“Heading for the nineties, living in the wild, wild west!” was the rallying cry in the chorus of Escape Club’s Billboard Hot 100 chart topper “Wild, Wild West” from late 1988. I was then in high school, either falling asleep at night with the radio playing songs like this, or taping them onto cassette in my waking hours with my dual-deck boom box. Escape Club has the dubious distinction of being the only British band with a Billboard No. 1 pop hit who has never charted in their home country.
I’m not knocking this group, and a number one song is a number one song, which is one more than I’ll ever have. I was surprised to learn they were from England, as the lead singer, Trevor Steel, sang with a more convincing United States accent than probably even some of my friends possess. Never one of my absolute favorite songs, “Wild, Wild West” was still fun, had a good beat and a catchy chorus, and was fine for the background as part of a radio set list or mixtape.
This song would have been loosely part of my soundtrack from that period of the late ’80s when I was newly a teenager and excited for the promise of what things, people, and experiences high school and the ’90s were going to bring. My first overnight stay in Chicago, where I’ve lived now for most of my life, happened in 1990, the year of our featured Corvette. I had been here before that during my participation in two, annual, all-day field trips with my middle school classes from Flint, Michigan. I had never realized before those earlier trips as a preteen that: a.) Chicago was this enormous city that was also located in the Midwest; and b.) That it was less than five hours away from Flint. Little did I know then that I would one day live here, in my dream city.
Pizzeria Due. Magnificent Mile District, Chicago, Illinois. Thursday, July 7, 2022.
That later, extended stay in 1990, which lasted several days, would be part of a trip I had taken with my church’s youth group. It was an absolute blast and great, clean fun with people I liked both then and now. Part of that adventure included my very first slice of deep dish pizza at Pizzeria Due in the Magnificent Mile District, a stone’s throw from Michigan Avenue. That first taste was so delicious and unlike any other pizza I had ever had before that I just couldn’t eat it fast enough, and I kept a clean napkin from the restaurant for a few years as a souvenir. My most recent meal at Due was already three years ago. I’m overdue (I offer no apologies for the pun) for another pie there.
Upon making a positive identification of this fourth-generation Corvette as a 1990 model, it struck me as terribly strange (to borrow a phrase from Simon & Garfunkel’s song “Old Friends”) to be viewing it as a car that appears to have seen a lot of life. This was in contrast to my memories of the ’90 being a brand new, desirable halo car, fresh from Bowling Green, Kentucky, on board for the start of a new decade. The arrival of New Year’s Day 1990, which fell on a Monday, seemed steeped in so much potential, and I remember media reports and advertisements focusing on the fact that not only was it a new year, but also a new decade. Soul II Soul, another one of my favorite musical acts from that time, had even called their sophomore album “Vol. II: 1990 – A New Decade”. Even if the commercial success of this release paled in comparison to that of the collective’s first full-length, the joy in the music was reflective of the optimism baked into the record’s subtitle, and I was feeling all of it.
There was reason for extra enthusiasm in 1990 for Corvette fans, with the arrival of the high-performance ZR-1 variant. Powered by a 5.7 liter, 375-horsepower, dual overhead cam, 32-valve, V8 engine dubbed the LT5, the ZR-1 was capable of doing 0-60 mph in just four and a half seconds, and to 100 mph in just six seconds more, according to Car And Driver. Its top speed was a stellar 175 mph. There’s more to be read about the ZR-1 elsewhere, and our example is clearly not a ZR-1, but I mention it only to illustrate that in its seventh model year, the C4 was still very much alive, well, and capable of generating excitement. The ZR-1 had performance that was the equal or better of much more expensive cars across some significant measures. I can imagine its presence having had a “halo effect” on the lesser Corvettes, which would acquire the ZR-1’s rear styling for ’91. The 1990 ‘Vette would be last to feature the concave rear panel originally introduced with the arrival of the C4 for model year ’84.
This Corvette is finished in factory Dark Red, one of seven colors available that year. It’s powered by a 245-hp V8 that, despite having the same 5.7 liter displacement as the high-performance engine, has a completely different bore and stroke. Included among the new changes for ’90 were a driver’s side airbag, antilock brakes, and a new dashboard. Corvette sales for 1990 fell about 10% from the prior year to 23,600 units, with most of those (16,000) being the base hatchback with and with just over 3,000 ZR-1s finding takers at its very expensive $58,995 price, almost $134,000 in 2022. The base model had a starting price of about $32,000 ($72,500 / adjusted). A new 2022 Corvette actually costs about 16% less, accounting for inflation. Let’s call that progress.
Only a couple of months ago, I had the great pleasure to visit in person with a friend whose family had lived cater-corner from my old house in Flint. She and I hadn’t seen each other since around when this burgundy Corvette was new. In very little time, especially given our prolonged absence from each other outside of being connected on social media, we seemed to pick right back up where we had left off. We were now grown versions of the kids who were part of a group that used to play cards on the back porch of her house, listen to the radio (which undoubtedly included Escape Club), joke, drink heavily caffeinated Mountain Dew, and discuss pop culture. I thought to myself during her and my visit about how much had happened within each of our respective lives over the past three decades during which she and I hadn’t had a face-to-face conversation.
This Corvette has picked up dings, scratches, and cosmetic issues that would be in keeping with a life well-lived, even if some of those experiences weren’t pretty. The ’90s would bring its share of both triumphs and challenges into my life as I navigated the “wild, wild west” of young adulthood. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t trade the lessons I’ve learned or the people I’ve known for anything, much as the owner of this C4 is holding onto this example in present day, flaws and all. To paraphrase a commenter on one of my recent essays, the journey, in and of itself, has value independent of arrival at the destination. Seeing this worn-in Corvette still in use seems, in a way, to give me permission to relax about the future, which will soon be here.
Rogers Park, Chicago, Illinois.
Saturday, May 14, 2022.
The 1990 Chevrolet Corvette brochure pages were as sourced from www.oldcarbrochures.org.