Chevrolet Corvette (C4) | The Brave Pill

Who wants to spank this Yank?

By Mike Duff / Saturday, 21 January 2023 / Loading comments

Believe it or not, one of the first cars I drove was a C4 generation Chevrolet Corvette superficially very similar to this one. I was 12 years old and I got into a few scrapes in it: police chases, head-on collisions and even a few spectacular departures into the void next to the twisting mountain road I blasted it down. Also, to be honest, it was my least favourite car in the collection – one I’d only choose after growing bored with my Lamborghini Countach, Lotus Esprit Turbo, Porsche 911 Turbo and Ferrari Testarossa.

As the keener spotters of ‘80s cultural reference will have spotted, what I was actually doing was playing the pioneering Test Drive video game on my mighty Atari ST, the computer that boasted a searing 512kb of memory and a processor less potent than one that manages the temperature displays in a modern fridge. The game was obviously crude by modern standards, but felt like a cutting edge simulation to my younger self. Yet although I loved the ‘Vette’s rendered digital instruments, its inclusion in the roster always felt a bit marginal given the rest of the game’s line-up of genuine bedroom poster exotics. Like finding an Opel Manta in there.

Because Corvettes were cars that got referenced in old rock n’ roll songs, and which appeared in obscure import car magazines rather than the ones stacked at the front of the newsagent’s shelf. They were rarely seen in the UK, too – although I do remember making a trip to the Bauer Millett showroom in central Manchester during the early ‘90s to gawp at some imported gems and finding a car very like this week’s Brave Pill front and centre. Yet while US teenagers were brought up to revere and lust after the ‘Vette, over here they tended to be treated as comic relief given such apparently archaic details as pushrod engines and transverse leaf spring suspension.

These stereotypes weren’t very fair, and especially given the technical sophistication the C4 generation enjoyed over its predecessors when it was introduced in 1983. It arrived at the tail end of the US’s Malaise Era of emissions control, and the launch-spec L98 V8 could still only make what seems a lowly 250hp from its 5.7-litres of swept capacity. But that was 50hp more than the 3.0-litre Porsche 911 SC was producing at the time. The C4 gained more power as it got older, most famously with the 380hp ZR-1 which used a Lotus-developed DOHC engine. But after 1992 even the regular Corvette got GM’s new LT1 small black, this making 300hp and cutting 0-60mph performance to the mid five seconds. 

Our Pill is a 1992 version of the regular ‘Vette, and looks pretty compelling. Granted the looks might be a little over the top for delicate European sensibilities, although it remains impossible for me to dislike any car that possesses pop-up headlights. And it’s fair to say that no American import ever looks elegant wearing squared-off UK numberplates. Yet it’s also very hard to look at the pictures of this car without feeling respect for the clarity of thinking that went into its creation. The underbonnet shot shows the engine packaged as tightly and far back as possible, while the rear glass hatchback covers a luggage compartment that looks better sized for a Family Truckster than a sportscar. GM always tended to boast about the practicality of Corvette generations by referencing full-sized golf bags. The C4 looks as if it could manage a dozen. On a pallet. 

Our Pill’s cabin also looks less dated than you might expect from a car that was built before Bill Clinton became President. Even in the early ‘90s Chevrolet was giving ‘Vette buyers plenty of standard toys, with this including digital climate control, a power-operated seat – on the driver’s side at least – and the sort of wall-to-wall carpeting that actually carried a fair way up the doors. Sadly this car is late enough to have lost the early C4’s LED instrument pack, instead getting a more conventional curved cluster which puts an analogue rev counter and supplementary dials on either side of an LCD screen that relays speed and fuel level. But, being a later car, it even has a driver’s airbag – and all C4s got ABS as standard from the 1986 model year onwards.

Our Pill also looks great in the pictures, with the specialist dealer selling it reporting it had a full respray into its original black metallic two years ago. Against Brave Pill’s SOP it isn’t actually the cheapest C4 currently in the classifieds, there is an ex-Japanese 1994 auto being offered by a private seller for an even more reasonable £10,000. But although two grand pricier this one looks like strong value considering the more desirable manual gearbox and gleaming condition. It also boasts an MOT history greener than Greta Thunberg’s pyjamas. 

The digital record is both long and continuous, proving the car has been in the country since at least 2006, with no long periods off the road. Mileage has ticked up at a gentle rate, the car having managed just 17,000 miles in nearly 17 years, although the presence of two squiggly autographs under the bonnet, presumably from famous Corvette drivers (feel free to answer in the comments), shows it has been to the Le Mans 24 Hours at least once. 

The few notes on the MOT history have all been for trivial issues, all of which seem to have been immediately sorted. The most recent pass came with the sole advisory that the parking brake needs adjustment. Although there are no claims for modifications in the advert text, one of the pictures shows an aftermarket throttle body; so it is likely making a few more than its official tally of horses.

Twelve grand for such a fine-looking example of a famous sports car needs to be celebrated, especially given the nostalgia-driven price spikes for some much less special machinery. Our Pill’s asking is in stark contrast to the values of even the rattiest air-cooled 911s, with restoration projects starting for more than twice as much. Our Pill even seems competitively priced against similarly aged TVRs, long the exemplars of bang-per-buck value in this part of the market, and although any comparison is going to earn me a flaming, it’s fair to say that considerably more engineering effort went into the creation of the Corvette than a Chimaera. 

What’s lacking is an abundance of the bowel-chilling risk delivered by more courageous Pills. The C4 is a simple beast, powered by one of the most-produced V8s of all time, with tuneability limited only really by budget. While it’s unlikely you’ll be able to find more obscure bits on the shelves at your local factor, parts availability within the U.S. is still comprehensive – and a well-chosen ‘Vette can be cheap to run. So the bravery here mostly comes from the need to negotiate ticket barriers and drive-throughs from the wrong seat, plus a willingness to be seen in such a macho beast. My advice: go all in and buy a Stetson, too.

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