Nothing changes the appearance and handling of your Corvette faster than bolting on a new set of wheels and tires. Chrome or machined-finish, Corvettes have benefited from technologically advanced wheel development over the past few years. For most '97-'04 (C5) Corvettes, the factory-look wheel is preferred. And why not? When GM first created wheels for the Corvette, it spent a great deal of time working to engineer a performance wheel that kept up with the abilities inherent in the vehicle.
While "takeoffs" (dealer-removed tire and wheel combinations, which are a quick way to upgrade to chrome-face wheels) remain the most popular wheel upgrade, there has been movement to cross-generational wheel-design swapping. A review of several Internet sites and short discussions with Corvette wheel experts like Mike Sweeney at Corvette Wheel Specialist netted a few important factors to consider before making a change:
1. Make certain the wheel you select is a quality product.
2. Pay attention to backspacing on custom, nonfactory-style wheels.
3. Make certain the tire you select properly fits the wheel width guidelines of the manufacturer. Making OE-style tires "stretch" to fit a new custom wheel not designed to do so is dangerous and affects performance handling.
When selecting wheels, be sure to retain proper brake-caliper clearance. If you've moved to bigger calipers, this becomes especially critical and requires an expert's advice. For OE brake applications, most Corvette-style wheels provide proper clearance if purchased from a reputable retailer. If you purchase wheels from a tire store, inspect them before you head down the road. In this case, "close" is not acceptable, it's just dangerous.
The most common upgrade for C5 Corvette owners is to use Z06-style wheels on non-Z06 Corvettes. For most basic Corvettes, 245/45-17 (front) and 275/40-18 (rear) tires are the starting point. Movement to another size should involve the recommendation and approval of an expert (online or in person), although swapping tires a size or two larger generally isn't a problem as long as you keep the speed rating of the tire at V or better. The Z-rated tires are always preferred on Corvettes.
There's a significant trend in custom wheel selection toward cross-generation styling. With the launch of the new '05 (C6) Corvette, C5 owners are using C6 wheels on their cars, and several manufacturers offer C6-style wheels for this application. While the look isn't dramatically different, it's a hot button for some owners who want the most current wheel designs for their cars. In contrast, there's a reverse movement afoot to use '90-'95-style ZR-1 wheels on C5 Corvettes. Several manufacturers have found a core group of buyers who like this changeover.
Discount Tire DealsThese typical wheel offerings for '97-'04 Corvettes come from Discount Tire's Web site. Note the many replica wheels available, and all have subtle manufacturing differences depending on size and type of wheel.
Replica Z06 WheelSilver powdercoat with a glossy finish18x10.5 5-120.65HC58S (76924)
Replica Z06 WheelSilver powdercoat with a glossy finish18x9.5 5-120.65HC65S (70710)
Replica Z06 Wheel with rivetsSemigloss black with machined lip18x10.5 5-120.6558BM (53694)
Replica '00 C5 Corvette WheelSilver powdercoat with a glossy finish18x9.5 5-120.65HC65S (60725)
Replica '00 C5 Corvette WheelWheel is plated in chrome, highly reflective18x9.5 5-120.65 65C (51686)
Replica '00 C5 Corvette WheelWheel is plated in chrome, highly reflective18x9.5 5-120.6HC 65C (66019)Replica '00 C5 Corvette WheelWheel is plated in chrome, highly reflective18x9.5 5-120.6HC 54C (66020)
Replica ZR-1 WheelSilver powdercoat with a glossy finish17x9.5 5-120.6HC 56S (67003)
Replica Z06 Wheel with rivetsSemigloss black with machined lip17x9.5 5-120.65 54BM (53688)
Replica Z06 WheelSilver powdercoat with a glossy finish17x9.5 5-120.65 54S (54806)
Replica Z06 Wheel with rivetsSemigloss black with machined lip17x9.5 5-120.65 54BM (52919)
Replica Z06 WheelSilver powdercoat with a glossy finish17x8.5 5-120.65HC58S (70702)
Replica ZR-1 WheelSilver powdercoat with a glossy finish and a machined lip17x9.5 5-120.65 56SM (54772)
Replica ZR-1 WheelSilver powdercoat with a glossy finish17x9.5 5-120.65 56S (51683)
Replica ZR-1 WheelSemigloss black with machined lip17x9.5 5-120.65 56BM (54773)
Replica '00 C5 Corvette WheelSilver powdercoat with a glossy finish17x8.5 5-120.65HC58S (60723)
Replica ZR-1 WheelWheel is plated in chrome, highly reflective17x9.5 5-120.65 56C (54770)
Replica C6 Corvette WheelWheel is plated in chrome, highly reflective18x9.5 5-120.65 65C (55786)
Replica '00 C5 Corvette WheelWheel is plated in chrome, highly reflective18x9.5 5-120.65HC65C (60726)
Sample OfferingsWhen shopping for other than factory-look wheels, we encountered the following offerings. Mid America Motorworks has a number of different wheel and tire combinations made to fit the C5. Corvette Wheel Specialist offers wheels from HRE and other aftermarket wheel builders created specifically for Corvette high-performance applications.
