History of the C5 Corvette

History of the C5 Corvette

C5 Corvette Z06

Named the Chevrolet Corvette (C5), made by the Chevrolet section of General Motors was the 5th generation of the Chevrolet Corvette performance vehicle line — spanning from 1997 through to 2004. Notable production sub-models include the Z06. Sporting sub-models include the 24 Hours of Le Mans GTS/GT1 class winner, C5-R, and a 24 Hours of Daytona,

History of the C5 Corvette (1997-2004)

The Corvette C5s were a significant update over their predecessor the Corvette C4; flaunting an all-new engine, a new frame, updated transmission location, and completely different styling. The C5s were offered in coupe and convertible formats, though first-year cars were only offered in coupe format.

The hydroformed box frame was a notable way the C5 strayed from its predecessor. Most effectively for a convertible body style, this offered an improved structural platform. In terms of handling, to form a rear-mounted assembly, the transmission was moved to integrate it. Using a torque tube to connect the brand new LS1 engine, the configuration allowed for a front-back weight distribution of half-half.

Compared to other sports vehicles, known for their inferior fuel economy, it flaunted much higher EPA ratings of 18mpg/25 mpg for automatic transmission and 19mpg/28mpg for manual transmission. This allowed the C5 to circumvent the "gas guzzler" tax mostly imposed on Corvette's class of vehicles. There are various factors at play for this — the low weight of the C5, the Computer-Aided Gear Shifting, and C5's low drag coefficient Computer-Aided Gear Shifting were some of such factors.

The C5 was also the first Corvette to include a drive-by-wire throttle and assistance-based steering. This is where the level of assistance of the power steering varied according to vehicle speed. This meant greater assistance at lower speeds, lower at higher speeds. Another well-received addition of the Corvette line was a head-up display or HUD. This was a transparent display that presented data without requiring users to look away from their usual viewpoints. Also notably, the C5 generation was the first to effectuate the parallel windshield wiper configuration, leaving behind the old setup utilized on every predecessor of Corvette since 1953.

The C5 boasted SMC or Sheet Molded Composite, a lightweight composite material made of fiberglass bonded and blended with plastics, for its modular body panels. This provided the C5 with significantly higher mitigation against contact blows due to its rigidness. Balsa wood was chosen for the C5's flooring for its stiffness, sound absorption qualities, and light weight. The C5 also came with composite leaf springs that were much more lightweight and sat at a much lower height than typical coil springs, giving the C5 its polished ride characteristics along with its low ride height.

Changes Through the Years

The Corvette C5 was subject to numerous changes throughout its production span. These changes were a result of factors attributed to the year and consumer demand.

1997 C5

The frame's design along with its construction methodology was different compared to other models in the Chevy line. They made use of a method known as hydro-forming — Coming in at approximately 7,000 pounds of force per square inch, 14-foot rails shaped and curved by utilization of hydraulic pressure. Essentially, it allowed the steel tubes to mold and shape under immense pressure. This allowed Chevy to achieve extremely identical and precise frames.

Structure-wise, the flooring of the Corvette was decided upon to be balsa wood. The wheels were shifted on the C5 to the corners, the purpose being to reduce turbulence of both the car and its interior. The vehicle's overall height was upped from 178.5-179.7 inches; its wheelbase was from 96.2-104.5 inches. All in all, the vehicle was 80 pounds lighter and was an improvement due to both exterior and interior factors.

With a grand total of 9,752 ever produced of these cars, it was speculated to be a marketing stunt that the first 50 C5s released in 1997 came in: 18 black, 17 red, 13 white, and 2 silver. Traditionally, the first 50 cars in production are always painted white.

1998 C5

The C5 in 1998 was subject to not much of any change; there were no apparent modifications needed. The only notable thing was the addition of the Active Handling System to the 98 C5. This Active Handling System allows the car to detect and subsequently correct unintended vehicle movements. Actions to the internal computer are done by a steering-angle, yaw-rate, and lateral acceleration sensor. In addition to this, 1998 saw the trunk being added, along with the start of production of the convertible.

A yellow-wheeled purple car was Corvette's representative in the Indy 500. This particular car's interior sported yellow and black leather. 1,163 copies of this particular car were made; compared to the previous year, the total amount of cars produced was higher by a considerable amount.

