemed to be no reason to mess with success.
A repair guy figured out a problem about the engine’s location:
That silly line of buttons down the center console. In person, it’s not nearly as awkward or intrusive as we thought from the photos—it actually looks kind of slick. That is, until you look more closely at the plasticky, cheap-looking buttons that fill it: They’re straight from the corporate parts bin. We understand why, but we can’t say we like it.
No manual transmission option. Yes, we know hardly anyone would buy a manual version. Ain’t care.
The rear end in general. We’re no purists (no specific number of taillamps, or their shape, is essential, for example) but we know a hot mess when we see it. Our design editor feels the same way.
The forthcoming bench racing.The Corvette’s price-to-performance ratio is going to spawn a whole generation’s worth of “just get a Corvette instead of X” posts on every forum we read, and likewise letters to the Automobile editors.
The wait. We still have months and months before we drive it, and before it goes on sale.
Best Things About the C8 Corvette
It’s less than $60,000! That’s Supra money for what is likely to be McLaren 570S-like performance. Even if “less than” means “$59,999” and comes before destination charges, it’s still something special.
Zero to 60 mph takes less than three seconds with the Z51 package and performance exhaust.That’s the best kind of crazy. Did we mention the price for this level of performance?
The engine and transaxle are super, super low in the car. This will certainly aid in handling.
The fit and finish. While the cars at the unveil we attended were hand-built prototypes, the interior materials’ quality and fit and finish are definitely intended to answer 30 or more years of criticism of the Corvette’s cabin. It’s a shockingly nice place to be—as long as you don’t look too closely at those buttons. Also, it’s available with brown paint.
The small, square steering wheel looks like it will be a joy to use. Plus, it leaves enough room for drivers more than six feet tall and of a certain leg diameter to move around as we attempt to tame Chevy’s mid-engine beast.
I’m not sure I agree with at least three of those five points, two of which are contradictory. The chance someone will drive off with a C8 for less than $60,000 is zero, merely due to GM’s destination and other charges and dealer markups, which will be substantial. That doesn’t include one single option — such as the Z51 option, without which there is no claimed 0–60 time, which itself is a Chevy claim unproven by anyone not employed by GM. So you can have a sub-$60,000 Corvette (except you can’t), or you can go 0–60 in 2.8 seconds (though that remains to be seen), but not both.
As for the steering wheels worked better in a non-round shape, all cars would have non-round steering wheels. The bottom of the steering wheel was squared off on C6s and C7s, and though I don’t like the look, that might be said to have a function. (Except that I have driven legs-only with round steering wheels for years without mishap.)
I was working hard in 1955 on a C2 planned for 1958, but its advanced rear-transaxle chassis finally achieved production only with the 1997 C5. That layout did reach production in 1977—outside General Motors—with the Porsche 928, created in part by Anatole Lapine, who’d worked with me on the stillborn ’50s C2. I know little about behind-the-scenes projects that might have occurred during the 40 years between my departure from GM in 1957 and the arrival of the C5 but I suspect that there were a lot of exciting and highly feasible—but not fundable—projects. I do know that Zora Arkus-Duntov advocated for mid-engine Corvettes at least 60 years ago, and that he built a mid-engine CERV research single-seater in the Fifties with its small block V-8 behind the driver. So this car has come to market extremely late.
Some 1970s mid-engine GM concept cars were built to show off the Wankel rotary engines GM might have built, but they were not specifically Corvette prototypes in name. Which is too bad, because they were better-looking than this actual C8. I am deeply sorry to be severely disappointed by the styling of the C8. I hoped for something really new and exciting, not a boringly generic supercar, mostly indistinguishable from the many and varied unimaginative devices that show up regularly at the Geneva auto show. Its styling is confused—and downright messy in fact. I count a dozen horizontal lines, not to mention four convoluted taillights; four nice rectangular exhaust tips; plus varied slots, vents, grilles, indented surfaces, and wing elements . . . just across the rear fascia. The front is no better, and the profile with its short, stumpy nose is equally surprising. Maybe it’s all meant to look purposeful, but to me it seems just a careless, cluttered graphic composition, not worthy of Corvette history and what we expect of this technically brilliant descendant of the Jaguar-inspired elegant original C1 from 1953.
