There was a fresh air of sophistication and purpose about the 1997 Corvette. A driver could sense this version was unlike any other before it from the first turn of the key, and not just because the ignition switch was off the steering column and back on the dashboard, where it belonged.

Only a hatchback coupe was offered for the 1997 Corvette, here posed with four of its grandfathers.
Only a hatchback coupe was offered for the 1997 Corvette,
here posed with four of its grandfathers.

A lower hood and cowl allowed for greater visibility. This revealed 18 more feet of road in front of the car than before, thus dramatically heightening the driver's sense of control. A new rear suspension kept the tail on course through washboard corners, and the bodywork no longer groaned and creaked over bumps.

The drivetrain was isolated from the chassis, so the new small-block V-8 rumbled from four central tailpipes rather than reverberating through the car's structure. Low doorsills confirmed a clever new chassis design, and accommodatingly wider footwells verified that the transmission had been relocated to the rear axle.

It was slightly larger than its predecessor, but with its wheels pulled out to the corners, the new Corvette was distinctly more modern in its appearance. Wheelbase was stretched by 8.3 inches (to 104.5) on a body longer by just 1.2 inches. The car's track was significantly wider as well, by 4.3 inches in front and 3.0 in back, making the rear width equal to that of the former ZR-1. The body was broader by 2.9 inches and taller by 1.4. Thanks to weight-saving materials, the 3,218-lb C5 weighed 80 lbs less than the C4.

Tradition called for a body made of composite plastics, with hidden headlights and quad taillamps. Bodyside coves extracted engine heat and evoked the 1956-62 car. Front-fascia intakes cooled the brakes, while rear valance slots vented the exhaust system. The razor-edged tail wasn't necessarily graceful in its appearance, but it was sufficiently aerodynamic and tall enough to help double the previous Corvette's luggage space to a full 25 cubic feet. A less intriguing but easier-to-open front-hinged hood replaced the C4's clamshell design.

The cockpit was now bigger, brighter, and more thoughtfully designed. A new frame eliminated the C4's four-inch-tall doorsills, so ingress and egress were now a breeze. There was nearly 1.5 inches more head and shoulder room than before, and 3.4 inches more hip room, which added a welcome degree of comfort to what was never before considered a user-friendly interior.

The 1997 Corvette boasted a new interior layout, still with the dual cowl motif, that provided more comfort.
The 1997 Corvette boasted a new interior layout, still with the dual cowl
motif, that provided more comfort.

The dual-cove dashboard updated the classic 1963-67 design and came replete with a passenger's grab handle. Full-analog instrumentation replaced the oft-criticized former model's digital/analog array, with circular gauges marked with ultraviolet-lit "day glo" paint and set on different planes for a three-dimensional effect. Soft-touch pads replaced cheap plastic switchgear throughout the compartment. The parking brake was activated by a proper center console arm instead of an inconvenient lever placed to the left of the driver's seat, and drilled cast-aluminum brake and clutch pedals burnished the sporting ambiance.

The 1997 Corvette featured a more sophisticated new all-aluminum 350-cid LS1 V-8.
The 1997 Corvette featured a more sophisticated new all-aluminum 350-cid
LS1 V-8 that sent 345 bhp to a standard six-speed manual gearbox
mounted at the rear, another Corvette first.

Power for the C5 came from a clean-sheet redesign of the pushrod small-block V-8. Called the LS1, it delivered 345 bhp at 5,600 rpm and 350 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm. Displacement rounded off to a familiar 5.7 liters, but the block was rendered in aluminum, not iron, and was of a stouter, deep-skirt design. Premium fuel was recommended and synthetic oil was filled at the factory. Fitting the LS1 beneath the C5's newly lowered hood required an oil pan that was hardly thicker than a briefcase, yet offered increased capacity and the ability to supply lubricant during even the most extreme cornering maneuvers. Fully dressed, the LS1 weighed 45 pounds less than the LT4 engine it replaced.

As before, the V-8 used a four-speed automatic transmission as its standard gearbox. A revised version of the Borg-Warner six-speed manual remained optional at an additional $815, and again came with a first-to-fourth Computer-Aided Gear Selection skip shifter. Despite the more complex linkage, the transmission's shift effort and feel were similar to that of the C4.

So-called "drive-by-wire" technology provided precise throttle modulation and integrated cruise- and traction-control systems, the latter losing its pedal feedback in the process. Linking the engine and transmission was an aluminum tube, which ran through an enclosed tunnel that formed a chassis backbone strong enough to reduce structural loads on the outboard frame rails.

Learn about other Corvettes in this generation:

1997 Corvette1998 Corvette
1999 Corvette
2000 Corvette
2001 Corvette
2002 Corvette
2003 Corvette2004 Corvette

Looking for more information on Corvettes and other cars? See:

  • Corvettes: Learn about the history behind each model year and see Corvette photographs.
  • Corvette Specifications: Get key specifications, engine and transmission types, prices, and production totals.
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  • Consumer Guide Corvette Reviews: Considering a Corvette purchase? See what Consumer Guide has to say.