The Corvette was re-designed again in 1997 due to lagging sales of the 12-year-old C4. It got a more rounded design and rather radical side scallops with body lines back to the rear of the door. Underneath a hydro-formed box frame gave additional structural rigidity, especially important for the convertible version. This also eliminated many of the squeaks and rattles inherent to the C4’s frame system. The automatic transmission was carried over from the C4, but a new Borg-Warner 6-speed manual transmission made its debut. Both transmissions were relocated aft to form an integrated transaxle assembly, which gave the C5 a 50/50 weight distribution for improved handling. Equipped with the 345 HP 5.7 liter LS1 engine and the Borg-Warner manual the new Corvette could reach 175 MPH.
Only the fastback coupe was offered for 1997 with the convertible model available the following year. In mid-1998 a new body style was released, a hardtop coupe with a notchback rear window. This had a similar roof profile to the convertible. Beginning in 1998 an optional head-up display was available, this became standard in 2001. Engine power also increased to 350 HP in 2001.
Variable-effort steering and drive-by-wire made their debut in the C5, as did “tandem” windshield wipers that replaced the opposed wipers on previous Corvette models. In an effort to avoid the “gas guzzler” taxes imposed on previous Corvettes the C5 returned a respectable average 18 MPG and 22 city/25 highway. The spare tire was eliminated to save weight even though the C5 weighed in at under 3,300 lbs. and the tires were of the run-flat variety.
Suspension options were standard, the autocross-inspired FE3 setup included with the Z51 Performance and handling package (standard on the 1999 and 2000 notchback coupe) or the F45 Selective Ride Control suspension which gave the driver on-the-fly selection of either Sport or Touring modes.
The modular body panels were not pure fiberglass as in previous Corvettes, but a composite of fiberglass blended and bonded with plastics known in the trade as SMC (Sheet Molded Composite). The floorboards are also 2 layers of SMC with balsa wood in the middle for its stiffness, light weight and sound absorbing qualities. The C5 was also the last Corvette to feature the pop-up headlights that debuted on the 1963 split-window C2.
C5 had competitive 0-60 times (4.5 seconds) to more expensive European sports cars of the era like the Ferrari 355 and Aston Martin DB7 Vantage.
In 2003 a special edition C5 was released to commemorate the 50th anniversary. The 50th Anniversary Corvette featured Anniversary Red Metallic paint and a shale 2-tone leather interior. This color appeared on the soft top of the convertibles as well. The new-for-2003 Magnetic Selective Ride Control suspension was standard on the Anniversary Edition. Special Warm Nickel Metallic painted wheels, interior embroidered upholstery trim and badging rounded out the package.
In 2004 a 24 Hours of LeMans Commemorative Edition featured LeMans Blue Metallic paint in honor of the Corvette taking first and second in class at the famed racecourse. This model featured a shale 2-tone leather interior as on the 50th Anniversary edition with optional wide silver and red stripes down the center and a shale top for the convertible. The Z06 version got a carbon-fiber hood to reduce weight.
The successor to the C4 ZR-1 was the Z06, giving a nod to the high-performance Z06 options in the C2. The engine was a tuned version of the LS1, designated LS6, with a 385 HP output. This was less than the ZR-1’s final year output of 405 HP but the lower weight of 3,118 lbs. allowed the Z06 to out-perform its predecessor in every category but top speed. This 38 lb. weight savings was achieved by using thinner glass, reduced soundproofing, a titanium exhaust system, a fixed radio antenna and a lighter battery. It was only available in the version with the most chassis rigidity, the notchback hardtop.
The Z06 sported updated FE4 suspension, larger wheels and tires, revised gear rations and functional brake cooling ducts in addition to the higher-HP LS6 engine. From 2002-2004 the output was even higher at 405 HP thanks to a larger CFM intake, stiffer valve springs, lighter sodium-filled valves and a more aggressive camshaft lift and timing.
The C6 was again more evolution than revolution, building upon the foundation of the C5. The wheelbase was increased and body overhang was decreased. Fixed headlights, the first since the C1, now graced the front end.
