Ten Days, Ten Corvettes: Day 4, C4


Ten Corvettes in ten days, from the start of this endeavor, I have been favoring the C5 and C6 over the C4 on the basis that late ’90s and mid-2000s GM is much better than anything the General made in the ‘80s. I avoided the C4 from hearsay that they were a level of chintzy not even my old Porsche 914 could match. However, three Vettes in and I could no longer avoid the C4’s singular “on paper” advantage: price.

Unlike the previous Corvette drives, the GPS lead me east to a small used car lot on the hot outer fringes of LA County. Before this test drive, I was under the impression that some cars are usually too old to sell at dealers, however, this dealership was full of hits from the ‘80s and early ‘90s, including one white C4 that I wasn’t there to see. In fact, the C4 I called about was nowhere to be seen.

After a little searching, I found that the lot porter was around the corner giving “my” C4 a bath.  In this moment, I’m not sure what I so was worried about. This car looks fantastic! It’s like a daisy yellow. All sunshine. It even has turbine wheels. And when the porter fires her up, she emits a throaty growl from the dual square exhausts.

Get in. And just breathe on the go pedal and it chirps the rears.

“Yeah man be careful our insurance doesn’t allow you to go more than five miles,” the man cautions.

“That’s alright, do you need to get a copy of my driver’s license?” I ask.

“Huh, we need your license?”

As far as test drives go, this one’s off to the strangest start. For maybe an obvious, if dubious reason, the driver’s seat is soaking wet.  There’s a miniature rainstorm coming from the seam between the Targa roof and the A-pillars

Fast forward 10 minutes later while heading onto I-210 East…

Shit! Shit! Shit!

The roof’s not bolted down! We’re at 45 mph and it’s starting to lift off its perch. Worse still, I can’t even find the hazard switch to warn other drivers. These are few weird problems turning into the perfect storm! I knew GM had terrible quality in the ‘80s but I didn’t think it’d be this bad!

This C4 is so terrible that it made Christy the green C5 feel like a Rolls-Royce. How bad does quality control have to be for the steering wheel to wiggle around while driving and for the door panel vinyl to need screws to stay in place?  As if this wasn’t bad enough, driving back onto the dealer lot, the body managed to twist enough to pop the roof off its mount – again.

This C4 would be the King of Radwood – with its vintage flair that includes “Turbo Compressor” wheels, pop up headlights, and the aforementioned yellow finish. But it’s just not worth the rest of the irritation that living with this car is going to entail.

Strangely, despite this yellow nightmare’s list of troubles, it manages to be as entertaining as it is awful to drive. The exhaust is making promises the engine can’t keep. And the first-generation GM “traction control” didn’t stop this car from easily doing burnouts and drifts from every red light and corner – slushbox be damned.

It’s the thrill and terror of American muscle in one twitchy, flexy, drafty, plastic, Coke-addled car.


Back at the lot, I breathe a sigh of relief that I’m in one piece, that the roof didn’t blow off, and that the car is still in one piece – more or less. I thank the lot porter and take my leave thinking I’ll never drive another C4 as long as live. Do I still like Vettes? Um, ask me tomorrow.