Illustrations by the Author Before the official press unveiling of the 1984 Corvette in March 1983, anticipation for the new Corvette was at a fever pitch. Chevrolet announced that there would be no official 1983 model; rather they would have an early introduction and an extended manufacturing cycle for the 1984 model. There would be plenty of new C4 Corvettes available.
And were there ever! Corvette sales went from 18,648 units in 1982, to 51,547 units for 1984, making 1984 the second-best sales year in Corvette history. Fans put the cash on the line for the first really new Corvette since 1968, even though the price was up $3,510 from the 1982 model. The complete package was so advanced over the C3 cars, no one cared that the Cross-Fire Injection engine was a carryover from 1982 with only five horsepower more. The new Corvette had more ground clearance, lower overall height, near-perfect weight distribution and the suspension, when equipped with the $600 RPO Z51 option, delivered race car level g-forces on the skidpad. The new alloy wheels were functional fan extractors; similar to Trans-Am and IMSA Corvette racers. From the perspective of spring 1983, the new Corvette was a solid home run.
Ever since the 1957 283 fuelie, Corvette has consistently been about the sizzle and the steak. Even base model Corvettes had more grunt than regular cars and optional “performance” engines could be downright frightening. While the new C4 did not have Mako Shark curves, it was definitely a Corvette. The new interior was a reflection of the times and was styled with modular “fighter jet” pod elements and full digital dash. Everything was rosy until production Corvettes hit the roads, the real roads; potholes, bumps, seam stripes, and all.
In the engineering zeal to bring the new Corvette into the modern age of suspension design, things got a little over baked. On real roads, the race car-sized tires transmitted tons of road shock to the occupants. The Z51 equipped cars were teeth rattling. For 1985, engineers dialed back the suspension on both the stock and Z51 configuration. But the big news was the Tuned Port Injection L98 that used a throttle body, air plenum, tube runners, and eight injectors (one for each cylinder). The 230-horsepower L98 was a 25-horsepower bump over the Cross-Fire Injection system that used two injectors on a modified dual-quad 1969 Z/28 manifold. According to Car and Driver magazine, the 1985 Corvette was “The Fastest Car In America.” The L98 served as the C4 Corvette’s standard engine from 1985 to 1991, topping out at 250 horsepower by 1990.
After the arrival of the LT1 in 1992, the L98 got the Rodney Dangerfield treatment, “No respect!” However, L98 Corvettes were so strong in the SCCA Showroom Stock series that they were banned. Starting in 1987, the L98 was the foundation of the RPO B2K Callaway Twin Turbo option. And in 1988, the L98 supplied the basics for the 254.76-mph, 898-horsepower Callaway Sledgehammer Corvette. Also, in 1990, Tommy Morrison took a race-prepared stock L98-powered Corvette and ZR-1 Corvette to the Bridgestone Tire Proving Ground, the L98 Corvette took the six-hour average FIA speed record with an average of 170.887 mph. The L98’s status should not be diminished.
In the 13 years of C4 production, the Corvette went through 11 distinctive engineering design changes that include: 1985, return of full fuel injection with advanced electronics; 1986, return of the convertible; 1986, introduction of aluminum cylinder heads; 1989, Selective Ride and Handling system and the six-speed manual transmission; 1990, all-new interior design and the introduction of the ZR-1; 1991, redesigned front and rear fascia bumper covers and the Z07 Adjustable Suspension Package; 1992, introduction of the Gen II LT1; and, 1996, introduction of the LT4 engine, the most advanced, classic Chevy small-block configuration. In addition to the above 11 major items, there were hundreds of minor running changes, revised wheel designs, and fender vent changes that were made as Corvette engineers worked to improve the Corvette.
