An American Revolution
A Twist-Taking Journey of the Corvette C5's legacy.
Part One: The Beginning of the End?
The year was Mid-1988, General Motors was doing pretty good for itself, but the C4's lifespan was getting a little long, so General Motors ordered there to be a new Corvette. Dubbed to "C5", this new Corvette was planned to come out in 1993, Corvette's 40th Anniversary. But with financial trouble's around the corner, it wasn't going to go as planned.
Three 2001 Corvette's, Coupe, Convertible, and Z06. Credit: General Motors
Now from 1988 to mid 1989, the development of this new Corvette was going very smoothly for both designer John Cafaro and then Chief Engineer Dave McLellan, unfortunately for Corvette and the entirety of General Motors, disaster struck. General Motors lost $2,000,000,000 in 1989 and it wasn't getting better anytime soon, the effects of this almost immediately struck down into Corvette, as in 1991, the budget was down from $250,000,000 to a $150,000,000, to put this into perspective, the average cost to develop a brand new car is $584,000,000 (adjusted for 1990's inflation), so it's safe to say things weren't looking very good.
By 1993 the budget was just a measly $12,000,000, which is only 4.8% of the original budget, and the majority of the budget was already used for engineering. Now the future was looking bad for Corvette, many people wanted the Corvette to be axed, but the new Corvette Chief Engineer and former Cadillac Chief Engineer Dave Hill wasn't having it.
A 1993 Chevrolet Corvette Clay Concept Car, designed by John Cafaro. Credit: General Motors
Part Two: Resurgence
Now, Dave Hill had a plan, the plan was to get Chevrolet General Manager Jim Perkins to juggle around $1,200,000, which Dave would use to spend on an Alpha Prototype Vehicle built by a local shop in Detroit, and then take GM President Jack Smith for a ride so he can show why he needs this extra $100,000,000.
This prototype would end up being called the CERV-IV, or Chevrolet Engineering Research Vehicle #4. It had a C4 body, C4 6-Speed Manual Transmission, but what it didn't have was a C4 Chassis. It had the Corvette C5's brand new Hydroformed Steel Frame, using this would make the C5 the first mass-produced vehicle to use this technology on a major structural component. What this prototype also had was the C5's new Longitudinal Center Backbone, which locks the front and back of the frame together for a stiffer chassis and more feedback., this feature had only been seen on exotic supercars and race cars until the C5 came around. All this made the frame not only lighter, but four times stiffer then the C4 Chassis, which is insane for a mass-produced Sports Car.
So now with all this new technology in the vehicle, the plan worked. This new Corvette had Jack Smith and other GM Officials exclaiming stuff like "This is like no Corvette we ever felt!". And so, the budget was raised nearly back up to it's original price, $241,000,000, and the development of the new Corvette continued.
A 1993 CERV-IV, the Alpha Prototype Car used in these tests. Credit: Some Random Photographer
Part Three: Days and Nights
Now, Dave Hill wanted the C5 to be as good, or better then the C4 in every way, this included applying some unique methods in the development process. This included using Balsa Wood in the C5's floorpan, the reason why the C5 used it was because it's light, rigid, and sound absorbent, this made it so that the C5 was not only lighter, but it was stiffer and quieter then regular floorpan material. Something else the team had done was split the Fuel Tank into 2 on each side of the Corvette's new transaxle, and then connect it via a metal tube, doing it this way allowed the C5 to have a lower center of gravity as well as a 370-mile range, which is 20 miles more then the previous Corvette C4. And to make this new vehicle lighter, Hill implemented a method called $1/KG, this meant every dollar spent, a Kilo had to be saved, and in order to lower the starting price, the engineers used as much parts from parts suppliers as they could. The team also decided to ditch a spare tire for some Goodyear Run-Flats in order to save as much weight as possible.
The Black 1995 Beta C5 up close. Credit: Automobile Magazine
Testing of this new Corvette was done day in and day out, this Corvette was made to tackle any type of weather and road conditions, from sunshine to snowfall, from rain to blizzard, this Corvette was tested in it and made for it, it had the same goals as a 911 or NSX, to be the ultimate daily driveable Sports Car, and it nailed it.
