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1997 Corvette

1997 Corvette Design Features

The 1997 Corvette C5's chassis design and powertrain layout were astute responses to the customers' call for friendly handling, roominess, and solidity. Relocating the transmission to the rear axle created a near-ideal 51/49 percent weight distribution for better-balanced road manners. It also eliminated bulk behind the engine, so footwells were no longer toe-pinching tunnels; the driver's side was even wide enough to accommodate a proper dead pedal.

The 1997 Corvette  C5 was the first Corvette that could truly be called a
Automotive writers and buyers alike
judged the 1997 Corvette C5 the first
Corvette that could truly
be called a "world-beater."

Instead of 28 welded pieces like the C4's, the new model's frame rails were seamless one-piece steel tubes that had been "inflated" into shape by hydraulic pressure. They defined a new perimeter-frame chassis that was vastly stronger than any previous Corvette structure. Tying it together was a chassis floor of composite plastic sheets sandwiching Ecuadorian balsa wood. Balsa proved lighter than synthetic fillers and better at absorbing noise and vibration. Mounting the fuel tank ahead of the rear axle instead of behind it enhanced the car's weight balance and cargo room.

The rear suspension was now a true short/long-arm double-wishbone design with geometry and bushings tuned for optimal ride and handling. Rear driveline componentry, meanwhile, was segregated from the structure. Transverse plastic leaf springs returned but, thanks to the stiffer structure, had lower spring rates for a softer ride. There were two suspension options: the autocross-ready (but tooth-rattling) Z51; and the high-tech F45 Selective Real Time Damping system that allowed driver-selectable "Tour," "Sport," and "Performance" modes.

Quick and offering good road feel, GM's second-generation electro-magnetic variable-assist steering automatically increased wheel effort as the car's speed increased. The brakes featured vented discs and aluminum calipers as before, but were treated to thicker rotors, and, since the ABS was integrated with the aforementioned traction-control system, the pedal no longer pulsed to signal antilock activation.

The ability of new Goodyear Eagle F1 GS Extended Mobility Tires to run airless for 200 miles convinced Chevy to eliminate the spare tire and jack altogether, which was another boon to reduced curb weight and increased cargo space. Inflation levels were monitored constantly and could be called up on an instrument-panel display. Wheel diameter was again 17 inches in front but grew to 18 in back. At 245/45ZR-17 and 275/40ZR-18, respectively, the unidirectional all-season tires were slightly narrower than the 1996 model's base tires and didn't nibble and trammel nearly as much, which made for outstanding directional stability.

The car came packed with the same complement of comfort and convenience features as before, including a removable body color roof panel (a blue-tint panel could be substituted for $650 while dual panels remained available for $950), power accessories, the proximity based keyless-entry system, a Bose audio system with an AM/FM/cassette head unit by Delco, and leather seats. All this came in at an introductory price of $37,945, just $720 more than the 1996 coupe.

Newly offered options included electronic dual-zone air conditioning for $365, a $600 remote 12-disc changer, and a $150 Memory Package that recalled the driver's settings for the outside mirrors, radio, climate-control system, and power seat.

The 1997 Corvette C5 boasted swoopier styling, Detroit's lowest air-drag factor, and the longest wheelbase in Corvette history.
The 1997 Corvette C5 boasted swoopier styling than the C4, Detroit's lowest
air-drag factor, and the longest wheelbase in Corvette history at 104.5 inches.

The automotive press was enthusiastic about the C5, comparing its performance favorably to exotic Ferraris and Porsches that were priced on a par with new homes. This was clearly a Corvette that satisfied both the emotions and the intellect, a car without excuses. Reviewers agreed that this was the quickest and most agile Corvette ever, yet they praised it for being the most-civilized iteration, as well.

While the C4 was routinely slammed for its omnipresent squeaks, rattles, vibrations, and all-pervasive lack of sophistication, the C5 was credited for its newfound rigidity, feeling of precision, and overall quality. The new Corvette earned high marks for departing from the age-old philosophy that held that a car needed to trade off ride quality to achieve better handling; this car, they felt, offered both attributes in ample amounts. Seat comfort was lauded as much as the car's ride comfort, and the much-improved instrumentation, interior ergonomics, and outward visibility were welcome changes, said the scribes.

Minor criticisms involved poor side-window seals, unwelcome air currents with the removable top off, and a tendency for the vehicle's low-slung nose to scrape dips, driveways, and parking-lot barriers.

Total sales for the foreshortened and production-constrained 1997 model year accounted for a mere 9,752 units. Even so, the new Corvette was selling briskly for the first time in more than a decade.

Learn about other Corvettes in this generation:

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

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