We Look Back at the Eight Model Years of C5 Production
Debuting in the closing years of the twentieth century and the iteration which first cruised into the new millennium, the 5th-generation Chevrolet Corvette (C5), ushered-in a new world class status for America’s sports car. Built from 1997-2004, the C5, not only showcased the achievements of GMs automotive technologies, but the advancement of Chevrolet’s design studio and engine development teams.
Even with three iconic predecessors before it and two super car worthy examples following in it’s tire tracks, to many Vette aficionados, the C5 stands as the first ultra-modern Corvette and one of the best versions from the last 64 years of production. It was also the first generation of Corvette that was referred to as a “Cx,” as prior to the C5, Corvettes were simply regarded by their model year.
Continuing our retrospective guides on all late model GM performance cars, we at GM-EFI.com, now chronicle the 5th-generation Corvette in all it’s guises, it’s features and options, performance stats, production figures, special editions and it’s significant place in Corvette history.
OUT WITH THE OLD AND IN WITH THE NEW: DEVELOPMENT
With initial designs dating back to 1988, the 5th-generation Corvette was conceived to be a completely new machine, but not much unlike its C4 predecessor, the C5 was a work in progress for some time. From the tail end of the ‘80s, through the early ‘90s, GMs financial difficulties, corporate leadership changes and design team shuffling, held back the release of the C5 several times, and by as many years.
Setbacks aside, a new Corvette was always a foregone conclusion and after three years of heated inter-studio design competition and contributions from John Shinella’s Advanced Concepts Center in California, John Cafaro’s “Black Car” C5 concept was shown in April 1992 and finally accepted by GM design heads and Chevrolet management.
The following year, the CERV IV (Corporate Experimental Research Vehicle) appeared and unlike previous CERVs, the $1-million test vehicle could run and drive. Although it was constructed with a chopped-up C4 shell, many C5 innovations were present underneath, including a new chassis with a stiff spine-like tunnel, leading to a rear-mounted transmission.
By January 1994, the CERV IV arrived, now featuring a new iron block GEN III V8, since the then-proposed all-aluminum mill was far from ready. After the experimental vehicle phase came the true test cars, titled “Alpha” and “Beta.” Both were dressed in full C5 bodies, with Beta cars implementing the upgrades and improvements learned by the Alpha tests and including extreme heat tests in Southern Australia and severe cold climate driving in Northern Canada.
Unlike it’s C2, C3 and C4 forerunners, the C5 was basically all-new from the ground up; front to back and under the hood, featuring a brand new generation of Chevy Small-Block engine, specifically manufactured for the new Corvette. It would also be the first time a Corvette would be offered in three body configurations; including a coupe, convertible and hardtop.
The C5 was the poster car for efficiency of design, needing 1,500 less parts for manufacturing than its C4 predecessor. This more streamlined architecture, provided for much greater quality control — with the creaks, rattles and clunks, often associated with the C4 — virtually non-existent. As Corvette Quality Engineering Manager Rod Michelson so poignantly expressed, “the 1,500 parts eliminated equates to 1,500 opportunities for something to go wrong that aren’t there anymore.”
Using and learning from it’s own great lineage and evolution, the C5 was designed and constructed to be, in the words of then Corvette Chief Engineer David Hill “the best Vette yet,” on every level, and he went further in saying, “you won’t find a car in the Corvette’s price range that provides the same level of quality, power, ride, handling and refinement.” When the C5 first appeared at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, on January 6, 1997, few if any, would argue with him.
HIGH TECH VETTE: 1997 C5
As the first production C5s hit America’s roads, it was evident that this Corvette was a refined machine, with technologies equal to its power and style. The initial offering of the coming trifecta was the coupe model, with a removable body-color Targa-style top and an opening rear glass hatch.
Eliminating the rattles and shakes of previous generations and allowing for a much tighter and sporty ride, the C5s perimeter frame was constructed by hydroforming, which uses extreme high-pressure water to blow-out steel tubing into specific dimensions. Unlike the vast amount of welding used previously, this process created a super-strong structure with uniform tolerances and was almost five-times stiffer than the C4s. As mentioned earlier, at the center of this new skeleton, was a tunnel that surrounded the driveshaft leading to a rear-mounted transmission (rear transaxle), a Corvette first.
With the tranny sitting in front of the rear meats, a nearly 50/50 weight distribution was achieved, as well as enabling the wheels to sit closer to each corner. The wider track, front and rear, provided a more comfortable ride and vastly improved handling. The standard transmission was a GM-built, electronically-controlled four-speed automatic (4L60-E), with an optional Borg Warner six-speed manual with the dreaded (CAGS) computer-aided gear selection, carrying-over from the C4. Both transmissions were attached to a Getrag-built, limited slip differential (LSD).
