August 15, 2022

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The Chevrolet Corvette C4 Is a Classic Sports Car Steal

6 min read
There is no Rad ride more misunderstood than the C4-generation Chevrolet Corvette. The butt of...

There is no Rad ride more misunderstood than the C4-generation Chevrolet Corvette. The butt of a thousand jokes about gold chains, chest hair and mid-life crises, the 1984-1996 C4 has been lost in the sea of hyper-enthusiasm over the Japanese sports car renaissance of the late-‘80s and early-‘90s, with twin-turbos and trick all-wheel drive systems eclipsing the Corvette’s comparatively low-tech appeal 

It doesn’t help that early on Chevrolet’s hopeful halo underwent some awkward growing pains, requiring several years of refinement before being able to truly claim its status as a fun and fearsome performance machine. The subsequent appearance of the quantum-leap C5 towards the end of the ‘90s — which obliterated the C4 right out of the box in terms of performance while maintaining a moderate price point — served as a knock-out punch that further obscured the would-be icon’s tarnished reputation among collectors and enthusiasts alike.

However, for those who aren’t afraid to look beyond the conventional wisdom regarding this version of America’s sports car, the C4 Corvette presents a unique opportunity. Far better to drive than foggy memory might suggest, cheap to buy and benefiting from a raft of modern upgrades and fixes for technologies that might not have originally been ready for prime time, Chevrolet’s C4 stands today as a stealth steal among classic sports cars.

A red 1990 Chevrolet Corvette C4 sitting next to the ocean while the sun sets in an orange sky in the background

Tell me you wouldn’t want this in your garage.

Chevrolet

Growing Into the Corvette Role

Make no mistake, when it first arrived as a 1984 model (skipping ’83 due to production problems), the C4 was a legitimate high-performance machine…for its era. Being the fastest American car at a time when V8 engines struggled to surpass 150 horsepower (due to problematic emissions controls and crude electronic fuel injection systems) was the kind asterisk that dogged the Corvette throughout its early years.


Rated at a scant 205 ponies (which represented only five additional horsepower versus the C3 Corvette it replaced), the C4’s lack of drivetrain fortitude somewhat obscured numerous advancements that positioned the platform as a formidable palette for future improvement. Notably, the transition to what GM labeled a “uniframe” structure (as opposed to the body-on-frame designs used in the past) contributed to the vehicle’s reduced curb weight. The same was true of its move to fiberglass transverse leaf springs up front and plastic bumpers at each end. 

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Dropping pounds was crucial for Chevrolet at a time when power was at a premium, especially if the C4 was to crack 140 mph and at least keep the tail lights of rivals like the Porsche 930 Turbo in view. It also played an important role in the Corvette’s fantastic handling. Out of the box, the C4 pulled 0.90 g on a skidpad, and that’s at a time when tire technology was still fairly primitive. How good was the Corvette’s cornering? Let’s put it this way: The Sports Car Club of America was forced to kick the C4 out of its various racing series and create a single-marque Corvette Challenge.

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