Conjuring up a special edition vehicle to trigger interest and promote higher sales within its model line is a well-established marketing tool that proves most successful when the result offers exclusivity in a captivating package. To those ends, Chevrolet ushered out the C4 Corvette era by offering the daringly hued, striped, and hashmarked Grand Sport coupe and convertible in 1996. Listed under RPO Z16, production was capped at 1,000 cars (ultimately 810 coupes and 190 convertibles) and its powertrain featured the new LT4 5.7-liter V-8 with the familiar ZF six-speed transmission
Borrowing its name from the five legendary 1963 lightweight Corvette race cars developed by Zora Arkus-Duntov, the 1996 Grand Sport wore Admiral Blue metallic paint that wasn’t offered on other Corvettes and a wide white stripe, both reminiscent of one of the ’63s that A.J. Foyt had raced. Red hashmarks on the left front fender of the C4 also paid homage to identifiers used on three of its C2 namesakes.
The coupe was also fitted with rear wheel-opening flares to contain its P315/35ZR-17 Goodyear Eagle GS-C tires, which were last seen on the then recently departed ZR-1, as were the P275/40ZR-17s up front. The five-spoke ZR-1 style aluminum wheels were painted black but maintained a bright outer lip, and they measured 17 x 9.5 in front and 17 x 11 out back. Convertibles retained the standard Corvette’s 255/45ZR-17s fore and 285/40ZR-17s aft on 17 x 8 and 17 x 9.5 wheels respectively (also with ZR-1 styling), thus no rear flares were needed. The brake calipers were painted black, and those in front sported “Corvette” callouts.
Embroidered “Grand Sport” lettering adorned the perforated-leather-upholstered power-operated Sport seats with lumbar support in the black or red/black interior. Floor mats and carpeting were also black.
On January 17, 1953, the Chevrolet Corvette prototype was unveiled at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City at Motorama. But the car that we recognize today as synonymous with (relatively) accessible sportiness wasn’t as loved when it first appeared.
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Harley Earl, head designer over at GM at the time, was convinced that a two-seater sports car was the way to go, and introducing a good one could make an impression in what was then a European-dominated market. People were curious, so Chevy had to make sure it filled its expectations.
Yes, the Corvette is about style and horsepower. But the car’s handling is what set the stage for all of those ‘Vette versus Porsche 911 magazine covers over the years. No matter what vintage, the Corvette was built with an eye toward being the best-driving sports car for the buck that it could possibly be. So, let’s put aside the fiberglass, the engines, and everything else for just a moment and look at how the Corvette’s underpinnings have evolved over the years.
Generation 1: 1953-’62 If you’re a traditionalist, you’ll find plenty to like under the first-generation Corvette. The chassis is an adaptation of Chevrolet’s 1949-’54 cars, but it soldiered on until the ’63 redesign—even after all other Chevrolet automobile front ends were updated in ’55. The earliest Corvettes bounced on front coil springs with upper and lower control arms bolstered by a stabilizer bar. While that was fairly cutting edge by prewar or immediate-postwar standards, it still used kingpins to mount the spindles, limiting the range of motion and also making accurate front end alignment tricky. Steering was accomplished by a worm-and-sector style box with a pitman arm attached to a drag link that connected to a third arm. The third arm then, in turn, moved the tie rods that turned the spindles. While the setup wasn’t complicated, it wasn’t as precise or smooth as you might expect from a sports car, even by 1950s standards. The first Corvettes also had the distinction of being the only ones equipped with a solid rear axle. The Corvette rear used a removable third member like Chevrolet passenger cars through 1964, and the housing was hung from longitudinal leaf springs with direct double-acting hydraulic shock absorbers. While not as exotic as an independent axle, it was a simple, durable, and infinitely rebuildable setup. The foundation for the original Corvette chassis was a sturdy perimeter frame with boxed rails and a massive X-member tying the two sides together. This was a common approach to eliminating chassis flex in an open-top car, but it added weight.