Chevrolet produced this fully redesigned and sophisticated Corvette from 1984 until 1996. For this generation, the convertible returned in 1986. The high-performance engines came back later in the C4, but the Vette’s loyal fan club never left. The ZR-1 sets a new 24-hour and 5,000-mile (8,000 km) speed record doing more than 175 miles per hour (282 km). The sleek, modern automobile used pre-molded plastic panels and bumpers, too. A hatch-back model became available for the first time as an option allowing easy access to the rear storage area.
The new-design brakes had aluminum calipers. The car had an electronic dashboard with digital liquid crystal displays as standard equipment. Emissions regulations were changing at this time so the engineers focused on handling, driving, and creature comforts, particularly on the Z51 performance package. The emergency brake lever, located between the driver’s seat and door, moved lower and farther back to ease entry. In 1988, the driver’s seat moved lower and farther back to minimize “the fall in, climb out” complaints.
From 1984 until 1988, an optional Nash Douglas 4+3 transmission was available. This unusual transmission was a manual four-speed with a three-speed automatic overdrive feature. A more modern six-speed manual transmission replaced it from 1989, but performance was compromised until, in 1992, engineers reintroduced an earlier designed LT1 small-block engine, which greatly improved performance of succeeding Vette models. The apex of the small-block development came in 1996 when Chevy introduced a 330 horsepower (246kW) as basic equipment coupled to a manual transmission.
The first Corvette convertible manufactured since 1975 was the Indianapolis pace car in 1986. There were 7,315 convertibles manufactured in 1986. This yellow pace car also sported another newly available option, an entry and ignition pass key containing a special pellet the ignition system could identify. In retrospect, this early system didn’t fair well because of only 15 available combinations, but the following years saw improvement.
In 1990, Lotus Engineering, a GM subsidiary in the U.K., helped GM. The ZR-1 was a coupe style only and on the market until 1995. It’s distinguishable from other Vette coupes since it had a wider tail section with four square taillights and the center stop lamp mounted in the rear window.
Corvette wanted to produce the fastest production car on earth in the C4 generation. The engine designed to do this, dubbed the LT5, replaced the L98 V8 used in the basic C4 Vette. The new aluminum-block engine had four overhead cams and 32 valves but retained the same bore centers as the L98. The engine preserved fuel while operating at part throttle by shutting down 16 intakes, but when at full throttle, the engine’s 32 intake valves allowed the power plant to produce 375 hp (280 kW). This is great, but GM didn’t want just another new “muscle car” without track capabilities so the brakes, suspension, and steering the company again updated the car with adjustable active ride control. The retail price tag on this car was almost double its siblings, but this car could do 0-60 in 4.4 seconds, reaching a speed of 180 mph.
There were other commemorative Vettes in the C4 generation; most of them had only cosmetic changes; Chevy reissued a 35th and 40th anniversary model as well as a collector edition and a Grand Sport. The only other really mechanically distinctive Vette sold was the B2K Callaway Twin-Turbo model that appeared on showroom floors in 1987. The Callaway “sledgehammer” developed 880 hp (656 kW) and recorded a top speed of 254.76 mph (410 kph) at the Ohio Transportation Research Center Track.