As the most radical and technologically advanced Corvette ever, the C5 took the world by storm when it was launched in March of 1997. It ushered in a whole new way to look at American supercars in that it combined iconic styling, newfound quality, a comfortable interior, and drum-tight engineering. The fifth-generation Corvette was the only vehicle on the planet that offered us mere mortals the ability to sample world-beating supercar performance for the fraction of the cost. It's hard to believe that 12 years have passed, but even to this day, the C5 sets the benchmark for many sports cars to follow, despite having been replaced by the C6 in 2005. With LS1 power, a rear transaxle arrangement and the first use of staggered wheels with runflat tires, the 1997-2004 Corvette took the game to newfound heights for the bowtie boys, and the likes of Ferrari, Porsche, and other exotic brands took immediate notice.
It may seem like old news to the Motor Trend types and those other car-buff magazines, but the C5 still has great significance amongst the powershifter in all of us hardcore enthusiasts as the depreciation curve has finally swung into full effect and more importantly, in our favor. The C5, today, offers the best bang for the buck so here, we will look at significant points along the C5 timeline by model year, and then talk about buying and owning the finest example of late-model GM performance. One great resource for information is the Corvette Forum, located at www.corvetteforum.com. We were able to see what other Corvette owners were going through in their personal experiences and even got a few ideas for one of our in-house ZO6s.
Because of the low hoodline that was part of the C5's exterior design and the horsepower needed for the 1997 Corvette, an entirely new engine program was put into place to not only power this project, but a whole new era in V-8 engines. As Dean Guard, the Small Block Chief Engineer for GM related to us, "We launched the LS1 in the Corvette because of its relatively low volume. The low volume application provided the slow ramp-up rate, which allowed us to give meticulous attention to engineering and manufacturing on the entire upcoming Gen III program. The launch of the LS1 was more than the launch of a single engine, it was the advent of Gen III which the following year would power the Camaro and Firebird and after that our trucks with the 4.8L, 5.3L and 6.0L variants. It had to be right for our halo car and engine; we were not going to rush it by going high volume out of the gate. It was a good strategy and one I think benefits our customers because they received, and continue to receive, one of the most reliable, durable, and efficient engines in the world."
As you can see, the LS1 was not just pivotal for the C5 project, but it was instrumental in placing GM down a new path at a time when fuel economy, performance, and emissions output was going to be ever more important. Sharing nothing with its immediate LT1 forefather, the LS1 would feature innovative technologies throughout while maintaining the traditional V-8 attributes.
While the C5 was stunning in so many ways, several so-called automotive journalists quickly discounted the LS1 for being stuck with 1950s overhead valve technology. But if they had only taken the time to do more research, they'd quickly understand why The General chose this valvetrain arrangement. Aside from reducing overall engine height and significantly lowering costs, GM proved that when properly designed, an overhead valve engine can handily outperform an overhead cam engine. Take for example, Ford's super-technical SOHC and DOHC 4.6-liter "Modular" engines, which are nowhere as efficient and compact as the Gen III LSX engines. These Fords have also proven to be top-heavy and difficult to service when it comes time to perform any mods so let's thank GM for giving us the LS1.