Launched in the UK in 1998 after receiving rave reviews in the USA, the Chevrolet Corvette C5 came as a welcome surprise to many expecting yet another bloated barge. Yes, it was still big, heavy, made of plastic and boasted engine technology that most manufacturers had consigned to their museums, but somehow the Corvette made it all seem like common sense. With fuel consumption no worse than the latest generation four-wheel drive rally replicas and performance to worry Ferrari drivers, the Corvette combined this with styling that was sleek where its predecessor was crass and a list price of just £36,525 upon launch. A bargain, as long as you were prepared to sit on the wrong side, as all Corvettes were left hand drive.
Available as either a targa-roofed coupe or a full convertible, the Corvette retained many of the styling cues from previous generation cars such as the pop-up headlights, the four round tail lights, the long bonnet and the short stern section. With a Cd of only 0.29, stylist John Cafaro has, to most eyes, done an excellent job.
The engine was the familiar 5.7-litre Chevrolet Small Block V8, complete with pushrods actuating the two valves per cylinder, which sounds more like something from the seventies, but which had benefited from a number of improvements. The whole engine block and cylinder head were now made of aluminium, and the inlet manifolds were constructed of sophisticated composite materials, lowering the weight of what was once a very heavy engine. Whilst weight may have been slashed, power was boosted up to a rippling 344bhp, mated to either a four-speed automatic or a six-speed manual gearbox.
At the start of 1999, the Corvette received a series of small improvements. Technological achievements were at the forefront, with a Head Up Display projecting information onto the windscreen and an Active Handling Package (stability control) to help drivers keep their Corvettes in one piece. The Twilight Sentinel system was fitted as standard, automatically switching on the headlights at dusk or in poor weather conditions, and an electrically adjustable steering column was added to the options list. A three-year/60,000 mile warranty package was also introduced, giving Corvette buyers additional peace of mind.
For 2001 Chevrolet offered two new colours, Speedway White and Quiksilver, electrochromic mirrors, chrome tipped exhausts and a slimline multi-function key fob. More importantly, the engine management system was fettled to give a wider range of torque right across the rev range. Beefed-up anti-roll bars with optional "touring/sport/performance" switchable suspension give more feedback to the driver, a criticism of the earlier C5 models. Official UK imports finished in early 2002.