In the 1950s, General Motors enjoyed its status as the biggest corporation in the world. GM’s notoriety stemmed from its automobile divisions: Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac. However, they all lacked a world class sports car to rival Jaguar, MG, Triumph, and the like. GM’s lead designer, Harley Earl came up with the idea of a sports car that would also cost as much as an affordable American sedan.This generation is known as the C1 which lasted from 1953-1962. The Corvette had its ups and downs. The C2 generation was one of the most popular Corvettes thanks to the Stingray model which had hidden headlights and a split window fastback, and it boasted performance worthy of a sports car. The C3 (1968-1982) was hit by the oil crisis of the 1970s, and demanding government regulations resulted in more pedestrian friendly bumpers, and the result was more fuel efficient but slow engines and altered styling. The C4 generation arrived in 1984, and Chevrolet was determined to up its ante with updated mechanicals and new styling. In 1996, Chevrolet introduced the LT4 version that came with a new 350 cubic-inch small block V8 for the Corvette.
Even though this Corvette is almost twenty years old, there is no denying that it is a stunner. The proportions are spot on: long and sleek hood and a short rear deck. Pop up headlights and hood lines help give the Corvette a menacing yet sharp appearance. The engraved Corvette plate in the bumper is a neat touch. The slim silhouette features side strakes and a broad shoulder line starting from the front bumper that ends at the edge of the rear deck. The wraparound rear window gives it a unique look to the side and the rear. Speaking of the rear, trademark Corvette circular taillights are recessed in the edge of the rear. What I like best about the design is how it is simple like a Chevrolet, but still manages to elude that this is not your ordinary and mainstream Chevrolet. This is a car that after you walk away, you still look back at it. The interior features a red and black color scheme that works well with this car, and the buttons and gauges give a high tech feel to the cabin.
As far as the driving experience goes, the Corvette remains exceptional despite its age. As a car, it all feels mechanical. You are aware of everything that is happening to the car. When the tires hit new patches of the road, you feel it in the steering. When you are turning, you are aware of how much effort is needed to dial in the steering. You are always involved in the process. Frankly, it is refreshing because by participating, you are able to enjoy more of the experience. The steering is slightly heavy when parking, but at speed, the weight is spot on. The steering is somewhat communicative, but there were times I wished for more feedback. When it comes to tackling corners, the Corvette is unfazed. Turn the wheel sharply, and it reacts promptly. Its near perfect weight distribution means it remains neutral and balanced when turning at high speeds. Combine that with excellent grip from the wide thread tires and low body lean, the Corvette handles exceptionally well. However, the wide thread tires means that you do feel every bump in the road. If you go over a pothole or significant road imperfections, the cabin shudders. But under normal conditions, the ride is serene.
For the 1996 year, the Corvette was available with two versions of one V8. The 5.7 liter V8 made 300 horsepower in the LT1 and 330 in the LT4. At less than 3,300 pounds, performance is fast. It may not be as quick as the latest Porsche 911s or even a brand new Camaro SS, but you would not know it from the wheel. During a normal drive, the V8 does its job with no hassle, but stomp the pedal, and a Jekyll and Hyde transformation occurs. The V8 propels the Corvette with a frenetic urgency, and the LT4 engine is adept at making the best of its 330 horsepower. The V8 has so much toque that I was able to pull away from a stop in fifth gear to 60 mph without much trouble at all. Corvettes equipped with the LT4 come only with a six speed manual transmission. The shifter shifts smoothly enough but can be clunky at times. However, the clutch has excellent feedback and bite. Fuel economy is decent with around 20 mpg overall possible and 25 mpg on the highway.
As for refinement, the Corvette delivers. The cabin is a nice place to be in, especially if you are going on a long trip. Except for little road noise, the interior is very quiet, and the V8 remains in the background. However, floor it, and the V8 suddenly comes alive with a growl that can only be American.
In the 1990s, Chevrolet and GM did not have the best reputation for fit and finish. I still recall being in a 1995 Chevrolet Cavalier in which the interior felt like it was put together by glue. However, this Corvette surprises with its fit and finish. The panels fit together well, and everything feels substantial and sturdy. The driving position is not bad either, as I was able to adjust the seat and the steering wheel to my preferences. The handbrake is a nuisance though. It is located next to the driver seat, and you have to pull it up with some force to engage it. To release it, you have to press a button and push it down with some force with precision. The seats offer superb comfort, and the cargo area is a decent size for this car although the wheel arches cut into the space somewhat. Getting out of the car is a struggle due to the low roof and the high door sill. Visibility is excellent, and you get a good view of the road ahead. The controls take some time to master as the buttons are small and hard to place. The blank screen above the controls is a warning dashboard, where warnings such as handbrake on, oil change required, etc appear. The digital speedometer takes some time to get used to, but otherwise, the gauges are logically laid out.
Long story short, I enjoyed this Corvette. When I think of the American sports car, it is either the Ford Mustang or the Corvette. Usually it is the latter. In a way, it is the epitome of American car culture. This car is brash with a big V8 and its red interior yet it is refined and comfortable. It represents the best of both worlds, and the best part is that it does not try hard to be something that it is not. Rather the flaws complete the package and allows you to appreciate it as something more than a car rather than just a thing to get you from point A to point B. Because of this, I could not stop grinning during the whole drive. The Corvette gives you another reason to buy American.