Up front and perhaps the most significant aspect of the new C5 was its powerplant, the GEN III 5.7L/346-cid, all-aluminum LS1 V8 small-block engine. A legend from the outset, the new LS1 made 345-hp/350-lb-ft with a 10.1:1 compression ratio. It came with a lightweight composite intake plenum, cast–aluminum cylinder heads with identical intake/exhaust ports, a new distributorless ignition system with individual coil packs for each cylinder, a new (ETC) electronic throttle control or “fly-by-wire” technology, stainless steel exhaust manifolds and a hollow camshaft, to further reduce mass.
Weighing-in about 80-lbs less, fully-dressed, than its iron block LT1 predecessor, the LS1’s cutting-edge construction made it much stronger and after 20-years running — its safe to say — quite bulletproof.
Underneath it’s sleek new fiberglass and (SMC) sheet-molded composite bodywork, the C5’s suspension was completely new as well. It came with a revised (SLA) short-long arm or double wishbone/double A-arm set-up, with revised composite transversely-mounted leaf springs and stabilizer bars front/rear and monotube shocks at all four corners.
Given the duty of stopping the new C5 when at LS1-derived speeds, were power-assisted four-wheel disc brakes with Bosch (ABS) and aluminum calipers clamping down on 11.9-inch ventilated rotors front/rear.
Another first for the Corvette, were new staggered sized aluminum five-spoke wheels, with 17×8.5s in front and 18×9.5s out back, wearing extended mobility (run flat) Goodyear F1 245/45/ZR17 front /275/40/ZR18 rear tires. Being equipped with the run flat rubber, no spare was needed or provided.
When strapping-into the C5 you were greeted by a totally new cockpit, with sporty yet plush accoutrements and very European sports car flair. First and foremost, entry and exit was no longer the awkward chore experienced with the C4, as the new water-formed side rails, reduced the step-in and climb-out height of the sills by more than 3-inches. The new rear-mounted tranny also provided more interior footwell space; so taller pilots and passengers could sit back in the standard leather Lear Corporation-made seats and stretch their legs like never before.
New black lit, large analog gauges, were front and center, clearly visible through a four-spoke sport-style steering wheel, proudly-branded with the crossed flags symbol of America’s sports car. Other notable changes included a handle above the glove compartment to allow for passenger high-speed stability, relocation of the e-brake handle from left of the driver to the right side of the center console and another Vette first, a dedicated foot rest or (dead pedal) was installed.
As icing on the already impressive cake that was a standard C5, popular performance options carried-from the C4s template were available and they included:
- RPO AQ9, (Sport Seats)-required RPO AG2 (power passenger seat)
- RPO G92 (Performance Axle Ratio) changed from standard 2.73:1 ratio to 3.15:1 performance ratio for automatic transmission cars
- RPO F45 (Selective Real Time Damping) electronic driver-adjusted ride control, not available with RPO Z51
- RPO Z51 (Performance Handling Package) includes stiffer springs and stabilizer bars, requires RPO G92 with automatic cars, not available with RPO F45
For 1997, you could choose one of seven exterior colors including:
- 10 Arctic White
- 13 Sebring Silver Metallic
- 23 Nassau Blue Metallic
- 41 Black
- 53 Light Carmine Red Metallic
- 70 Torch Red
- 87 Fairway Green Metallic
Even with the array of high-tech features and laundry list of improvements, many Corvette owners cared about the C5s performance acumen, above all else. With that said, most of the popular auto publications of the day had the new C5 coupe sprinting to 60-mph in about 5-seconds, running through the traps in the low 13s and capable of pulling 1g on the skid pad on it’s way to a top speed of 170-mph. Test figures were accomplished with auto and manual trans cars.
Arriving late in the model year, 9,752 C5 coupes found lucky owners at a base-MSRP of $37,495, only $250 bucks more than a ’96 C4. The new C5 was stronger, longer, taller, wider, lighter and faster than it’s predecessor and more refined in every way. Was the C5 the best Vette yet, well you do the math.
Vitamin D and a Purple Pace Car: 1998
In its first iteration (C1), America’s sports car was offered only in convertible form until the (C2), or mid-year cars debuted with the breathtaking split-window coupe in 1963. After introducing the ‘97 C5 in sport coupe form, 1998 saw the much-anticipated return of the drop top. The new roadster was the second dish on the C5s yummy menu and sealed the deal for the new Corvette in inking the always-coveted Motor Trend Car Of The Year award.
C5’s “Wolverine-strong” frame was the perfect base for a convertible, so much so, that no additional bracing was necessary. The 1998 C5 convertible was the first topless Vette to erase the old reputation of more weight, less performance and a shaky, loose ride. Amazingly, the Convertible C5 weighed just one pound more than its coupe sibling and 114-lbs less than a fun in the sun C4.
According to deservedly confident chief engineer David Hill, “Corvette’s structure has been designed to achieve world-class open-car stability and strength.” As a further testament to the torsional rigidity of the new convertible, even the vaunted Z51 package, with its lumbar-punishing suspension components-a definite no-no on the C4 ragtop, became a no worry option available on the topless C5.
