Chevrolet Corvette C5 (1997 - 2004) Review
As we look at the seven generations of the Corvette, this time the focus is on on the fifth gen C5, from 1997-2004
CHEVROLET CORVETTE C5
If the Corvette C2 is the most-loved generation to date, the C5 could well come to be regarded as the most respected, if only because it took the biggest steps forward. In
the early 90s, the Corvette C4 was progressively getting worked over by Japanese rivals that worked smarter and harder. Cars like the Acura NSX, the Toyota Supra, the Mazda FD RX-7 and the Nissan 300ZX demonstrated that Chevrolet didn’t hold a monopoly on the market for coupes with pace, panache and pared-back pricing.
Something radically better was needed out of Bowling Green. In effect, the Corvette had to skip a generation to keep up.
As a result, the C5’s launch was progressively delayed. GM’s $250m budget for the C5 was due to be spent on a car that would arrive in 1993 and which would retain price point superiority right through to the new millennium. But GM dithered interminably, its hand only being forced when the US government mandated side impact regulations for late 1996 that the Corvette C4 could never have passed. To be fair, other factors were involved. By 1990 GM was losing $2bn a year. Just two years later the company found itself drowning in $24.2bn worth of red ink. Chief Engineer Dave McLellan also retired in 1992, replaced by former Cadillac man Dave Hill.
The C5 was a revelation. Perfect 50:50 weight distribution, torsional stiffness five times greater than the C4 and stacks of room inside for two people and their luggage, a slinky 0.293 Cd drag factor with the headlights lowered, the punchy 345hp aluminium-block LS1 V8 up front and, for the first time on a Corvette, a rear transaxle. From 1999 there was even a fighter-jet style head-up display that projected key information onto the base of the windscreen. It was also the first time in history that Corvette buyers could also choose from three different body styles: a targa-top coupe, a convertible and a hardtop with a boot.
The fantastic 385hp Z06 arrived in 2001, with power climbing to 405 ponies for the 2002 model year, coinciding with the standard fitment of Active Handling and Traction Control systems. The C5 also marked the very first time painted carbon-fibre panels were used on an American production car when the 2004 model year cars got a composite bonnet.
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