This is a low-mileage (44,000) 1984 Corvette coupe with a removable hard top. The car is in excellent condition and has never been in an accident. The car has a leather interior, power windows and seats. Automatic transmission, electronic display and Bose speakers. The car has always been garaged and is well cared for. The car runs great and is reliable.
|Vehicle:||1984 Corvette Coupe|
|Original List Price:||$21,800|
|Tune Up Cost:||$150|
|Distributor Caps:||$8 to $15|
|Chassis Number Location:||Riveted to the base of the dashboard on the driver’s side|
|Engine Number Location:||Lower rear side of crankcase|
|Club Info:||Corvette Club of America P.O. Box 9879 Bowling Green, KY 42102|
|Alternatives:||1985-89 Corvette coupe, 1982-91 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28, 1984-88 Pontiac Fiero GT, 1982-93 Ford Mustang GT|
This Corvette, Lot F53, sold for $8,500, including premium, at the Mecum auction in Des Moines, IA, on July 16, 2010.
1984 is the model year of Corvette that almost everyone picks on. Are these cars really the foaming dung piles that some claim they are? Or are they a misunderstood gateway model that signaled a significant change for Corvettes? Well, there is truth in both statements.
An all-new C4 was in the cards by the mid-1970s. In 1976, Car and Driver magazine drove a brand-new Corvette to Alaska and lamented the lack of performance—and sloppy quality—as the car all but shook itself apart on the rough roads. One member of the Corvette engineering team told the writers to hold tight, as great things were in the pipeline.
GM certainly needed to change things up, as the C3 dated to 1968—and the underpinnings dated back to the C2 of 1963. Because of tighter federal safety and emissions standards, the Corvette was looked upon as the poster child for the perceived death of performance cars in the Disco era.
For heaven’s sake, the Dodge Little Red Express pickup truck passed the Corvette as the United State’s fastest car—well, motor vehicle—in 1978 and 1979.
GM changed the Corvette on several levels. First, they designed the all-new Corvette for world-class handling, rather than as a fire-breathing muscle car. Then they moved Corvette production during 1981 to an all-new plant in Bowling Green, KY—one that was built for Corvette production.
This was a clean break from the aging plant and indifferent attitude towards quality at the St. Louis, MO, Corvette assembly line. The Kentucky-made C3s of late 1981 and all of 1982 have since been recognized as being the best built of that generation.
However, that surge in quality was probably due to building what was basically the same car for 18 years. With a clean sheet for the C4—and a new plant—it was a recipe for brilliant success or dark disaster.
The delayed start of the Electric Corvette
The C4 was intended to be a 1983 model—and to mark the 20th Anniversary of America’s Sports Car. Pilot models were built at Bowling Green for the press introduction and evaluation in December 1982. Because of bugs in development that the auto press ripped the car over in drives of pre-production units, GM delayed its full-scale assembly-line production until early 1983.
GM also held back the new car because it already met all 1984 federal safety and emissions requirements. The company felt it wasn’t worth doing all the government certifications for a 1983 model run when they could move the new Corvette up one model year and start selling them in March 1983.
When the new C4 Corvette was released in March as a 1984 model, it became the longest model year in Corvette history.
Christened the “Electric ‘Vette” because of the full digital-display dashboard, the 1984 Corvette was GM’s answer to the 1980s trend of “Tokyo by Night” gauges on Japanese performance cars. Digital dashboards played well to the Buick market, but American performance enthusiasts lambasted the light show as gimmicky and difficult to read. Like most GM electronics of the era, this initial year was problematic, but performance improved in later years.
A hard ride
One perceived strike against the 1984 Corvette was the suspension. The car press bashed the last few years of C3 cars for too-soft suspensions. The Corvette engineering team went to the polar opposite with the C4 design. In their efforts to make the new Corvette really handle, designers used extremely stiff spring rates—especially on the Z51 Performance Handling Package option.
Customers heard the pre-introduction buzz about the wonderful new suspension, and roughly half of the cars were ordered with it. However, drivers soon complained that the 1984 Corvettes had a very harsh ride. Later years saw softer spring rates and improved tuning of both suspensions, but the 1984 cars cast the stereotype that C4 Corvettes ride like lumber wagons.
However once people got done whining about the ride quality and actually ran the cars, they found that they had great handling. Some Corvette engineers still claim that the 1984 Z51 was the best-handling street Corvette until the C5.
The rougher ride also exacerbated one other issue—build quality. From new, the fit and finish of the new Corvette was only marginally better than GM’s average, which, quite frankly, was lousy in 1984. The cars had squeaks and rattles. Just as with the suspension, problems were identified and ironed out in subsequent years, but the die was cast for the 1984’s rattle-trap reputation.
Best-kept secret or parts car?
GM made a lot of 1984 Corvettes.
Because of the extended model year, it was the second-largest production year for Corvettes at 51,547 cars, just behind 1979 at 53,807 (another year that’s generally considered a yawner). Corvettes also have the lowest attrition rate in the industry, so that means there are a bunch of 1984 cars in circulation. Remember that every single one of those cars is a coupe, as the ragtop didn’t come back until 1986.
With all this in mind, it’s little wonder that 1984 has become the most inexpensive Corvette. With a large supply and a checkered reputation, the law of supply and demand is in full effect—and pushing down prices.
Unlike the previous generation of least-desirable Corvettes—the rubber bumper C3s—nostalgia has not kicked in, and it is unlikely to show up for a long time.
By now, inexpensive Corvettes have often suffered from abusive owners. That cheapie, under-$3k 1984 Corvette may not have had an oil change since the Clinton administration, but it might have gained mag wheels, a high-rise, dual 4-barrel carb poking through the hole cut into the hood with a hacksaw, and a big number 3 painted on the doors. In short, a cheap C4 could really just be a parts car waiting to happen.
This is not to say that all 1984s are to be avoided like spoiled meat. Lower-mileage, well-kept examples regularly enter the market, often from the original owner. Still, don’t think that keeping a minimal-mile original 1984 will suddenly bring you a balloon in value in 25 years. The huge production run means that survivor cars will have plenty of company.
It’s extremely tempting for someone who knows Corvettes to plunk down $2,800 for a 1984 and have it as a “run it until it breaks” daily driver. The car may sport door dings or faded paint, but who cares? These Corvettes are also eligible for collector or historical registration in many states.
I see 1984s regularly sell for $4k or less. These cheap Corvettes are not on the wrong end of a tow truck—they are all runners. My personal “how low can you go” poster child was one that sold at a 2009 ICA auction for $2,592. That car, with baked-leather interior and brown metallic paint, was not investment grade, but it was a cheap runner that can become a parts car if it cops an attitude on you one morning. A similar 1984 Corvette was sold for $2,900 at Mecum’s 2010 Bloomington Gold auction.
And don’t forget, well-tended 1984 Z51s can make great track day cars for someone on a budget.
Our example seems to be a more typical 1984—except in selling price. I expected this to be a $7k car on its best day. Low mileage is what rang the bell here, as the condition was average at best. With just 44k miles on the clock, the only paint issues one would like to see are ones from the factory. This car had some panels resprayed, which makes Bloomington Gold certification out of the question.
With some austerity measures visible in maintenance, such as the low-budget exhaust and old tires, our subject Corvette was more of a used car kept running than a babied original. As you would only pay a premium for a nice one, I’d call the price here fair enough to both parties, but I bet the seller is glad to see the car gone. Which leads to my overall conclusion of well sold