The only aspect of the C4 convertible that carried-on was its operation. Rather than go to a power-operated top, the C5s soft cover retained two manual front latches and the press of a button to raise the twin-bumped tonneau cover.
This super-easy operation allowed for more storage space and enabled upgrading rather than complete redevelopment, keeping costs down. Along with lightweight ease of operation, Chevrolet stressed the need for a tighter seal, both when up and down, to the tops manufacturers, Dura Convertible Systems, Inc.
The chosen design, employed five articulating support bows, that when raised, pushed forward toward the windshield header frame and down firmly on the body, creating a seal so tight, no rear latches were necessary. The ragtop included a glass window with a defrosting element. Still, yet another accolade for the new convertible, was it’s aerodynamic drag coefficient, which was only 0.03 taller than the bullet-shaped coupe, with a mere two-inch loss of headroom.
All of these design features along with a dual-compartment gas tank and run flat rubber, with no need to store a spare, allowed the C5 to gain a true deck lid and trunk for the first time since 1962. Even with the top down, 11.2 cubic feet of storage was available, or as advertised by Chevy’s promotional team, enough space for two fully stocked golf bags.
As a further showcase for the new drop top, Chevy built 1,163 special edition Indy 500 Pace Car replicas, to commemorate the Vette’s fourth tenure as pace car. As with its 1978, 1986 and 1995 predecessors, it had a special color scheme, called Pace Car Purple, with yellow-painted wheels, yellow/black leather interior, yellow Indy 500 callouts, striping and badges on the hood, fenders and doors. Eye-catching to say the least, the RPO Z4Z package was fitted to 616 automatic cars at a cost of $5,039 and 547 six-speed manuals, for $5,804.
Never resting on its technological laurels, Chevrolet introduced RPO JL4 (Active Handling System) for C5 coupes/convertibles in 1998. The new chassis control system, was meant to provide additional assistance in slippery or extreme maneuvers. Via network of sensors, the system read and relayed steering input, yaw rates and lateral g-forces to the cars computer, selectively and appropriately activating the ABS and/or traction control to the required wheels, all without limiting throttle engagement. At a cost of only $500, 5,356 would-be racers opted for the computerized co-pilot, and why not.
Other notables for 1998, included:
- Interior noise reduction by way of a revised accessory drive tensioner, deletion of the rear alternator brace to eliminate high rpm whine and clips to better secure windows to seals during high-speed driving. A new, quieter electric fuel pump was fitted, mid-year
- Steering castor was increased for better tracking and RPO F45 (Real Time Damping) was revised for better control
- Transmission cooler material was changed from copper-nickel to stainless steel
- The multi-piece cooling fan shroud was changed to a one-piece unit
- A second gear start mode was added to automatic cars, to aid traction by limiting wheel spin on slippery surfaces
- RPO N73 lightweight, bronze-painted (Magnesium Wheels), by Speedline of Italy. Originally offered for export models only, they weighed 8-lbs less than stock C5 wheels
As for the exterior color palate, three new hues were added, Light Pewter Metallic (11), Sebring Silver Metallic (13) and Medium Purple Pearl Metallic (95). Two other colors also existed, Navy Blue Metallic (28) and Aztec Gold (58), but records show, only 14 and 15 examples of each, both sold as used cars, supposedly after promotional use.
More colorful information surrounds Light Carmine Red Metallic (53), which also went by the alias, Magnetic Red and Medium Purple Pearl (95) was also called Majestic Amethyst. Four interior colors were available, black, light gray, light oak or red and three soft-top colors, black, white and light oak.
In its second year out, the C5 enjoyed a full year of build time with both coupe and convertible sales equating-to a three-fold increase in production over 1997, with 31,084 units in total. For the coming final year of the century, the C5 Vette would be offered in yet one more flavor.
CHEAPER, LIGHTER, STIFFER, FASTER: 1999
Batting third in the C5 Corvettes line-up, a hardtop model stepped to the plate in 1999. Conceived as a lower cost, kind-of stripper version Vette, with standard cloth seats, manual door locks and smaller wheels/tires this original concept was axed, upon strong sales of both the coupe and convertible models for ’98.
When it did roll-out, the hardtop was $400-less than the coupe and came with the LS1 mated-only to a six-speed manual transmission, black leather base seats-and get this, the Z51 package as standard equipment, a heck of a bargain.
Sports Seats and additional interior colors were a negative, as was RPO F45 (Real Time Damping), but RPO JL4 (Active Handling System), was available. Exterior colors were limited to (10) Arctic White, (11) Light Pewter, (23) Nassau Blue, (41) Black and (70) Torch Red.
The hardtop’s real strength was just that, it’s further increased structural rigidity over its C5 brethren. Built on the convertible platform and retaining the same trunk, the hard canopy was affixed to the body, bolted and bonded into place, resulting in a 12% stiffer chassis, than the sport coupe with it’s Targa roof secured in place. The fixed roof coupe (FRC) as it became known, was also the lightest of the C5 trio, weighing eighty pounds less than the sport coupe model.
