Hooniverse Weekend Edition – Road Test Review: The Texan Corvette

When you’re 19, it’s more difficult to get a test drive in an old Corvette than a new 911. Strangely, this is also true of driving a new Civic Si, Prius, or GTI, which is less understandable. Whether it’s the Corvette’s reputation for unpredictable handling under power or the fact that ever teenager wants one, I’d driven a half dozen Carreras, old and new, before I finally managed to get seat time in a C5.

I’d scoured the internet for months and stopped at a handful of main dealers and a few used-car outlets, when an unrelated search led me to a “Corvette Specialist” forty minutes south. Forty minutes south of anywhere in upstate New York can charitably be called “rural”, so it took another week for curiosity to overcome skepticism.
Perhaps skepticism should have won out; the dealer possessed a single Corvette, twelve years old and 104,000 miles worn. It sat at the front of the dirt lot, Texas flag drooping from the aerial, leading a pack of moderately diseased SUVs. The shed at the back reeked of moisture, oil, and bourbon; fortunately the keys were handed over without delay and I somehow found myself alone in the black plastic wedge, where I was surrounded by yet more, and less appealing, black plastic.
The console was a dead ringer for that in a friend’s ’98 TranSport minivan, the shift knob was worn smooth, and the wheel was faded and cracking at the top. The seats actually seemed to be shrinking away from any body contact. It was unquestionably revolting, but no one buys a Corvette for the interior, at least not since the 50’s. Eager to get moving and feel 5.7 liters of fury, I twisted the key.

Considerably more fury than I was expecting bellowed from the back of the Corvette. Anemic alarms began peeping all around. A later inspection would reveal a pair of stainless straight pipes running straight to the headers, with the faintest suggestion of a pre-muffler, but at that point I developed a keen interest in vacating the premises. Massive torque, a heavy clutch, and the dry packed dirt under the tires conspired spin the tires for a good twenty yards, fortuitously churning forth the cloud of dust I needed to obscure my getaway.
The upside to rural areas of New York is a fabulous selection of two-lane roads, most sufficiently isolated to avoid aggravating the shotgun-toting, moonshine-swilling locals with “enthusiastic” driving. Goaded by the ruckus behind me, I let the ‘Vette run right to redline through the first few gears, rocketing between cornfields, straddling the center line to avoid being hurled into a ditch by the winter-scarred asphalt.
Banging the recalcitrant shifter into fourth, a wholly undignified but situationally appropriate “Yee-haw!” may have escaped me.
Far sooner than expected, I was out of the fields, trees abruptly blurring past the windows, downhill curve looming ahead. I stomped the brakes, half floated out of the seat, and then fell back and bounced against the door card as I turned in and floored the load pedal again. The tires shuddered over the broken shoulder at the apex, the car wriggled, and then the unholy acceleration resumed.
The road eventually wound down into a quarry. I stopped, gravel crunching under the broad wheels, trying to collect my thoughts and form a coherent impression of the car. The brakes were soft, the steering numb, and the suspension medieval, and yet the performance was miles beyond anything else I’d driven at that point. More shockingly, it didn’t feel like a hundred-thousand-plus mile car. Everything worked as it should, the engine was strong and violently responsive, and it didn’t squeak or rattle. It was ugly, the interior would have been shoddy in a garbage hauler, and the controls were an ergonomic nightmare, but I liked it.

I liked it so much I almost bought it. For a minute, at the end of that road, I forgot all practical concerns, forgot I was saving for another car, forgot that Corvette ownership would probably render me anathema to any girl interested in a relationship longer than 24 hours. I wanted the car, and, worse, I could probably afford it.
Then the angel landed on the other shoulder, and spoke in the voices of my father and my insurance agent.
As I turned the car around to return it from whence it came, the devil slunk back, and in his big-cube rumble, reminded me of my surroundings. I dipped the clutch, engine roar rising and echoing dementedly from the rock faces around me, and spun a single donut, a final salute to Detroit’s finest work.

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  1. P161911 Avatar

    Go back and get the Corvette!
    I got my 1st Corvette a 1977, in 1990, when I was 17. Do it now and enjoy it while you can. I did manage to score a test drive in a Corvette at 19 too, actually one from a dealership. I got my second Vette, a 1994, in 1998 when I was 25. They are about the fastest bang for the buck around, and they are generally reliable and not as bad as the German stuff on maintenance.

    1. Andrew Avatar

      Not to start a debate, but I have an S2000 now and there's no way I'd swap it for a Corvette… except maybe a ZR1.

