The cars we loved.
1983 would have been a big year for the Corvette. As it turns out it was, but not for the reasons Chevrolet had hoped. America’s sports car was supposed to be ready for the 83′ model year, but delays in its development due to quality issues delayed its launch until 1983. A few 1983 models were built and used as test mules, while about a half-dozen of them were made available to the press for testing. The wait for the rest of us was said to be worth it. The Camaro/Firebird beat the Corvette out of the gate and was the public’s first look at modern GT/Sports car design from GM. The F body cars were a monumental step forward in technology from the muscle car era inspired F body. This put the pressure on the “C4” Corvette team to deliver. The outgoing C3 Corvette could trace its roots back to 1968!
The car that went on sale to the public in March of 1983 as an 84 model was the pinnacle of GM automotive design and technology. Overseen by Chevrolet design chief Jerry Palmer, it was then most technological advanced production car in the world, if only for a moment. No longer purely made of fiberglass, the 3,200 lb. Vette now featured exotic plastic composites on the rear bumper and other panels. The engine was a partial carryover from the last fourth generation of C4 car as its known to fans and insiders. It used the Crossfire Fuel injection system that would later be used in the Camaro. The 5.7L L83 V8 produced 205 hp, propelling the new car to 60 in just under 7 seconds. That was a much better performance proposition than the heavier under powered Camaro Z28 of the same year. The performance came at a price, starting at $21,000 it was the most expensive Chevrolet up to that time.
The shape was recognizable as a Corvette with the four round rear tail lamps and the twin vented grill front with pop up headlights. With 13 color choices, the new Vette was sure to make an impression. The coke bottle curves of the last car were tamed to a subtle wedge styled as much for aerodynamics as appearance. The end result looked grown up and sophisticated. Dare one say European, as the Corvette would finally be taken seriously by the foreign automotive press with its new technical ambitions and performance mandate. The Vette had become more functional in the process. The one time only opening glass hatch of the Special Edition 1982 car was now standard on all Corvettes for 1983. There was also an optional removable transparent roof panel. A convertible would not come until 1986.
To complement the modern exterior, the cabin was brought up to 80’s standards with more technology than a video game arcade. While not up to the standards of a Porsche, Ferrari or even a Supra, the plastic surfaces were a modest upgrade from the 82 car. Maybe a bit too much like the Camaro/Firebird for most people’s taste. The dash featured LED displays, monitoring more than 14 functions while tach and speedometer were represented as curves. Unfortunately, the speedometer graph would go only to 85 mph per government regulations, but the Corvette was capable of a top speed of 140 mph. A three digit numeral display would still show the actual speed (even if above 85 mph). The digital display was controversial, dividing the Corvette camp between traditionalist and younger enthusiast who had just put their Atari and Intellivision game consoles away. The traditionalist won out as the Star Wars style panel proved problematic in the long run. Chevrolet would teeter between refinements to full analogue to somewhere in-between in later models. Other variations of the technology would be seen in the Camaro Berlinetta and to some extent various Pontiacs through the 80s.
The rumble of the V8 was always present, but occupants could enjoy a four speaker Bose stereo system. The GM/Delco/Bose unit was the first true four speaker car sound systems since Quad Stereo in the 70’s. As one of the Corvette’s most expensive options, it was worth it because it sounded better than most buyer’s pre CD era home systems. GM would offer variations of this system in other cars as the 80’s progressed. Despite the new technology, throwbacks to the 70’s like the CB radio was still offered as an option. The Corvette would later become one of the first GM cars to have a factory installed CD option in 1990. Leather adorned the base seats while the optional sport seats were cloth with more lumbar support for taking corners aggressively.
Even manual shift operations were subjected to computer control. Chevy’s trick “4+3” manual transmission had an automatic overdrive in the top three gears. Allowing one manual shift with the rest being fully automated beyond second gear. This system was used until 1989 when it was replaced by a ZF 6-speed manual. The list of firsts was a long one. Goodyear developed a new Eagle 255/50VR 16 tire that was engineered for each corner of the car. As with previous Corvettes, the C4 had a fully independent suspension with Bilsten high pressure gas shocks. New lightweight aluminum wheels with finned ports that helped cool the power disc brakes. According to a 1984 Road & Track article, the 1984 Corvette’s 0.89 figure was as good as the Ferrari 512 and Lamborghini Countach, two sports cars that cost many times more than the Corvette. O to 60 times of 7 seconds were slower than the Italian competition, but on par with more practical luminaries of the day like the Nissan 280ZX and Toyota Supra. Speaking of global competition, the Corvette was sold in Europe in limited numbers (under its own name). Slight differences such as turn signals,two-tone fog lights, side markers and guages distinguish the North American and European cars.
Over 50,000 Corvettes were sold in 1984, making Chevrolet’s flagship sports car a best-selling sports car for 1984. It’s advances in performance, comfort and efficiency made it a quantum leap over the 1982 car. The C5 would mark Corvettes long road to respectability on the world stage.