What did all this money-saving, weight-saving and chassis stiffening produce, well, according to Motor Trend Magazine, the more affordable and svelte FRC C5 with it’s taught Z51 suspension, put down a 4.8-second 0-60-mph launch and blew through the 1320-ft in 13.3-seconds at 109-mph. Not only was it the cheapest C5, but also, undoubtedly, one the most hardcore and fastest Corvettes to date.
New for ’99 and one of the coolest options ever available to the Corvette, or any car for that matter, was (RPO UV6) (HUD) Head Up Instrument Display. For a reasonable $375, the HUD would project multiple gauge readouts onto the windshield, at eye level, allowing unfettered concentration on the road. Definitely bringing the Corvette driver into the realm of the fighter pilot, 19,034 buyers opted for the new high-tech feature.
Further enhancing driver comfort and control, was (RPO N37) Power Telescoping Steering Column, which became optional in ’99 on coupes and convertibles, but not the hardtop. The feature allowed for a 20mm travel forward from the base position. The tilt mechanism remained a hands-on process for all models and steering components were upgraded for a more consistent response and feel.
Yet another new option for ’99 was (RPO T82) Twilight Sentinel. No, this was not a free ticket to a teenage vampire movie, it was GM-speak for a low-light sensing system, which automatically raised and illuminated the hideaway headlights when deemed necessary. It also delayed the lights turning-off, allowing a for security illumination after the engine was shut down. The $60 option was available to sport coupes/convertibles only.
Air bags were revised for ’99, now defined as “next generation,” they would activate with less damaging force. C5s could be equipped with a cut-off switch for the air bag system and new seat belts that would operate without the life-saving balloons. This was offered so small children could ride shotgun. Also new inside for ‘99, a sill trim plate was added.
The C5s front brake rotors increased in size, from 11.9-inches to 12.6-inches for ’99-on and this was the last year for the standard five-spoke aluminum wheel introduced on the ’97 models.
As for colors, Navy Blue returned and Fairway Green and Medium Purple Pearl Metallic were gone.
Production increased for ’99, by 2,186 units over ’98, with a total of 33,270. Only 4031 buyers opted for the new hard-edged Fixed Roof Coupe hard top C5, but more was definitely to come.
For the first model year of the new century/millennium, the C5 received refinements to all three variants. Most apparent, was a new standard thin five-spoke forged-aluminum painted wheel that was also available high-polished (RPO QF5) for $895. After more than 15-thousand buyers went for the shiny versions, in January 2000, GM sought the services of an outside manufacturer to provide another standard wheel, so the General could retain it’s supply for polishing.
The replacement wheel was basically the same, with slightly thicker spokes. As for more wheel trivia, the optional Speedline magnesium wheel (RPO N73) remained unchanged in design, but was lowered in price, from $3000-to-$2000 a set.
Corvette’s Performance Handling Package, (RPO Z51), received improvements for 2000, including larger front/rear stabilizer bars and re-valved shocks. These upgrades, didn’t negatively affect ride-quality, but improved overall handling by further limiting body roll.
Selective Real Time Damping (RPO F45, coupe & conv) was refined with new software and softer jounce bumpers to improve ride and handling characteristics.
Joining Magnetic Red (86) formerly Light Carmine Red, on the $500 extra cost list, was a stunning new color, appropriately named for the new year-Millennium Yellow Metallic (79). The extra cost came from the equipment needed and special painting process required, to apply a unique tinted clear coat that would add more depth and clarity to the color. Dark Bowling Green Metallic (91) was another new color for 2000, but was available at no extra cost.
Color change extended into the interior as well, where Torch Red replaced Firethorn Red. The more intense red was taken from the C4’s 1994-96 color chart, as it was a better match for the most prominent selling C5 exterior hue by the same name. Staying in the cockpit, seat-covering material was upgraded for 2000, actually beginning in ’99, with vinyl being applied to high-wear sections instead of leather.
This was done to increase longevity of appearance and durability. Also inside, seat belt hardware and placement was revised for easier operation and the Dual Zone AC calibrations received a new program, for noise reduction and better overall function.
Other notables for 2000 include:
- A new Active Keyless Entry system replaced the proximity-based Passive Keyless Entry (PKE) system born in the 1993 C4. And the passenger-side key lock was deemed unnecessary with a keyless system and deleted. The driver’s side door lock could always be used in case of battery depletion.
- For manual transmission C5s, spring tension was increased on the 1st-2nd-gear gate and 5th-6th, for more precise gear location and feel.
- Weather striping seals were revised on coupes and convertibles, with the windshield pillar molding and rear hatch molding changed, to provide better water redirection away from the cabin.
Overall C5 production increased for Y2K, totaling-out at 33,682 units, 412 more than 1999. By the numbers, the priciest C5 convertible sold 2000 more units, while the less costly and harder-charging hardtop was chosen 2000 times less. With that said, Chevy was about to release a new version of the C5 hard top Corvette, one that was sure to open a few eyes and wallets in the coming year.
