Chevrolet Corvette: The Car Bible (C5; 1997-2004)
The C5 might look a little dated, but it's a lot of car for the money.
Welcome to the C5 Chevy Corvette Car Bible. As you scroll down you’ll learn all about this vehicle’s qualities, features, finer points, and shortcomings. If you’re thinking about buying one of these, want some help maintaining or modifying one, or just want to deepen your knowledge for the next round of car trivia, you’ve come to the right place.
This is a living document that’s updated as we learn (and confirm) new valuable info. Got something to add? Drop a comment or send us an email! Don’t be shy; the more dialogue we have the better this Car Bible will get.
–Andrew P. Collins, Car Bibles Editor-In-Chief
(Disclaimers; Disclosures: Some Car Bibles will have links to specific forums, groups, brands, shops, or vendors for parts shopping and such. We have no sponsorship deals or official affiliation with any of them unless explicitly stated. We also have to explicitly state that you should work on your own car and follow our advice at your own risk.)
There’s a lot of info packed into this Bible. If you’re looking for something specific, hit command/control-F, type one of these terms, and your browser should bring you straight in.
- The Short Story
- Fast Facts
- Spotter’s Guide
- Check This Car Out If…
- Important Trim Levels and Options
- Year-To-Year Changes
- General Reliability and Ownership Costs
- Obscure Details
- Red Flags and Known Issues
- Where To Buy Parts
- Aftermarket Support
- Popular Modifications
- Key Technical Details
- Fluids, Filters, and Capacities
- Factory Service Manuals
- Other References and Resources
- Professional Reviews
- Owner Reviews
- What They’re Worth Now
- Where To Find One For Sale
- What To Ask A Seller
- Competitors To Consider
- Photo Galleries
- Pop Culture References
- Enthusiast Inquiries
- Downloadable Paperback Car Bible
- Comments Disclaimer
The Short Story
The C5 Corvette was Chevrolet’s V8-powered, fiberglass-bodied way of powering into the 21st century. It was a totally new re-design of the legendary sports car, featuring some clever engineering to improve its chassis and acceleration, making it more of a worthy adversary to its European and Japanese performance competition than ever before. Good ol’ fashion American engineering at its finest!
Because of its performance-centric engineering, the C5 Corvette made an excellent professional-level race car during its day, and is still a very capable car in club racing all over the USA. It fits in well with the SCCA’s and NASA’s classing, and there’s even a C5 Corvette spec racing series/class that runs all over the country, Spec Corvette.
- The C5 was the first GM vehicle to receive the venerable LS V8 engine.
- Hydroforming was utilized to shape the C5’s frame rails, a first-ever in the Corvette’s history. This helped its chassis be four-times stiffer than the previous-gen C4.
- This was the last Corvette, and one of the last cars in general, to have pop-up headlights.
- Balsa wood is utilized as the C5’s floor boards to cut weight, reduce road noise, and improve chassis stiffness; who knew the C5 had something mildly in-common with a Morgan Three-Wheeler!
- The rear suspension includes composite leaf springs, which are more common on pickup trucks than sports cars. But they’re lighter, help enable the Corvette’s low ride height, and are known to ride more comfortably than more common coil springs.
- The drivetrain is a rear transaxle, connected to the engine at the front via a long torque tube, which adds to the chassis’ rigidity. This improves the ‘Vette’s weight balance significantly.
- The C5-R was Chevrolet’s international GT racing platform. Notably, it raced at Daytona, Le Mans, and other world-famous circuits. In 2001 Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr. raced it together at Daytona, earning fourth place overall.
This turn-of-the-century Corvette is very much of its era… in a good way! It’s more rounded and sleek than the C4, but still has the classic circular tail lights, sharp front end, low profile, and wide hips that Corvettes have always had. Certain body styles in our opinion and better-looking than others, but generally we’d say it still looks good by today’s standards. They’re quite wide and low, giving them a menacing appearance that’s crucial to the Corvette brand.
The pop-up headlights make it look a little dated today, but the car still looks cool well-over a decade after its final model year.
