Against the Shark, the C4 was a bit wider, but a whopping 8.8 inches shorter overall and two inches trimmer in wheelbase. It also boasted more glass and better outward visibility.
While engineers busied themselves with technical intricacies of the 1984 Corvette, the design staff was shaping the car's appearance. The design brief was imposing. First and most obviously, the new generation had to look like a Corvette; in other words, it couldn't break with the model's traditional styling cues. Drivelines would be carried over, and though the new model could be a bit smaller outside, it had to offer more interior room. Improved outward vision and less aerodynamic drag were additional goals.
Despite all the demands, the styling job went quickly. A full-scale clay model based on a Palmer sketch was completed in September 1978. By mid-November of the following year -- a scant 14 months later -- the design was more or less final except for taillamps, front-fender trim, and nose contour.
A key development affecting room, drag, and visibility was engineering's decision to mount the steering linkage farther forward than originally envisioned. By allowing the engine to ride lower in the chassis, a correspondingly lower hoodline was achieved, with better vision forward and reduced frontal area. The latter was a big contributor to reducing effective aerodynamic drag, which is not the drag coefficient (Cd) alone but the product of the Cd multiplied by the car's frontal area.
What emerged was unmistakably a Corvette from front to back. And while its basic exterior dimensions were now slightly smaller, it still looked like a considerably large car, thanks in part to its long hood and altered proportions. Overall length was down a significant 8.8 inches despite a mere two-inch cut in wheelbase -- from 98.0 to 96.0 inches -- and just a 1.7-inch reduction in front overhang. The secret was the 5.2-inch chop in rear overhang, which gave the effect of a longer hood even though it was actually shorter. Another contribution was a 64-degree windshield angle as measured from the vertical -- then the steepest of any American production car. The base of the windshield was 1.5 inches lower and a bit farther forward than before. This, in turn, allowed the beltline to be dropped, giving the 1984 Corvette a slimmer, glassier appearance.
Probably the biggest change in the car's appearance came from that increase in width. The old pinched-waist midsection was gone, along with the bulged front and rear fenderlines, replaced by a smoother, more organic contour. The car retained its predecessor's flared wheel arches, which combined with the fat tires to accentuate the hunkered-down look. Fenders no longer conflicted with the beltline, which rose uninterrupted from the windshield toward a near-vertical Kamm-style tail (a modified throwback to 1968) with the traditional quartet of lights. In profile, the shape was a discernible wedge -- which was pleasing and functional in the GM idiom.
The '84 Corvette's tilt-up "clamshell" hood allowed no-strain engine and front suspension access. Out back, a glass hatch opened onto a much roomier trunk.
One styling element that was new to the C4 Corvette was a full-perimeter rub strip at roughly mid-body height. This not only tied the front and rear bumpers together visually but concealed the one major seam in the new bodyshell, as well as the shutlines around the clamshell hood.
After 15 years of selling Corvettes with T-tops, Chevrolet could hardly revert to a model having a fixed roof. But this time around, the T-bar was gone, replaced by a one-piece removable panel with four attachment points -- two on the windshield header and two on the rear roof hoop; this was the "targa" treatment originally planned for the C4. As on early Sharks, the panel stowed in special slots built into the top of the luggage bay. For added protection against at least casual vandals, the top could be removed only with a special wrench.Buyers had a choice of either a body-colored panel or a tinted transparent top made of scratch-resistant acrylic, the latter an option that was delayed until well after the car's introduction. Either top was far lighter and easier to handle than the awkward glass panes that preceded them.
Chevy boasted that the '84 Corvette was partly shaped in the wind tunnel. One new wrinkle in that aspect of development was the use of a sensor to compare pressure differences at various points on the car against pressure in other parts of the tunnel as the car sat in a moving airstream. While the resulting drag coefficient was not exceptional for the day at 0.34, reduced frontal area made the new Corvette much more slippery than that often-misleading value suggested. And even at that, the Cd number represented a useful 23.7 percent reduction compared to the 1982 Corvette's 0.44.
