Monday 6th January 1997
Chevrolet unveiled the 1997 Corvette, dubbed the “C5”, powered by a new small block V-8 engine, the LS1, with 345 hp and 10:1 compression ratio.
A major change from its predecessor the C4, the C5 featured a hydroformed box frame, a design that offered an improved structural platform, especially for a convertible body style. To improve handling, the transmission was relocated to form an integrated, rear-mounted transaxle assembly. Connected to the all-new LS1 engine via a torque tube, the engine/transmission arrangement enabled a 50-50% front-rear weight distribution. The LS1 engine initially produced 345 hp (257 kW), subsequently increased in 2001 to 350 hp (261 kW). The 4L60-E automatic transmission carried over from previous models, but the manual was replaced by a Borg-Warner T-56 6-speed capable of a 175 mph (282 km/h) top speed. Relative to the C4, the new platform and structural design substantially reduced squeaks and rattles.
In the inaugural model year (1997), only the fastback coupé (more like a hatchback coupé) was offered, with the convertible – the first to offer a trunk since 1962. In 1999, a third body style, the hardtop (also referred to as the “fixed-roof coupé” or “FRC”), was added to the lineup. This body style, as its name suggests, featured a fixed top (no removable targa top panel as with the fastback coupé) with a roofline shape and trunk space similar to that of the convertible, as well as a distinctive notchback-style rear window.
Aside from cosmetic differences (new wheel styles, paint colors, pace car/commemorative editions in 1998, 2003, and 2004, etc.), horsepower boosts, and new offerings for optional equipment, there were few fundamental changes from one model year to the next within the production run of the C5. One of the more popular “high-tech” options introduced in the Corvette line was a head-up display or HUD, while another innovation was the Active Handling System (first available as an option in 1998, then standard on all models in 2001). The C5 was also the first Corvette to incorporate a drive-by-wire throttle; and variable-effort steering, whereby the assist level of the power steering is varied according to vehicle speed (more at lower speeds, less at higher speeds). Also notable, though rarely discussed, the C5 generation was the first model to adopt the parallel or ‘tandem’ windshield wiper configuration, abandoning the opposed configuration that was used on every previous Corvette model since the first in 1953.
In contrast to the reputation of high-performance vehicles for poor fuel economy, the C5 achieves comparatively high EPA ratings of 18 mpg‑US (13 L/100 km; 22 mpg‑imp) / 25 mpg‑US (9.4 L/100 km; 30 mpg‑imp) mpg (city/highway) with the automatic transmission and 19 mpg‑US (12 L/100 km; 23 mpg‑imp) / 28 mpg‑US (8.4 L/100 km; 34 mpg‑imp) with the manual transmission, allowing it to avoid the “gas guzzler” tax that is levied against most other vehicles in the Corvette’s class. A number of factors are responsible for this: the relatively light weight of the C5 (a curb weight under 3,300 lb (1,500 kg); Chevrolet went so far as to omit the spare tire as a weight-saving measure, relying upon run-flat tires instead); the C5’s low drag coefficient; and the vehicle’s tendency to upshift into the higher gears as soon as possible. The manual transmission’s Computer-Aided Gear Shifting results in an obligatory shift from 1st gear directly into 4th gear under certain driving conditions; the system can be deactivated through the use of an aftermarket device.
Suspension choices for the base model C5 were limited to the standard suspension (RPO FE1), with options for either the autocross-inspired FE3 Sport Suspension (included with the Z51 Performance & Handling Package and standard on the 1999–2000 FRC); or the F45 Selective Ride Control Suspension, which permitted “on-the-fly” driver selection of different ride characteristics (sport or touring). Late in the production run (starting with the 2003 model year), the F55 Magnetic Selective Ride Control Suspension replaced the F45 as the third suspension choice. The racing-inspired FE4 suspension used for the Z06 is stiffer again than any offered on the base model C5, and is unique to that model with no optional suspensions offered. The C5’s suspension consisted of independent unequal-length double wishbones with transverse fiberglass mono-leaf springs and optional magnetorheological dampers.
The C5 is capable of matching or besting the 0–60 mph acceleration times of some of the world’s premier sports cars, including the Aston Martin DB7 Vantage, and the Ferrari 355. A composite of published performance numbers for the base-model coupé and convertible gives a 0–60 mph time of around 4.5 seconds, and a standing quarter-mile time of around 13.3 seconds at 108 mph (both times for a vehicle equipped with the 6-speed manual transmission).