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C4 Corvette Project Cars - Disco Dread

The C4 Corvette Is The Cool In Dork's Clothing.

Photography by Courtesy Of Corvette Fever, Dave Emanuel,

One of the biggest unwritten rules with this magazine is we avoid the Corvette. The Chevy market is divided into Corvettes--and everything else. For this reason, as well as the expense issue, we have mostly avoided edit on the plastic fantastic. But we're going to break our own rules for this story, and we'd ask that you set aside your biases and open your mind to a different idea. We're about to take you on a quick flight through what has to be the best deal in performance cars on the planet--the C4 Corvette. For those of you who don't speak Vette, the C4 moniker represents the '84 through '96 fourth-generation cars, and we're going to place our emphasis on the '84 through '91s as being the best buys. Take a quick stroll through Craigslist in your region and we guarantee you can find several examples for less than $5,000. We also came up with this bit of coercion: Pick your favorite car. Let's say for argument's sake it's a '69 Camaro. How much would you have to spend to outfit that car with EFI, independent rear suspension, four-wheel disc brakes, forged-aluminum suspension components, rack-and-pinion steering, an overdrive transmission, 16-inch aluminum wheels, and a host of other goodies all packaged in a car that weighs roughly 3,300 pounds? The answer is you'd spend a hell of a lot more than $5,000. The most stripped-down base model C4 Corvette, regardless of year, has all the above equipment. Some of it may need a little help, and other pieces might be better off taking up residence on the shop floor, but if you strip a C4 to its bare essentials, you have the makings of a kick-ass street/track car. That's what this story is all about.

The C4 Early Years
The '84's styling was a big-time winner, but history also remembers that first year as a horsepower loser. The first-year Vettes were powered by pathetic 205hp, 350ci engines using the Cross-Fire induction, which was really nothing more than a pair of TBI injectors on top of a split-runner manifold and quickly earned it the Cease-Fire nickname. The rest of the drivetrain was equally lame with a troublesome 700-R4 overdrive automatic or the Doug Nash-built 4+3. This manual trans was basically a BorgWarner four-speed with an automatic transmission-style planetary overdrive bolted to the back that allowed you to select overdrive in any gear except First. All automatic cars got the weaker Dana 36 IRS, while the manual transmission cars were blessed with the stronger Dana 44.

Performance was barely brighter in 1985 when Chevy replaced the Cross-Fire with Tuned Port Induction (TPI), but horsepower was still only 230. The '86 cars were the first to get ABS, and later models did get aluminum heads. The alloy heads reduced weight but really didn't do much for horsepower, which was still marginal at 240. The big change in 1989 was the appearance of the German-built ZF six-speed manual trans, which was a big improvement over the balky 4+3. We'll save the discussion of the '90 ZR-1 DOHC cars for some other time.

Jim Hall at Tuned Port Induction Specialties (TPIS) tells us his ultimate C4 best buy would be the '89 to'91 cars. These TPI engines converted to Speed Density fuel injection, eliminating the quarrelsome mass airflow (MAF) sensor. Even better, Chevy redesigned the suspension beginning with the '88 cars, improving the front suspension's scrub radius. The '89 cars also enjoyed a standard 17 x 91?2-inch wheel with 275/40VR17 tires, a significant step up from the previous years' 16 x 8.5-inch and 255/50R16-inch rollers. If you're looking for LT1 power, these first appeared in the Corvette with the '92 cars.

The bottom line here is that while these cars offered outstanding hand- ling potential, they are less than spectacular when it comes to horsepower. This is what makes them excellent engine swap material for either a stout Gen I small-block or, as we'll see later in this story, a thumpin' LS-series engine.

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