Chevrolet Corvette C5 - buyer & value guide

By: Cliff Chambers, Unique Cars magazine

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CORVETTE C5 They look great and the C5 was a major engineering revamp. CORVETTE C5

With the right spec, a C5 is a seriously quick car.

The C5 represents a milestone for Corvette enthusiasts. Almost 15 years after the last major redesign, it delivered a new, advanced structure that made extensive use of Sheet Moulded Composite (plastic). Ensuring optimum weight redistribution, the new six-speed gearbox was mounted at the rear of the car.

The basic C5 engine came in a familiar 5.7-litre designation but was different in design and more efficient than 350 cubic inch engines of old. While retaining ‘old fashioned’ overhead valve technology, the aluminium LS1 V8 could be expanded or down-sized to suit a variety of applications.

As fitted to the 1997 Corvette the new engine produced 257kW (soon uprated to 260kW or a neat 350bhp) and mated to a T56 six-speed manual or the old-style four-speed automatic.

For the first time since the 1970s, the revamped Corvette could be specified with a 7.0-litre engine. Nothing like the old-school 427s from decades earlier, the 21st century LS7 was derived from the same block as the 350 but with high-volume cylinder heads, a ‘siamesed’ bore and three-inch hydroformed stainless exhausts.

Aluminium was used throughout the suspension and balsawood sandwiched between SMC was used for the floor pans. Various systems of selective damping were tried during the lifespan of the C5, the final version being Magnetic Selective Ride Control.

Immediately after launching the C5, General Motors hired outside teams to develop the cars for long-distance racing, including the Daytona and Le Mans 24 Hour events. The Corvettes from the outset performed exceptionally well and by 2004 had won outright or in-class 30 out of 50 races contested.

In 2001 Chevrolet added a model that effectively took the place of the much-admired ZR-1. Designated Z06, the newcomer incorporated a high-efficiency LS6 version of the LS1 motor with 287kW. Weight was trimmed to a positively ripped 1417kg, however Chevrolet had some more tricks in its bag and for 2002 upped engine output to 302kW.

The Corvette cabin was always going to be cramped but once occupants made their way inside there were reshaped leather seats with optional electric adjustment and dual-zone climate control air-conditioning. For those who hate changing CDs there was an optional 12-disc stacker.


If you’re trying to find a C5 in Australia the search could be frustrating. Few people brought them in as new cars and the cost of importing and converting one now is still prohibitive. Back when they were new, a C5 could cost the owner $130-150,000.

Today in the USA C5s are very much last week’s news; too old to compete with later models, too new to rate as a ‘classic’. A quick look at the current market shows good-quality Roadsters at US$11,500-13,000 and Z06s in excellent order at less than US$20,000. To qualify for full Australian registration, these cars presently need RHD conversion at a cost of around $35,000. If buying locally, hang out for a Z06 if you can. While basic C5s can be found at $50-60,000, an excellent Z06 may hit $100,000. Future demand though is going to favour the rarer and more powerful version.



Plastic bonded to steel construction is light and strong but when the metal rusts and the plastics cracks lots of money is needed. Have a specialist check any C5 you’re considering, especially one being bought overseas. The front air-dam and sills are vulnerable to kerb and speed-bump damage but peripheral damage is easily fixed. Check door and roof panels for damaged seals that may permit wind and water entry. Make sure that the lights pop up instantly and in unison. If the motors fail each light has a manual over-ride.


Service history is key to confidence in your LS1 or LS7 is going to be reliable. Obtaining accurate records can be difficult if the car is a recent import and its background is unclear. Cars that came here new and have no records are an even greater worry so send them for a thorough mechanical check. Coil packs can fail, causing a misfire and the overhead- valve train is noisy by nature. However they shouldn’t rattle alarmingly even when cold. The T-56 manual gearbox is well-known and reportedly very reliable, however a shuddering or slipping clutch needs to prompt a price cut due to the amount of work in replacing it.


The Chevrolet C5 chassis went places no ‘Vette suspension had ever been, yet some things never change. Transverse leaf springs are 1930s technology yet they still work amazingly well even on the potent 7.0-litre and C5-R. After 10-20 years of use, items like control arm rubber bushings and ball joints could be worn and noisy. Those that have been recently RHD converted will have undergone rigorous compliance testing. Look for edge or centre-worn tyres indicating alignment problems or excess tyre pressures. There is no spare. Check brake rotors for heat spotting and scoring; new ones depending on quality can cost from $300-1000 a pair.


The most recent of these cars are 12 years old and trim which wasn’t especially durable will likely be displaying signs of wear. Leather will discolour and split, especially if it’s had to contend with heavyweight drivers or passengers and some sun exposure. Check that all of the electrics including seat adjusters, windows and especially the air-conditioning work as they should. So too the vacuum-controlled air-flaps that direct ventilation and heat. Check around the battery box (remove the battery if possible) for damage caused by leaking acid.


NUMBER MADE: 202,000 (approx)

BODY STYLES: GRP/steel integrated body/chassis two-door coupe & roadster

ENGINE: 5665cc or 6996cc V8 with overhead valves & fuel injection

POWER & TORQUE: 302kW @ 6000rpm, 522Nm @ 4800rpm (Z06)

PERFORMANCE: 0-100km/h 5.2 seconds, 0-400 metres 13.2 seconds

TRANSMISSION: six-speed manual, four-speed automatic

SUSPENSION: Independent with coil springs, upper & lower control arms, telescopic shock absorbers and anti-roll bar (f) Independent with semi-elliptic spring, locating links, anti-roll bar and telescopic shock absorbers (r)

BRAKES: Disc (f) disc (r) power assisted

TYRES: 245/45R17 (f) 275/40R28 (r)



FAIR $40,000

GOOD $65,000

EXCELLENT $100,000

(Note: concours & special cars may demand more.)

Numbers from our 2017-18 Muscle Cars Value Guide.

Muscle Car Value Guide home page

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