1997 Corvette C5

You Can C for Miles

In recent history, most of the world's sporting manufacturers have sent forth their sports car statements with a damn the marketing, lets show em' what our engineers can do approach. This has produced a crop of incredibly advanced streetable sports cars such as the Acura NSX, the RX-7, the 300 ZX, the Supra Turbo and the Dodge Viper. Chevrolet carried on with incremental improvements to the Corvette platform originally released in 1984. Launch by launch the Corvette passed from the front of the pack to an also ran, a decent sports car, but not competitive nor contemporary. There were serious concerns that Chevrolet had lost interest and the continuation of the Corvette as a separate platform was called into doubt. Release of the C5 (fifth generation Corvette platform) was bumped repeatedly from the planned 1993 intro, rumors of a Camaro based Corvette popped up. Turns out we were worried for nothing. Persistence of the Corvette team won the day after all and the new C5 turns out to be well worth the wait. They also must have won more than a few board room battles, because the C5 is no cut corner reskin, it is well done, well engineered and chock full of neat stuff.

Development of the C5 was in many ways a greater challenge than those faced by the other sports car teams for the simple reason that Chevrolet actually plans on selling a lot of Corvettes. Unlike the competition whose goals are as limited as the under 500 NSX's sold annually, Chevrolet sold over 20,000 Corvettes in 1996 and expects the C5 to do even better. In 1996 the Corvette had a 39% market share in the high sport segment. To reach those targets the C5 had to offer significant progress, interesting technology and a relatively manageable price tag. It does.

Progress first. The C4 Vette was a fun ride, but it had grown very long in the tooth in many areas. Cramped, stiff, full of rattles and over gadgeted it offered good speed, great handling and not much else to recommend it when compared to its more modern competition. The C5 is a whole new ball game.

The first clean sheet for the C5 was titled "chassis" and they really pushed the pencils around to redo it. A totally new frame features massive hydroformed steel rails and a very rigid boxed structure at both ends. The Hydroformed rails are the largest pieces manufactured by this process for automotive applications and well optimized for the task. They replace C4 rails which were fabricated from 14 individual pieces welded together. The drivetrain tunnel is now a closed box with a sealed bottom. Windshield and dash structures feature many cast and extruded aluminum components and a magnesium steering column support to provide great strength and light weight. The new frame is considerably more rigid than the C4 and the overall body structure stiffer than a Mercedes SL convertible. The improved structure provides a better platform for the suspension to work against and gives the C5 a solid feel unlike any Corvette I've ever driven. It rides better too, even though the handling is more accurate than ever.