This 1996 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport is number 127 of 1,000 1996 Grand Sports produced. In addition to the 350-ci, 330-horsepower LT4 engine and 6-speed manual transmission, this particular vehicle is equipped with the F45 Selective Real Time Damping suspension system—and power driver and passenger seats. It is all original and unmolested, except for replacement mufflers, and presents in like-new condition inside and out. The vehicle has a clean CARFAX history, and the 24,000 miles showing on the odometer are believed to be actual.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1996 Corvette Grand Sport Coupe
Years Produced:1996
Number Produced:1,000
Original List Price:$40,475
SCM Valuation:$24,000-$39,000
Tune Up Cost:$500
Distributor Caps:N/A (distributorless ignition)
Chassis Number Location:Lower left windshield corner
Engine Number Location:Right front cylinder head deck
Club Info:National Corvette Restorers Society 6291 Day Road Cincinnati, OH 45252
Alternatives:1990-93 Corvette ZR-1, 2001-02 Corvette Z06, 2005 Corvette coupe
Investment Grade:C

This car, Lot F150, sold for $25,440, including buyer’s premium, at Mecum’s Kissimmee Auction at the Osceola Heritage Park Arena in Kissimmee, FL, on January 28, 2011.

Sometimes events combine to create a high-tide moment that quickly peaks like a storm surge—and then recedes. In Corvette’s legacy, there have been a number of these one-year-only events, such as the 1963 Split-Window coupe, the 1967 L71 Tri-Power and L88 big-blocks, the aluminum-block 1969 ZL1, and a few others.

Unfortunately for ordinary mortals, most of these vehicles are priced in the stratosphere today. But for the rest of us, there’s a sensible alternative—the one-year-only, LT4-powered 1996 Grand Sport. While it doesn’t command history like its earlier brethren, it’s still plenty collectible—and a vastly better daily driver.

Last in the 13-year-long production cycle of C4 Corvettes, the Grand Sport and its 330-horsepower LT4 V8 brought the best small-block pushrod performance since the ‘71 LT1. Of course, its name was derived from Zora Arkus-Duntov’s beloved 1963 Grand Sport skunk-works racers. The car’s only real weak points are that it is a C4—hardly the most desirable of Corvette platforms—and that it was a stopgap offering between the end of ZR-1 production and the beginning of C5 production.

But what a nice stopgap it was.

The Grand Sport was principally defined by its lusty LT4 engine, the best small-block Chevy to get dropped into the engine compartment of a production Corvette in 26 years, and it was also recognizable by the scarlet hash marks on the left-front fender, a nod to the time of the original Grand Sports. But there was more to the latter-day Grand Sport than that.

When you selected the RPO Z16 Grand Sport package, you also got eye-popping Admiral Blue paint with a white center stripe, rear fender flares, blackout five-spoke 17-inch wheels and fat front and rear ZR-1 rubber. You could get the Grand Sport RPO on either the coupe or convertible, but the convertible had smaller tires and no rear fender flares, so the coupe was closer to a race car in specifications. There were 810 Grand Sport coupes and 190 Grand Sport convertibles built, and all had 6-speed manual transmissions. Thankfully, the cars were all specially numbered, making it virtually impossible to create and sell a fake.

Quite a deal in hindsight

Specifying the Grand Sport’s RPO Z16 on the order form cost $3,250 above the 1996 Corvette coupe’s $37,225 retail price, which was a premium of 8.7%. The convertible edition was a bit less at $2,880, a premium of 6.4% over the base car’s $45,060 MSRP. It’s interesting to compare this to the ’57 Fuelie’s 15.2% premium over that year’s base price, or the sizzling 84.5% premium that the ZR-1 package added to the base coupe price in 1990. That makes the Grand Sport option look like a pretty good deal.

Lacking the exotic 32-valve engine of the departed ZR-1 (which not many people truly missed, as the LT4 still offered very good performance while costing some $29,808 less than the ZR-1 package) didn’t hurt the Grand Sport or the LT4 option at the dealership. The proof is that the Grand Sport and LT4-engined cars accounted for 7,359 units in 1996, compared to just 448 ZR-1s for each of the three prior years.

It’s essential to recognize that the central attraction of the Grand Sport was the LT4 engine; however the motor was not exclusive to RPO Z16. Instead, the LT4 was also available as an option on any ’96 Corvette for $1,450. The engine included a higher compression ratio of 10.8:1, revised big-port aluminum heads, special camshaft, Crane roller rockers and high-output fuel injectors.

A slightly jaundiced eye would note that unlike other one-year-only Corvettes—such as the ’63 Split-Window—the Grand Sport, except for its nicely tweaked LT4 engine, essentially played up Corvette’s past, rather than the serving as the tip of the evolutionary spear.

Put another way, the Grand Sport option was mostly a marketing program to build some energy during the awkward lull in between the ZR-1’s somewhat unceremonious departure and the arrival of the long-awaited C5 cars for 1997. In this way, today the Grand Sport remains part fish and part fowl in the Corvette menagerie. But thankfully, it’s still all Corvette, and a rather good one at that.

A great starter Corvette

What I like about this particular Grand Sport is that it’s downright affordable—in line with a 3-year-old Chevy 2500 pickup—while remaining totally usable as a daily driver.

Its friendly street value also invites the acquisition of other Corvettes, even for Regular Joes. For instance, if you wanted to bookend any generation of Corvette, at the price this Grand Sport traded for, it would be pretty easy to add a cherry $10,000 1984 Z51 for a total of about $34,000 for the pair.

That’s not bad, considering that bookending the C1 Corvette would cost you over $230,000 ($150,000 or so for a ’53 and $80,000-plus for a ’62). It would also take over $150,000 to bookend the midyear Corvette generation ($70,000-plus for a ’63 and $80,000 or more for a good ’67), $60,000 for a pair of C3 sharks ($30,000 apiece for a solid ’68 and a solid ’82), and $55,000 for the C5 generation ($20,000 for a ’97 and $35,000 for a 2004).

Any way you look at it, C4s are still the most affordable Corvettes.

Not much information was provided about options on our subject car, but the mentioned addition of F45 Selective Real Time Damping is an attractive one. This ingenious system, which uses special damping fluid that almost instantly changes viscosity when energized by electric field coils, provides a previously unattainable bandwidth for ride and handling. This technology was a breakthrough for Corvette in 1996—and it remains largely invisible in the automotive sphere today.

Let’s hope that after 15 years the computer-controlled system on this car still works fine. If so, I’d call it exceptionally well bought.

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