Another in a series of my reviews that appeared in the online version of African Americans On Wheels, a now defunct automotive magazine that was included as an insert in the Sunday newspapers of major cities.
Until I recently drove a friend’s BMW 335i with the M-Sport package, this was the most powerful car I’ve ever driven. While 345 horsepower isn’t much today, it was a helluva lot in 1998. Also, thanks to GM’s continuous improvement efforts, it was just 30 horsepower shy of the LT5 in the 1990 ZR1. I was going to have some fun.
My job at the time was only about 10 minutes from my apartment against traffic, so I found the car easy to live with in those circumstances. Because the Corvette is so wide, I thought it would be safer to park diagonally across two spaces in my office parking garage. My coworker Stephen stopped by my office that first day.
“Is that your Corvette with the Michigan plates?”
“Yup. Cool, isn’t it?”
“You’re lucky I didn’t key it. That’s pretty rude taking up two spaces like that!”
Stephen wasn’t a very happy guy in those days (though we’re still good friends). But I counted that as one of the drawbacks of owning a car like the Corvette: protecting the car vs. pissing people off.
The following weekend, we took it to the Eastern Shore of Maryland to visit my cousin. What seemed like a good idea at the time quickly turned into a nightmare as thousands of other people seemed to have the same idea on this beautiful Saturday in July. While fun around town in light traffic, the heavy clutch and notchy six-speed manual quickly became an albatross in heavy stop-and-go traffic. My left leg was in serious pain by the time we reached my cousin’s house.
We still had a good time, and I tried to do a nice burnout when we left. However, I forgot to disengage the traction control and it turned into kind of an aborted effort. We stopped at a little roadside farmer’s market on the way back and picked up some fresh bread as well as put the targa top back in place. They were doing construction on the Baltimore-Washington parkway and there were Jersey barriers on both sides of my lane and I swear it felt like there wasn’t more than an inch between the barriers and the edges of the side mirrors. My wife had her eyes shut tight and her hands balled into fists until we passed the construction zone.
When we got back to our apartment, we retrieved the bread from the well in the trunk and it was nice and warm. Chalk one up for the Vette!
I felt that my childhood dream had come true: in my hand was the key to a 1998 Corvette. Although all new, it retains the “shark” look introduced 30 years ago, with the loooong sloping hood, pop-up headlamps, and high rear end with four round(ish) taillights. As I walked towards the car, the passive remote keyless entry system unlocked the king-size doors automatically. Mr. Bond, your car is ready.
This car sits low to the ground, and I had some difficulty maneuvering over the high side bolsters into the seat. The interior is all business: black leather, thick four-spoke steering wheel, full-instrumentation, bare metal brake and clutch, and optional 6-speed manual transmission. Our car had a long list of amenities as well.
I turned the key, and the 345-horsepower V8 roared to life like a sixties muscle car. At the first light, I noticed all of the admiring glances
I the car was getting. But when the light turned green, I turned red. I had stalled the car — embarrassing in any car; EXTREMELY embarrassing in a Corvette.
Once I got going, though, the thrust was unlike anything I’d experienced before (traction control is, thankfully, standard). Sixty MPH arrives in a ridiculously short time, and the tremendous amount of torque makes downshifting almost unnecessary around town. The clutch is heavy, however, and the shifter requires muscle. I accepted the engine, road noise and harsh ride as a fair trade-off for race-car-like speed and handling. One benefit of the extremely wide, 18-inch rear tires (17-inch in front) is that you drive over, rather than through, most potholes.
There is some utility to this car. The hatch opens to a shallow but wide space, with deep storage panels under the floor to keep small items from rolling around (and, as we discovered, fresh bread warm).
The Corvette is a full-fledged sports car with the pros and cons inherent in the breed. Make sure you can live with them before you sign on the dotted line.
For more information contact 1-800-950-2438
Type:2-Door Sports Car
Engine:345-horsepower, 5.7-liter V8
EPA Mileage:18 city/27 highway
I should have clarified that it was “all new” for 1997, and probably used fewer parentheses.
The C5 Corvette was a high water mark for GM in the 1990’s. It showed that GM could get it right when and if they wanted to.
If I was a Product Planner for GM, I would have found a way to put this engine and optional six speed M/T into a 1997 “Impala SS” by platform sharing with the Cadillac Catera.
Basically a “Steinmetz”, in production form, with a bowtie on the nose. There was a significant amount of people that wanted a “practical Corvette” back then and this would have been a great “Halo car” for Chevy.
