The 1997 model year remains the single most radically changed Corvette in history. Even with the transition from the C1 to the C2 in 1963 and the C3 to the C4 in 1984, the same engines were carried over from previous years. But with the introduction of the C5, everything was new—frame, body, engine, and transmissions, which were now transaxles.
So the C5 had the greatest possibility to become a major disaster if the build quality was not up to snuff. For the most part, the team at Bowling Green did a good job on quality control. However, the early C5s still have their Achilles heels. To give us some perspective, we’ll look at two 1998 Indianapolis Pace Car-edition C5 rag tops—a used and abused fright pig and a low-mile cream puff.
1998 Indianapolis Pace Car Convertible
Chassis number: 1G1YY32G3W5
Highly scuffed and polish-scratched paint job on most surfaces. There are also several paint cracks on both fascias from light collision impacts. The door-to-body seals are starting to curl over and get loose. The door glass doesn’t seal well to the top weatherstrip, as it contacts the top fabric on the upper rear corner of the window on the passenger’s side. While it seems to run out fine, there were tire pressure monitor alarms on all four corners. Moderately cleaned-up engine bay, untouched undercarriage. The right side stock exhaust outlets are bent inboard about five degrees. Some heavy wear to the top is apparent, but it’s still waterproof. Body panel gaps are nothing to brag about. No front license plate frame or cover plate. Dealer-applied plastic carpet protectors can’t cover the fact that the interior has a great deal of wear for a 51,000-mile car.
The 1998 Pace Car has to be the most garish Corvette ever, especially with those hideous yellow alloys. This was also something of a local fright pig, having been at several Mecum Kansas City auctions, plus a few others. Bought by an out-of-town dealer, who snapped up a couple of newer Corvettes as well. This car was declared sold for $22,838 at the Mecum auction in Kansas City, Missouri, on December 1, 2007.
1998 Indianapolis Pace Car Convertible
Chassis number: 1G1YY32G3W5117387
An 18,191-mile car, all-original except for fuel rail covers painted body color, taillight O-ring seals, Interstate battery, and sound deadener pads between the seats and the top compartment. Apart from the IPC package, there are no other options on the car. Like-new paint and decals. There is some light fogging of the front turn signal lenses. The original Goodyear EMT tires are right down to the wear bars. Very clean engine bay, and you can tell it’s always been that way. Also, there are no GM Campaign (recall) stickers in the driver’s side wheelwell top, or actually anywhere in the engine bay. Clean undercarriage shows minimal use. The yellow leather shows only light soiling and wrinkling, along with the floor mats. Overall, well-preserved.
The fact that there’s no obvious proof it hasn’t been updated with any of the recalls from this era would be the only thing that would make me a bit leery. If it was truly going to be a future Bloomington Gold Survivor, the owner shouldn’t have put so many miles on it, or should have at least taken off the run-flats and used aftermarket wheels and rubber. The consignor wanted $34,000, which isn’t far out of line, but both he and the final bidder couldn’t meet in the middle. This car did not sell for $30,000 at Kruse’s Fall Auburn Auction in Auburn, Indiana, on August 30, 2008.
|Vehicle:||1998 Indianapolis Pace Car Convertibles|
Both of these cars claimed to be lower-mileage examples, and as far as the average used car goes, this is true. However, the bulk of Corvettes are not used as daily commuters—especially the “instant collectible” IPC edition. Still, 51,000 miles for a scruffy, poorly kept 1998 is a believable distance.
The Kruse car is an original owner’s “nice sunny day” driver-cum-investment car, which gets exercised just enough to keep the gaskets in the powertrain pliable.
Which leads us to the reliability issue. One hears stories of recalls on the earlier C5s, but from 1998 on, things tend to be pretty equal for all model years. There were two recalls (or campaigns, as GM prefers to call them) that affected the 1998 models, plus an NHTSA recall on an aftermarket lighting assembly.
Steering column problems plague all years
Right out of the gate, the 1997s had a recall of sufficient importance that owners were urged to flatbed their cars to the dealership to have rear suspension hardware changed. However, it only affected the first 1,414 cars built. The inaugural-year cars had two additional NHTSA recalls during their first year, one relating to the seat belt anchors, the other regarding fuel tank assemblies, plus one that required a remapping of the computer to retune it for cleaner emissions. Two additional recalls in later years included the 1997 cars and dealt with the steering column lock, an issue that seems to affect all years of C5.
The column lock issue is perhaps the most pervasive C5 gripe. While other problems, such as the fuel tank/fuel pump issue, were resolved by the time the last C5 was built, column lock problems trouble all years of production. By comparison, it’s a non-issue for the C6, as that car uses a totally different system. There have been a total of three “campaigns” on the subject—the currently active one being NHTSA ID Number 04V060000 EA02031.
First issued in February 2004, this is current for all C5s that haven’t had the replacement column lock installed. That is, if you want the replacement installed. The consensus—not readily disputed by GM—is that the fix doesn’t really work. In fact, there’s a legion of enthusiasts who feel the fix will actually make things worse. The service manager of the dealer I take my 2004 to recommended not to have the work done. “Yours works,” he said. “Don’t mess with it.”
Neither of these cars shows GM recall stickers
This is because as part of the recall, the dealer cleans the CPU and remaps it with a new program. The kicker is that if the computer senses a column lock-up, it will shut off the fuel flow to the motor. Not a bad idea if the column locks on the entrance ramp to the Mixmaster in Fort Worth, but replacement column lock sensors have been known to give false alarms. The claimed “real” fix is to purchase a Column Lock Block from Corvettes of Houston (www.corvettesofhouston.com).
Neither of these cars had GM Campaign stickers in the usual locations. While the 18,000-mile cream puff owner may be more inclined to blow off a recall on a non-critical issue (such as the changed mountings for the seat belts to avoid a lockup when the webbing twists) in order to keep the car as close to as-delivered condition as possible, the fact that it was slightly modified nullifies the Bloomington Gold time capsule attempt. As for the 51,000-mile car, it’s ragged enough that recalls are the least of its problems.
GM has been known to improve or sometimes even cheapen cars as they near the end of a cycle, but Corvettes have always been above that. I own a 2004 Commemorative edition—the last year of C5—and my car has been extremely reliable over the last year and 11,000 miles. As of now, there is only a single recall on it—the column lock issue.
Whether you choose a 1998 Indy Pace Car edition or a 2004 Le Mans Commemorative edition, your taste in color coordination (or lack thereof) should be more of a factor than if it’s an earlier or later car.
As to the relative good deal/bad deal CM assessment, that’s pretty easy here, and you’ve probably already made the decision yourself. The scruffy car, at $22,838, was a brave buy at best. There are simply so many C5 Corvettes out there for sale that it doesn’t make any sense to buy a ragged one, unless you get it nearly free; or in this case, for well under $20,000. This car will easily suck up the $5,000 difference between it and a good low-mileage car, and when you’re done, you’ve got Mr. Scruffy wearing lipstick.
On the other hand, the cream puff, at a failed bid of $30,000, should probably have sold, and I wonder what the consignor is thinking now as the economy continues to slide south. When times get tough, luxury items like sports cars are among the first things to feel buyers’ indifference, so it will be harder today to find a $30,000 buyer than it was a few months ago. My advice here is never to fall too much in love with your car so that you turn down a reasonable offer. You simply don’t know when the next one will come along, and once you’ve decided to sell, it can make you crazy looking at it every night in your garage