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PH Carbituary: C7 Chevrolet Corvette

Rarely bought on this side of the Atlantic, but it will still be sorely missed

By Mike Duff / Sunday, April 21, 2019

It's easy to make jokes about the Corvette. So let's do that first. This is the all-American hero that uses cart springs and pushrods, which smells like the inside of a chemical factory and has the sort of panel gaps that get elephants horny. This is a sports car whose ownership demographic is older than that of pretty much any other. It travels outside its homeland about as well as twangly country music, non-ironic rhinestone boots and that flavourless plastic that Americans call Cheddar cheese.

How was that?

Now that's out of the way, let's pass straight to the case for the defence. That infamous leaf spring is made from carbon fibre and fitted transversely at the back, effectively allowing for a more compact suspension design. The pushrod V8 is about as highly developed as any engine can be, using its lack of cams in the heads to give both lightness and the compact dimensions that allow for such a low bonnet line.

Then there's the unanswerable one: the Corvette is the world's longest lived sportscar, in production since 1953 giving it ten years on the 911. Its appeal is long proven, its simple recipe of brawny performance, low weight and relative affordability having survived fuel crises, emissions controls and changing fashions. Haters gonna hate, but in terms of pure sales the Corvette blows every significant rival out of the water.

Which is why we are here to mourn the end of an era. The C7 generation, due for imminent replacement, is set to be the last of its line. The first seven generations of 'Vette evolved at such a gentle pace they wouldn't upset an ardent creationist. From the arrival of V8 engines in 1955 the basics have remained unchanged. But the next one, due later this year, is set to make the dramatic transition to a mid-engined layout that will enable it to go and play with the junior supercars.

You might well be asking why we should care. Despite being nominally on sale in the UK during at least some of its lifespan you are much more likely to see a Ferrari or Lamborghini than a C7 Corvette. It's the American football of cars: huge at home but pretty much ignored everywhere else.

There is, of course, a basic financial reason for this. In the U.S. a base Corvette is officially $55,500 - £42,800 at current exchange rates - although there is usually deep discounting on top of that. Further up the range it becomes even better value, the supercharged 650hp Z06 costs $79,500, almost exactly the same as the Cayman GTS but with twice the cylinders and nearly double the power.

Any Corvette that crosses the Atlantic is pretty much guaranteed to lose this bargain status and therefore a big chunk of its appeal. But there's also something about the Corvette's unashamed brashness that has always riled some people up. There's no doubting it feels big and short on finesse when asked to tackle UK roads, especially with the need to pilot it from the wrong side. Yet it's really not long since all sportscars were as raw and unfiltered as the C7 is.

It's not a car that ever downplays the seriousness of going really fast. The engine is raucous and lumpy at low speeds, turning loud and angry as the revs rise. The seven-speed manual gearbox is a proper workout, needing to be guided both firmly and carefully between ratios. Cruising is never anything but loud; stratospheric gearing makes use of the engine's low-end torque, and can deliver impressive economy, but road noise struggles to escape from the cabin's composite structure. And yes, it still does smell strongly of the resin that holds the plastic bits together: Eau De Corvette.

Yet as with the good reasons for the archaic mechanical carry-overs the C7 is far cleverer than a dumb Yank stereotype. Selectable drive modes do more than tweak throttle maps and steering weight, they also tighten the active dampers, reign back the stability control and alter the behaviour of the active rear differential. Build confidence in the low-feel steering and the Corvette can be driven at a pace very little can keep up with. Even in standard form it will tolerate hard track use.

It's not hard to see GM's logic in moving things on. The mid-engined Vette will undoubtedly be quicker and probably also a good deal slicker. Presuming it keeps a segment appropriate price advantage it could well end up as a viable cut price alternative to an Audi R8 or McLaren Sports Series. But we should also miss the C7; with its combination of huge, loud performance, look-at-me styling and an attractive price tag it is pretty much the better-handling American equivalent of a Wheeler-era TVR. Which is meant as a complement.

Yet there might be another twist in the tale. Word from the 'States is that a heavily updated version of the C7 will be sold alongside the mid-engined Vette for those with more traditional tastes, for a while at least. Offer the pair in right-hand drive and we might start to take them more seriously.


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