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60 Years of the Chevrolet Corvette

We celebrate 60 years of the Chevrolet Corvette as we count down to the seventh-generation's unveiling on January 13, 2013.

December 17, 2012
The Chevrolet Corvette C5 originally debuted in 1997, and was a thorough reimagining of the entire car. The Chevrolet Corvette C5 holds a special place among enthusiasts for its new aesthetic, lighter weight and near even weight distribution, and for the high-performance Z06 version. The interior was reimagined, and surprisingly, the exterior kept its pop-up headlights, even though modern lighting technology allowed for a sleek profile without the needlessly complicated mechanism. But most importantly, the new car was designed as a convertible from the outset, even though the coupe was the first to go on sale in 1997. There were several advantages to designing the C5 Corvette as a convertible from the outset. Convertibles are generally weaker, structurally, than closed-roof cars. That's because the roof of a car not only keeps rain off your head, but it also stiffens the entire vehicle by providing an arch between the front and rear wheels; no arch, and the car inherently wants to fold in half. By designing a much stiffer structure from the beginning, Chevrolet not only made a convertible that was structurally stiffer than most coupes, but the coupe itself was that much stronger. A stiff underlying structure pays huge dividends when it comes to handling and how comfortable a vehicle is on the road. There were other technological advancements as well. Special emphasis was placed on an even front-rear weight displacement. To achieve the sought after 50-50 ratio and further refine handling, Chevy moved the transmission to the rear to help distribute the weight. Other measures were taken to shed excess pounds as well, such as eliminating the spare tire, and instead outfitting the C5 with run-flat tires. A lighter Corvette would not only help the C5 get more out of its V-8 engine, but also resulted in a fairly fuel-efficient sports car. So much so, that the C5 was able to avoid a gas-guzzler tax, often levied on sports cars with similar performance prowess. The C5 also debuted curvier styling. Although aerodynamically sound, many thought the fat, sharply cut-off rear end and extremely low nose gave the C5 odd proportions. The C5 also saw the introduction of the Z06 high-performance model, available only as a fixed-roof coupe, not as a hatchback or convertible. Black rear brake ducts and distinctive Z06 badges visually set it apart from other Corvettes, but it was the high-performance suspension and 385-hp V-8 engine that truly set the Z06 apart when introduced in 2001; that same year, all Corvettes got Chevrolet's magnetic ride control, helping smooth out the day-to-day driving characteristics, but allowing drivers to switch to a high-performance mode for when a stiffer suspension was needed. The Z06's horsepower eventually was bumped to 405 hp, although some claimed the number was closer to 425. By the end of its run, the C5 had helped to repair the Corvette's image among enthusiasts, and established the car as one of the best bang-for-the-buck bargains ever made. But time wasn't standing still, and the car's interior was still laughably cheap compared to other cars costing in the $50,000 range. GM needed to step up its game, and in 2005, it would have its chance with the sixth-generation C6 Corvette.
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