BLAST FROM THE PAST: 2001
Originally conceived and cultivated in 1962, by then chief engineer and accepted father of the Corvette, Zora Arkus Duntov-the ZO6 Special Performance Equipment package, was meant to enhance the new 2nd-Gen Corvette’s (C2), racing abilities. Available first on 1963 coupes-only, the hardcore and exclusive Z06 componentry consisted of heavy-duty power disc brakes, beefy suspension pieces, a 36.5-gallon fuel tank for SCCA endurance racing and the fuel-injected 360-horse L84 327-cid V8, which was the highest compression, biggest horsepower engine available at the time.
Mated to a close ratio 4-speed transmission and Posi Traction rear end, Z06 Corvettes were the measure on the track and with only 199 examples built in 1963, they are rare legends to say the least. Fast-forward almost four decades to 2001 and the return of the Z06 nomenclature would not only revive what had been low hardtop sales, but in the words of Chevrolet management, bring fourth “simply the quickest, best handling production Corvette ever.”
Following Duntov’s original formula, the ’01 Z06 was intended as a no apologies street/track machine, with the power and handling to vanquish all comers. And the super stiff fixed roof coupe (FRC) was the perfect platform to showcase a new engine, developed for and exclusive to this ultimate Corvette. Derived from the LS1, with the same 5.7-Litres and 346-cubes, the LS6 was a hot-rodded version making 385-hp/385-lb-ft with a higher 10.5:1 compression and a higher-winding 6500-RPM redline, instead of the LS1’s 6000-revs.
The increase in power came from a revised intake plenum, better flowing heads with larger intake and D-shaped exhaust ports, a higher-lift cam shaft, higher-rate valve springs, increased-capacity fuel injectors, new exhaust manifolds and a revised PCV (positive crankcase ventilation) system that decreased pressure.
Z06 also came with a free-flowing titanium exhaust, the first on a mass-produced car and a weight savings of 19-lbs compared to the stainless steel system on the sport coupe and convertible. Once again, as with the ’99-00 FRCs, all Z06s were manuals, equipped with a new shorter-shifting M12 six-speed transmission, now with a tranny temperature sensor.
With RPO Z51 Performance Handling Package, now relegated to the coupe and convertible, the Z06 was granted a new specific suspension, called FE4. To better transfer the LS6 power to the ground, FE4 had a larger-hollow front stabilizer bar, stiffened rear leaf spring and revised front/rear camber settings. The change in camber was no doubt an adjustment made to better track the new massive 10-spoke, open-star design wheels, that were one-inch wider front and back than the standard car at 17×9.5-inches front and a monstrous 18×10.5-inches out back.
The new rollers were wrapped in lighter weight Goodyear F1 Super Car rubber, P265/40ZR-17s in front and P295/35ZR-18s rear and were not run flats like those worn by it’s brothers. Instead, Z06s came with a tire inflation kit, since no C5 was equipped with a spare.
Further differentiating the Z06 from other C5s, were specific mesh stainless steel lower front grilles, functional rear brake cooling ducts on the lower rear rocker panels and red brake calipers front/back. Exterior colors were limited to five of the eight C5 hues, including Speedway White (40), Quicksilver Metallic (12), Black (41), Torch Red (70) and extra cost Millennium Yellow (79), which was now $600. On the inside, the Z06 had firmer-density seat bolstering with “Z06” embroidered headrests and unique gauges with checkered backgrounds and fast-moving italic numerals. Leather Seats were either black or a more-sporty black/red combo.
After all the special hardware was tallied, the Z06 delivered on it’s concept and purpose for being, with low 4-second 0-60 mph launches, mid-12s in the 1/4-mile and a top speed of 168-mph. At the time, these numbers, save for a 7-mph top speed deficit from shorter gearing, were superior to the reigning king of Corvettes, the 1990-’95 ZR1.
The arrival of the LS6 wasn’t only a performance blessing for the Z06, but for its C5 brethren as well. Taking the new engine’s intake, exhaust manifolds and their own revised camshaft and valve timing, the standard LS1 engine went from 345-hp/350-lb-ft to 350-hp/360 lb-ft automatic) or 375 foot-pounds with the six-speed stick. In typical GM fashion, the benefit of increased output also trickled down to the Corvette’s corporate cousins, the F-body Camaro and Firebird, who also got improved LS1s, with a small percentage, fitted with LS6 blocks late in production.
Additional mentions for the 2001 model year:
- All C5 manual transmission synchronizers were upgraded with carbon blocker rings for forward gears. Automatic transmissions were fitted with a revised alternator clutch pulley, allowing for more precise engagement and smoother engine idle. The weight of the automatic transmission case was decreased by 3.3-pounds.
- Maximum suggested optimal oil life and change intervals were changed from 10,000 to 15,000 miles.
- RPO JL4 Active Handling System was discontinued and all C5 Corvettes received second-generation active handling as standard equipment.