I have no doubt that this will be a very good car, with truly world class performance coupled with American-style daily usefulness and (perhaps) easy servicing—dry-sump engines are not typical dealer shop fare. But I’d have liked to see some traces of the Astrovette or the four-rotor mid-engine concept from the Bill Mitchell era.
That would be one of these:
Compare and contrast previous Corvettes to the C8 in this magnificent illustration by Paco Ibarra:
The problem with nearly every rear/mid-engine car I have ever seen is there is usually more car behind the B-pillar (behind the door) than in front of the A-pillar (ahead of the door), which makes it look imbalanced in the wrong direction. As it is, nothing about this C8 screams Corvette to me; it looks like a teenage kid’s dream of a midengine car that could be made by anybody.
Another point made elsewhere is that GM is coming out with an exotic car supposed to make people forget about Ferraris and Porsches and Lamborghinis (oh my!), and yet it has the same engine the C7 has — a naturally aspirated overhead two-valve V-8. It is a very good overhead-valve V-8, and it wouldn’t stop me from buying a Corvette, but it seems illogical to feel the need to make it mid-engine with an exotic dual-clutch transmission without, say, a four-valve overhead-cam V-8 similar to the “King of the Road” C4. Anyone snobbish enough to turn up his nose over a front-engine Corvette isn’t going to be more convinced by a mid-20th century engine design that lacks the exotica of whatever Ferrari is sticking under its hoods now. (Or an exotic transmission installed in part because of the laziness or inabiliity of potential buyers to shift and use a clutch.)
You might say that the C7 engine is terrific, and it is. You might also point out my previous point about unproven GM tech. But the supposed point here is to make the Corvette appeal to those who wouldn’t buy Corvettes previously because they’re not supercarish enough (independent of the most important consideration, performance vs. price), and on that important point it fails because it’s not a Chevrolet, not a Corvette, and not a car with a 21st-century engine made of unobtainium. And in the process, GM alienated all the Corvette fans who wanted a better iteration of the previous formula (front-mid-engine, rear-drive, available manual transmission) that is one of the few profitable cars GM makes.
The worst thing about the C8 actually has nothing to do with the car, and has everything to do with people’s reactions to the car. One expects GM to shift the hype machine into overdrive. But one would hope adults would be at least somewhat resistant to the hype machine, particularly journalists. The aforementioned writing is all I could find from the auto enthusiast publications remotely critical of the C8.
In 1968 Car & Driver tested the first C3 Corvette and pronounced it undrivable because it was put together so poorly. Even after GM figured out how to put it together correctly, auto magazines pointed out correctly that the C3 was simultaneously a bigger car with less passenger and luggage space. Road & Track was particularly critical about the Corvette for decades, perhaps concluding it should have been more like a Jaguar E-Type (while ignoring British cars’ hideous quality reputations). Dissing the home team product wasn’t necessarily easy to do given GM’s advertising dollars. Now apparently they’re all sellouts.
The bigger issue, though, is that reaction to this new Corvette mirrors everything else in the sewer of our public discourse, on politics, sports teams, music preferences, what you watch (or don’t) on TV including iterations of “Star Trek,” food choices and everywhere else. We are supposed to believe, according to its uncritical fanboys, that the C8 is better than sex, chocolate chip cookies, sunny summer days and puppies, and how dare anyone express a contrary opinion.
I have read accusations that those who are not unalloyed fans of the C8 are Neanderthals stuck in the last century who can’t afford to buy one anyway, because insulting someone for their different opinion is so effective in changing opinions. (Not.) Someone actually bothered to create a Corvette owner stereotype that skipped past the usual midlife crisis trope to specifically include not gold chains and bad combovers, but jean shorts and white New Balance shoes.
Certainly, except possibly for the C2, every generation has been controversial for those who believe no Corvette but their favorite is really a Corvette. The C3 was way out there in appearance compared with the C2. The C4 had two horrible-looking instrument panels and was hard to get into and out of. The C5 looked blah. The C6 dumped the hidden headlights. The C7 got rid of a bunch of gauges and looked like a rearward-stretched C6.
For at least the last three generations (plus the King of the Hill C4) the Corvette has, however, been the best performance bargain on the planet, regardless of whether front-engine and rear-drive is the apotheosis of vehicular technology. GM, which has proven less than competent at big technological risks, has taken another one by selling its halo car — which has made money for GM for decades, unlike most of its current cars — with technology GM hasn’t used before and inadequately tested before it hits the market next year (there is no substitute for the real world) in a quest for buyers who don’t own Corvettes because they lack, in their misguided opinions, panache.