1999 C5

Corvette decided upon a hardtop style in 1999, departing away from the style of the convertible. It cost consumers a couple of hundred less and was thought to have been a budgeting move. It was, however, a performance attributed adjustment, with the sports coupe being heavier than the hardtop models of 1999.

2000 C5

Millennium Yellow was the first addition; a fitting name considering the new millennium. In conjunction with this, the year 2000 saw the release of Dark Bowling Green Metallic. Apart from paint color additions, the year 2000 saw no major edits to the C5. The only notable addition was the upgrade option of the handling package, optional to the Z51.

2001 C5

In the year 2001, the lineup saw the addition of the Z06. This particular vehicle has an exhaust system built from titanium and a comparably stiffer suspension. This was Corvette's all-out premium vehicle, and spared no expense in details, with its high-level suspension, a lightweight body, and the like. The Z06 also sported lightweight wheels, cooling in the rear brake duct, and additional stitching details as decor on its interior. The Z06 uses a tuned version of the standard LS1 engine (designated the LS6). The 5.7L LS6 V8 engine is part of GM’s Gen III Small Block engine family, and was briefly produced by General Motors for use in two high-performance vehicles: the C5-generation Chevrolet Corvette Z06 and the first-generation Cadillac CTS-V. The Z06 had a total curb weight of 3,118 lb (1,414 kg). The Z06 model was only available with the six-speed manual transmission.

2002 C5

Barring a steady increment through the years in terms of horsepower, the largest increase came in from the model released this year. Within the course of a year, the Z06 saw an upturn from a 385 horsepower capability to a 405. It should also be noted that the Indy 500 saw the return of Corvette this year.

2003 C5

An anniversary package was released; fitting, as 2003 saw the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Corvette. The red exterior paint offered celebrated the Anniversary and can be seen as an intimation of a car released in this package. The 50th Anniversary emblem could be seen emblazoned on all models offered this year.

2004 C5

2004 marked the end of the C5 generation, and models released during this period were symbolic of such; carrying the 8 years of prosperity and success. All editions of this period were offered in LeMans Blue paint.

Corvette C5 Fast Facts

  • The C5 was produced the most in the year 2002, with 35,469 models. In total, there were 248,715 models produced over the years 1997-2004. The sales numbers are as follows: 1997, 9,752; 1998, 31,084; 1999, 33.270; 2000, 33,682; 2001, 35,767; 2002, 35,627; 2003, 35,469; 2004, 34,064.
  • Late production 2002-mid 2003 Z06s were subject to valve spring failures. These considerably affected the Z06s, breaking and allowing the valve to fall into the cylinder.
  • In terms of acceleration from 0-60 mph, the C5 competes easily with nearly all high-end sports cars of its era, examples including the Ferrari 355 and the Aston Martin DB7 Vantage. It was shown to have a 4.5-second timing in terms of 0-60 mph speed for both base-model coupe and convertible, plus having standing quarter-mile times at 108 mph of around 13.3 seconds.
  • It takes approximately 55 hours to build an all-new C5 Corvette, down from 70 hours for the previous C4 model.
  • The 1997 Corvette was the first one designed from the ground up as a Corvette, with extremely little borrowing of parts from other cars; a common practice now and then. One of the few parts that were not uniquely designed were the exterior door handles, which were the same ones sported by the Oldsmobile Aurora.
  • The 2002 Z06 windshield was thinner than that used in the coupe models, shaving about 2.65 pounds per car. The lighter windshield was shared with convertibles equipped with the HUD option, which was standard on 2002 Z06 models.


On July 2, 2004, production ended, and the C5 became the final generation of Corvette to use pop-up headlamps, alongside Lotus Espirit as the last cars overall to do so. The C5 Corvette can still be found for just under $20,000 and was known as one of Jay Leno's best cars.

The Corvette C5 was praised as being the first version of an American sports car with both speed and usability, and as such, was sworn by many critics at the time. The C5 is now considered an important mark in Corvette history, being the first to utilize hydro-forming technology for its frame, and very well goes down as one of the best ever Corvettes designed and produced. Hide Post Preview

More Corvette History: C6 Corvette (2005 - 2013) · C7 Corvette (2014 - 2019) · C8 Corvette (2020 - ??)

C5 ZO6 Performance Parts Offered by Synergy