Two 1995 Beta Prototype C5's, as you can see, it is still using some C4 parts, such as the headlights. Credit: Corvsport
Part Four: The Storm
By late 1996, the Corvette C5 stormed into the Sports Car scene as a 1997 model year production car. It started at $37,495 and came with the all new 5.7L LS1 Small Block Chevy, a 345hp and 350 lb-ft of torque god of an engine, which was later upgraded to 350hp and 360 lb-ft of torque by 2001, and thanks to the Corvette's tall overdrive, low-end torque and silky smooth aerodynamics, it could get up to 30 Highway MPG. It featured an all four corner independent double wishbone suspension with composite leaf springs in the rear, with optional F45 Adjustable dampers, the first car to have this type of technology, besides it's predecessor the C4. These dampers gave you the choice of Tour, Sport, and Performance, which was later reduced to Tour and Sport options in 2002. The C5 was also one of the first vehicles to introduce a Heads-Up display, with the first being an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme in 1988. All this, plus the fact that all C5's, coupe or convertible, were 3,100-3,300lbs and had a 51.4F/48.61R weight distribution, made it a cornering machine. With this new Corvette being able to go around a corner at 0.93g and a braking distance from 60-0 at 114 ft, this Corvette was nearly best-in-class for Sports Cars in general, and best-in-class for it's price range. This Corvette wasn't just a speed demon either, the Coupe had 24.8 cubic feet of cargo space, while the Convertible having 13.3 cubic feet, these numbers were better then any other Coupe or Convertible sports car in the world!
A 1997 Corvette Coupe in Torch Red. Credit: General Motors
In 1998, the Corvette had an option for the new Active Handling system, which was later upgraded and made standard by 2001. This system allowed the Corvette to be driven in many types of weather conditions, including snow, at ease, the system works by selectively activating different brake calipers to twist the car onto the proper driving line, the engineers programmed this system very carefully so that it only activates when you are pushing the car over it's limits, to avoid interrupting the sporty feel of the Corvette. Motor Trend ranked a 1998 Corvette Convertible "Car of the Year" in 1998, while later in 1999, the Society of Automotive Engineers named the new Corvette the "Best Engineered Car of the 20th Century", It was clear this Corvette was here to push the boundaries of what a Sports Car should be able to do, and it was going to get better very soon.
A 1998 Corvette Convertible in Torch Red. Credit: General Motors
Part Five: Lightning, and then Thunder
If the base C5 was the lightning, then the new-for-2001 C5 Z06 was the thunder. The Z06 package was revived for 2001 as the Track-Spec C5, with the original Z06 being a race package offered for the C2 in 1963. This new Z06 featured a 385hp 385lb-ft of torque LS6 Small-Block Chevy, which was later bumped up to 405hp and 400lb-ft of torque by 2002, it featured shorter gearing, a front grille, rear brake ducts, and became the first mass-produced vehicle to use a Titanium exhaust. With this new Z06 being able to stop from 60-0 in just 104 ft, as well as be able to pull 0.99g 'round a corner, the new Z06 would quickly become a force to be reckon with in the Sports Car world.
A Commemorative Edition 2004 Corvette Coupe in Europe with a 2004 Corvette C5-R. Credit: General Motors
In 2004, the Z06 had a few small upgrades, the most significant of those upgrades being that a new option package was added, the LeMans Commemorative Edition. It featured a Carbon Fiber hood only for the Z06, as well as new badging and a custom optional paint job for lesser models, this was to celebrate their victory at the 24 Hours of LeMans. Implementing Carbon Fiber resulted in the C5 Z06 being the first North American car to ever have an exterior carbon fiber body panel. There was also recalibrated shocks at all four corners, as well as new bushings for the Upper A Arms. Other changes outside of the Z06 included a revised Fuel System.
A 2004 Corvette Coupe, Convertible, and Z06 with LeMans Commemorative Edition packages. Credit: General Motors
Part Six: Others
Of course along the way of the Corvette C5's timeline, there were some special editions. For example, in 1998, Chevrolet made 1,193 Pace Car replicas, sporting a purple and yellow pace car livery, yellow wheels, and yellow seats. As well, all Corvette's made in 2003 were 50th Anniversary Editions, this meant they came with special silver 50th Anniversary Corvette badges as well as 50th Anniversary Fender badges.
A 1998 Corvette Convertible Pace Car, with a Radar Blue paint-job as well as yellow wheels, seats, and Pace Car decals. Credit: Autocarsmagazine
A 2003 Corvette 50th Anniversary, with the only-for-2003 "Anniversary Red" paint job. Credit: General Motors
Other oddballs in the C5's timeline included ridiculously rare colors. For example, through 1997-1998, only 378 Fairway Green Metallic Corvette C5's were produced, and in 1998 only 15 Aztec Gold C5's were produced, but Chevrolet cancelled the color due to them not being able to match it, that means out of all 15 Aztec Gold C5's, there are 3 different shades of Aztec Gold. There were also only 381 Medium Purple Pearl Metallic Corvette C5's produced for 1998. Another rarity is Dark Bowling Green Metallic, with only 2,582 produced from 2000 to 2001.
A 1998 Corvette Coupe in Fairway Green Metallic. Credit: Corvetteforum
Three 1998 Corvette Coupe's in Aztec Gold. Credit: Carcanyon
A 2001 Corvette Convertible in Dark Bowling Green Metallic. Credit: Corvetteforum
A 1998 Corvette Convertible in Medium Purple Pearl Metallic. Credit: Corvetteforum