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C5 Corvette - 1997 to 2004 - The 19897 Corvette

I was fortunate enough to see the all-new 1997 Chevrolet Corvette in a GM studio photograph long before the official intro. The problem was, I couldn't share what I saw with anyone. What I saw was a car that, while maintaining the styling cues of a Corvette, looked nothing like the car it was to replace. Every generation of Corvette previously had abandoned the styling of the old for the new. If one thinks of Corvette's nemesis, the eternal Porsche 911, the heritage is distinct, the shape evolving.

For Corvette, the changed were dramatic. The hood no longer had a clamshell shape, but it still opened from the rear. Wheels were now 17-inches in the front, 18 in the rear. The engine was now an all aluminum unit, something only two prodution Corvette had previously been built with, the ZL1s. For better weight distribution, the transmission moved to the rear. Construction was simpler, and all body seams were eliminated. Even with all these changes, the product being assembled by the men and women in Bolwing Green, Kentucky was a Corvette.

The fans of the C4 were many, as were the detractors. Corvette was the best at delivering bang for the buck. No other car in it's price class was even close at delivering the performance of the C4. The sturdy pushrod V8s had excellent packaging potential while delivering massive amounts of torque. These traits were all compromised in the C4 with its choppy ride, cramped interiors, and suspect build quality.

The C5 addressed those concerns and offered solutions. What was good about the C4 would be retained, even enhanced. The shortcomings were to be eliminated.

Styling of the new Corvette would take a softer approach. The wedgy C4 bodywork would be sculpted by the air, stretched tight and purposeful. The front fascia was opened, no longer relying on cooling air to be forced into the radiator from beneath. Brake cooling ducts were integrated, and a reshaped front license plate pocket and filler completed the look. Fog lamps were now optional, and appeared as round bullets in the engine cooling slots. The park/turn signal/daytime running lamps wrapped around the fascia's corner, eliminating the need for a seperate side marker lamp. Atop the fascia was the new ovalized Corvette logo.

The hood and front fenders were now seperate units and they were much ligher than the clamshell design of the C4. Headlamps were still retractable, now having composite lenses. The front fenders had large air extraction vents, flowing into the doors, much as the coves of the first generation Corvettes. The mirrors were free standing units and were designed to fold back in minor bumps. The door handles had an interesting origin; to save costs, designers went to the parts bin and found the door handles from the 1995 Oldsmobile Aurora worked nicely.

All the body panels were bolted into place. There were no natural detail lines to run a bodyside rub strip as on the C4. A body color adhesive molding started just behind the fender vent and traveled to the door, decreasing in thickness as it traveled the length. The fuel filler door appeared on the left rear quarter panel for the first time since 1962 when it moved top the top of the rear deck. On the rear quarter was a red oval side marker lamp. There was no external radio antenna. Instead, a pair of antennas were laid in the windshield and rear backlight.

The roof was still a one piece lift off fibreglass panel, however the frame was now made of cast magnesium for reduced mass. The roof had a modest "double bubble" look to it, mimicking some of the sports racing cars of the 60's whose "bubbles" were a design element to allow drivers of various sizes to fit in the cars, that is without bumping their heads. Top removal was simpler, as it no longer special required tools. The top used simple latches to secure the top and like the C4, there were built in storage brackets in the cargo area. The rear window had a body panel added to the rear, expanding the size of the opening, easing cargo area access. In fact, the reach over distance was reduced by over thirteen inches, compared to the C4. The rear end of the car had a very heavy, bulbous l ook, unbefitting the clean lines of the car. The tail pipes exited in a two pairs of chrome tipped pipes through a special cutout in the center of the car. The mufflers were mounted outboard, and vents were cast in the rear bumper cover to relieve the hot air.