The C5’s LS1 engine was upgraded and bumped to 6.0 liters from 5.7 with an accompanying 50 HP bump to 400, becoming the LS2. The C6 could achieve 0-60 MPH in 4.2 seconds with a 190 MPH top speed. In 2008 there was a further bump in displacement to 6.2 liters. The new engine was called LS3 and gained an additional 30HP over the LS2. The new 6-speed manual that accompanied the LS3 shifted quicker and enabled the C6 to drop its 0-60 time by 0.2 seconds.
The Z06 version in 2006 boasted the largest small-block engine ever put in a production car by GM: 427.6 cubic inches, although they rounded it down to just 427 to pay homage to the big-block 427s of Corvettes past. The monster LS7 mill with its titanium connecting rods put out 505 HP officially, propelled the Z06 from 0-60 in a mere 3.7 seconds and was the most powerful normally-aspirated GM engine. Z06 also had another first: an all-aluminum chassis. Other weight-saving measures included balsa wood/carbon fiber composite floors, a magnesium alloy engine cradle, carbon fiber front fenders and forged aluminum wheels. All this dropped the weight of the Z06 to 3,130 lb.
In 2007, the ZR1 was back. GM wanted to produce an engine with more than 100HP per liter, and achieved it with the supercharged 6.2 liter LS9 that produced 638HP. This was the most powerful engine ever put in a GM production car up to that time and with it ZR1 could reach a top speed of an incredible 205 MPH. Carbon fiber was used extensively; the roof, hood, fenders, front splitter and rocker moldings were all made of the lightweight material. The roof is covered in clear-coat only, letting the carbon fiber show through.
Starting in 2011, Z06 and ZR1 buyers could participate in the “Corvette Engine Build Experience” where they could pay extra to be flown to the Wixom, Michigan Performance Build Center and help the assembly line workers build the LS7 or LS9 that would power their cars. They would take delivery at the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky near the final assembly plant.
C7 – 2014-2019
With the introduction of the C7, the Stingray name was back for the first time since 1976.
By 2013 the Corvette was beginning to be seen as an old man’s toy with 46 percent of Corvette buyers being 55 or older. GM wanted to make Corvette appeal to younger buyers to draw them away from performance imports like the Porsche 911 and Audi R8 and made major styling changes. The designers took inspiration from the Camaro’s squared-off rear end and incorporated lots of aggressive angular elements both there and in the front.
The C7 had an all-aluminum chassis as on the previous generation’s Z06 and ZR1. Also as on the ZR1, the hood and roof panel were made of carbon fiber.
Performance was up again from C6 levels, with the new iteration of the LT1 making 450 HP. The optional performance exhaust bought you another 5HP. The new LT1 also had direct injection, variable valve timing and an active fuel management system which deactivates cylinders at times to save fuel. The new 7-speed manual transmission sported active rev matching. A new Mode Selector offered drivers a choice of Weather, Eco, Tour, Sport and Track modes to change the feel of the Magnetic Ride Control suspension, shifting aggressiveness and engagement of the limited-slip differential.
2015 saw the introduction of an optional 8-speed automatic transmission and a Performance Data Recorder with a GPS unit that is more precise than the ones in navigation systems. The recorder can access vehicle information and an HD camera on the windshield can record video and embed performance data in that video when Track Mode or Sport Mode are engaged on the Mode Selector. In Tour Mode the system will record video but display no performance information. The video is recorded on an SD card and can be viewed on the Corvette’s in-dash screen or removed to be viewed on a computer.
The Z06 also returned in 2015 and came equipped with a 6.2 liter, supercharged and intercooled LT4 engine with aluminum cylinder heads producing 650 HP. There was a new front splitter, the carbon fiber hood had a new, larger vent and the carbon fiber roof panel was removable. The seats (GT or Competition Sport) had magnesium frames. Six-piston front and four-piston rear Brembo brakes stopped the beast while power was routed through an electronic limited-slip differential integrated with electronic stability control and traction management.
