Classic CARmentary: 1998 Chevrolet Corvette Coupe

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
Transmission:6-Speed Manual
EPA Mileage:18 city/27 highway
Tested Price:$41,954

I should have clarified that it was “all new” for 1997, and probably used fewer parentheses.