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The C4 Chevy Corvette Is Highly Underrated

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Used 1996 Chevrolet Corvette Coupe
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author photo by Doug DeMuro February 2017

So I'm at a Cars and Coffee the other day in Woodland Hills, California, and a guy comes up to me and tells me he has a C4 Corvette ZR-1. I love the C4 Corvette, so I told him I think the C4 Corvette is probably my favorite Corvette, and he gave me the kind of face you'd give someone who was drinking contact solution. I think he thought I was patronizing him. I was not.

In the great world history of the Chevy Corvette, the C4 (sold from 1983 to 1996) has been unfairly maligned for years -- decades, really -- by all sorts of critics who prefer the earlier, more attractive ones or the modern, more powerful ones. And while those Corvettes may have some benefits over the C4, the C4 doesn't deserve its awful reputation. And today I'm going to explain why.

The primary reason I think the C4 isn't as bad as everyone says is that its design was by far the most advanced and exciting of any Corvette of the modern era. I know this sounds like sacrilege, but every single other Corvette aside from the C4 has been an evolution of a previous design -- with the C5, C6 and C7 all sharing the same general shape, just with more modern touches each time.

Among modern Corvettes, only the C4 was a truly revolutionary design; a clean-sheet redesign of a car (the C3 Corvette) that had been getting laughably outdated as the 1970s progressed. Simply put, the C4 Corvette was futuristic, new and fresh, in a way we haven't seen from the Corvette since, well, 1983. It may not look like much now, but its wedge shape, coming out of the giant-fendered 1980s, must've been a sight to behold back then.

And let's go back to that "it may not look like much now." Although the early C4 Corvettes definitely looked dated, with their ugly wheels and their old design cues, can you really tell me the later C4 (pictured above) isn't an attractive car? While the C5 now seems so squiggly and unnecessarily round in so many areas, the C4 is a true wedge shape, with a huge front hood and a sleek passenger compartment. To me, it looks athletic -- especially as it got refined in later years. I know people will accuse me of being crazy for saying this, but a nice '94 or '95 or '96 C4 is the best-looking Chevy Corvette ever -- aside from the Split Window.

In fact, I think the main reason people think the C4 is ugly is because people know it's slow -- and they've come to associate its appearance with its largely unremarkable performance. I think if the C4 Corvette had the kind of performance that the C5 did, it would be revered.

So let's consider performance for just a second. Yes, there's no doubt the initial C4 was a huge shame. For the first 10 years of its life, it made just 250 horsepower -- and no, that wasn't really all that great by the standards of its day. It was slow back then, it's slow today, and it looks ancient by modern standards.

That all changed with two major improvements in the beginning of the 1990s. Number one was, of course, the arrival of the high-performance ZR-1, which offered 375 hp and then 405 hp. It was a monster. It was fast back then, and it's even fast today: It could do zero to 60 in 4.4 seconds and hit 185 miles per hour.

The other big change to the Corvette in the early '90s was the addition of the LT1 V8 in 1992. While earlier models really wanted for additional power, the '92-'96 Corvette had 300 hp and about 340 lb-ft of torque, which meant it could do zero to 60 in around 5 seconds flat -- quick today, and very quick back then. These Corvette models also got updated exterior styling and a dramatically improved interior that makes them look far less outdated by today's standards.

To sum it up, I'll say this: The early C4 Corvette was kind of a mess, with an ancient interior, and ugly styling cues, and truly horrible performance. But by the early '90s, Chevy had cleaned up its act -- and the later C4 models deserve to be recognized with a lot more praise than they're given today. The flip side of this, of course, is that an early '90s Corvette is a great deal: There are currently 479 different 1992-1995 Corvette models on Autotrader with an average asking price of just $12,900 -- a figure that's pulled up slightly by all the ZR-1s.

Essentially, if you want a regular ol' Corvette from the maligned C4 era, you can get an early '90s model with good performance, good styling and a good interior for eleven grand. Consider it the deal of the century -- as long as you don't mind the occasional disdainful remark from anti-C4 people who have no idea what they're missing.

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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Used 1996 Chevrolet Corvette Coupe
Used 1996 Chevrolet Corvette
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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
The C4 Chevy Corvette Is Highly Underrated - Autotrader