GM’s claim that they’re almost sold out needs a reminder that GM has not sold a single C8 Corvette. Not one. (I am highly skeptical of all the online claims of people ordering them. I could state that I own one of every generation Corvette, and no one reading this could prove otherwise.) And until they’re actually on the road, none of GM’s claims about the Corvette have proof.
GM has traditionally been one of the poorer run megacorporations for decades. (The conditions that resulted in the GM bailout far predated the Great Recession.) So maybe I shouldn’t suggest that GM could have kept building the C7, or updated it, while also selling the C8 as the Corvette Zora or something like that. The C7 makes money for GM. There is no guarantee the C8 will, and if it goes away, so will Corvette.
This is destined to be the final Corvette for one of two reasons. It is impossible for GM — the developer of such great leaps forward in automotive technology as the Chevrolet Vega (with melting aluminum engine) and Citation (prominent on the lists of the Worst Cars of All Time), Computer Command Control, V-8-6-4 engine and other examples of Not Ready for Prime Time Tech — to get this right right away, particularly when the rumored all-wheel-drive version comes out, since GM has never manufactured a rear/mid-engine all-wheel-drive vehicle.
The other reason is its price. Either the Corvette is going to be an order of magnitude more expensive than any previous Corvette, or GM won’t make money on it. GM has made money on its Corvettes for decades, but that may end now. Either way, when GM fails to make its profit expectations on this car, that certainly will kill the Corvette.
I’ll start with a little digression. Back in 2007, another gigantic corporate megalith debuted a new generation of one of its classic sports car nameplates. It was controversial in its engine layout, its styling, its size, its weight, everything. But over the years people came to understand it as a legendary vehicle. I’m talking about the R35 Nissan GT-R.
What made that car such an icon was that it offered supercar performance for decidedly not-supercar prices. As we noted a few years ago, at $69,850 was about $30,000 less than a Corvette ZR-1, but not slower.
The thing is, the GT-R has grown increasingly expensive over the years and now is not just as fast as a six-figure car, but priced as a six-figure car. If you want one, you need to drop more than $100,000 for it, at which point it’s not really moving any narrative forward. It’s just a fast car that’s expensive, just like all the other ones, only it has a V6 for some reason. There’s nothing special about it.
The point is, dynamics unchanged, the price is what made the GT-R once iconic and now normal.
The same situation presents itself with the mid-engine Corvette. As anyone who has driven a C7 (or any other modern Corvette) could tell you, the way the car drives is just about faultless. It has tons of power, even in base form. The handling is great. The ride, particularly once you get into the magnetic shocks era, is outstanding. These are usable, practical, exploitable performance cars. They have been for years. There is no reason to doubt that the C8 will be, like the C7 before it, a great driving car.
But if it costs $100,000 or more, there’s no real point to it existing. What’s the point of GM, basically, making a non-turbo McLaren of a few years ago? It’s not new thematically, other than being made by GM. There’s nothing there to prove. There’s nothing meaningful going on there.
But if the car costs what a regular front-engine Corvette does now or even just above it, say, at around an R35-esque $70,000 mark, things are different. Then GM is advancing the sports car narrative. It’s then offering an exotic car platform at a non-exotic price. It’s democratizing a mid-engine powerhouse, and it’s not coming from some low-volume manufacturer. This is Corvette, not DeTomaso Panteras being sold by Lincoln-Mercury dealers.
So while everyone else sweats 0-60 times and power-to-weight figures, keep your eye focused on the MSRP. That’s the only thing here that could make a good car great.
The childlike faith in GM management is pretty disgusting to read. GM seems to believe that one of the great performance bargains in the entire world is not sufficiently exotic enough for buyers interested in Ferraris, Porsches or other overpriced yet unreliable supercars. GM is also catering to the lazy by not equipping this Corvette with a manual transmission. I’m surprised GM didn’t throw in a V-6 instead of a V-8. And, according to Jalopnik …
… a square steering wheel.
Not that this matters, since I won’t be buying one of these. In fact, thanks to my career choice and having children, I most likely won’t ever own a Corvette. As someone once put it, life’s a bitch, then you die.
“[If I were still at GM], what I would do is develop a dedicated architecture, super lightweight, super powerful, Porsche Cayenne–like, only much better and a little bigger, medium-volume Corvette SUV. Target worldwide 20,000 to 30,000 units, and price it starting at $100,000. Gorgeous interior. No V-6 powertrain. No low-end version. It has to be the stellar premium sport-utility made in the United States, and the Corvette brand could pull that off.”
Now, we don’t have any reason to think that a Corvette SUV is something that Chevy is even considering, and neither does Bob Lutz, seemingly. But what he said got us thinking: What if Chevy actually did make a Corvette SUV? It’s not such a preposterous idea even if there’s no basis for it, and we also think it’s a no-brainer for Chevy to expand the Corvette brand beyond just the titular model.
Porsche was a pioneer of the super-sporty SUV with the Cayenne, and since that model’s inception, tons of high-end manufacturers have all gotten into the fast-SUV game, tying in the models with their existing sports cars. But Chevy, which has a history of both iconic SUVs and iconic sports cars, has never even shown a concept imagining what a sporty SUV from the bow-tie brand could look like. So we took a shot at imagining it ourselves.
While we do like Lutz’s idea of an expensive Corvette SUV with no low-end version, we think it’s a bit unrealistic. To better compete with the Cayenne, an entry-level Corvette SUV should have a starting price point of around $70,000 and a twin-turbo V-6. But it would need at least a couple different V-8 engine options, and there would have to be high-performance variants. Chevy could easily position a Corvette SUV as the sportiest and most road-oriented of all the high-end SUVs, which would set it apart from the competition.
It would probably need to ride on its own unique platform, as GM doesn’t really have anything that would be a perfect match. The Alpha platform that underpins the Camaro or the Omega platform that underpins the Cadillac CT6 could be possibilities, but neither are really fit for something that would be as sporty and crossover-like as a Corvette SUV would be. Unless Chevy would just say “screw it,” not offer all-wheel drive or any semblance of off-road ability, and build the SUV off the current front-engined C7 Corvette‘s platform.
The styling should be aggressive and tie into the regular Corvette, which would likely mean a coupe-like roofline and a low stance. The interior would need to be luxurious, as buyers in this space expect more from their cars than the middling materials and finishes of the current Corvette. Seating for four adults and at least a modicum of cargo space are a must—Corvette owners need to be able to carry golf clubs around, after all—but it probably wouldn’t have a targa top like the regular Corvette.
The only thing left for us to imagine is the name. Would it be Corvette Activ? Corvette Xtreme? Corvette TourX? Corvette Bison? Corvette Trail Boss? Corvette High Country? Corvette Z71? Corvette Trans Sport? GM has so many good off-road-y names to choose from.
I’m somewhat surprised Chevy isn’t considering this, given that it’s going to break its mold by introducing the not-necessary mid-engine no-manual-transmission eighth-generation Corvette at the end of this month. Chevy is already ruining the Corvette, so it might as well go further, right?
This might be the point at which GM should have spun off Corvette from Chevy and into its own division. That would have allowed the Corvette division to have the current front-engine rear-drive Corvette and the next mid-engine model, and priced the latter higher than what is expected. Selling a completely new-tech Corvette for slightly more than the current Corvette means that (1) GM is going to lose money on the C8, or (2) GM cut costs and therefore failed to address the principal complaint about Corvettes, their interior.
An SUV would fit just fine into a Corvette division, as would a four-seater (Camaro). Each could again be priced higher than people expect from a Chevrolet.
The front-engined Corvette is dead. GM head honcho Mary Barra delivered the news last week the final production C7 would be auctioned off this summer.
While the press skimmed the surface of this historic automotive event, The C7’s demise has received little in-depth coverage. Not only is this a melancholy milestone for us ‘Vette fans, but a little bit of an automotive Groundhog’s Day as well.
Case in point, take the introduction of the GM’s LS powerplant way back in 1996. It debuted in the 1997 C5 Corvette and then GM quietly phased out the Gen 1/Gen II small-block motors with little fanfare. By the time production halted, GM produced over 50 million old-school V8s, easily dwarfing the Model T, Corolla, and the VW Bug for all-time automotive sales goliath. Yet, it went out with a whimper and folks hardly noticed.
Fast forward to last week’s announcement the C7 was dead, and GM seems to be taking a similar tack, quietly pulling the plug on the the last front-engined ‘Vette. Lasting just six model years, the C7 will match the C2 as one of the shortest running generations in Corvette history.
