The 1997 Corvette was essentially all new from top to bottom. Besides the obvious exterior changes the interior, suspension, and engine were new. The new Corvette now used a rear transaxle, which helped put weight distribution close to an ideal 50/50 split. The engine still displaced 5.7-liters (346-ci), but it was the all-new LS1 with an aluminum block. The LS1 was heralded as the epitome of pushrod design engines. Demand was strong, but production delays impacted sales (9,752) of the coupe-only body style.
Production was up to speed in 1998 and a convertible was added to the lineup. The new convertible’s torsional rigidity was four times greater than that of C4 convertibles. The new convertible also came with a traditional style trunk, a feature not seen on Corvettes since 1962. The Corvette again paced the Indy 500 in 1998, this time with a wild purple and yellow color scheme.
Another body style, a hardtop, was added in 1999. It was a fixed roof coupe (as opposed to the Targa style coupes with their removable roof panels and rear hatch glass) that resembled the convertible in profile. The new hardtops were lighter, less well equipped, and a little less expensive than the Sports Coupe.
The three body styles were continued for 2000, but in 2001 the hardtop became the Z06 hardtop. The Z06 option turned the somewhat Spartan hardtop into a high performance powerhouse. The new LS6 engine was rated at 385 hp and 385 lb-ft of torque, numbers that seemed conservative. The Z06 made it very clear that performance superiority was alive and well with Corvettes.
Z06 horsepower and torque increased to 405/400 in 2002. The 405 HP designation was proudly displayed on the Z06 fender badges
2003 was the fiftieth anniversary of the Corvette. Chevrolet underplayed the occasion to the dismay of many Corvette enthusiasts. Lots of fans thought a special edition with color cues (Polo White exterior and red interior) taken from C1 Corvettes would have been appropriate, but Chevrolet went with a dark red called Anniversary Red, a Shale leather interior, and Champagne colored wheels. A 2003 Corvette coupe paced the May 2002 Indy 500 race.
The C5 era was shorter than the previous two. It ended in 2004 with another Commemorative Edition. This time the theme was the LeMans endurance race and Commemorative Edition Corvettes (it was available on all three body styles) were painted LeMans Blue and came with special badging and interior embroidery.
Performance, styling, and sophistication levels reached all-time highs with the C5 Corvettes.
The C5 Corvettes debuted in 1997 and they truly were all new—outside, inside and mechanically. Only a coupe body style was available in 1997.
Convertibles were back in 1998 after a one-year absence. A traditional style trunk was part of the new convertible body—a feature not seen since 1962.
A third body style was introduced in 1999. The hardtop was a fixed roof coupe with a small trunk like the convertibles. It was considerably more rigid than the coupe with its removable roof panel. The hardtop was a lighter weight, no frills, lower cost model that favored performance over luxury.
Thin spoke wheels were new for 2000. This Sport Coupe has the smooth cove/door treatment. A raised rub strip was also available.
Extreme performance came back strong in 2001 with the introduction of the no-nonsense Z06. The Z06 option was only available in the hardtop body and only with a 6-speed manual transmission. Starting in 2001 all hardtops became Z06s.
Millennium Yellow was a popular extra cost color that was offered from 2000 through 2005.
In honor of the Corvette’s fiftieth anniversary a 2003 coupe was selected to pace the May 2002 Indy 500. A specific Pace Car model wasn’t built, but an Indy 500 graphics package was available. A 50th Anniversary Edition option cost $5,000 and was available on coupes and convertibles, but not the Z06. The unique color was Anniversary Red with Champagne-colored wheels and a new Shale interior.
2004 was the last year for C5 Corvettes. In the tradition of ending a series with a special option package there was a Commemorative Edition for all three body styles. They were all LeMans Blue in honor of the Corvette C5R racer
BY THE NUMBERS
Legend: cp=coupe, cv=convertible, ht= hardtop, T=total, M=manual, A=automatic, L=liter