This past January, the long-awaited C6 Corvette was unveiled at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The sixth-generation Corvette will arrive in dealer showrooms in late summer as a '05 model. You can bet the rent that the faithful will beat a path to their local Chevy store to be the first in their Corvette club to have a C6 in the parking lot for the gang's next get-together.
For some of us, however, the end of the C5's tenure is going to be savored. Maybe it comes with age and having spent enough years watching the Corvette generations pass. Just as we celebrated 13 years of the C4, we're about to commemorate eight years of the C5. And what an incredible eight years it was. Did we say the word "commemorate?" That's exactly how Chevrolet felt the 2004-and the C5 generation-should be recognized, with a special "Commemorative Edition" that celebrates the racing achievements of the C5-R at Daytona and LeMans and the domination of the American LeMans Series. The C5 Corvette did what no other Corvette had ever been able to do-win the big races and do it with consistency.
When introduced in 1997, it was immediately clear that the C5 was improved in every category over previous Corvette generations. The C5 wore the vestiges of its heritage well, but there was little resemblance to its predecessors in terms of performance, comfort, and engineering. It boasted bigger brakes, a tighter chassis, more comfort, easier access, more cargo space, and the lovely LS1 engine. And when the Z06 arrived, it raised the bar with more power and agility. It even overshadowed the legendary ZR-1 in terms of total performance.
Before C4 owners take up arms, consider the record. The C5 has won more awards, captured more races, integrated more engineering innovations, utilized more technology, and became the best-built Corvette to ever roll out the door at Bowling Green. There is no greater benchmark of success than sales, and the C5 has been a moneymaking powerhouse for GM. Since production ramped up slowly in 1997 (only 9,752 were built), the Corvette assembly plant has been at near capacity-averaging over 30,000 units a year (roughly 3,000 more units average per year than the C4).
Production may have gone up, but product quality has not been compromised. The Corvette assembly plant's dedication to excellence has been recognized by J.D. Power's Initial Quality Surveys since 2000. The '04 Commemorative Edition convertible we recently tested underscores that quality.
Dressed in LeMans Blue and Shale interior, the CE convertible was equipped with the superb Magnetic Selective Ride Control, a six-speed manual box, and a 12-disc remote CD changer. At $58,445 out the door, that's a little steep, but like we said, Chevrolet will have no problem selling this one and at least another 30,000 just like it. As Rick Baldick told us at Nashville during the 50th celebration, "We're on track to sell at least 30,000 Corvettes in 2004." Not bad for the last year of production and a new car waiting in the wings.
Starting with the Torch Red '97 in our garage, we've had plenty of seat time in C5s, and the '04 CE convertible is simply the best we've driven. It has a tight feel-a testament to the structural rigidity built right from the start into the C5 architecture. This torsional stiffness results in a convertible body with no flex or cowl shake. You come to appreciate that when the Magnetic Selective Ride Control is utilized. Introduced on the 50th Anniversary models, Magnetic Selective Ride Control is a damper design that controls wheel and body motion with Magneto-Rheological fluid in the shocks.
By controlling the current to an electromagnetic coil inside the piston of the damper, the MR fluid's consistency can be changed, resulting in continuously variable real-time damping. At least, that's how Chevrolet explains it. To drive it is to feel the interaction of the shock's performance with the traction control on undulating surfaces or hard cornering when the rear wants to slip away. On the skidpad, this setup is good for .91g.
Everything about our test car was right, from the soft and supportive leather seats to the depth of the LeMans Blue paint and the beautiful Commemorative Edition emblems. The LS1's power band is a thing of beauty; it's so strong across the rpm range. The six-speed gearbox is smooth and concise; it's become the benchmark by which we measure all other domestic performance-car manual boxes. And hooked to the 3.42 rear axle, the CE convertible is a stormer off the line. Zero to sixty is achieved in 4.8 seconds, and the quarter-mile is done in 13.6 seconds at 107 mph. Those who are lucky enough to live in the vast Montana vistas can appreciate the top speed of 175 mph.
All of this factors into the '04 becoming the best in the breed's 51-year history. The clichd line, "It's the best Vette yet," certainly applies here. The '04 Commemorative Edition is a tribute to a generation of Corvettes that redefined what America's sports car is all about. The C5 is gonna be a tough act to follow.