Chevrolet’s “halo” model and marquee performance car, the Corvette, took a quantum leap in the 80s from an aging two-place sports coupe to a thoroughly modern wedge with the focus on better speed through technology. From the streamlined fiberglass exterior to the futuristic digital dashboard, GM saw the “C4” Corvette as a showcase of the automaker’s engineering prowess.
And while the ‘Vette was heavy and (compared with today’s cars) fairly slow, Chevrolet worked hard to keep the car alive through constant development and ever-growing horsepower. The ‘80s Corvettes lag in value for various reasons, but buying one still puts the owner in an exclusive club.
9 9/9: 1982
Yes, the well-appointed “Collector’s Edition” Corvette finally turned the C3’s fastback rear window into a much-needed hatch, and threw in fancy copper-tinted glass T-tops to boot. But the lack of powertrain choices and the addition of creature comforts make this ‘Vette more of a “personal luxury car” than a sports coupe. However, change was coming.
8 8/9: 1980
However, buyers in California got a small price break, because their state’s stringent emissions standards meant Corvettes sold there came with the smallest engine fitted to a ‘Vette since 1961: a 5.0-liter (305 ci) V8, producing 180 horsepower. Regardless of the state where it was sold, all ‘Vettes got the federally mandated and exceedingly silly 85-mile-per-hour speedometer.
7 7/9: 1981
Chevrolet noted in its sales literature that the automatic was required with the trailering package, which raises a question: who on Earth was using their Corvette to tow? Isn’t that what Suburbans were for?
6 6/9: 1984
But the “Cross-Fire Injection” V8 was still buggy (and made just 205 horsepower), the new transverse-leaf front and rear suspension made for a punishing ride (especially with the optional Z51 performance package), and fit and finish were first-year spotty. And if it seems like there are a ton of basket-case ’84s out there, that may be because Corvette’s 1984 model year ran for almost a year and a half.
5 5/9: 1985
The new fuel management system helped spike Corvette’s horsepower from 205 to 230, and in GM’s own testing knocked a full second off the ‘Vette’s 0-60 time. There may not have been many other changes, but that one definitely started the C4’s move back into the fast lane.
4 4/9: 1986
The third change technically wasn’t on the Corvette, but in its owner’s pocket: a new electronically coded “Pass Key,” which was designed to head off thieves. It’s the first application of the security coding now standard on just about every car available.
3 3/9: 1987
Corvette tuner Reeves Callaway first put that maxim to the test in 1987, with a run of twin-turbo ‘Vettes available for special order from select Chevy dealers, complete with a GM warranty, for the low, low price of $27,000 plus a Corvette. The Callaway Corvettes were rated at 345 horsepower, which put them in supercar territory at the time.
2 2/9: 1988
One new choice this year was the Z52 handling package, which gave the ‘Vette big-for-the-time 17-inch wheels (one inch bigger than the base car), specific gas-pressurized shocks and other enhancements that Chevy cautioned could make the ride too firm for “everyday” use. On the outside, Chevy reinterpreted the popular two-tone look from the '78 Silver Anniversary edition, and offered a limited-edition 35th Anniversary package with bright white paint, matching interior and alloy wheels and a black-painted roof. The effect was striking — and it’s extremely uncommon to find one today in good condition.
1 1/9: 1989
This last Corvette of the '80s also picked up the bigger 17-inch wheels from the Z52, redesigned standard and optional sport seats, and premiered “Selective Ride Control,” letting the driver choose any one of three suspension settings (Touring, Sport or Performance) through a switch on the console. The mighty ZR1 and a new interior were just around the corner, but the changes for ’89 meant America’s First Sports Car was pointed in the right direction.