- Convertibles received increased noise reduction, via revised weather striping and a new double-thickness twill material soft top. Coupes and convertibles received a new expandable foam baffle in the lower doorsill pillar to reduce noise.
- Lighter and stronger Absorbent Glass Mat (AGM) batteries were fitted to all 2001 C5 Corvettes.
- Colors from the 2000 model year carried over, with Nassau Blue (23) discontinued.
- Many options were now included in (preferred equipment groups) and could not be ordered separately, this varied however.
- RPO R8C $490, for the first time since it’s opening in 1994, Corvette buyers could take delivery of their new cars at the National Corvette Museum.
Overall production for 2001 increased by almost 2000 units with 35,627 in total and 5,773 Z06s rolled out the door, compared to only 2090 Fixed Roof Coupes the previous year. After five years of production, the C5 was running strong and getting better with the new Z06 was leading the pack.
MORE IMPROVEMENTS: 2002
In only its second year out of the gate, GMs thoroughbred Z06 was further tweaked, now galloping to the tune of 405-hp/400-lb-ft, the fact of which was proudly displayed on new fender badges-the first Vette to do so. The jump in pony power was the result of getting more air into and out of the Z06s exclusive LS6 motor, starting with a larger air intake, a revised, screen-delete (MAF) mass airflow sensor and recalibrated computer software.
Within the valve train, redesigned valves employed hollow stems on the intake side and liquid alloy-filled on the exhaust end-to better deal with the heat. The reduction in overall weight, resulting from the hollow units, allowed for improved valve seating at the LS6s higher rpms. A new more-aggressive camshaft, with the highest lift in Chevy small block history was fitted to the LS6, equating to a 5% flow increase through the cylinders and valve spring material was changed to allow for a 14% increase in seat load.
LS6 exhaust backpressure was reduced by 16% via removal of the two smaller down-pipe catalytic converters and modification of the remaining under-car primary units. A change in the composition of the converters internal material permitted increased flow and efficiency, while still meeting federal emissions.
The massaged LS6 lifted the already awe-inspiring performance of the Z06 to super car levels, with 4-seconds flat to 60-mph a consistent result of dropping the hammer and rowing through half the gears and low 12s in the 1/4-mile a foregone conclusion.
Besides improvements to the LS6, the Z06s exclusive FE4 suspension received upgrading, with a larger front stabilizer bar, now with aluminum links, to save weight, stiffer rear springs and retuned rear shocks for better traction and ride over rough surfaces.
A new clutch was added, a modified steering rack, with a reduced turning radius, new more durable and heat-resistant brake pads and the Z06s unique wheels were now cast, instead of forged, shedding another pound and a half, and dropping overall poundage by 55-pounds, from 3,173-lbs in 2001, to 3,118 for ’02-on. Z06s now came standard with the (HUD) Head Up Instrument Display system and gained Electron Blue Metallic (21) as an exterior color and lost Speedway White (40).
Additional changes for 2002 C5s:
- Automatic transmission cooler case material changed from stainless steel to aluminum.
- Floor mats joined Delco AM/FM Stereo with in-dash CD player as standard equipment.
- RPO N73 lightweight magnesium wheels (coupe/conv) were still available in limited quantity, now at a cost of $1,500.
- Dark Bowling green Metallic (91) and Navy Blue (28) were deleted from the color palate and Electron Blue (21) was added.
- Originally for Z51/FE4 suspensions, all 2002 C5s now received lighter weight aluminum front stabilizer bar links for uniformity of assembly.
- HUD-equipped convertibles and Z06s were fitted with thinner (4.8mm) windshields, which saved 2.65-pounds per car. All sport coupes and non-HUD-equipped convertibles received the thicker 5.4mm standard windshield.
- The wheel lug nut caps for coupe/conv were changed from gray plastic to a chrome finish, late in the model year.
C5 production remained consistent for 2002, at 35,767 total units, 140 more than 2001. The big news however, was the explosive sales increase of the new and improved Z06. Even with its $2,650 increase in price, 8,297 were sold, which was 2,524 more than 2001 and almost one-quarter of all 2002 C5 sales. As far as enthusiast buyers were concerned, the up-gunned Z06 was the perfect Corvette.
AMERICA’S SPORTS CAR TURNS FIFTY: 2003
“Few vehicles have had the staying power of Corvette. We believe much of that success comes from a willingness to embrace advancing technology while remaining true to Corvette’s glorious history. As we celebrate our golden anniversary in 2003, we honor our past and cast a bright eye toward the future.” Those were the profound and poignant words of then Corvette Brand Manager, Rick Baldick, in pronouncing the Corvette’s significant birthday.
To commemorate half a century of production, Chevrolet, appropriately offered a 50th Anniversary package, designated as equipment group 1SC. Feeling that the Z06 could and did stand alone, 1SC was only available to coupes and convertibles for an additional cost of $5,000. The 1SC package included:
- All 1SB equipment including, head up display, power-telescoping steering wheel, electrochromic mirrors, memory package and twilight sentinel. 1SC group added, F55 Magnetic Selective Ride Control and 50th Anniversary paint/trim.
