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To buy or not to buy? That is the question. Whether it is better to wait for the 2005 Corvette convertible or snap up the 2004 model depends on how many differences there are between the two.
Truth to tell, not many. Chevrolet explains that its 2005 sixth-generation Corvette will be “evolutionary rather than revolutionary.” No radical restyling. Maybe a slimmer silhouette. Almost certainly a five-speed automatic transmission to replace the four. Probably Magnetic Ride Control shock-absorber system as a standard feature rather than a $1695 option. And if the chopped rear is destined to remain and not dieted down, at least the ’05 Corvette will have retained its massive muscularity.
Well, while you may have been mulling over the pros and cons of the new C6 and realizing that the ’04 comes in less pricey than the eagerly awaited ’05 model, it’s party-time for the C5. A farewell party, that is, complete with special commemorative editions of the coupe, convertible, and Z06 to reflect its racing victories such as the 24 Hours of Le Mans and GTS Manufacturer Champion. The party celebrates Corvette’s golden anniversary and welcomes its successor.
Although Chevrolet is hardly sending the 2004 Corvette blueprints home to heaven — after all, the 2004 model is a mere five years old compared to its previous redesign that took thirteen years to appear — the carmaker is giving the 2004 C5 a very special sendoff. This year, America’s favorite sports cars — whose fanatical fans keep the Internet abuzz with speculation, opinions, spy pix, and advice — wear blue Le Mans racing colors, special badges and polished wheels on the 2004 coupe and convertible. The Z06 adds the wide Le Mans red and blue oval stripe on its lightweight carbon fiber hood.
2004 Chevrolet Corvette ConvertibleEnlarge Photo
My flamboyant Magnetic Red Metallic Corvette, guaranteed to attract prowling sheriffs, came with a black convertible top but no fancy stripes. No special badges, either.
Since the Nürburgring racetrack, where the Z06 was tested, is in Germany, I lacked a handy domestic equivalent, thus a recent test-drive of the 2004 convertible meant sashaying along a nearby southern California toll road to avoid bumper-to-bumper freeways. Tolls roads on the West Coast, where freedom songs ring loud and clear, are akin to chicken pox, to be avoided at all costs because of their astronomical price. A fairly recent phenomenon, where actually paying to drive on a highway that directs those deer who can read to cross only at deer crossing signs, these toll roads are usually pretty empty. They are popular mainly with salesmen whose companies pay the exorbitant $3 for nine miles, each way. However, having an extra three bucks and planning to return via the coast, the toll road was the way to go.
Wrestling the ragtop down, after admiring its glass window, before I left home was a task that took longer than expected. In this day and age of automation it seemed almost Quixotic to have to lower the top by hand. One must lift, fold, hook, grasp, tug and snap before nestling the convertible roof into its nook. But then all the reasons one opts for an open-air vehicle make every broken fingernail worth it.
Once you lower yourself into the Corvette’s depths, this is one big luxury experience with all the bells and whistles Americans demand but don’t always get in sports cars. The seats are remarkably comfortable yet firm for those who expect the harshness of a racing bucket. Power windows express down and glide up, the vanity mirrors are brightly lit, and the steering wheel telescopes for your individual fit. The power-heated side-view mirrors are controlled by the automatic climate control system, the rear-view mirror has two map lamps, and the center console is roomy enough for a phone, tapes, and CDs. An RAP (retained accessory power) system keeps the juice flowing to lights and audio for up to fifteen minutes after the ignition has been turned off if it’s essential to hear the last strains of a symphony. But once you open the door to exit, the RAP goes to sleep. Gentle chimes remind you to switch off the turn lever 3/4-mile down the road if you’ve been so lost in happiness you’ve forgotten this basic courtesy.
The dash is nothing to write home about, the standard Corvette layout: perfectly practical, functional, and cleanly designed. There’s no room for a GPS but who needs to know where you’re going behind the wheel of this icon? It’s the journey that matters, not the destination. However, the driver information center is filled with information in several different languages and displays your cruise control setting, trip odometer, tire pressure, and fuel. While I’m a fan of HUD (head-up displays), the pop-up headlights, while aerodynamic, seem an anachronism so let’s hope the 2005 model will dispense with them. Fog lamps are useful, though, and doubtless will remain.
Sitting low to the ground, any Corvette will grumble and groan at speed bumps and sharp inclines so if your driveway ain’t anywhere near level you’ll park on the street.
But Corvettes are all about speed, and certainly, with a fierce stomp on the gas, its 350 horses surge forth from the 5.7-liter V-8 engine, although not with as satisfying a hand-foot challenge as with a manual transmission. Still, very impressive. The car sticks like glue if you suddenly decide to take a corner fast, thanks mostly to the Magnetic Selective Ride Control introduced on 2003 models. An active handling system, it is computer-controlled to help you maintain directional control if you’re foolish enough to take this beautiful car onto uneven terrain. The damper design controls wheel and body motion for a flatter, quieter ride and gives you the confidence to keep the throttle down on curves because the handling is precise and responsive. According to Chevrolet, which has such confidence in the system it does not install side airbags into the 2004 Corvette, the system isolates and smoothes the action of each tire, and on bumpy or slippery roads, integrates with traction control to provide high-speed stability. But you knew all that if you read about the 2003 version.
Beautifully balanced, tremendously powerful, and more comfortable than a car this performance-oriented deserves, the convertible is slightly slower than the coupe but provides such a gloriously exhilarating ride the difference is negligible.
In spite of the Corvette’s age, fifty fabulous years, America’s world-class sports car continues to be competitive with most twice its price, and is a fitting tribute both to our home-grown industry as well as a design that reflects our character: unafraid, bigger-than-life, fun, and fast.
Price: $50,735; as tested: $55,575
Engine: 5.7-liter V-8, 350 hp/360 lb-ft
Transmission: Four-speed automatic with overdrive, rear-wheel drive
Height: 47.8 in
Length: 179.7 in
Width: 73.6 in
Wheelbase: 104.5 in
Curb weight: 3246 lb
Fuel economy, city/hwy: 18/25 mpg
Standard safety features: Anti-lock brakes, traction control, dual front and side airbags
Major standard features: Dual-zone climate control, cruise control, six-way power seats, tilt steering wheel, PassKey theft deterrent, heated rear glass window, daytime running lights, AM/FM stereo CD with Bose speakers
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles