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Illustrated Corvette Series No. 108 - 1999 Corvette "Another Great Year"
What we didn’t know in 1997 was that there was to be a three-stage rollout for the new Corvette. First, there was the big-splash introduction of the C5 in ’97 - the first new edition in 13 years. The following year, the ‘98 convertible stunned the motoring press, whose members seemed unprepared for such a well-rounded car. And finally, in ‘99 we saw the arrival of the new Corvette hardtop. This was the first fixed-roof Vette since 1967.
Automotive journalists were simply enraptured by the ’99 model. Car and Driver magazine voted the car to its “10 Best Cars of 1999” list, while the readers of AutoWeek magazine voted it “Best Car of the Year.” You can’t buy advertising like that! When testers can only complain about flimsy seatback latches or having to get out to put the top down, it’s clear that all the fundamental elements of a design are in place. All of this netted GM increased sales for ‘99. Even though the base price was increased $1,667, to $39,171, buyers drove home 33,270 Corvettes, up 2,186 from 1998. The GM bean counters were very happy.
The other big news for 1999 was the Corvette’s return to factory-supported racing. Chevrolet contracted race-car builders Pratt & Miller to build two C5-R Corvettes to compete against the Vipers, Porsches, Ferraris, and others in production-based racing classes. The C5-R had 600 horsepower and weighed 2,510 pounds, paving the way for the 2006 C6.R Corvette racer. The ‘63 Grand Sport lives on.
Chevrolet has a reputation for regular evolutionary improvements and an occasional revolutionary leap. Aside from the introduction of the hardtop version of the car, the ’99 Corvette had three new options and a host of minor improvements. The “Telescoping Steering Column” option allowed a 20mm forward-to-aft adjustment for only $350.
For $375, buyers could order the “Head Up Instrument Display,” which projected all or partial instrument information onto the base of the windshield. And for only $60, customers could get the “Twilight Sentinel,” which used a low-light sensor to automatically open the headlight covers and turn on the lights. Minor improvements included a new door-sill plate and improved, “next-generation” airbags. Aside from a revised cylinder-head design, the 345hp LS1 engine was unchanged.
Since the ‘99 Corvette didn’t gain or lose any weight, and the engine was the same, performance was as spectacular as on the ‘98 model: 0-to-60 in just 4.8 seconds, 13.2 in the quarter-mile, and a top speed of 175 mph.
Also, by ’99 “specialty” C5 Corvettes had started showing up from Mallett, Lingenfelter, Callaway and others. You could say that the Corvette definitely had its “mojo” back! - K. Scott Teeters
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Illustrated Corvette Series No. 109 - 1999 Corvette "Return of the Hardtop"
WIn the car industry, if you don’t sell enough of a particular model, it won’t be around for long. When the C5 Corvette was being planned, Corvette sales were dismal. The sales record holder was the ‘79 Corvette coming in at 53,807 units, with the ’84 model coming in second at 51,547 units. Despite improvements in the C4, as the years rolled on, sales were in a steady decline. When the new C5 was being developed, management issued a mandate - 25,000 units per year, or else.
Fortunately, Dave Hill and his team had a three-part plan for the Corvette to his its sales numbers. It seemed that it took a year for buyers to warm up to the new C5. 1997 sales came in at 9,752 - not good. But with the introduction of part-two, the new convertible, in ‘98, sales rocketed to 31,084 units.
Part three was supposed to be an “inexpensive” fixed roof, hardtop version. Almost from the beginning in 1953, there has been a contingent of management in GM that has wanted the Corvette to be something other than what it was. (Remember the proposed 4-seater ’63 Corvette?) The planning days of the C5 was no exception. In an attempt to boost sales, a “cheap” Corvette was seriously considered. The strippo model was to have a smaller 4.8 or 5.2-liter engine, cloth seats, roll-up windows, smaller wheels and tires, and an automatic transmission only. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?
A few prototypes were built and marketing tests were ordered. Fortunately, the strippo didn’t light anyone’s fire. Those surveyed felt that at $32,000 Corvette would cheapen the entire line. So the final decision was to make the hardtop a “performance” model with a manual transmission only and the Z51 suspension. The hardtop would be slightly cheaper with limited options, weigh a little less, and be faster, but not by much.