With its striking new exterior, the Corvette needed an equally arresting cockpit. Created by GM's Interior Design group under Pat Furey, it was dominated by a space-age instrument panel and the usual tall center tunnel/console. With a seating position that was slightly lower than before, the revised cabin definitely felt more spacious and open than did the prior generation's. Despite the shorter wheelbase and a 1.1-inch reduction in overall height, the 1984 offered fractional gains in head and leg room, plus a welcome 6.5-inch increase in total shoulder room, an area where the old car was decidedly tight. Cargo capacity was also greater this time around, by a useful eight cubic feet or so, and this storage was more accessible thanks to the lift-up hatch window.
Instrumentation was now directly ahead of the driver; no more secondary dials in the center of the dashboard. In fact, there were now no dials at all in the usual sense; following the fashion of the times, there was a high-tech all-electronic display supplied by AC-Delco. Road and engine speeds were monitored by both graphic analog and digital displays; between them was a sub-panel with digital engine-function readouts, including a vertical-bar-graph fuel gauge. A quartet of switches, to the left of a bank of warning lights in the center of the dash, allowed the sub-panel to display up to four additional readouts. These could include instantaneous and average miles per gallon, trip odometer, fuel range, engine temperature, oil pressure and temperature, and electrical system voltage. The displays could be changed from American-standard to metric values at the flip of a switch.
The console also housed the heat/vent/air conditioning and audio-system controls. A Delco AM/FM-stereo radio was standard, while a similar unit with cassette tape player was optional. But the audiophile's choice was the $895 GM-Delco/Bose system. Similar to systems offered on other recent GM cars, it featured four speakers in special enclosures that were shaped and placed to match the interior's acoustic properties. While such audiophile systems are relatively common today, the Corvette was the first sports car to pay such attention to the entertainment aspect of motoring.
New standard seats were specially designed highback buckets with prominent bolsters on both the cushion and backrest; they offered manual fore/aft adjustment and -- at long last -- reclining backrests. Full cloth trim was standard, with leather upholstery optional. Also offered at extra cost was the latest in seating technology supplied by Lear-Siegler. These optional seats added electric adjustment for backrest angle and cushion bolster in/out, plus a powered three-stage lumbar support adjuster using inflatable bladders that could be individually air-bled to achieve the proper contour.
The new Corvette was publicly unveiled in the early spring of 1983, and the general reaction from both the press and the public was a mixture of relief and unbridled enthusiasm. The C4 was, thank goodness, still a Corvette in appearance and mechanical layout, yet was startlingly and entirely new with a full complement of high technology residing under its fiberglass skin.
Handsome from any angle, the '84 Corvette was deliberately
less flamboyant than the Shark.
Several running changes were made shortly after the new model was announced and sales began. An engine-oil cooler was made standard equipment, and the originally standard 15-inch wheel/tire package was deleted, making the 16-inchers the only choice.
Meanwhile, regular production versions of the new Corvette were being subjected to their first full road tests, which cooled the initial euphoria of some reviewers in the enthusiast publications. The buff books predictably praised the car's acceleration and roadholding abilities, but criticized its relatively rough ride, especially with the optional Z51 suspension package; while superior on the track, it was judged as being too harsh for daily driving. The interior earned low marks for excessive exhaust and road noise, and the digital dashboard took a sound thrashing for its "Las Vegas at night" appearance and poor legibility, particularly in bright sunlight. Most reviewers pined for a return to good-old-fashioned analog gauges.
The 4+3 Overdrive manual was received with mixed reviews, and most testers agreed that it worked better with the manual override switched to the "off" position. Aside from the difficulty of trying to out-think a computer when left in auto mode, a clunky, high-effort linkage made stop-and-go driving tedious, which was aggravated by an equally unpleasant high-effort clutch. The transmission would also prove less than reliable, so it's no wonder that most Corvettes left Bowling Green with automatic in 1984 -- and would continue to do so through 1988, when the car would finally be given an acceptable manual gearbox.
Needless to say, the excitement of being able to buy an all-new Corvette for the first time in 15 years made the 1984 Corvette a fast sellout. Helped by an extra-long model year, volume zoomed back over the 50,000 mark, the total coming to 51,547 -- the second highest in Corvette history. There was even another production milestone, observed in November 1983 with completion of Corvette number 750,000.
Check out our final section for 1984 Corvette specifications.
Learn about other Corvettes in this generation:
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