Lucky for anyone looking to pick one up on the used market, Chevy made many, many C5s over the car’s 1997-2004 run. The total number is nearly 250,000 units, with the bulk of them being 01-04 models. Normally, sports car production numbers are far lower, thus making it tough to find decent examples at a decent price. Such is not the case with the C5; there are many examples out there, and combined with their well-regarded reliability, they make great second-hand sports cars.
Check This Car Out If…
You’re in the market for a sports car with great factory performance, good fuel economy for a V8, inexpensive parts costs, and good reliability. They also still have a massive aftermarket and extremely large enthusiast following. This means information resources are endless! Though beware: they’re very much sports cars in that the interiors can be pretty tight quarters.
Important Trim Levels and Options
Chevrolet seems like a trim and options company that sells cars. The C5 Corvette is no exception to this. But there were a handful of trims and options that are worth pointing out and discussing for sure. The Z06 was the track-oriented ‘Vette, with a hot-rodded LS1 referred to as the LS6, 35 more horsepower, a significantly-lighter curb weight, and was fixed-roof and manual-transmission only.
One particular package that’s been a staple of more serious Corvettes throughout the generations is the Z51 package; this includes upgraded suspension and a mild bump in power.
Chevy also offered an Indy 500 Pace Car replica in 1998, a 50th Anniversary Edition in 2003, and a 24 Hours of Le Mans Commemorative Edition in 2004, which celebrated the C5-R’s first and second place class finishes at the 24 Hours of Le Mans that year. Besides the Z06, these special Corvettes were mostly comprised of visual and luxury upgrades, like nicer interiors, different colors, cool graphics, etc.
GM equipment groups play an important role the the C5’s timeline.
1997 Model Year:
- The C5 Corvette debuts
1998 Model Year:
- In addition to standard suspension, the FE3 performance suspension package is available, which is included in the Z51 Package, and standard on all fixed-roof coupe models
- The F45 Selective Ride Control suspension is also optional, which is an early magnetic ride system
1999 Model Year:
- No major changes
2000 Model Year:
- The Z06 trim debuts
2001 Model Year:
- The base and Z06 trims gets more power
- Various convenience packages become available, which include a head-up display (HUD), power-telescoping steering column, auto-tinting mirrors, and driver seat memory settings
2002 Model Year:
- No major changes
2003 Model Year:
- Motorsport-inspired magnetic ride control adaptive suspension is now available, equipment group F55
2004 Model Year:
- No major changes
- Last year of the C5 and its pop-up lights
General Reliability and Ownership Cost
In general, the C5 Corvette is a very robust and reliable little sports car. Parts costs are generally cheap, and there isn’t anything terribly exotic about the LS1 or LS6 engine besides sodium-filled valves in the LS6. Bodywork, however, can be expensive due to the car being made of composite. Labor rates for certain body jobs can also get a little expensive. Doing a clutch job is apparently pricey too, due to it being more labor intensive than other RWD sports cars.
Taking advantage of the LS engine’s low-end torque while simultaneously improving emissions, manual transmission-equipped C5s feature a skip shift system. This essentially locks out gears to improve fuel economy, such as shifting from first directly into fourth gear. It’s bizarre, and many people find it annoying. However it’s easy to get rid of. Products referred to as skip shift eliminator bypass kits are cheap and easy to install, but the ECU can also be programmed to do away with it as well.
Red Flags and Known Issues
The C5’s known problems are well-documented, and usually pretty easy to fix.
Earlier models have weak tire pressure sensors and key fobs. These can be buggy or just fail, but luckily replacements aren’t terribly expensive, and there’s a good chance that a lot of them have been replaced anyway.
Crash damage can be hard to spot. A thorough look underneath, including inspecting its frame rails, will reveal if this fast little sports car was too much for a previous owner to handle.
Steering wheel lockout issues. All years are known for having finnicky theft-preventative steering wheel lockouts, meaning the key has to be inserted just right to unlock the wheel. This was a factory recall, and is worth inquiring about when checking one out.
Pop up headlight motors can burn out. A good indicator of whether a C5’s have is its front end will look kind of tired, or drunk. As in, one or both headlights won’t be fully upright.
