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1985 C4 Corvette - Why Ask Y?

Join the Vette set.

Photography by Steve Magnante

Forget about the gold chain "yo baby" stereotypes; one of the best performance bargains going is the '84-'96 C4 Corvette. Trust us when we tell you that never before in used-car buying history has so much raw cornering and braking power been available to so many for so little coin. And while the '84-only, 205-horse L83 Cross-Fire motor represents a humble beginning, the 230 to 245 hp churned out by subsequent '85-'91 L98 TPI mills guarantees mid-14s, tire smoke, and nearly 150-mph top speeds. There's even more on tap if you splurge for a 300-horse, '92-'96 LT1 car, but bargain hunters know to stay away from late-'80s Callaway twin turbos, '96-only, 330hp LT4s, and '90-'95 DOHC ZR-1 coupes. Their limited production elevates them into the realm of high-priced collectibles.

The best part is, while the garden-variety L98s and LT1s originally stickered for between $21,000 and $37,000, the bottom of the depreciation cycle is at hand, so you can score clean examples for well under 10 grand, much less if you're a gambler and don't mind turning some wrenches-more on that in a minute.

I recently took the bait and scored the white '85 featured here. I found it online at a local Corvette dealer that was selling it on consignment. The asking price was $6,000 for a car with an original sticker price of more than $27,000. What hooked me was the car was absolutely bone stock, with 117,000 actual miles, and wasn't red or black like every other C4 I looked at.

Oh what fun we had for the first two weeks. I got more second glances from chicks than I ever got in my birth-control-on-wheels, baby blue '79 Pinto. In that thing, they'd look at me like something they'd just scraped off their shoes. Not so in the Vette. The C4's digital dash showed 22 mpg with the cruise control set at 72 mph. A late-night, 124-mph blast confirmed the probability of a 150-mph top end if given enough rope, and the tire-smoking 9.70s in the eighth-mile hinted at high-14s in the quarter with traction. Finally, I had a reliable car I could drive anyplace without fear that I'd be pushing it home.

Then came the rod knock. At first it only happened on cold starts, so I figured it to be a forgivable case of piston slap. Within two days, it got to be a steady drumbeat of impending doom, and my world-class C4 was rattling like a rock tumbler. Warranty? What warranty? Remember, the car was a consignment sale, and I hastily signed the waiver like a drooling baby with his face stuck in a bowl of chocolate pudding.

So now I had a $2,000/$6,000 Corvette-the difference being the repair estimate from a local garage. Since it wasn't about to fix itself, I had no choice but to dig in. The following photo diary tells the tale. I got it fixed in a two-week whirlwind, and the good times returned, mostly, except for a nagging "Service Engine Soon" light I'm still fighting. Now I have a grudge against the car. It made me work. But don't they all?

Factoids
*1984 was the peak year for C4 production, with 51,547 built. That's a whole lot of L83 Cross-Fire cars to avoid.
*The peak year for L98 Corvette production was 1985, with 39,729 built.
*The least-produced L98 is the '91, with 20,639 coupes and convertibles built.
*LT1 production peaked in 1994, with 22,882 built. That's 300 horses, baby.
*The '90 ZR2 Corvette-engineering mule car featured 454 Rat power and EFI. Considered as a possible stopgap between the base L98 mill and the super-expensive LT5, it never reached production, despite being shown to the press.

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