1996 CORVETTE CONVERTIBLE


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

SEE ALSO: Chevrolet Buyer's Guide

by Tom and Bob Hagin

SPECIFICATIONS

     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 45,060
     Price As Tested                                    $ 48,729
     Engine Type                             5.7 Liter V8 w/SFI*
     Engine Size                                 350 cid/5733 cc
     Horsepower                                   300 @ 5000 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               335 @ 3600 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                   96.2"/73.1"/178.5"
     Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     3360 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  20.0 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                        P255/45ZR17-P285/40ZR17
     Brakes (F/R)                              Disc-ABS/disc-ABS
     Drive Train                   Front-engine/rear-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                         Two-passenger/two-door
     Domestic Content                                 97 percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A

PERFORMANCE

     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            17/25/20
     0-60 MPH                                        5.6 seconds
     1/4 Mile (E.T.)                              14.0 @ 103 mph
     Top Speed (Est.)                                    168 mph
     * Sequential fuel injection
 

(Bob Hagin was around when the first Corvette went on sale in '53 and is still amazed by its phenomenal success. Less interested in history and more in "current events," son Tom is amazed by the fact that the Corvette is a world-class sports car and the only American contender for the label.)

BOB - Tom, I wouldn't have given the Corvette a snowball's chance to last when it came out in '53. It was slow, handled badly and the fit-and-finish was atrocious. I snickered at its pretensions.

TOM - That's certainly changed during the past 43 years. Now, there's nothing quite like maneuvering a Corvette through traffic. It's powerful-looking, and attracts the attention of almost everyone - including the police. Fortunately, I had no brushes with The Law.

BOB - Tom, I have to hand it to you - if you can drive the 'Vette around for any length of time without speeding, you're doing something right. But as much as I like the traditional American muscle car, I find it almost impossible to twist my body enough to climb aboard the thing.

TOM - That's because it has low seats and a high door sill which makes entry difficult. But once seated, the position envelops the body, like the cockpit of a fighter plane. Standard stuff on the ragtop version includes leather seats, power windows, mirrors and door locks, along with air conditioning and a powerful AM/FM cassette stereo. Our subject car featured lots of optional "niceties" inside that made things even more luxurious.

BOB - For one, the $1333 Preferred Equipment group added electronic controls for the A/C, a more powerful stereo, and a six-way power driver's seat. If the buyer wants the passenger seat powered too, it adds another $305 to the sticker price. Even though it was tough for me to climb inside, I loved the support of the almost infinitely adjustable bucket seats - although they're pricey at $625.

TOM - But the best aftermarket performance seats are well over $1000 so it's not a bad buy. And since the Corvette handles incredibly well, with massive tires as standard equipment, the side-thrust support of those fancy seats is almost mandatory.

BOB - New this year is the Grand Sport model, named after the ultra-light racing models of the '60s. These cars are painted bright blue with a white stripe across the hood and hatch, along with even wider tires and special alloy wheels. Ragtop models can be had this way, too, but what's more impressive than its cosmetics is the reworked 5.7 liter V8 under its hood.

TOM - First, let's start with the standard Corvette power. It still uses the direct ancestor to the 350 cubic-inch "small block" V8 that's powered various Chevies and other GM models from way back, although for the Corvette, it's fitted with aluminum cylinder heads, a "fatter" camshaft, free-flowing exhaust and higher compression. In standard LT1 form, it pumps a healthy 300 horsepower and 335 lb-ft of torque.

BOB - But in LT4 Grand Sport form, the cylinder heads have revised ports with wider passages, the valve diameters are larger, the compression is higher still, the valve stems are hollow, the valves springs are stronger and the camshaft's profile has been changed to allow for a higher redline. All this adds 30 more horses and five more lb-ft of torque. It's faster. yes, but is it worth another $1595?

TOM - It is if you're a collector. The extra $2880 the Grand Sport exterior option costs (plus the $1595 for the required LT4 engine) would make the car collectible. And since Chevy is only making 1000 total, in both hardtop and ragtop, I'd say if you've got the money, buy one for an investment.

BOB - This last year of an 11-year run will no doubt make 1996 'Vettes a desirable vehicle on the collector's market. I raced a Corvette for a guy a couple of times in the late '50s and I wish I'd bought one then and hung on to it.

TOM - Knowing how Mom feels about fast sports cars and racing, if you had, I might have wound up with a different last name.

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