It also quashes the conventional wisdom that the Corvette would be a two-platform lineup, at least for the time being. Let’s back up and review key events that led to the euthanization of the old-school Corvette.
GM invested almost two-thirds of a BILLION dollars in the expansion of Bowling Green. We were certain it was to accommodate two Corvette models. Some thought it would be a Cadillac variant or at the very least, the C7 would live on to appease traditional Corvette buyers.
Now that the C7 is dead, what’s going on in Bowling Green that required doubling the size of the factory? Is there a second model we don’t know about? In an SUV/CUV crazy market, it seems unlikely that GM would field a high-zoot sports car as the crown jewel of Cadillac. A more profitable Escalade would make sense, but a low volume sports car? Seems far-fetched at this point.
We know that high-performance engine assembly for Corvette (and now Cadillac’s Blackwing V8) has been brought in-house, and the paint shop is completely new, but what exactly will GM do to fully allocate a mega-expanded Bowling Green is up for debate. As we’ve all seen in the past few months, GM isn’t shy about shuttering plants if they aren’t running at darn near 100 percent capacity.
Especially risky for Bowling Green when you’re completely rewriting the rules of the brand and the jury is still deliberating if a mid-engine car will be warmly regarded by the Corvette faithful.
We would have loved to have been a fly-on-the-wall when Corvette Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter and gang pitched GM brass on the C8 Corvette. It was probably the hardest sales job ever in the annals of automotive history. Could you imagine the following scenario? Let’s cue up the wiggly lines on the TV and go back in time…
Picture Tadge at a round table with GM brass, “Hey, we are the undisputed king of sports cars in the North American market, selling between 25 to 40,000 units annually at a huge profit to the company. What we’re proposing is completely re-writing the template of the car, with a more exotic design. Even if it means alienating our fiercely loyal customers…”
As we know now, GM brass approved this strategy and we’ll have to see how it pans out at the end of the year when the C8 hits the market. If that weren’t enough change, there is most likely an electric or electric-assisted versions of the C8 waiting in the wings as well. Whether Chevrolet can maintain sales volume with a completely different car remains to be seen, which hints there could be more going on.
So if the C7 is dead, could a Corvette branded SUV be in the wings? This would make the most sense. Before you dismiss this as heresy, one only needs to look to the Porsche line-up and note its 2.5 ton Cayenne SUV accounts for the majority of Porsche sales and probably helped it survive and remain a semi-autonomous car company.
Chevrolet critics have long lobbied for a spin-off of the Corvette because they think the Bow Tie image is damaged or not cool enough to attract younger, foreign-brand leaning customers. We say Corvette and Chevrolet are intrinsically linked forever and busting them up is a long-shot, but still believe the Corvette as a multiple-platform brand has not been ruled out.
We speculated that the Camaro would replace the C7 as the front-engine, rear wheel drive “entry level” Corvette and we now feel vindicated. For decades, “the pony can’t outrun the horse” was an unwritten rule at Chevrolet. Corvette was the performance king, period. That credo was obliterated in slow-motion starting almost 10 years ago with the introduction of the Fifth Gen Camaro.
Chevy’s pony has since matched Corvette tit-for-tat with shared engines, an equally sophisticated chassis and the best tuning and refinement (thanks Al Oppenheiser) GM can bring to life. Not only has the Camaro been groomed (right before our eyes) to take the Corvette’s crown, it is one of the best performance cars on the market at any price. A fitting successor to our “old-fashioned” C7 and good news that we can all rejoice in.
I can personally attest how mystical the idea of a mid-engine Corvette has been for the last zillion years. I can remember as a kid, I’d hit the drugstore at the end of the month to see new issues of the big car magazines. Staring back at me from the news stands were headlines that barked “Secret Mid Engine Corvette Coming!”
Time and space would stand still, and I would plop down, right there on the spot, and read the story, hanging on every word. The pictures of Zora Arkus-Duntov and Bill Mitchell next to advanced Corvette prototypes at GM’s Warren, Michigan Design Center were exotic and beguiling.
Bristling with the latest high technology, these future Corvettes not only captured my imagination, but an entire generation of car lovers as well. Entire forests were clearcut over the years to print the latest scuttlebutt on a car which until this coming July 18th, 2019, never materialized.
