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It’s been 44 years since the very first Corvette, a convertible, rolled off Chevrolet’s production lines. Now the latest 'Vette soft-top, based on the fifth-generation coupe launched earlier this year, has arrived, and it looks set to keep this American legend alive well into the next millennium.
The coupe, we already know, is a major improvement on its predecessor. But in the past, 'Vette soft-tops have been plagued by severe cowl shake and a general lack of refinement that has bordered on the unacceptable.
This time it’s a different story. The newest Corvette was designed from the outset to be a convertible, so the car’s structure is far stiffer than ever before. In fact, the soft-top is only slightly less rigid than the coupe and, being manually operated, weighs only a few pounds more.
That’s good news for the car’s performance, which remains the key attraction of the Corvette. There is a real sense of occasion every time that big 5.7-liter pushrod V8 fires up. The motor’s deep, meaty rumble is more pleasing to the ear than the raucous note of the Viper, America’s other current muscle car. And with the top down, the 'Vette lets you enjoy the V8 symphony even more clearly.
Select the first of the six forward ratios in the manual box, floor the throttle, and the V8 rumble swiftly turns into a satisfying roar. Shift up fast through the surprisingly slick gearbox, and 60 mph arrives in less than five seconds. Charge on to faster speeds, and it’s best to put the side windows up to curb wind noise. With its steeply raked windshield, the cabin remains pleasantly free of turbulence. But you will notice the wind howling through the seat-belt strap at ear level and the clamor of the 40-series rear Goodyears.