Weak ground connections. Due to some weak ground connections, some electrics can go a little haywire. Again, like all of these they’re pretty easy to remedy.
Weak in the seats. The C5’s stock seats are engineered to be comfortable and light, but can easily wear out and tear over time. Aftermarket options are plentiful, or a nice visit to an upholstery shop can clean ’em up nicely.
Drivetrain rattling. It’s common for manual transmission-equipped C5’s to make a light rattling sound coming off the clutch in first gear. According to enthusiasts this is normal.
Weak weather sealing/stripping. Over time, C5s’ weather stripping can degrade to the point of increasing wind noise on removeable roof models, as well as cause water intrusion.
Oil consumption on track-driven C5s. This is more common on late 2000 and 2001 models, but ‘Vettes that spend a lot of time above 4,000 RPM can see an increase in oil consumption.
Oil-sucking woes. Faulty or older-style PCV valves can inject a lot of oil into the intake, increasing carbon buildup, which probably also isn’t good for the catalytic converters. GM sells an updated PCV valve that remedies this, but adding a catch can is another way to remedy it.
More issues can be found here, many are minor.
The C5 Corvette had a couple of recalls throughout its run, with the most focused on the 1997 model year. These tapered off to between three and four during the rest of its run.
Two of which were focused on its headlights and amber lights, while the steering wheel lockout we mentioned above is another. These were present as recalls during the entire generation. Two more recalls are seat belt related, which really should be confirmed to whether they’ve been remedied. Another was a faulty fuel tank sending unit that could leak fuel and cause a fire, and another was a tie rod failure. Again, all of these should be confirmed they’ve been remedied before taking possession.
Where to Buy Parts
What’s nice is since it’s GM, parts can be had pretty much anywhere. From your local Autozone, to RockAuto.com, to various Corvette specialty parts retailers. Not a whole lot under the hood is exotic… actually nothing is.
The aftermarket is still incredibly robust for the C5 Corvette. There’s definitely no shortage of parts to help improve one of the things they’re best at: handling. The LS1 and LS6 are also Lego-spec as far as performance mods; there’s no shortage of performance headers, camshafts, exhaust systems, heads, intakes, superchargers, and more. Sites like C6Performance.net, WestCoastCorvette.com, and CorvetteCentral.com seem to have a very, very thorough catalog.
For performance-oriented duty, such as running the C5 on track, many companies make quality, adjustable coilover suspension systems that do away with the rear left springs and improve adjustability.
There are also endless ways to boost power for the LS1 and LS6, whether by making it a naturally-aspirated monster, or adding a supercharger for some forced-induction fury.
Adding aftermarket seats with better bolsters is a popular modification as well, though beware, not many aftermarket seats fit in Corvettes with ease. Fixed-back racing seats that are narrow in the shoulders are a better bet than otherwise. Different companies produce specialty brackets that make it easy, and take a lot of the guess work out.
Key Technical Details
5.7-liter pushrod V8
LS1 (1997-2000): 345 horsepower; 350 horsepower, 350 pound-feet of torque
LS1 (2001+) 350 horsepower, 360 pound-feet of torque
LS6 (Z06 2001): 385 horsepower, 385 pound-feet of torque
LS6 (Z06 2002+): 405 horsepower, 400 pound-feet of torque
Transmission: T56 6-Speed Manual, 4L60E 4-Speed Automatic
Drivetrain: Rear-wheel drive with rear transaxle and torque tube
Suspension: Double A-Arm Independent Coil Front, Double A-Arm Independent Leaf Spring Rear
Wheelbase: 104.5 Inches
Overall length: 179.7 Inches; 4,564 mm
Convertible: 3,247 pounds
Hardtop: 3,172 pounds
Targa Top: 3,245 pounds
Z06 Hardtop: 3,118 pounds
OEM tire sizes:
Standard and Z51 Package: Front: 245/45ZR17, Rear: 275/40ZR18
Z06: Front: 265/40ZR17, Rear: 295/35ZR18
Fluids, Filters, and Capacities
Fuel: 91 Octane (premium)
Battery Size: 700 CCA, 78 Series Side Post
Engine Oil: Six quarts of 5W-30 full synthetic, enthusiasts recommend changing every 3,000-5,000 miles. Enthusiasts also recommend any quality oil by Royal Purple, Mobile 1, etc. Be sure to reset the Engine Oil Life Monitor.
Oil Filter: OEM AC Delco UPF44, replace with oil. Enthusiasts say any high-end Mobil 1, K&N, etc. is a good alternative
Air Filter: OEM AC Delco GM A1614C, replace every 15,000 miles
Cabin Air Filter: N/A
Manual Transmission Oil: 1.69 quarts of OEM GM 75W-90 12378261, replace every 30,000 miles or five years, whichever comes first. Fill until level with fill hole hole, add 4 ounces of OEM GM 1052358 Limited-Slip Differential Lubricant Additive
Automatic Transmission Oil: Dexron III or higher, replace every 30,000 miles or five years, whichever comes first. Enthusiasts recommend, Mobil 1 ATF D/M or Valvoline Dex/Merc ATF
Transmission Filter: OEM GM 24208574, replace with fluid
Differential Oil: Manual transmission: same as gear oil; Automatic transmission: Two quarts of OEM GM 75W-90, fill until it spills out, replace at the same time as transmission oil/fluid
Coolant: Three gallons of 50/50 OEM GM DexCool/Distilled Water (or pre-mixed), replace every five years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first
Power Steering Fluid: 2x OEM GM 1050017 Power Steering Fluid, there’s no interval, but enthusiasts recommend changing at the same time as the coolant to be safe
Brake Fluid: 2x OEM GM 12377967, replaced every 60,000 miles, or 30,000 miles if consistently track-driven; a stronger, DOT5 fluid is recommended for track driving, such as Motul RBF600 or Castrol SRF
Clutch Fluid: OEM GM 12345347, replace in addition to brake fluid
Spark Plugs: 8x OEM GM 12571164, or AC Delco P/N 41-985, GM recommends replacing at 100,000 miles, though enthusiasts recommend replacing every 75,000 miles
This link contains a nice, thorough explanation of the C5’s service intervals. They indicate some slightly-longer intervals than what we’ve written above, but we’re also erring on the side of caution and track driving.
Factory Service Manuals
Other References and Resources
The forums and chocked full of information, especially Corvette Forum!
“More power, more grip, and less weight add up to an infallible prescription for higher performance, and the Z06 fills the bill.” (Car & Driver – August 1, 2000)
Csaba Csere at C&D loved the Z06 when it debuted for testing back in 2000.
“These individual performance strengths coordinated beautifully during a few laps at Mid-Ohio racetrack, where the Z06 felt very much like the Corvette showroom-stock endurance cars that several of us raced in the mid-’80s. A smooth touch on the controls was rewarded with beautiful balance and great stability. And when you do finally exceed the car’s limits, the tires seem to smoothly smear across the pavement rather than suddenly break away, providing ample opportunity to retain control.”
“The one vehicle that packs the greatest importance in terms of technological advancement, overall value, driving character, performance, functional abilities, and market impact. We’re confident we’ve found that vehicle in the all-new fifth-generation Chevrolet Corvette.” (MotorTrend – January 2, 1998)
The editors at MT absolutely adored the C5 and made it Motor Trend Car of the Year in 1998.
“Regardless of suspension choice, the confidence-inspiring Corvette screams down twisty roads with more refinement than ever before. Smooth throttle, deft trail braking, and keen steering are rewarded with exhilarating performance, but slight miscalculations are not punished. Slight oversteer can be reeled in without drama, or simply enjoyed. With the extreme velocities the Vette is capable of, it’s good to have some of the best brakes on the planet.”
John Nguyen, the man behind Spec Corvette, who races his C5 in this series as well as in various other club racing classes
When searching for a vehicle to create a fun, fast, budget racing series, the answer always came back to the C5 corvette. You will not find a more capable V8 platform that checks all the boxes in performance, reliability, aftermarket support, and low cost of entry. It’s a phenomenal value and we’ve built one of the fastest growing American racing series around it.
