Throughout the 1970s, Corvette sales grew steadily each year, despite increasingly stringent federal regulations that stripped the C3 of all the things owners had come to expect—power, noise, and acceleration. By 1980, enthusiasts wondered what had happened to their beloved Corvette.

GM’s engineers and stylists had long kicked around a host of replacement options for the aged C3, including a serious push by Zora Duntov and other design managers for a mid-engined V6. But with the brand so recognizable as a long-nosed, low-slung, front-engined V8, cooler heads prevailed—namely, the millions of Corvette enthusiasts who knew a good thing when they drove it—and the mid-mount V6 idea was passed off to Pontiac, where it eventually became the Fiero.

Thus, the goal for the C4 was to return Corvette to the top of the performance pile while still adhering to federal regulations—no easy task. To beat the gas-guzzler threshold (then set at 19 mpg), Chevrolet worked with Doug Nash Inc. and BorgWarner to introduce a 4+3 manual transmission that would get the C4 under the EPA’s radar. The complicated unit would appear toward the end of the 1984 model year.

Only one engine was offered on the new car: a 205-hp 350-ci V8 featuring the fuel-saving cross-fire injection system first introduced for 1982. It sat further back in the chassis, creating a favorable weight balance front to rear. Chevrolet’s revolutionary fiberglass composite monoleaf springs, also carried over from the last of the C3s, provided a weight savings of over 40 pounds at each corner over traditional steel.

Gone was the familiar T-top; the body came only as a targa top coupe, with a single removable roof panel. With a 65-degree windshield and long, curved back glass, the C4 offered a slippery .34 drag coefficient, the lowest for any Corvette. Up front, the radiator sat at a 15-degree angle, a position that not only maximized airflow, but also significantly reduced the distance at which a C4 Corvette could be picked up by police radar. The folks in engineering clearly knew how their new car was going to be driven.

The C4’s cockpit featured a state-of-the-art flat-panel liquid crystal display for the gauges, and standard equipment included air conditioning, power windows, side window defoggers, electronic seeking AM/FM stereo, reclining bucket seats, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, and a starter-interrupt anti-theft system.

Though Chevrolet failed to deliver its redesigned Corvette for 1983, the brief delay proved worth the wait, and it was uniformly praised by the motoring press. The fourth generation car was the first radically changed Corvette since 1968, and along with its new body, chassis, and innards, it represented a new sporting philosophy that would return “America’s Sports Car” to its rightful place among the world’s best performance machines.

The SCM Analysis

This C4 sold in St. Charles, Illinois, on June 17, 2007, at Mecum’s Bloomington Gold auction for $2,050—all the money and still a bargain.

The first Corvette I ever drove was a 1984 model. I was sophomore in high school, and by then the car was already nine years old, but I’ll never forget the experience, brief as it was.

The car belonged to my girlfriend’s father Bryan, who’d begun to warm up to me the moment I asked him about it. It was light blue over medium blue with the automatic, and every time I pulled up behind it in their driveway, I was struck by the width of those Goodyear tires.

After a couple months of my being a stand-up boyfriend to Lisa, his only daughter, Bryan mentioned that if I wanted to drive the car to the prom, that was okay with him. I had no intention of going to the prom, and had begun to realize that Lisa and I were not going to last… but I really wanted to drive that Corvette.

Lisa arrived at my house one afternoon in the car—perhaps as if she sensed what was coming and pulled out all the stops in an attempt to salvage things.

“You can drive it, if you want,” she said, and I think I was sliding into the low, curvy seat before she’d even finished the offer. As I turned the key and the big V8 rumbled to life, the audible differences between it and the V8 in our family van were night and day. Plus, the van didn’t have tires like those Goodyears. Lisa waved as I backed out of the driveway, and off I went.

I didn’t have time to get out of my Chicago suburb to any long, straight, country roads, so I made a bee-line for the dead-end street at the edge of my neighborhood. There I spent ten minutes pushing myself into the seat doing burnouts with the steering wheel in various states of rotation—burnout to the left, burnout to the right, burnout straight ahead, and the always pleasurable burnout-to-doughnut combo.

When at last it came time to return the car, I believe I saw 70 mph—a ridiculous figure down my 25 mph street. Lisa had to get going, and shortly after she pulled away, I remember seeing two police cruisers trolling past my house, no doubt hunting the madman in the two-tone Corvette. A week later, Lisa and I had our sloppy, melodramatic break-up.

The worst Corvette ever

The Red Rat pictured here stood out among the rest of the Corvettes at Bloomington because of its sheer state of decay. If you looked hard enough, you’d swear the fiberglass was rusting. CM Auction Analyst Dan Grunwald called it the worst Corvette he’d ever seen at auction, but he did note that the handbrake handle seemed to be in good shape.

I was taken by the car, and for a while considered bidding. It looked like it had spent its life as a carcass in Death Valley, and the interior appeared to have been used as a kennel. With its lone Firebird alloy wheel nicely offsetting the three correct Corvette ones, this mongrel begged to be put down, yet there it was, occupying its rightful place as a Corvette on the lawn among 3,000 other Corvettes.

So, what to do with a C4 like this? Though it did in fact run, restoring it—even as a father-son bonding project—was out of the question. Only a fool would turn it into a racer, and it didn’t even make sense as a parts donor, since everything looked worn out.

The answer: Cover the seats in sheepskin (burlap, Hefty bags, carpet samples—anything), disinfect the steering wheel, and drive it until the other three wheels fall off. The 350 will be hard to kill and, assuming the steering still works, it should be good for at least one afternoon of burnouts to the left, right, and maybe even a few burnout-to-doughnut combos. The buyer, brave as he was, did just fine on this beater as long as he counts the fun factor and simply walks away, leaving the keys in the ignition when the first thing breaks.

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