For 2019, the final year of the C7, the ZR1 returned. It was based on the Z06 but boasting a 755HP 6.2 liter engine with a 52% larger supercharger than the Z06. Engine cooling was improved with a larger intercooler and four more radiators for a total of 13, with the front end foreshadowing the look to come. An active exhaust system, upgraded crankshaft and a new areo package including an underbody spoiler, new front splitter and a large rear wing allowed ZR1 to reach nearly 215 MPH.
The C7 is my second-least favorite generation. The weird trapezoidal taillights and odd mixture of stylings doesn’t do anything for me. The broad-shouldered look reminiscent of the C3 in the back doesn’t gel with all the odd angles and creases. The front end is full of more weird angles and creases and the entire package just looks strange to me.
C8 – 2020-?
The most major changes ever for Corvette were unveiled in 2020. For the first time in its long history it was propelled not by an engine in front under the hood, but by an engine behind the driver. Still driving the rear wheels, the new mid-engine design was one that had been thought about and even proposed (before being dropped) for decades, dating back to a 1970 prototype and a mid-80s concept. GM apparently thought now was the time, even though the European competition has been producing mid-engine designs since the 1980s.
The Stingray name returns again for the new mid-engine Corvette, as on the C7. The front end, reminiscent of the C3 Mako Shark design, reflects the modern supercar aesthetic of cars like Ferrari and Lamborghini. The rear, with its broad-shouldered look also reminiscent of the C3, still shows Camaro and C7 influence with its arced trunk profile and angular taillights. Large side scoops for engine air intake are present as on all modern mid-engine sports cars. It is still very much a Corvette, albeit a very modern interpretation.
The new Corvette can be had with a removable Targa top, available in body color, transparent or visible carbon fiber or a retractable hardtop. Trunk space is split between a rear trunk behind the engine compartment and a new front compartment where the engine resided on previous Corvettes, but between the two they offer less space than the single trunk of previous models. The mid-engine layout required the passenger compartment to be shifted forward sixteen and a half inches, offering much better forward visibility.
Modern jet fighters such as the F-22 and F-35 were the inspiration for the new, even more driver-centric cockpit. In a first for the model, right-hand drive is now offered for the Japanese, UK and Australian markets. The cockpit has a new rounded-hexagonal steering wheel in place of the traditional circular one. A special Z button (an homage to the Z06, ZR1 and Z51) on the steering wheel can activate customized performance settings. Optional magnetorheological dampers offer adjustable suspension settings.
The new LT2 6.2 liter small-block produces 495 HP, 40 more than the C7’s LT1 and has a dry-sump lubrication system. Like the C7, the LT2 has Active Cylinder Management which deactivates cylinders based upon engine load. Again the sport exhaust system gives an additional 5HP. Car & Driver magazine recorded a 2.8 second 0-6 time on a C8 equipped with the Z51 Performance Package. The only transmission offered is an 8-speed dual-clutch automatic with paddle shifters, the manual was dropped due to structural concerns and lack of customer demand. The Performance Data Recorder is back, with a higher-resolution windshield camera and data recording that can be active all the time.
Unequal-length forged aluminum wishbones and front and rear and monotube shock absorbers suspend the car, and it can be equipped with a height-adjustable system that can raise the body 2 inches at speeds under 25 MPH. The Z51 Package adds performance-tuned adjustable suspension and an electronic limited-slip differential. The top trim level also adds a magnetic ride adaptive suspension system. Brakes are four-piston Brembo models with ventilated discs, selecting the Z51 package adds larger calipers and 0.7 inches to the front and 0.2 inches to the rear discs.
With a base price below $60,000 the new C8 Corvette is truly a bargain supercar that will stand toe-to-toe with Europe’s best.
The Corvette is a lot like us; small and weak in its infancy with an uncertain future, it grew up to be a great-looking lean, mean fighting machine with power to spare. In middle age it got a bit soft in the middle but re-tooled and re-emerged as a world-class ass kicker willing to take on all comers and win if the need arises.
The Corvette story is our story…America’s story…and how that story continues is up to us. Thanks for your time. Until next month…
It’s Jeff Despicable Boofer