      1. P161911 Avatar

        I wouldn't really consider an S2000 and a Corvette in the same class. Both are sports cars, an S2000 would probably win on an autocross course and a Corvette would win on a road course. Small nimble roadster vs. 350-400+HP beast. A base Boxster, a Z4, an RX-8, or maybe a Miata would be a better comparison to a S2000.

        1. Andrew Avatar

          Secondhand, a C5 Corvette and an S2000 are in a similar price bracket, which is more of a determining factor for us hoons on a budget. I looked at all the cars listed above, plus a few others, and I bought the Honda.

  2. trhyne Avatar

    Awesome read!

  3. facelvega Avatar

    Nice narrative. The fastest car I ever got to test before I was 20 was a Dodge Spirit R/T, then only a few years old. It was no slouch, but not quite up to the level of a C5. Heck, I don't know what I would have done testing a C5 then, probably not too much as inevitably my father would have insisted on coming along.
    By the way all, what do we think is the sweet spot in old Corvettes right now as hoon options? I'm leaning towards the best bang for the buck, which I take to be the relatively unloved 89-91 C4 (non ZR-1). It was the last of the years of the old L98 engine, which by then with roller casters and tuned port injection was sorted as well as it ever would be. The ZF transmission had replaced the old Doug Nash 4+3, and the brakes and chassis were in good order. Go just a little newer with the LT1 engine, and prices go up significantly. Yet the L98 was nearly as fast, and I for one would sacrifice high-rev hijinks for the easy pleasure of low-rev torque.
    Maybe this review will help push me to finally go try one out for myself.

    1. Black Steelies Avatar

      I could agree with that. As much as I dislike the connotations that come standard with any Corvette, I would likely succumb to owning one should the right one come up for sale.

      1. facelvega Avatar

        I'm a tweedy bearded snobby professor in his 30s– for someone like me to drive a Corvette doesn't compute on anybody's radar. The fact that the connotations obviously don't fit is one of the things that makes me want one. I'd love to park one next to my senior colleagues' leased BMW wagons and old Volvos.

    2. P161911 Avatar

      Having dealt with two LT-1 powered cars, a 94 Corvette and a 96 Z-28. The bane of the LT-1 is the Opti-spark distributor. I'm not sure who thought it would be a good idea to put a moisture sensitive distributor in front of a leak prone water pump!
      It isn't too hard to find well cared for Corvettes of most any vintage. They are often bought as 3rd or 4th car toys.

  4. Black Steelies Avatar

    Whereabouts in upstate? I too enjoy its twisty rides on cars and motorcycles alike.

    1. Andrew Avatar

      Ten minutes due south from Canandaigua. Unfortunately I live in Southern California now, and as much fun as the canyons are, I really miss the hidden byways around the Finger Lakes.

      1. Black Steelies Avatar

        Ah ok. I've found that I really like the drive from school up here in Rochester, to Geneva, then Ithaca to get home. It's shorter than the other main routes and the scenery really can't be beat in the lakes region.

  5. Tomsk Avatar

    Great review. Early C5s are dangerously affordable, and when I say "dangerously affordable" I mean "I should probably start employing electroshock therapy on myself every time I start trawling the Interwebs for a 6-speed coupe."

  6. Jeff Avatar

    Excellent write up. I bought my '88 back in March of 1999. Literally found the old man with the Sunday driver – in 11 years he had managed to put a whopping 26,000 on the clock. I drove the bejesus out of her over the next several years, before having kids and putting her in my parents' garage to be saved for a time when I could get by with 2 seats again. I think she's got around 50,000mi these days. Every now and again I break her out on a sunny day and we go ride. Not nearly as much as I'd like, though. It's always been a reliable car for me, but with as little as its been driven over the years, I'm not too surprised about that.
    The C5's nice as well. I've driven a few of them over the years. They're definitely comfier and are a little nicer fit/finish wise on the interior than the my '88, but still nothing to write home about. In my old kid-having days, I haven't made it into a C6 yet. Heard they're nicer, though.

  7. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

    Looks like you managed to find the Vertigo Ridge course from Need For Speed.

  8. alain Avatar

    its kinda weird when i was 21, i had test driven a year old corvette six speed, but never driven a porsche. driving that vette started my love affair with the ls engines. i think the relatively young salesman at that mercedes dealership was more to blame than being lucky. he had never rode in the vette before, and didnt mind letting me go in it. it had a six speed, the hud, which i thought was pretty awesome, and was black on black.. the p.o. had enjoyed it alot, and kept it in good shape. it was a 2008 in 2009 with 38k miles. i miss that vette, and cant wait till i could afford one of my own.