- All 1SC 50th Anniversary-equipped Corvettes were covered in exclusive Anniversary Red “Xirallic Crystal” paint (94) with Champaign-painted standard aluminum C5 wheels/center caps and had unique 50th Anniversary front fender emblems.
- 50th Anniversary interiors had unique Shale-colored leather seats and carpeting, with the specific Shale shade extending to the dash, upper door panels, console and instrument panel. This was the first C5 to deviate from black for these areas. 1SC interiors also included, 50th-Anniversary embroidered headrests, floor mats and leather-padded door armrests and pull handles.
- 1SC 50th Anniversary convertibles, wore Shale-colored soft tops.
Also new for 2003, was RPO F55 Magnetic Selective Ride Control for (coupe/conv). Replacing 1997-‘02s, optional F45 Real Time Damping and priced the same ($1,695), the new high-tech F55 system did not rely on mechanical variances of shock valving to regulate the fluid-flow for damping like with F45, but rather, employed a new Magneto-rheological (MR) fluid, which operated by electrically manipulating iron particles, present within.
The electronic inputs would position the iron particles in various alignments, changing fluid flow and thus automatically adjusting shock damping. The new magnetic system was touted as capable of 1,000-damping changes per-second, equaling a reaction to every inch of road traveled at 60-mph.
On May 26, 2002, the Corvette served its fifth tour of duty as pace car for the Indianapolis 500. The second C5 to hold the honor, was decked-out in the upcoming 2003 50th Anniversary colors and driven by actor Jim Caviezel. The commemorative Indy 500 graphics package worn for the race was available for $495.
Other changes and additions for 2003:
- All 2003 C5s wore commemorative 50th Anniversary badges on their hoods and rear decks, as well as on manuals and key blanks. Coupes and convertibles had 50th Anniversary emblems on their speedometer and tachometer backgrounds.
- Many features previously available as options or part of option groups became standard equipment in 2003, including, fog lamps, sport seats, power passenger seat, dual-zone AC and parcel/luggage shade (coupe only).
- To comply with stricter occupant safety standards, Z06s received thicker headliners and modified B-pillars. Coupes also got the new B-pillars and all C5s had revised A-pillars.
- All C5s featured LATCH (lower assist tether for children) child seat hooks. Booster seat use required the passenger side air bag to be switched off.
- Light Pewter Metallic (11) and Magnetic Red (86) left the color palate and Medium Spiral Gray Metallic (88) joined. Anniversary Red (94) was also new, but exclusive to 50th-Anniversary coupe/conv.
Total production for 2003 was 35,469 units. Z06 sales increased again, hitting an all-time high for the 3-year-old model at 8,635. The next year would be the last for the C5 Corvette, but it sure wasn’t for lack of interest.
ENDING ON A HIGH NOTE: 2004
Two Thousand Four would be the last year for C5 production, with the best and most refined examples taking center stage. All C5s were loaded-up with standard features like the previous year and a special Commemorative Edition package was available for all three variants.
Paying much-deserved homage to the C5-R (racing) Corvette and its awesome accomplishments, the Commemorative Edition package included the 1SB equipment group and added exclusive Le Mans Blue exterior paint color, crossed flag embroidered headrests, polished (QF5) aluminum C5 wheels (coupe/conv) with commemorative wheel center caps. Significant identifying features included special silver-colored, nose and tail emblems with “Commemorative 24:00 Heures Du Mans 2 GTS Wins” inserts, celebrating the C5-Rs back-to-back 2001/’02 24hrs Le Mans GTS class wins.
Commemorative Edition coupes and convertibles got specific Shale-colored interiors, that were similar, but not identical to, 2003’s 50th Anniversary cars, with “Commemorative” embroidered across their seat backs. Ragtops had commemorative silver crossed flag emblems on their middle-seat “waterfall” panels and had Shale-colored soft tops.
As was the case since it blazed on the scene in 2001, the Z06 took things to another level-especially when dressed in Commemorative Edition Le Mans blue. Along with the standard Z06 equipment, as if anything was standard about the LS6 engine, Commemorative Edition Z06s received features that were exclusive to the top gun C5.
Starting from the inside, Commemorative Edition Z06s came only with all-business black cockpits, while non-CE Z06s could still be fitted with back/red seating. On the exterior, unique silver/red stripes donned the hood, roof and tail deck, to identify even more closely with its C5-R brethren. About the hood, it was carbon fiber, the first such painted exterior panel to be used on a North American production car.
The hood weighed a mere 20.5-pounds, compared to 31.1-pounds for the standard C5 piece and its carbon fibers were laid-out in a uniform single direction, for better paint appearance. A subtle glimpse of the high-tech material sits pretty between the wide silver hood stripe and the thinner red accents. Another first for the CE Z06, were its wheels. Although they were the same aggressive design worn since ’01, in Commemorative Edition guise, the rollers came high-polished for full effect.
