An American legend, the Chevrolet Corvette is the world’s longest-running continuously produced passenger car, having been built in its various iterations since its humble beginnings in 1953. After a starring role in early 60s television drama Route 66, the Corvette became synonymous with freedom and adventure and became widely known as 'America’s Sports Car'. A genius but unofficial marketing move with NASA’s astronauts by a Florida based Chevrolet dealer, offering them “special” lease terms to be seen driving Corvettes, ensured that even America’s space heroes drove Corvettes.
Whilst American car makers faced very dark times during the 1970s and 80s, under pressure from European and Japanese imports as well as increasingly hard emissions and safety regulations, the Corvette was a rare shining light that kept the American dream going. Although similar cars like the Camaro were meeting their downfall, the Corvette braved the storm and emerged on the other side as an American icon.
The venerable C5 (1997-2004) was the first modern Corvette to challenge the world’s best sports cars on truly level ground, the first Corvette to take a class victory at Le Mans, and the last Corvette to feature those oh-so-cool hidden headlamps. But the fifth-gen Vette came very close to not existing at all. According to Russ McLean, platform manager for the model, General Motors management made the decision to “sunset” America’s most iconic sports car in the Nineties. McLean and a group of rebels ignored the decision and continued development of the Corvette, much of it off the books and on their own time.
Eventually, the big wigs came back around to the idea of building the C5. Celebrated as world-class upon its debut, it would go on to win everywhere from the SCCA Solo Nationals in Topeka to the Mulsanne straight in France. Now caught in that uncomfortable middle ground between new-car smell and classic-car kudos, the C5 is arguably the greatest performance bargain on the market. It can still cut the mustard on a road course, at the drag strip, or at a Saturday night cruise-in.