Choose the look you like for your C5. The EVO 747 Andro chrome wheel has a distinctive multi-ring design; the 705 Axis features a dramatic spoke configuration. Both wheels are made with six layers of chrome, so they resist scratches and corrosion. EVO's computer-controlled manufacturing system means you'll install perfectly balanced, vibration-free wheels for your C5. They're sold individually.
622-839 '97-'04 Wheel, EVO Axis Chrome, 18x9.5-inch front622-840 '97-'04 Wheel, EVO Axis Chrome, 18x10.5-inch rear622-841 '97-'04 Wheel, EVO Andro Chrome, 18x 9.5-inch front622-842 '97-'04 Wheel, EVO Andro Chrome, 18x10.5-inch rear
The Goodyear Eagle F1 GS EMT tires distinguish themselves from the rest due to unique Run Flat Technology, which is a security feature that allows you to continue driving even after the loss of tire pressure. These tires rank highest among '97-'04 owners, who want excellent dry/wet traction, cornering stability, and steering response. Idle comfort, noise comfort, tread wear, and hydro resistance round out the long list of advancements you'll gain from these C5-designed tires. They aren't available for the Z06.
603-337 '97-'04 Goodyear Eagle F1 GS EMT Tire, front603-339 '97-'04 Goodyear Eagle F1 GS EMT Tire, rear
2001-Style Chrome Wheels; No Core ChargeUpgrade your '97-'04 to '01-style chrome wheels without any core charge hassles. Triple-chrome-plated wheels brighten your entire exterior and arrive with center caps and lug-nut covers to finish the job properly. They're available in 17x8.5 front or 18x9.5 rear pairs, and come with a 36-month factory limited warranty.
'97-'04 2001-style reproduction chrome wheels, 17x8.5 stock'97-'04 2001-style reproduction chrome wheels, 18x9.5 stock
Step OneShopping online for tires and wheels has improved greatly over the past few years. Tire Rack, Discount Tire, Mid America Motorworks, and others have free online programs that allow you to "try out" a set of custom wheels on your '97-'04 Corvette by placing the wheels directly on the online image. Any C5 owner can utilize this newest technology to get an idea of how a new set of tires and wheels will look on the car.
For years, this simulation technology was poor at best, but recent advances have improved the process. Best of all, each of these combinations is guaranteed to fit, which is a benefit of today's improved tire and wheel fitment programming. You can access these programs by visiting the Web sites noted at the end of this story.
Step TwoAlong with online fitment guides, many of these Web sites also allow you to shop online for accessory products such as lug nuts. Tire Rack and Discount Tire will deliver completely mounted and balanced tire and wheel packages (with new lug nuts when requested) that arrive ready to install. This is a good deal for anyone with a set of socket wrenches and a floor jack.
In addition to shopping online for original-size tires and wheels, you can shop for "plus sizes" with the benefit of knowing they'll fit. We found 18- and 19-inch wheels for various applications; but because of limitations of product line, some companies didn't have the applications we wanted. The key is to shop around and try several sites. Corvette wheel applications are specific, and manufacturers are reluctant to sell anything less than OE-level wheels to discerning enthusiasts. So there aren't as many applications as you might think (if you were trying to outfit your Honda Accord where performance improvement over stock isn't hard to accomplish, it wouldn't be a problem).
To Run Flat Or Not? That's The QuestionC5 owners have a difficult decision about tire applications. Because these cars don't have a spare, the OE run-flat tires were the factory fix. But many drivers don't like them, decide to take their chances, and get stuck without a spare. There are a number of run-flat tires, but many experts agree they compromise performance handling to gain run-flat capability. It's your choice-but always carry your cell phone if you don't go with the run-flats.
Be Sensor-tiveYour C5 Corvette came equipped with tire-pressure sensors in the valve stems of the wheels that feed info to your car's computer. Make sure the wheels you select are compatible with the original-equipment sensors. If you don't know, ask. Corvette specialty shops like those noted below know about tire-sensor compatibility.
If you purchase tires and wheels from a one-stop Web shop such as Tire Rack where new sensors are already installed, be sure the local shop doesn't damage the sensors when making the changeover. They're highly sensitive and expensive. Remember, you've been warned.