BY ANDY ENRIGHT
The Chevrolet Corvette doesn't need a great deal of introduction. "America's Sports Car" has been available in one guise or another since the fifties, but it was not until the launch of the C5 series in 1997 that the Corvette received the respect of European drivers. When General Motors started officially importing the Corvette into the UK in 1999, it was seen as a performance car bargain. But can a used car represent an even better way of getting more bang for your buck?
Models Covered: (2 dr coupe, convertible, 5.7 petrol)
Launched in the UK in 1998 after receiving rave reviews in the USA, the Chevrolet Corvette C5 came as a welcome surprise to many expecting yet another bloated barge. Yes, it was still big, heavy, made of plastic and boasted engine technology that most manufacturers had consigned to their museums, but somehow the Corvette made it all seem like common sense. With fuel consumption no worse than the latest generation four-wheel drive rally replicas and performance to worry Ferrari drivers, the Corvette combined this with styling that was sleek where its predecessor was crass and a list price of just £36,525 upon launch. A bargain, as long as you were prepared to sit on the wrong side, as all Corvettes were left hand drive. Available as either a targa-roofed coupe or a full convertible, the Corvette retained many of the styling cues from previous generation cars such as the pop-up headlights, the four round tail lights, the long bonnet and the short stern section. With a Cd of only 0.29, stylist John Cafaro has, to most eyes, done an excellent job. The engine was the familiar 5.7-litre Chevrolet Small Block V8, complete with pushrods actuating the two valves per cylinder, which sounds more like something from the seventies, but which had benefited from a number of improvements. The whole engine block and cylinder head were now made of aluminium, and the inlet manifolds were constructed of sophisticated composite materials, lowering the weight of what was once a very heavy engine. Whilst weight may have been slashed, power was boosted up to a rippling 344bhp, mated to either a four-speed automatic or a six-speed manual gearbox. At the start of 1999, the Corvette received a series of small improvements. Technological achievements were at the forefront, with a Head Up Display projecting information onto the windscreen and an Active Handling Package (stability control) to help drivers keep their Corvettes in one piece. The Twilight Sentinel system was fitted as standard, automatically switching on the headlights at dusk or in poor weather conditions, and an electrically adjustable steering column was added to the options list. A three-year/60,000 mile warranty package was also introduced, giving Corvette buyers additional peace of mind. For 2001 Chevrolet offered two new colours, Speedway White and Quiksilver, electrochromic mirrors, chrome tipped exhausts and a slimline multi-function key fob. More importantly, the engine management system was fettled to give a wider range of torque right across the rev range. Beefed-up anti-roll bars with optional "touring/sport/performance" switchable suspension give more feedback to the driver, a criticism of the earlier C5 models. Official UK imports finished in early 2002.
What You Get
With the steering wheel on the right side and a bigger dealer network, Porsche, BMW and even Ferrari would have cause to worry about their UK revenue streams. As it is, the Corvette is always going to be something of a minority interest. Having said that, there are some compelling reasons for taking the plunge. Aside from that sledgehammer performance, the Corvette is now a genuinely beautiful car in a way, as opposed to merely handsome rivals such as the BMW M3 and the Porsche Boxster. Only British sports cars like the TVR Tuscan and Noble M12 GTO offer a similar visual impact, yet neither has that mass-produced feel to them. For some buyers this will be a perfect reason not to buy a 'Vette, whilst others will feel reassured by its factory fit and finish. Equipment levels are pretty lavish, with air conditioning, twin airbags, ABS, a full-house stereo, a six-way power driver's seat, electric windows and central locking all fitted as standard. The Corvette's convertible roof, however, is manually operated (astonishingly there's no power option) and folds neatly away under its own protective panel. This has a noticeable payoff in the amount of luggage space you get. Even with the roof down the convertible has 300 litres of room in the boot - enough for two full-sized golf bags. This is partly thanks to the absence of a spare wheel, thanks to the use of Extended Mobility Tyres. Even completely flat, these can run at normal speed for up to 200 miles.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Fifty years of constant development have made the Corvette an outstandingly reliable package. Yes, the engine may develop 345bhp, but most of the time you'll find yourself burbling around at 2000rpm, with the engine under about as much stress as a dozy librarian. Look for kerbed alloy wheels and check the condition of the steamroller tyres, but above all carefully inspect the condition of the glass fibre bodywork. If you choose a targa-roofed Coupe, check that the roof is easy to fit. If the roof panel has been stored for some time, it can warp, especially if stood on its side and exposed to the sun. The soft-top roof is an honest, no-frills affair, but make sure that it hasn't been ripped, torn or discoloured. Most Corvettes will have been treated to 100% main dealer servicing under the terms of the generous warranty, so you can afford to be as fussy. No, there aren't too many Corvettes around, but those that are should all be in tip-trop trim. Negotiate a discount if all is not pretty much as it left the showroom.
(approx based on a 2000 Corvette Coupe) Although you'll only need to service the big Chevrolet every 10,000 miles, this puts a premium on making sure that you use decent quality consumables. As such, expect to pay around £12 for an air filter, £15 for a fuel filter and a mere £5 for an oil filter. Spark plugs are around £8 each. This is one set of 'Vettes bills that won't break the bank. Just don't mention tyres.
On the Road
The Corvette has a drama matched by few cars for the price. The interior is well equipped, but lacks visual impact. Still, never mind the quality, feel the width. The way the front of the Corvette rises like a powerboat and the back of the seat tries to drive through you at full throttle is akin to landing on your back after trying to pull off an acrobatic goal celebration. It knocks the stuffing out of you and leaves you wondering whether you're in heaven as all you can see is the sky. Only the Head Up Display speedometer projected onto the windscreen and furiously cranking out ever-greater digits reminds of your own mortality. This 345bhp supercar can make over 170mph, with rest to 60mph in 4.7 gut-trembling seconds. It's hard to believe the 5.7-litre V8 engine pulls over 100mph in 3rd gear! The car's cornering capabilities are just as awesome - in the sharpest bends, it can pull up to .98g; you'll bottle out before the car will. What's quite odd is the way the choice of gearbox transforms the car. Opt for the automatic gearbox, and you'll be content to trundle about with the engine barely above tickover, arm out of the window, enjoying the bass tones of your V8. If you choose the manual, you'll want to experience that surge of power, punt the tail of the car out around tight bends and generally drive like a NASCAR racer at any opportunity. Yes, the six-speed manual is heavy and vaguely agricultural, but that just adds to the appeal. You don't slot it from gear to gear; you punch that lever home like an eight-ball pool break. Fuel consumption isn't the catastrophe that you may expect. Driven enthusiastically back to back with, for example, a Subaru Impreza P1, the Corvette will return better figures due to the unstressed nature of the engine. What may take a little time to become accustomed to is the steering. Here's that remaining vestige of Americana that the Corvette can't quite divest itself of. It's similar in feel to that of the Jaguar XK8, itself a hugely popular choice in the US, and feels a little too over-assisted to provide a huge measure of confidence-inspiring feedback. Get in a Corvette after driving a Porsche 911 and you'll have new admiration for the guys who race them in the States!
If the concept of crushing power, exotic good looks and robust mechanicals appeal to you, the Corvette is about as good as it gets. You should expect to land a genuinely well looked after car for the sort of money you could pay for a mid-range BMW 5 Series, and it'll certainly provide more entertainment. If you're aware that certain costs such as tyres and insurance will be in the supercar bracket, the Corvette makes a sound purchase. Its relative rarity has propped up used values quite well, so you won't lose your shirt. Extroverts - please form a queue here.