The automotive world
changed significantly during the reign of the C4 Corvette. Computers had not only become part of the cars but perhaps more
importantly were being used extensively in the design and engineering process.
Performance car standards, along with customer's expectations, had changed. Until recently high performance
meant comfort sacrifices. Bone rattling, noisy and uncomfortable rides was the price of speed and there was no getting around
it. But technology had changed and when the latter part of the 1990s arrived, going fast did not require self imposed torture.
The C5 was introduced in 1997. It was an entirely new car; more
so than any other Corvette generation in that all major elements - the drivetrain, the chassis and the body - had not appeared
before. Something else was new: when describing the C5, road testers used the word "refined", which was not how previous Corvettes
were labeled. It's not that the Corvette was going soft in its later years; the difference was in the state of the automotive
Although still classified
as a "small block" about the only thing still in common with the original small block V8 installed in the 1955 Corvettes was
the 4.40" bore centers and the fact that both were a two valve pushrod design. The new motor was aluminum with cast-in cylinder
liners. The LS1 was designed to go 100,000 miles between major servicing - try that in 1957! It also featured a "throttle
by wire" design. This meant that the customary throttle cable was eliminated and pressing what was usually known as the gas
pedal actually moved a sensor that was part of the engine management computer. As of 1997, only BMW had sold a car in the
US with similar technology.
The output of the LS1 was 345 hp - only 30 hp less than the ZR-1 as introduced in 1990. Engine RPM was
limited to 6,000 RPM
Although the styling was all new, many of the old themes were still
present and there was no risk that anyone would mistake the new shape for anything other than a Corvette. Four tail lights,
a Corvette staple since 1961 were prominent as was the long thin coke bottle shape reminiscent of the C3 introduced in 1968.
When asked, Corvette owners made it clear that tradition was important to them and they got what they wanted.
The dash was also all
new for the C5. It was more of a dual cockpit motif and hints of the C2 interior were present; note the grab bar for the passenger
(right) which would be familiar to the passengers in C1 and C2 Corvettes.
More room in the footwell area was a welcome improvement; there was even room for a "dead pedal" on the
far left so drivers could brace themselves during hard cornering. Entry and exit was easier due to a almost 4" lower door
sill area and larger doors.
Like the C4, the suspension on the C5 used transverse composite
leaf springs on both the front and rear suspension. The C5 however featured an all new design; none of the suspension parts
were carried over from the C4. The system was fully independent and used unequal length A-arms at all four corners, a common
race car configuration. Both front and rear suspensions featured anti-sway bars.
The C5 Corvette's floor is constructed using two layers of an aircraft
type composite material wrapped around a balsa wood core. The balsa wood helps filter out noise and vibration, and makes the
floor 10 times stiffer than the use of composites alone. Numerous "high tech" synthetic fillers were tried, but none matched
the stiffness, light weight and damping performance of natural balsa wood.
The chassis side rails were shaped through a process called hydroforming,
as opposed to the multiple stampings and welding of the C4 Corvette. The new design was part of the reason why the designers
were able to lower the door sill by about four inches. Using seamless tubular steel contributed to the strength of the chassis.
Of the many innovations of the C5, the rear transaxle was at the
top of the list. With a transaxle design, the transmission and the differential are located in a combined case at the rear
axle. This was the same layout used in the Porsche 944 and Ferrari Daytona. The goal was improved balance; with the weight
shifted more to the rear a better front / rear weight distribution was possible. In the case of the C5, weight distribution
was 51% front / 49% rear which is close to ideal and an excellent statistic for a front engine car. Another advantage of the
rear transaxle was more space in the cockpit area, which resolved a complaint from C4 owners who felt that the footwell areas
was too small. Note the torque tube in front of the transaxle and to the right in the above photo. It mechanically coupled
the engine to the transaxle which improved handling response, delivering that wonderful and often elusive "sports car feel".
The wheelbase for the
C5 increased from 96.2" to 104.5" - more than eight inches. Yet the overall length of the car only increased about an inch,
from 178.5" to 179.7". Pushing the wheels out further allowed the designers to come up with a more roomy passenger area. Weight
was down by approximately 80 lbs.
The new chassis was much more rigid than the C4, despite the fact that the door sill was almost four inches
lower. A more rigid chassis makes for a more precise handling car with less potential for rattles and squeaks. This took care
of two major complaints customers had with the previous generation 'vette.
Also improved was the aerodynamics. The coefficient of drag (Cd) was a mere .29, the best of any car sold
at the time except for GMs own EV1, which could hardly be called a production car.