Entering the cabin was easier. The new process called hydroforming allowed the frame rails to be lower and step in height was marketedly reduced. Ahead of the driver and through the three spoke leather steering wheel was a proper set of round dials. The C4 started life with a digital cluster and ended its term with a much better, but compromised set of needle pointer gauges. In the C5, a bold pair of circular gauges for the speedometer and tachometer were flanked by gauges for engine oil pressure and coolant temperature , a fuel gauge, and a voltmeter. At the bottom of the cluster was a digital readout that could display numeric values for most of the gauge information, plus tire pressures, fuel economy, and range. The readout could also be programmed to greet the owner, displaying their name.

The ignition key moved from the steering column to the instrument panel for the first time since 1968. The key was a new double sided piece, and ended GMs long tradition of a door/trunk key and an ignition key. The keys still had a resistance value that had to be read before the car would start, but an embedded pellet was no longer needed. The metal of the key itself was made to the resistance value needed.

The instrument panel took on a twin cockpit theme, inspired by the midyear interiors. There was even a grab handle on the passenger side. A large glove box was on the passenger side, along with the airbag. The center stack held the radio and the air conditioning control head. If the optional electronic temperature control air conditioning control (RPO C68) was ordered, a pair of round dials with digital temperature readouts appeared. The parking brake lever returned to the center console after its thirteen year trial in the C4.

The seats were all new and lighter in weight, grander in support. Two styles were availablem the base and the RPO AQ9 Adjustable Sport Seats with power adjustable backrest wings and lumbar support. Leather coverings were standard. The parking brake lever returned to the center console after spending over a decade on the floor, next to the driver's left leg. The steering column sprouted a new stalk on the right, and it operated the wipers. Inside the console was the button for the electric fuel door release.

Rear cago area was increased enough to hold a GM mandated pair full size golf bags. There was additional storage under a panel at the back of the cargo area, and a pair in the far corners. The roll out rear cargo cover was replaced with an optional cover that snapped onto the rear window, keeping what was beneath from prying eyes.

GM pioneered a new process for building the frame for the new Corvette; hydroforming. With this process, fourteen foot long laser welded tubes were filled with fluid and placed in to dies with 200 tons of force at their command. The frame rails were precisely bent and embossed in seconds, leaving behind stiffer, simpler, and lighter pieces than the fourteen that made up the C4's rails. The windshield header was made of welded aluminum casting and extrusions, reducing mass and lowering the center of gravity. A cast magnesium cross car beam ran the width of the interior and located the steering column and instrument panel. An oversized driveshaft tunnel filled the area between the seats, adding stiffness to the structure, The tunnel further added to the overall chassis stiffness by having a closeout panel attached by thirty-six bolts. The floor pans added a new dimension of vehicle construction as they were made from fibreglass with a balsa wood core. These panels were stiff, strong, and light, plus they dampend sould extremely well.

The C5 retained the basic front suspension system of the C4, however the track was widened and only the upper control arms were made of forged aluminum, the lower arms were cast. The composite fibreglass/eboxy front leaf spring was retained, serving the aid in grater roll control and lower centre of gravity then traditional coil spring. Steering the new Corvette was a rack and pinion system, but now incorporated GM's Magnasteer II assist. The system allowed for higher assist levels at low speed (such as parking) and lower assist levels as speed increased, providing more road feel. The overall steering ratio was 16.1 to 1.

At the rear, the C5 suspension is updated by using upper and lower control arms constructed of cast aluminum. The new design no longer used the rear axle shafts as a suspension locating member. The axle now just drives the car, no longer being subject to suspension loads. Like the front, a composite transverse leaf spring is utilized.

Three suspension calibrations were offered on the 1997 Corvette. The base suspension which was developed to give competent ride and handling. The next option was an improved version of the Selective Real Time Damping (RPO F45) pioneered on the C4. F45 used accelerometers attached to the control arms to measure the rate and travel to the arms to adjust the shock absorber settings to control comfort, roll, and dive. Three settings were available, Tour, Sport, and Performance. The settings allowed for a more comfortable ride when the tour mode was chosen with damping rates nearly equal to the optional RPO Z51 suspension when in performance mode. The Z51 suspension system was themost agressive suspension in the lineup, however it benefitted from the stiffer frame of the C5 that allowed for lower spring rates tyhan the C4 offered. The Z51 cars did haver higher spring rates than the base suspended car, along with larger shocks and stabilizer bars. The stabilizer basr were sized at .75" for base and F45 and .85" when Z51 equipped. The bar sizes were the same front and rear.