The Mid-Engine Corvette story is decades in the making. Photos: General Motors
You would think the announcement that the car is indeed slated for production would be heralded as the second automotive coming but sadly, that’s not reaction on the internet. Social media forums are the latrine walls of our generation and feedback on the new car has been brutal.
“Oh look, a new Fiero,” is a common, fairly kind response. Another reader posts, “If I wanted a Ferrari, I’d buy a Ferrari..” Others are more blunt in their disdain for the new car, “It looks like sh*t…”
Fair enough, but the hardpoints of a mid-engine car design are fixed and unmovable, and lend itself to look-a-like styling. Cab-forward passenger compartment, short hood, the elimination of aft stowing, and a rear bulkhead in the cabin, are just a few of the aforementioned obstacles engineers face, not to mention stylists.
Which leads us to um, the styling. Chazcron over at MidEngineCorvetteForum always has the most up to date renders.
Here’s our take: We predict the new-age C8 Corvette will be a game changer. We speculate the performance will be such a quantum leap ahead of the C7 that it makes the old car obsolete. We think once people see and drive the new car, it’s risky approval by GM will seem like a no-brainer.
If it comes in at $75,000 (with the anticipated exponential leap in performance,) it will put the foreign exotics on the trailer – for a third of the price – and will change the global sport car market forever.
It would serve us well to remember Zora Arkus-Duntov at this time. He was convinced the mid-engine layout was the evolution the Corvette was destined to undergo. He tried in vain for years to get a mid-engine car approved and sadly, died without seeing the birth of such a Corvette. We know he’s watching from up above with a smile…
The childlike faith that GM will not screw up America’s only sports car boggles the mind. Everyone with the remotest interest in cars should know of GM’s record of new technology — the melting aluminum engine for the Chevy Vega, the Oldsmobile diesel V-8, Computer Command Control, the V-8-6-4 … shall I go on? How about the powerhouse Corvettes that got all of 165 horsepower in 1981 and 205 horsepower in 1984?
A rear-mounted engine will be an engine that no normal person can do anything with beyond maybe checking the oil. Corvettes have always been cars their owners could work on, but apparently not anymore. Nor will a rear-engine Corvette have any room for luggage, unlike the C4 through the current C7. (So much for weekend getaways.) Nor will be the C8 be a car its drivers can shift, since they will all have automatic transmissions, a point Cruikshank ignored. (Manual transmissions require driver skill.)
No one with any sense believes GM will sell the C8 for only a little more than the C7. This car will be more expensive to build, and Government Motors already has too many vehicles that don’t make money. Nevertheless, snobs who don’t buy Corvettes now because they’re not Ferraris or Porsches won’t buy Corvettes when they are rear-engine and more expensive. So this is likely the final Corvette, because GM will not sell as many Corvettes as they think, they will lose money, and they can’t lose money.
Did you recently run your little red Corvette right into the ground? Or is the Chevy sports car still on your bucket list, so far remaining just out of reach of your bank account? Either way, if you’re interested in a new ‘Vette, now is the time to buy.
After it was revealed back in February that dealerships were weighed down with 9,000 C7 Corvettes, Chevrolet is offering a once-in-a-lifetime deal on the model: zero-percent financing for a whole 72 months (yes, six years), available until April 1st.
That’s not all. Individual dealers are also offering additional discounts, a rare occurrence alongside the flatlined APR — normally, you get one or the other, not both. As the Drive points out, a quick search found a 2018 Corvette Z06 for $71,194 (down from $86K) and a 2018 Chevy Corvette Grand Sport for $62,297 (down from $78K). But the Corvette Stingray is also part of the offer, as you can see on Chevrolet’s Current Deals page.
The reason for the surplus isn’t necessarily that these cars are undesirable, but that the next Corvette is so desirable that buyers are willing to wait until the eighth generation rolls out.
But the Corvette C8 still hasn’t debuted, so as Carscoops notes, there will most likely be additional discounts for 2019 C7 models. So if you can’t decide in the next week, don’t despair — be on the lookout
That is fortunate since i probably don’t have time to buy one by Monday.
I decided to spec one out wigh minimum equipment…
… and came up with $58,155 for a base Vette with only the darker red paint and transparent top. (I forgot Corvette Museum delivery for $990.) Going to the top of the line (while avoiding frivolous options like red brake pad calipers and Stingray logos )…