COAL: 1997 Chevrolet Corvette – A Lesson Learned About Consignment

Countless boys across many generations have been mesmerized by Chevy’s Corvette.  In the 70s and 80s it was the only real American mass production sports car to fantasize about.  I will never forget seeing a fourth gen for the first time in 1984.  I can also remember exactly where I was when I saw my first C5 in 1997 as well.

So owning a Corvette had always been a bucket list item for me.  Sometime around the year 2010 I actually owned a fourth generation (C4) for about a month, but it had so many issues I only drove it a short distance one time before I got rid of it.  So I still had this itch for owning a Corvette.

The decision to look for a fifth generation (C5) was easy.  I realistically couldn’t afford the payment on one any newer, and the third generation (from ‘68-’82) is just not a quality vehicle.  I love Corvettes, but the C3s were ergonomically rough, cramped, and slow.  When people start modifying C3s for power they often end up with cooling issues.  But then again, I live in Florida – perhaps people in cold places, like Canada fare better?

When I began shopping, I did not have a long list of requirements.  The paint color wasn’t that important to me, and specific options were not either.  I did not especially want a convertible, but the only real requirement for me was that it had a manual gearbox.  I absolutely, positively would not buy a Vette with an automatic transmission.  I am of the opinion that a Corvette with an automatic transmission is like going to the beach on a rainy day, or bolting a laptop to a desk.  I want to say to the person: “Hey, you’re doing it wrong!”

When I finally bought one, I enjoyed it very much.  It was a first-year red on black example with low miles, and in near flawless condition.  I later learned that a majority of the early 1997s were red on black, and all hatchbacks.  The convertible wasn’t available until the next year, and the fixed-roof coupe came along even later.

All cars had the new for 1997 aluminum 5.7 liter LS1 with 345 horsepower.  It was also the first Corvette to have a rear mounted transmission, with a shaft coming from the flexplate/flywheel which spun at engine speed.  This setup allowed the car to have a near-perfect 50/50 weight distribution (Porsche had done this with the 944 a decade or so earlier).  Also, the 97s did not have a spare tire, nor a place for one.  They came with T.P.M.S. and run-flats.

One downside of the six speed was Computer Aided Gear Selection.  For C.A.F.E. the car would shift from first gear to fourth under light throttle.  I bought a cheap C.A.G.S. defeat device off Ebay and installed it in less than ten minutes.

It almost goes without saying that the car was fantastic in the curves.  Almost like riding on rails, it simply went where pointed.  Surely the weakest link in the handling department was driver skill or confidence.

Readers of these COALs of mine have probably picked up on the fact that I get bored with cars quickly.  My wife and friends remind me of this character deficiency of mine.  So I decided to sell.  And when I did, there were some people interested, but seemingly no one with any cash.

I had it for sale on three different websites with a clear description and lots of good pictures.  Some callers really wanted it…later.   After a couple months I ended up putting it on consignment with a nation-wide collector car broker.  They took the car and the keys, and I waited some more.  I knew they charged the buyer a ten percent commission, but I didn’t carefully read the fine print.  The minimum commission was $2,500.  The car was only worth somewhere between $11k and $14k so the mandatory commission made the car overpriced.

After about three more months, the car did sell.  It sold on the low end, a break-even point for me, yet the buyer paid too much.

In my opinion the C5 Corvette is a beautiful, timeless design, and is a great performer.  As a bonus it’s plastic fantastic – all Corvettes are rust-proof!   Corvettes are also addictive.  Even though my itch has been scratched, someday I want to try a sixth gen.   Note: All pictures except the one of the drivetrain are of the actual car.