Braking systems were improved by using new dual piston front calipers and larger rotors. The front calipers were made stylish by having the "Corvette" visibly cast into the outer surface. Braking was assisted with a four-channel Bosch V antilock braking system. The rear calipers were single piston units. Both front and rear calipers were of the sliding style for reduced friction. Braking distances were reduced of the C4. Brake rotors were niminally sized at 12.75-inches (325mm) in the front and 12.0-inches (305mm) at the back.

The fuel tank was moved from the rear most part of the car to an area ahead of the rear axle. There were two tanks that sat on each side of the drive axle tube, joined by a large tube. There were two pumps and two sending units, calibrated to give the total fuel quantity to the gauge.

The wheels and tires were a marked departure from the C4. While the C4 did offer differing wheel widths between front an rear, on the C5, the wheel diameters differed as well. The C5 had rather chunky looking 17 x 8.5 inch cast aluminum wheels in the front, while the rear wheels measured 18 x 9,5 inches. Tires that wrapped the wheels were Goodyear Extended Mobility Tires (commonly refereed to as "run flats") that were designed with stiff sidewalls and could travel up to 100 miles distance with zero air pressure. The tires were sized at P245/45ZR-17 in the front and P275/40ZR-18 in the back. The tires included a tire pressure monitoring system which differd from the C4 design by having the transmitters located in the valve stems. With the use of run flat tires, the spare tire along with jack, tools and carrier were eliminated.

The engine for the C5 was all-new, now constructed of aluminum. GM's powertrain engineers built the engine on the same formula that had filled the engine bays of Corvettes for years The engines were designed with pushrod operated overhead valves and 4.4 inch bore centers. While the engines that were known as 5.7 litre V8s displaced 350 cubic inches, the new 5.7 displaced 346 ci. The bore and stroke was 4.00" by 3.48 inches in the 350, but the new engine, designated LS1, had a smaller bore of 3.90 x 3.62 inches. The engine also deviated from traditional small blocks by using rods with 6.1" on center lenghts versus 5.7" of all other 350 V8s. Unlike previous small blocks, the LS1 engine block was cast below the crankshaft centerline for increased stiffness. To this the crankshaft was supported by four bolt main bearing caps with one additional cross bolt per side per cap for additional strength. The oil pan was flat with "wings" on each side for additional oil capacity. The pan was a cast aluminum piece and added to overall block sitffness. The engine had cylinder liners cast in place and were made of durable cast iron.

The camshaft operated the valves via roller hydraulic lifters, pushrods, and roller rocker arms. The LS1 egine was conceived to be port injected and the design of the cylinder heads reflected the target. In previous years, intake ports were more squared off, keeping the fuel mixed as it made it's way from the carburetor to the cylinders. In the LS1, or Gen III small block, the intake ports were narrow slits, optimized for the injectors fuel spray into the air on its way to the combustion chambers. The other big change was the elimination of siamesed ports on the cylinder heads. On all small blocks back to Ed Cole's 265 cubic inch original, the outer intake ports were side by side, with the inner exhaust ports doing the same. The new design was much like what had been employed on the Mark IV big block in 1965- the ports were now symetrical, each port was identical. Cleaner airflow and higher performance potential was the result.

The new heads were secured by four bolts, and these bolts were longer, and went deeper into the block for greater strength. The flat top pistons moved the top ring higher up, reducing the crevice area between the top of the ring and the combustion chamber, reducing unburned hydrocarbons. The ignition system ditched the "Optispark" distributor and went to a distributorless coil near plug system where eight individual coils provided the spark. The coils were mounted atop the rocker arm covers.

