Cars

Chevrolet Corvette C4 History: The Technologically Advanced, Black Sheep of the Family

Love it or hate it, the fourth generation Corvette (1984 – 1996) is next in our series of Corvette history features. These cars are commonly the whipping boy of America’s sports car, however, for their time, they were highly advanced compared to their domestic peers and even outperformed some of their European counterparts. This was due to a complete overhaul of nearly every aspect of the car done by a new team of engineers and designers, who all had a new mantra to follow. You get the theme, right? It’s all about new, new, new.

This article was originally featured on HOT ROD. For more stories like this, check out the HOT ROD Network. Interested in the 2020 Corvette Stingray? Get the full story on the C8 here.

For the three prior generations, the Corvette was only slightly altered from the original design. Body styles changed, but the guts and engineering philosophy had not, and by the early ‘80s, the Corvette was showing its age. In fact, the C3, a car that had a 14-year production run, was essentially a facelifted C2. It was time for a change and GM knew it. There were plans to end C3 production in favor of the Aerovette, but that was quickly swept under the rug.

, Chevrolet Corvette C4 History: The Technologically Advanced, Black Sheep of the Family

Replacing legendary engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov, was new Corvette Chief Engineer David McLellan and Jerry Palmer stepped in as Lead Designer following Bill Mitchell’s retirement. These two, along with their teams, worked seamlessly and followed their new mantra: Form follows function. For gearheads it’s easy to only care about going fast and if you have an ugly car, make it fast so people won’t see it. At the time, the Corvette faced tough competition from the likes of the Lotus Esprit, Ferrari 308, and Porsche 944 — all cars that looked as fast as they went.

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Palmer’s design team set to work updating the look of the car while retaining the iconic Corvette vibe. The curvaceous fender flares remained along with the swooping hood-line, but the doors of the car were pushed outward, making for more interior space and a smoother body. Nearly nine inches were removed from the overall length of the car, most of which was cut out of the tail. Remember the one-piece removable roof from the early designs of the C3 that was tabled in place of the T-Tops? It returned for the C4, which was able to accommodate it because of the reinforced steel unibody construction, a first in Corvette’s history.

The C4 was one of the most seamless looking cars of the time, which was achieved in part via a rub strip that circled the entire car. It hid the clam-shell hood gap in the front of the car as well as the main seam in the fiberglass bodywork. GM also subjected the car to wind tunnel testing to maximize aerodynamic efficiency, the first time GM had done any testing of the sort.

It didn’t stop there. The interior was given the same meticulous treatment. The instrument panel featured digital interfaces which drivers could cycle through while sitting in the comfort of their reclining and multi-adjustable seat, another first for the Vette. The driver and passenger could enjoy tunes from a premium sound system, an element of the sports car driving experience seldom focused on by other manufacturers of the time.

All of the design elements came together, from sketches to final concept, in less than two years with Palmer leading the charge. McLellan’s engineering team had their work cut out for them. Things like Zora’s independent rear suspension was retained and updated, but the biggest change was what Chevrolet cleverly referred to as the “birdcage.” Yes, the Corvette was now a unibody car that boasted a galvanized steel skeleton for the fiberglass panels to attach to.

The front suspension now used a transverse leaf spring mounted to each lower control arm as opposed to individual coil springs, and for the first time, a rack and pinion steering system was installed which tightened up the handling. Zora’s three-link, independent rear suspension, though revolutionary at the time of its creation, was improved upon with a five-link system that further triangulated the back of the car, increasing stability and performance. A Z51 handling package was also available that included “gymkhana” type components (yeah, you read that right) for further improved handling. This, coupled with tires straight out of Goodyear’s Indy and F1 rain tire program, allowed the car to turn at 0.95g on the skidpad. Directional alloy wheels were introduced to increase brake efficiency and cooling.

, Chevrolet Corvette C4 History: The Technologically Advanced, Black Sheep of the Family, Chevrolet Corvette C4 History: The Technologically Advanced, Black Sheep of the Family

Initially, the anemic 350ci small-block carried over from the C3 with a whopping 205 hp and 290 lb-ft of torque in the base models. It was coupled with the so-called 4+3 transmission- a four-speed manual transmission with a hydraulically-actuated overdrive bolted to the tailshaft. Designed to increase fuel economy during highway cruising, the hydraulic clutch was actuated in second through fourth gear and was later changed to an electronic toggle switch on the dash. This was basically what you’d call a gear splitter which was automatically disengaged under heavy acceleration.

