More than 40 years after the 1953 Corvette debuted, Chevrolet introduces the fifth-generation Corvette for 1997. The C5 almost didn't happen. Originally scheduled for release in 1993, the Corvette was killed for a short time before performance zealots within General Motors resuscitated the project and made the new car happen.
Pushrod power continues, in the form of a reworked 5.7-liter V8 engine dubbed the LS1. Horsepower is 345 at 5,600 rpm, while torque measures 350 ft-lbs. at 4,400 rpm. The result? Equipped with the standard four-speed automatic transmission, the Corvette will hit 60 mph in a shade over five seconds. Opt for the six-speed manual transmission and you'll cut less than half a second off the trap time. To help reign the power in on slippery surfaces, acceleration slip regulation is standard equipment. EPA mileage figures are phenomenal for a high-powered sports car; the Corvette will return 28 mpg on the highway with the manual tranny.
Four-wheel-disc antilock brakes keep stopping distances short with larger rotors than last year. Front tires are 17 inches in diameter, and rears are a whopping 18 inches across, which contributes to an excellent .93g of road grip. The rubber stays planted well too, thanks to a fully independent four-wheel short/long-arm height-adjustable suspension.
Body panels are still composed of a material other than metal, though no longer fiberglass. Sheet molded compound wraps around a new, ultrastiff structure that features a full-length perimeter frame with tubular steel side rails. The windshield frame is aluminum, and the instrument panel is attached directly to a beefy cross member designed to reduce noise and vibration. A sandwich composite floor with a lightweight balsa wood core damps noise and vibration while making the floor exceptionally stiff.
Inside, a new dashboard with real analog gauges and intuitive radio and climate controls greets passengers. Luggage space beneath the rear hatch glass is an incredible 25 cubic feet, made possible with the use dual mid-ship mounted fuel tanks that are snuggled within the Corvette's structure. The car feels more airy inside, thanks to a narrower door sill and taller height combined with a low cowl.
Yes, the Corvette is an outstanding effort and competes favorably with the best in the class. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like a million bucks, to our eyes. Long, low, and lean, the Corvette is certainly attractive. We take issue, however, with the thick truncated tail and the odd-looking air scoops for the front brakes. Other critics have complained of derivative styling cues and the lack of chrome-finished exhaust tips. Still, the Corvette's new shape will wear well into the next century.
Don't let the fact that the C5 will swallow two golf bags sway you into thinking this a gentrified sporting coupe. The 1997 Corvette is among the best true sports cars your money can buy.