A friend owned one for a while, and it’s the only Vette I’ve ever driven. I don’t remember a heavy clutch, but at the time I owned my Forester which required a fair amount of pedal effort itself. And while I had thought my turbo 2.5 was quick, the Corvette was in another world. My friend, who likes to travel in remote parts of the West, loved the tall and lazy gearing and got amazing fuel economy on long highway trips in Nevada, Utah and Wyoming where speed limits are high and actual speeds much higher.
For some reason, this car, pretty much as pictured but in that silvery/pewtery color holds quite some appeal for me; while never a Corvette guy this one really seemed to be able to regularly back up its understated for a Corvette looks with performance in every variant. I don’t see it actually happening but if I was going to go out and get one, this’d probably be the one. The idea of taking it fast and far across some of the more desolate landscapes in this country has tremendous appeal, of course tempered by the reality of the noise of wide tires slapping expansion joints for hours on end, difficulty in entry and egress etc. But the dream lives on!
“… I had stalled the car — embarrassing in any car; EXTREMELY embarrassing in a Corvette… “.
Not really. Or, at least – not to me.
Click and Clack of “Car Talk” once said a long time ago that if you don’t stall a stick shift car once in a while, then you’re probably over slipping the clutch.
Car people may disagree, but I always cringe when I hear a car over rev on take off in first and then – totally unnecessarily – over rev when shifting into higher gears.
From an aesthetic standpoint this is my least favorite Vette. It’s too rounded and bulbulous…I thought the C6 was a huge improvement. Basically the same chasis but a bit smaller, tidier with some great lines
+1 i love that you used the word bulbous on the C6. yes= they’re rounded, bloated and faces are really ‘off’ too.
for me it’s this >> C2, C3, C4, C7 i love the 7 but now the C8, yikes! IDC whats going on with performance etc. it is an over-styled abomination. but it is not a Corvette. kid-racer, wanna be of several upper tier makes and just wrong in so many ways. and factory pre-installed partial COVID wall console to separate the occupants.
Think of the Corvette C8 as the Fiero/Aerotech that “Old GM” always wanted to build instead of a eighth generation Corvette and the C8’s design will make more sense.
That “COVID Wall” is straight out of the 1956 Oldsmobile Golden Rocket Concept.
With respect to Bob Seger
thirty years now
where did they go?
thirty years now
I don’t know
I sit and I wonder some times where they’ve gone.
And sometimes late at night
When I’m in the Fiero at a stoplight
The thought of Pontiac comes callin’ a ghostly white
And I recall
Like a Pontiac. drawing a new C8
Like a Pontiac, designing a new C8
Like a Pontiac, building a new C8
Like my Fiero , the sun upon my skin
Like my Fiero, hard against the wind
Like a Fiero, I see my Poncho again
James, great post. nice work.
The horror of the summer weekend traffic jams heading out to the ocean there. It was terrible already back in the late ’60s, the trip from the Baltimore are to Ocean City.
The fact that you’re a small car guy really makes itself known here. Getting into a wide car is disconcerting.
It was even worse before the second span opened in 1974. Summer delays were 3-4 hours coming back from OC on summer Sunday nights.
I never really liked the C5 aesthetic either, it carried over everything I didn’t like on the late C4, most notably the bulbous convex rear end. Great car under the skin, but this was the generation of Vette that put an end to any styling revisions for the generation run. Other than wheels a 97 or 04 are indistinguishable from each other, I can easily tell a 53 from a 62, a 63 from a 67, a 68 from a 82 and a 84 from a 96. Corvettes from C5-C7(and probably C8) are capable performers but completely uninteresting to look at after the newness wears off.
GM or any other company cannot perform yearly updates except grilles, wheels, paint and interior colors mainly due to crash testing but also tooling, etc. Especially with a car that sells in such low volume.
Dodge says they have not put a manual transmission in the Charger because the floorboard would need to be redesigned, necessitating another round of crash-testing that Dodge does not want to pay for.
I get your intent of wanting OEM’s to be more creative in terms of styling year to year, but understand the days of Bill Mitchell’s skunkworks program running roughshod over the company are looong-gone and aren’t coming back.
Outside of the very high-end (Lambo, Aston, Ferrari, Rolls) the only two companies that could possibly do yearly updates profitably are Toyota (Rav-4 only, and they won’t because they are too conservative) and Tesla (because Elon does whatever Elon wants to do. Profitability and Financial Responsibility be damned.
Corvettes don’t even change grilles! The C2 only received very minor updates, like hoods and side gills, even that would be enough. The most extensive and expensive changes the Corvette got in a given generation was likely during the C3, the bumpers, which were mandated and the roofline for 1978, whose design lasted unchanged all the way to the end of the C6 generation.