But the engineering department had a surprise that the product planners hadn’t anticipated. Starting with the convertible body and chassis, the hardtop was permanently bolted and bonded in place. The net result was a 12-percent increase in chassis stiffness, making the new hardtop the stiffest production Corvette ever. Then they threw in the Z51 suspension, and took out 80-pounds of standard items. Car magazines since the ‘50s have been complaining about the Corvette’s squeaks, rattles, and lack of structural rigidity. No more! With 345-horsepower, this was a setup the magazine guys loved. Buyers scooped up 4,031 hardtops in - 12-precent of total sales for ‘99.
The GM bean-counters must have hated this project. In order to keep the package cost below the $39,171 Corvette base price, they had to limit the availability of many options. The $38,777 hardtop option included the standard 345-horsepower LS1 engine, the 6-speed manual transmission, the Z51 Performance Handling Package, a black interior with black leather seats, and a choice of six exterior colors. What you could not order with the hardtop included an automatic transmission, magnesium wheels, power sports seats and other interior colors, and no Real Time Dampening option. Interestingly, the Active Handling Suspension option was available on the hardtop.
Even though the plan of a cheap Corvette didn’t quite work out as envisioned, the hardtop fell nicely into the slot for buyers who wanted that slight extra edge. The sales figures for the coupe and convertible alone were well above the 25,000 units-per-year management mandate.
The basic Corvette comes with more horsepower than most people will ever experience. Hardtop addition allowed the suspension better handle all that power with racer-like response. The hardtop’s roof line wasn’t as slippery as the coupe and limited the hardtop to just 170-mph, 5 less than the coupe. Zero-to-60 and quarter-mile times were 4.4 and 13.3 @108 mph. Hill and his team set down the groundwork for their next hot rod Corvette - the 2001 Z06. - K. Scott Teeters
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lllustrated Corvette Series No. 110 - 1999 C5-R Corvette:
"Factory-Backed Corvette Racer"
Almost from the beginning, Corvettes have been the ultimate American “could have been” race cars. Whereas its domestic rivals operated factory-supported racing programs, GM chose a different approach. The company built hot cars and parts, and sometimes even helped selected racers via an unofficial “back door” policy, but it always avoided an all-out racing program. That is, until the C5 Corvette was released.
Zora Arkus-Duntov gave us the legendary ‘57 SS project, the ’63 Grand Sport, and the 427 L-88 racers, while Dave McLellan championed the ‘88-’89 Corvette Challenge cars. Dave Hill’s efforts culminated in birth the all-new ‘97 C5. By the end of ’98, it was obvious the new car was a sales success, posting nearly triple the sales from the previous (abbreviated) season. With the financial bottom line firmly in place, it was time to go racing!
In the fall of 1998, a fully backed GT racing effort was blessed and christened the “C5-R.” The new team was to be managed by Doug Fehan and Ken Brown, engine work was assigned to Joe Negri, and race-car builders Pratt & Miller Fabrication would manage chassis development and car construction.
GT rules required that mostly stock parts be used. This gave the newly redesigned Corvette a competitive advantage. The hydro-formed steel main rails, front and rear chassis cradles, and LS1 engine were nearly track-ready in stock form. From there, it was simply a matter of adding selected race-spec parts to build an all-out competition Corvette.
To hit the 2,500-pound target weight, the C5-R was put on a weight-reduction plan, gaining carbon-fiber body panels and other lightweight pieces. Retained stock parts included the rack-and-pinion steering, front and rear control arms, windshield, auxiliary and driving lights, and basic block design. The modified LS1 engine displaced 427 cid, had 12.5:1 compression, and produced over 600 horsepower and 500 lb-ft of torque. The new body panels were designed for maximum stability at 200 mph. Since the basic shape was already excellent, improvements were limited to add-on appendages and underbody treatments.
Two race cars were built by members of GM Motorsports, Chevrolet Race Shop, Pratt & Miller Fabrication, and Riley & Scott Race Car Engineering. The driving team consisted of Ron Fellows, Andy Pilgrim, John Heinricy, Chris Kneifel, Scott Sharp, and John Paul Jr. After a thorough test session in Sebring in November 1998, the team was ready for its maiden race—the 24 Hours of Daytona in January 1999.
Both Vettes finished the race, outlasting 36 other entries, and one of the cars came in Third in class. The crew, drivers, and machines showed stunning potential for a debut effort. Yes, some minor parts broke, but the Corvette finally had the backing it had deserved since 1953. Wherever he was, Duntov must have been smiling. - K. Scott Teeters