The intake manifold wasn't the piece of artwork that the L98's TPI or the LT1's SFI's were but it was purposeful. The new manifold was a cast polymer unit. The intake tracts were smoothe, there was metal flashing to clean up in the manufacturing process. The manifold was covered with beauty shields proclaiming LS1. The shields covered up the wiring and plumbing going to the eight injectors.

The engine was setback behind the front axle to give the C5 a nearly 50/50 weight distribution. With the transmission being moved to the rear, the center driveshaft tunnel was narrower. On manual transmission cars, the clutch was still at the front, attached to the engine. Because there was no torque multiplication, the driveshaft was a very small low mass item. A ridgid aluminun torque tube attached the engine to the transmission on manuals, or the bell housing on automatics. By using the tube, no U-joints were required n the driveshaft.

The manual transmission was a Borg-Warner 6-speed manual. This replaced the stronger and costlier ZF unit that was introduced on the 1989 C4. The transmission was bolted directly to the Getrag rear axle and pushed the car along with a 3.42:1 rear axle ratio. In sixth gear, the overdrive ratio was.50 to 1. The automatic was a 4-speed unit and unlike the manual, the torque converter was located at the rear, attached to the transmission. With the automatic, the base rear axle ratio was 2.73:1 with an optional G92 Performance Axle ratio of 3.15:1.

The 1997 Corvette had a true dual exhaust system with a pair of catylitic converters mounted just off the exhaust manifolds. The pipes fed a pair of mufflers mounted in the outboard corners that snaked around to exit in the center through a pair of bright ovalized tips per muffler.

The wheelbase of the car was over eight inches longer, now at 104.5 inches, while the overall length was only increased 178.5 inches to 179.6 inches. The overall width was increased 2.9 inches to 73.6" with the track groing to 62.1 in the front and an even 62 in the rear. Curb weight was reduced to 3,224 lbs, equivalent to the C4's introdutory weight, but 70 pounds less than the 1996 editions final curb weight.

The model was late in arriving, so only 9,752 units. the lowest production since 1960 10,261 Corvettes left the St. Louis factory. The 1997 ushered in a new era of Corvette, one whose manufacturing process would influence the next generation and powerteams, a generation beyond thaT.

Total Production - 9,752
Model Number Description Production Base Price
1YY07 Corvette Sport Coupe 9,752 $37,495.00

Engine Codes
RPO Cu. In. / L Horsepower Torque Fuel System Trans Block Code Comp Ratio :1 Emissions
LS1 346 / 5.7 345 @ 5600 350 @ 4400 Sequenial Multi Port EFI Man ZYC 10.1 All
LS1 346 / 5.7 345 @ 5600 350 @ 4400 Sequenial Multi Port EFI Auto ZYD 10.1 All

Color & Trim Codes
Exterior Color Codes Interior Trim Codes
Color Code Color Code
Arctic White 10U Black Leather 193 / AR9
Black 41U Light Gray Leather 923 /AR9
Nassau Blue metallic 23U Firethorn Red 943 /AR9
Fairway Green Metallic 87U Black Leather Sport Seats 193 / AQ9
Torch Red 70U Light GraY Leather Sport Seats 923 / AQ9
Light Carmine Red Metallic 53U Firethorn Red Sport Seats 943 / AQ9
Sebring Silver Metallic 13U
Dimensions
Corvette Coupe
Overall Length 179.7
Height 47.7
Width 73.60
Wheel Base 104.5
Track F / R 62.0 / 62.1
Curb Weight 3229 Auto
3218 Man
Dimensions are in inches, weight in pounds unless otherwise noted.

1997 - "The best 'Vette yet!"
1998 - Pace Car Purple
1999 - Hardtop with Lightness at no Charge
2000 - A Corvette for the Millenium (Yellow)
2001 - Zee-Oh-Six
2002 - Best Selling C5
2003 - Corvette celebrates 50 in Anniversary Red
2004 - Commemorating in Carbon Fibre

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