Jim’s Blog: Best C4 Buys

We talk a lot about future trends here at ACC. Here’s something to use right now: Buy a C4 Corvette.

Why? Because they’re iconic for their era, numerous enough to be inexpensive, and they’re fun to drive. They also don’t have many mechanical issues overall, so that makes them great, livable next-gen collector cars.

The C5 is a better car — no doubt about it — but it hasn’t aged into its prime yet. Plus, as new Corvettes have gotten better and better, the prices on C4s and C5s have dropped — but I don’t think they’re going to go lower on C4s than they are right now. With younger people starting to take notice of these cars and their oh-so-’80s styling, now’s a good time to buy. 

Here’s what I’d be looking for in 1984-96 Chevrolet Corvettes right now:

 

1985 Red-on-red examples

1984s had the not-so-great Cross-Fire injection system. ’85 models got TPI, which worked better, yet still have that first-run C4 Corvette look. Also, if you’re gonna buy a Corvette, it ought to be red. And if you’re going to buy a red car, it might as well be ALL red. Gaudy? Maybe. But a red-on-red Corvette can hold its own next to anything else from the era, at least in terms of a bold statement. The next generation of collector is looking for poster cars, not beige or gold drivers.

Find one with 80k miles, spend $8k-$10k.

 

 

1996 Grand Sport

Red on red not bold enough? How about a blue Corvette with a white stripe down the center and red seats? The Grand Sport came with a 330-hp LT4 and a 6-speed manual, and was available with optional red/black leather seating. Only 1,000 were built, but prices aren’t crazy for examples with miles. Median price right now is $28,500 for a coupe, and cars with over 50k miles are cheaper. These aren’t as complex as a ZR-1 but still offer fantastic performance, handling, and image. Also, as ’96s, they’re OBDII, which means your mechanic will be much happier to diagnose and fix one of these versus an earlier C4.

 

 

1992 6-speed

Why ’92? Because that’s the first year of the 300-hp LT1. Pair that with a 6-speed manual and you have a fantastic fun driver’s car that won’t cost you much to buy or to maintain. These cars also came standard with GM’s ASR (Acceleration Slip Regulation) system, which will keep the car pointing where you want it even if you overdo the throttle in the rain. The only color to avoid here is dark green, unless you really like dark green. $7k is the current median price.  

Now, with any of these cars, it’s important to verify that all the electronics work as designed before you buy — especially the dash and gauges. Parts aren’t hard to come by, but some issues are easier to solve than others. 

Agree with these choices? Let’s discuss below.

17 comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. The Cinderella of C 4s are the 1993-95 ZR-1s. More than adequate power to run with today’s big boys, a great sound and styling that won’t get old.

  2. Jim, I think you are absolutely correct. I owned a 1985 and a 1996 back in the day. They were both fun and reliable. A C4 convertible is a lot of car for very little money.

  3. Just got my first vette last. Sept, 90 black with grey Auto with 44k miles. Gorgeous car and fun to step down on the right pedal. I’m 68, Always wanted one and couldn’t pass this one up. Had an abused 97 m3 5speed coupe for a year with almost 200k on it and got tired of throwing money at it… The vette is great.. Still love my bimmers though, have a 99 528i msport with 140k and a 96 328i with 88k on it…

  4. Owned an 89 convertible and it was such an easy car to
    live with and should be included as they were one of the sleekest “top down “ designs of the era

  5. I have bee a C1 only guy for years. Loved the story of the Lotus designed ZR-1 and bought a 91 with 26K miles. It was so spectacular I bought an 89 L98 with 70K miles and it’s my driver. Aside from getting in and out it is great!

  6. For once we really agree Jim. Having owned a couple of C4’s in the past, both red they are nice cars offering good performance for the dollar. Do your best in getting the later year models but nice cars with parts readily available.

  7. I own an 84 C4 and an 88 C4. I have to say that they have grown on me. The 84 was purchased on the cheap and I have grown to like the car. My 18 year old uses it and thanks to the cross fire injection I know he will not be racing. It is very slow compared to the 88 which is terribly fast. I am having digital dash issues on the 84 and was going to switch to analogue but my son wants the 80s look

  8. After looking at almost 10 C4s finally found the fanatic owner of a mint 95. Lucky me after 4 years one o2 sensor and rear tires I’m blessed. It’s my alter ego.

  9. Jim, I am a big fan of the C4 and own a white over red leather 89 cpe. My sister came home from being born in a 56 and I a 64 and the family had numerous vettes in between. However, in 1989 two things happen. I graduated high school and we brought our first new Corvette. My Father registered it in my name and told me that when I got my degree, I would get the keys. In 1996 the car was in my driveway with 6k on the clock and still is now, however now with 43k on the clock. For years I feel that I have treated it like the step child in the background of other gems in my collection. However, over the holidays we had some photos taken of the family and my vettes and there has been a huge shift in favor of that 89 cpe. So, take it from me the mood is turning on clean examples of those C4’s.

  10. Have a 95 conv 6sp…………..green. great car, easy to mod(getting headers, cam, ported heads. I get 27mpg@70. Insurance 240yr. What ‘s not to like

  11. I’m 72 years old and bought my first red on red 1989 6 speed manual shift corvette. I love this car, makes me feel like I’m young again ( I wish) but I should have bought one sooner. I couldn’t pass up the deal I got, replaced all the weatherstripping and now everything is good, just going to enjoy it.

  12. I’ve owned an 84 C4 targa top and a 2000 C5 convertible. Objectively the C5 was certainly the better car, much better performance. But I remember the C4 much more fondly. My C4 had the Z-51 package, which included sport seats–far better than C5 or C6 seats.. That first year the Z-51 suspension was way too firm and Chevy softened up that option I believe after that first year. The glass targa top was infamous for cracking on those cars. Being a Z-51, mine cracked soon–a $1,500 adventure. So beware the early Z-51 cars. But don’t beware the funky 4+3 manual transmission. A ten dollar resistor defeats the silly forced up-shift permanently and then you have a pleasantly old-school, close ratio four speed.with a high range when you want it.

  13. I bought one 12 years ago and have enjoyed the car. They are the most performance for the buck. Much better than an MGB or triumph. Better than a Miata or a Z, but nobody seems to see this. I have always wondered why the prices are not higher