Own or owned one of these and want to share your thoughts? Hit us up in the comments or email email@example.com!
What They’re Worth Now
A big thing to keep in mind is option packages. Prices can vary quite a bit depending on which options were added by owners when they were first ordered. Rare and performance-oriented options like the much-coveted Z51 package might add at least another grand onto an enthusiast’s asking price.
The prime example: A very low-mileage (<40,000 miles) Base Corvette in this tier seems to fetch around $25,000-$27,000. Z06s command a couple grand more.
A very clean driver: Tacking on a little bit of mileage and a slight amount of wear-and-tear brings prices down to around $20,000-$23,000. Again, Z06s will cost a few grand more.
An honest car: An example with higher mileage, say around 100,000 miles, but in good mechanical condition and maybe a few exterior flaws is around $13,000-$15,000.
The budget option: Something with even higher mileage, body imperfections, not-too-desirable option packages, and an automatic transmission seems to be $12,000 at the very most. We’ve seen a few very clean salvage options sit in this price range in the private-party market. There’s potential for track beasts to be found in this range; don’t be too concerned with exterior flaws if mechanically its in very good condition.
A roach: An example that’s been beat on, or has very high mileage (as in, in excess of 250,000 miles), or both, can fetch as little as $8,000. Though, it seems like some well-taken-yet-high-mileage deals can be found for around $8,000-$9,000. If it has very high mileage, yet runs well and has had a bunch of stuff replaced, what’s the concern?
Where to Find One for Sale
Because Chevy sold many C5s, they’re readily available through such channels as Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. As always, be thorough in your examination of the car, and check out what we have to say about buying a car on Craigslist.
Auction sites such as CarAndBids.com and BringATrailer.com will pull a premium for sure due to their increased exposure. If you’re buying something sight unseen, it’s a good idea to get a pre-purchase inspection, or PPI.
Perusing listings on conventional channels like Cars.com and Autotempest.com will reveal a hearty stock of options, though as always, dealer pricing is usually at least a tad higher than private-party sales.
What to Ask a Seller
Focusing on general used car material, as well as the C5’s foibles is crucial here.
- What sort of maintenance have you done, or had done, while the car has been under your ownership?
- Do you have maintenance records?
- Have the seats been reupholstered?
- Have all safety recalls been taken care of?
- Do you track the car? This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in fact it usually means reliability mods have been done, cooling systems have been upgraded, and fluids have been changed regularly
- Is there any water intrusion when it rains?
- Has the vehicle ever been in any accidents? If so, have any panels been repaired, replaced, or re-painted?
Competitors to Consider
The Corvette’s GM LS1 compatriot the Pontiac GTO is certainly a consideration, as is a Camaro. However, neither of those can stack up against the Corvette’s low weight, low center of gravity, and factory performance numbers.
When it was released, the C5 Corvette out-accelerated a Ferrari 355; the Vette’s always been the budget competitor to higher-end, exotic European performance. The 996/997 Porsche 911 and E46 BMW M3 are certainly in the same class, though will almost certainly cost more money to maintain, and carry big premiums if they’re in very good condition and equipped with manual gearboxes. The New Edge Ford SVT Mustang and Terminator Cobra Mustang ought to also be considered, though these are much more rare due to significantly-lower production numbers.
Pop Culture References
The C5 Corvette has been in a bunch of movies, including Mr. Deeds, XXX, Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby, Too Fast Too Furious, Toy Story 3, Punisher, SWAT, and many more.
Quite a few celebrities own or have owned C5 Corvettes as well: Paul McCartney, Jay Leno (naturally), Angelyne, Troy Gentry, Joey Kramer of Aerosmith, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, Stonecold Steve Austin, and more.
Stay tuned for common questions asked by enthusiasts when scoping out a potential C5 of their own!
Downloadable Paperback Car Bible (Coming Soon)
If you’re old school and like to keep reference notes on paper, or you’re just a completionist and want a free accessory for your ‘Vett, we’ll have some paperback printouts for you soon.
Think of it like an owner’s manual supplement. Keep it in your car and your days of waiting for slow internet on your phone at the auto parts store are over!
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