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By Ben Selby
The chorus in the TV advert went something like this. “You’ve never seen, anything, like this before!” The General Motors marketing department went all out to showcase their latest and most technologically advanced production sports car ever. They even went as far to say it was the most advanced production car on the planet.
It was also a long time coming. General Motors even suspended production on the outgoing model this new car replaced by a whole year. The reason being they wanted to concentrate all their efforts to make this latest evolution of one of their most coveted models the greatest ever. The year was 1984 and the car was the Chevrolet Corvette C4.
Remaining in production for 12 years, the C4 was a giant leap forward for America’s sports car. The C3 which preceded it had remained in production for nearly 15 years and the time was ripe for change. So, with much fanfare, the Corvette C4 came into being and it was unlike any Corvette before it.
The styling was pure 1980s. GM had replaced the Zora Arkus-Duntov designed C3 with a more contemporary sleek wedge designed penned by Dave McLellan. Its panels and front and rear bumper would be made from plastic and the C4 was the first Corvette since the original to have a singular headlight cluster, though still of the pop-up variety.
With liquid crystal digital instruments, rack-and-pinion steering, multi-link rear and aluminium double-wishbone front suspension, disc brakes all around, new anti-roll bars, Goodyear developed uni-directional tyres and the option of a convertible for the first time since the 1960s, the C4 had the likes of Ferrari and Porsche in its sights.
However, the first L83 cross-fire V8s in the earlier cars were quite underpowered, producing a mere 205hp. Power went up in the L98 to 250hp, but it wasn’t until the dawn of the nineties when the C4 Corvette got the grunt it deserved.
Most legendary of these was the mighty ZR1. Its LT5 V8 produced 405hp and the ability to reach 280km/h and zero to 100km/h in 4.9 seconds. While that is a story on its own, the regular C4 built from 1992 received the 5.7L LT1 V8 with 300hp.
Buyers could opt for a 4-speed automatic or six speed manual. The LT1 was such a good, solid engine that GM used it in various guises throughout their family, like the in the Firebird and Camaro for instance. Cars with a manual transmission from 1996 would get an upgraded LT4 V8 with 330hp while the automatic cars would retain the LT1.
This 1993 example, complete with that LT1 looks stunning in white. Its hard not to get the full Miami Vice feel when out and about in this. Yes, it missed the eighties by four years and Sonny Crockett didn’t drive a Corvette but a white Ferrari Testarossa, but hey. Sitting inside and its actually very comfortable. In fact, the C4 feels plusher than some other sports cars of the era.
The cabin is very driver focused. All the switchgear is angled towards you and while there are oodles of knobs and switches so typical of the early nineties, each one feels satisfying to press. Ahead of you sits and analogue rev counter and gauges for your oil pressure, temperature and battery life.
Central to this is a digital speedometer, fuel gauge and mileometer. While the earlier C4’s had those liquid crystal digital gauges looked far cooler, the ease of which you can interpret what the LT1 is up to is better.
Talking of the LT1 V8, it also happens to be quite a smooth unit. A quick turn of the ignition key and you realize just how smooth. It doesn’t shout and bellow, but it still makes a nice baritone burble throughout the rev range.
Moving off and the C4 is incredibly easy to drive. Heading out onto SH1 north of Amberley, it shows itself to be a phenomenal cruiser. In touring mode, you are able to munch up the distances with the LT1 sitting at low rpm. There is also more than enough torque when the time comes to overtake. It feels really meaty low down and that auto box shifts smoothly too.
Ride comfort? yes that is pretty impressive too for a V8 sports car. It’s no floaty barge, but the uneven surfaces and broken up bitumen, which one finds occasionally while traversing North Canterbury highways and byways, don’t phase this Vette.
What also doesn’t phase the C4 is the ability to cover ground in a brisk manner. Pile on the power via your right shoe and a burst of low-down torque provides a momentous surge of oomph. That long bonnet rises ever so slightly and it isn’t long before you reach the somewhat illegal side of the national speed limit.
The LT1 C4 Corvette still has poke, even for today. This car won’t leave you pinned back in your seat, you would want the ZR1 for that. That said, for an American grand tourer with good dose of grunt, it’s great. Also, the steering is also light but isn’t completely devoid of feel. Basically, the C4’s ability to corner is better than you would expect.
The C4 Corvette had its high points and low points throughout its life span. With the exception of the mental ZR1 and the last hurrah Grand Sport, the LT1, for me anyway, is peak C4 Vette and today is a performance bargain.
For those after a powerful yet simple sports car which can entertain on a long journey, the C4 Corvette is a good un. Prices are also starting to creep up, so I would definitely get in now.