The C8 Mid Engine Corvette is hot news and you can’t pick up a magazine or view the internet without seeing a story about it. It is arguably, the biggest happeing in the Corvette world since the first 53 Vette rolled out. Not even the 63 Split Window got so much attention. True, it was a different time, the interntet has made such news much bigger, easier and faster to deliver to the public. In addition the Corvette community has grown substantially over the years.
However, if you are new to Corvettes or have a weak memory you may not remember all the fuss over the 1997 C-5 Corvette when it was about to debut. The build up for Corvette enthusiasts was monumental.
It was about time for something new; Chevy had kept the C-4 Corvette around far too long. Its production run from 1984 until 1996 was not good for the brand. Twelve years for an iconic car is way too long and that was after the C-3 ran from 1968 until 1982, 14 years! In a time frame of approximately 25 years enthusiast had only had two versions of the Corvette to choose from with minor updates other than the major model change in 1994. You may also not remember that a Corvette wasn’t even produced in 1993!
Do you remember the first time someone actually referred to the next Corvette as a C-5? Up until that time the different generations of Corvettes were just that, different body styles. No one had yet given the different body styles sequential numbers.
My story of the first C-5 begins in the summer of 1996 with my desire to replace my daily driver, a 1980 Corvette L82. Not unlike the mid engine car rumors, in 1996 the rumor of a completely new Corvette had been around for many years. Would it be mid-engine? How different would it be, would it be better or worse than the then current C-4? No clue, but lots of rumors.
I began my quest with the thought that a 1996 LT4, last of the line, would be better than a new 1997. After all, the last year in a series is always the best and the first year is always plagued with problems and flaws. In late spring GM started blowing out the 96 models because there were so many left on dealer lots waiting for the rumored newest and greatest. So, in the summer of 1996 I began the search for that special red on red, 6-speed LT4 left over and cheap. Well, they didn’t exist. As the actual sale prices of these cars dropped, the demand went up, and so did the prices. Red sold first, now what?
More news began to leak out about the new C5 but not enough to get me to fork over the big deposits and undiscounted sale prices. I waited, but I talked to dealers and I read magazines. Then, in early January 1997, the LA Auto Show unveiled a white 1997 C5. It looked good but I still wasn’t convinced, they wouldn’t let you get close enough to see any details. I did learn that production on the 97 would be low and difficult to get. I talked to several dealers and it appeared that only a few would get any Corvettes. All new Vettes would be allocated by how many Vettes the dealer sold the previous year.
Then there was the book ALL CORVETTES ARE RED! The author had been given full access inside GM during the development and design process of the C5. I scooped up a copy and had to ration my reading of it. It was fantastic and it said the newest Corvette was a breakthrough. The Corvette we all wanted and deserved!
A few weeks later the first C5’s began to arrive in dealers’ show rooms. None were supposed to show the car to the public until the official day of introduction. I convinced a dealer I had previously purchased cars from to let me get a peak. I looked, I touched, and I even got to sit in one. I instantly fell in love. The car was everything I was looking for. It appeared to have corrected all the problems of the previous Corvettes.
Now, my problem was that there were other Corvette freaks also searching for a C5 and they were all in line ahead of me. At the biggest dealer of Corvettes in the area had already sold their year’s allocation. The biggest Chevrolet dealer in California wouldn’t even sell a new C5 outside their territory! But wait, Mark Christopher Chevrolet, right next to my office in Ontario had two unsold allocations. My partner at work and I went in and took both. We ordered full option cars with the exception of the $35 side molding and the beautiful removable glass top. We wanted the glass top but it was not available at the time and trying to order it would mean our cars would go to the end of the list for priority building. My C5 would be red, his black. We paid our deposit and were proud to be on the list and feeling very lucky, after all this is the first really new Corvette since 1984 and the 1997 production would be the lowest number of Corvettes to be built since 1960!
The very next day other procrastinators showed up at the dealership wanting to order new Corvettes but the allotment was gone. We made it first, the allocation for the area for the year was gone and the new C5 Vette wasn’t even suppose to be shown to the public yet!