I fully understand the economy’s of scale and different times in terms of modern consumer expectation of “meaningful“ updates, but I think in effect the lack of superficial ones signals to the designers to play it very safe, don’t deviate or be adventurous, as anything unfavorable won’t be changed for 8 years. That conservative glacial styling approach works on a RAV4, but on a Corvette? I’m not so sure it’s been good for the brand.
Your article brings me back to my time with the C5. I worked at a GM dealer when the C5 came out. So I had lots of opportunities to drive them and loved them, especially the 6 speeds. They were a revelation compared to the C4, especially for tall people. The ingress and egress was so much better, and there was more leg and headroom. The ride may have been stiff compared to every day cars, but compared to the C4 it seemed compliant and the structure was so much stiffer.
The C5 may not have be the best looking Vette ever but they hold a special place as the first really good all around Vette. Its basic structure serves as the basis for the next two generations. For the Curbivores that like GM history, the book All Corvettes are Red is an excellent read on the development of the C5. It also really paints the picture of how bad GM bureaucracy was at the time.
I have read that book, and it was very entertaining as well as informative.
The C5s are about the oldest used Corvette that you can buy that is affordable and can still be found in good original condition. Although I have been a car fan for my whole life for some reason I never got the urge for a Vette. Ever since the C4 debuted I think that they are pretty good cars. I almost bought an early C4 but when I returned to the lot it had just been sold. There is a bit of a stigma associated with being a Corvette owner, in my eyes. The words “gold chainer’ will suffice. I know that’s not fair, but I just can’t shake it.
Same here. I loved old Corvettes when I was little, went to the Corvette Museum and factory tour on a family trip, and attended the Bloomington Gold event many years when it was held at the Pheasant Run resort near me, never had the urge to own one in my adult life though, there is definitely an unflattering demographic image they carry, but that isn’t something I normally let stop me from perusing what I want, I think for me they’re too easy of a fast car to have, I like the challenge and underdogness of a sedan based car that’s bigger and heavier than they should be for what they can do. Plus I always expected insurance would be insane, even with my clean record, though maybe that’s better now than when I was in my early 20s
All of you so called buffs make me want to vomit. Unless and until you have owned and maintained a C5, you know nothing. Forget about shifting ratios and tourqe power and all of the statistical bs that everyone loves to feed off of and try to berate what really is a damn well executed vehicle. This vehicle is still to this day the car every kid dreamed about. And when you go flying down the road and every person looks and Marvel’s and other Vette owners wave at you, you then really know why you have it. For the struggle it took you to get here. The best car you ever owned. Remember that!
Well seeing as I was a kid in 1997, I can tell you exactly what cars I did and didn’t dream about, and also what cars the other kids talked about at the lunch table. Hint, it wasn’t C5 Corvettes. Kids don’t care about execution, we were gushing over the Viper GTS, Ferrari F40, Lamborghini Diablo, McLaren F1 etc. I hate to generalize but since you called some of us out, I think you’re mistaking actual kids for “kids at heart” waving from the local golf courses.
On a serious note though, a C5 ZO6 is the first and only car I ever felt 150 mph in, I loved it. I’ve never been a fan of the C5s styling or interior compared to past corvettes, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think the execution is excellent, I don’t believe I saw anyone else make that claim either. The shifting ratios and torque and power and all of the statistical bs are the biggest things that favor the C5 Corvette, not detract. What people don’t like are much more subjective and emotional, often times offput by some owner’s attitudes…
I called the Corvette C5 the high water mark for GM in the 1990’s. If you have read some of my posts about GM post-1980 you would know that is high praise and I am not a fan-boy. Even Paul managed to post without criticizing the car.
As for the “Car every kid dreamed about.” Pretty sure that’s a Lambo, dude.
I remember when the C5 was introduced and the car magazines gave it some very positive reviews. I was in my last year of grad school and thought, man I want one of those when I start working. Well 20 plus years later, I completely fit the middle-aged Corvette guy stereotype. I still haven’t bought one because more serious responsibilities came up (wife, children, house etc.). But I still want a C5, and hope to get one reasonably soon.
I was seriously looking at these in the 2010-11 time frame. The Aussie/USD exchange rate was good, there were plenty of cars to pick from. The boot/trunk space ( I checked) was enough for a road trip with the missus.
The deal breaker was the insane cost of a RHD conversion for Australia. Waaaay too much for my ‘mid life crises” toy.