For its final year, all Z06s received refinements to their exclusive FE4 suspensions. The upgrades were meant to improve high-speed control and increase stability when carving corners, without creating a harsh ride. The changes included, re-tuned shock valving, firmer upper control-arm bushings and softer rear anti roll-bar bushings. These revisions were fine-tuned at Germany’s famed Nurbergring racetrack and allowed the 2004 Z06 to eclipse the 8-minute per-lap mark, further cementing its claim to super car status.
The Z06 was not exported to Europe, but C5 fans in the old country could get the (Z18) coupe. Similar to the Z06, the Z18 was dressed in Commemorative Edition Le Mans Blue and had the Z06 suspension, black interior and even its striped carbon fiber hood. No LS6 was fitted however, rather an LS1 mated to a six-speed and standard C5 wheels with non-run flat rubber-46 were delivered.
The color chart for the C5s final year saw the return of with Arctic White (10), now a brighter hue than 1997-’00 and a new Magnetic Red II (86) color, revised from 1999-2002 version. And Machine Silver (67) bumped Quicksilver out.
Definitely going out in high style, for the sixth time and the third C5 to do the honors, a 2004 Corvette convertible driven by actor Morgan Freeman, paced the May 30th running of the Indianapolis 500. The special C5 was covered in a unique and patriotic red, white and blue paint scheme for the event.
Even with anticipation of the coming C6, production for the C5s final year was a very consistent 34,064 units, with 5,683 Z06s in the grand total. Commemorative Edition C5 coupes, convertible and Z06s, equaled 6,899 of the special cars built.
Chevrolet proudly announced in late 1998, that it was throwing its full weight behind a racing variant of the new C5 Corvette-brazenly titled, the C5-R. Unlike back in Duntov’s day, GM was definitely in racing this time around and the C5-R was to be openly flaunted on North American as well as European racecourses.
A development and build partnership was fostered between Chevrolet/GM and Pratt & Miller Engineering, to construct a race-winning platform that could bring-it to all competitors, utilizing as many production pieces as possible. With that said, the C5-R definitely looked like a street-going C5, save for a full race chassis, massive Alcon disc brakes, the big wing, air slats, rear diffuser and fire-bursting race headers exiting from a hole in the rocker panels.
The C5-Rs engines were built by Katech Engine Development, who bored and stroked the LS1 V8 to the tune of 427-cubic-inches (7.0-litres) of displacement, with a 12.5:1 compression ratio, making 600-horses and well capable of hurling the race Vette to 200-mph down the straights. The C5-R had a race-style dry-sump oiling system and custom-calibrated Delphi engine tuning software for it’s electronic fuel injection.
The C5-Rs racing resume, which spanned from its 1999 Rolex 24 debut, until the end of the 2004 season, was impressive to say the least. During this time the C5-Rs dominance set the mark for Corvette racing, which carries-on to this day, two-model generations later.
Racing in GTS class, the C5-R amassed no less than 31 (IMSA) American Le Mans Series (ALMS) victories, including an overall win at the 2001 Rolex 24 and team and manufacturers championships for an astonishing four straight seasons, from 2001-’04. Perhaps even more cherished than its list of American-based titles, is the C5-Rs three GTS class victories at Le Mans France, in 2001, ’02 and 2004, including back-to-back 1st-2nd place finishes in ’01 and ’02.
When the C5’s production run ended with the 2004 model year, many asked why. Like the short build period of the iconic C2 mid-year cars, the C5’s eight-year tenure had been a momentous affair from start to finish. With its 1997 introduction, the C5 presented a high-styled, technologically advanced performance machine that was to get better every year and offer two additional variants filled with many Corvette firsts.
The 2001-04 Z06 brought a level of performance and handling that was unprecedented even by Corvette standards. It’s LS6 motor clearly displayed the potential of the Gen III LS-series of engines and led to higher-output versions, equipping GM’s hottest machines. In it’s final year, the Z06 with it’s improved FE4 suspension ruled at Nurbergring, further laying claim to the title “the best Vette yet.”
Even against today’s super cars, the C5 Z06 more than holds it’s own. In addition, the C5-R began a new era for factory-backed Corvette racing and did it with seemingly endless victories against the best the world could muster. As the C7 continues to amaze and the C8, perhaps with a mid-engine layout is on the horizon, we look back at the C5 Corvette, the first 21st Century Corvette and one of the greats.
Since obtaining his driver’s license way back in 1987, Andrew’s automotive interests have revolved around late-model, GM EFI iron. Predominantly a Pontiac guy, he had grown-up driving and experiencing many EFI cars from the ’80s to the present. Since 2008, he’s been a freelance writer/photographer for multiple niche auto enthusiast magazines and websites. Andrew claims to have a short yet definitve list of passions, in which late-model performance cars, hold a top spot.