Chevrolet produced five special edition Corvettes: the 1988 35th Anniversary Special Edition; the 1993 40th Anniversary Package; the 1995 Indy 500 Pace Car Replica; the 1996 Collector Edition and the 1996 Grand Sport. Of all, the Grand Sport is the most coveted, as only 1,000 were built. A unique performance option was offered from 1987 to 1991, the RPO B2K Callaway Twin-Turbo that has the distinction of being the only Corvette RPO option to not be built at a GM facility. All B2K conversions were done at the Callaway shop in Old Lyme, Connecticut. The 1987 B2K option cost $19,995 and by 1991 ballooned up to $33,000. The 1991 B2K has the honor of being the most expensive C4 Corvette option, even more than the ZR-1. Only 509 B2K C4s were built in five years. Today, these cars are very valuable.
Then there’s the ZR-1. When introduced in 1990, the ZR-1 option cost $27,016, just $121 more than a Callaway Twin-Turbo. From 1990 to 1995 Chevrolet built a total of 6,922 ZR-1 Corvettes, 1990 being the best sales year with 3,032 units sold. From 1991 to 1993 the ZR-1 price bumped up to $31,683, and then $31,258 in 1994 and 1995. A 1990 ZR-1 would cost $58,995 without extra options, while a 1995 ZR-1 would cost $68,043 before extras. Performance has never been cheap.
Let’s look at basic prices. The 1984 model started off with a base price of $21,800 and by 1996 the base price had increased to $37,225. When Chevrolet phased out the convertible model at the end of 1975, a drop-top Corvette cost $6,550; $260 less than the coupe. When the convertible came back in the 1986 lineup, it was a premium option costing $32,032; $5,005 more than the coupe. By 1996, the convertible model cost $45,060; $7,835 more than the coupe.
For 1996, the top performance Corvettes were the Grand Sport, which came with the 330-horsepower LT4 engine, and the Collector Edition with the optional LT4 engine. The Grand Sport option cost $3,250 on top of the $37,225 for a starting total of $40,475—a reasonable price considering only 1,000 were built: 810 coupes and 190 convertibles. The convertible version of the Grand Sport started at $47,940.
But the performance bargain for 1996 was a 1996 coupe with the optional 330-horsepower LT4. With a base price of $37,225 for the coupe, and the $1,450 LT4, a customer could own a sleeper Corvette with Grand Sport grunt for just $38,675. The LT4 engine was the last of the classic small-block Chevy engines and arguably the most advanced iteration of Chevy’s Mouse motor that began in 1955.
Let’s talk about performance. The 1984 Corvette with the 205-horsepower Cross-Fire Injection engine did 0-60 in just under 7 seconds, the quarter-mile in 15.2 seconds at 90 mph and had a top speed of 140 mph. Fast forward to 1996, an LT4-powered Corvette could hit 60 mph in 4.9 seconds, do the quarter-mile in 13.3 seconds at 107 mph and had a top speed of 165-170 mph. That’s better than a 1969 427/435 big-block. But the King of the Hill for C4 Corvettes was the jewel-like LT-5-powered ZR-1. The 1990-’95 ZR-1s were surprisingly consistent, delivering 0-60 in the high 4-second range, quarter-mile times in the low 13s-to-high 12s and top speeds between 172-180 mph.
When the C4 first arrived, it was head and shoulders above the C3 Corvette. Over the 13 model years Chevrolet kept making the car better and better, with incremental improvements, special editions and performance models. As good as they were in their day; C4s are now at the bottom of the barrel in price and desirability, with many early C4s selling for under $5,000. It seems that C4s stand in the shadow of everything that came after them. Some higher mileage early ZR-1s can be bought for less than $14,000 and some 1995-’96 Corvettes can be purchased for around $10,000. Even a regular C4 with an LT1 engine has lots of potential, and no one is going to scold you for making modifications. For entry Corvettes, C4s are the cheap way to maximum fun. Vette
K. Scott Teeters has been a contributing artist and writer with Vette magazine since 1976 when the magazine was titled Vette Quarterly. Scott’s Corvette art can be seen at www.illustratedcorvetteseries.com. His muscle car and nostalgia drag racing art can be found at www.precision-illustration.com.
Illustrations by the Author