After several years of work, the car was ready to go on the show circuit in 1983 where it was met with high praise. Sadly, Chevrolet missed a key marketing opportunity with car’s 30th anniversary being 1983, however, that didn’t seem to hinder its popularity as it entered a 12-year production run from 1984-1996.

The biggest changes to the C4 came in the form of special editions and a few engines over those 12 years. The ZR-1 from 1990-1995 was a considerable leap forward in terms of engine technology. GM teamed up with renowned UK racing outfit Lotus, which designed an aluminum block, dual-overhead cam, 32-valve V8 that made 375 hp; the most power under the hood of a Vette in a number of years. This is engine would be dubbed the LT5 and sent the ZR-1 from 0-60 mph in under 5 seconds. Other special editions included a 35th and 40th anniversary cars, Indy Pace cars, the Grand Sport, and the Brickyard 400 Parade Car, to name a few.

With all of the effort put into world class design and engineering the C4 it is a shame that it didn’t stand the test of time. In secondhand form these cars are either falling apart, have questionable electrics at best and are tough to get working with the original equipment. They can also end up meeting their demise in the hands of the dudes at Roadkill who chopped it up into what is now the “Vette Kart.” Not that that’s bad, in fact their antics helped revive interest in the cars. Unless you find a mint example, or have a love as deep as your pockets, these cars are good for a late-model engine swap. Do that and throw some new suspension parts under it and you’ve got yourself some epic, cheap thrills. Regardless of what you can do now, the C4 was a total departure from its predecessors and paved the way for even more advances to come.

, Chevrolet Corvette C4 History: The Technologically Advanced, Black Sheep of the Family
, Chevrolet Corvette C4 History: The Technologically Advanced, Black Sheep of the Family
, Chevrolet Corvette C4 History: The Technologically Advanced, Black Sheep of the Family
, Chevrolet Corvette C4 History: The Technologically Advanced, Black Sheep of the Family
, Chevrolet Corvette C4 History: The Technologically Advanced, Black Sheep of the Family
, Chevrolet Corvette C4 History: The Technologically Advanced, Black Sheep of the Family
, Chevrolet Corvette C4 History: The Technologically Advanced, Black Sheep of the Family
, Chevrolet Corvette C4 History: The Technologically Advanced, Black Sheep of the Family
, Chevrolet Corvette C4 History: The Technologically Advanced, Black Sheep of the Family
, Chevrolet Corvette C4 History: The Technologically Advanced, Black Sheep of the Family
, Chevrolet Corvette C4 History: The Technologically Advanced, Black Sheep of the Family
, Chevrolet Corvette C4 History: The Technologically Advanced, Black Sheep of the Family
, Chevrolet Corvette C4 History: The Technologically Advanced, Black Sheep of the Family
, Chevrolet Corvette C4 History: The Technologically Advanced, Black Sheep of the Family
, Chevrolet Corvette C4 History: The Technologically Advanced, Black Sheep of the Family
, Chevrolet Corvette C4 History: The Technologically Advanced, Black Sheep of the Family
, Chevrolet Corvette C4 History: The Technologically Advanced, Black Sheep of the Family
, Chevrolet Corvette C4 History: The Technologically Advanced, Black Sheep of the Family
, Chevrolet Corvette C4 History: The Technologically Advanced, Black Sheep of the Family
, Chevrolet Corvette C4 History: The Technologically Advanced, Black Sheep of the Family
, Chevrolet Corvette C4 History: The Technologically Advanced, Black Sheep of the Family
, Chevrolet Corvette C4 History: The Technologically Advanced, Black Sheep of the Family
, Chevrolet Corvette C4 History: The Technologically Advanced, Black Sheep of the Family

The post Chevrolet Corvette C4 History: The Technologically Advanced, Black Sheep of the Family appeared first on MotorTrend.

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Thanks for sharing this, you are awesome !

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