1986–96 Chevrolet Corvette C4 Convertible

Nineteen eighty-three was the model year without a Corvette. The C4, which debuted as a 1984 model, was the first all-new Corvette since 1963, and like the first-year C3 in 1968, there were problems aplenty. The digital dash was failure-prone, the ride was punishing, and the carried-over-from 1982 twin throttle-body “Cross-fire” injection was inferior to the better multi-port electronic systems that had been around for years. Especially harsh critics opined that in hindsight, Chevy might have done well to skip ’84 too. Things got better quickly—1985 brought recalibrated spring rates and a new tuned-port injection 5.7-liter V8. By 1986, a convertible was available again after an eleven-year hiatus, and all seemed right in the world. Top up or top down, the new convertible looked good from every angle. All 1986 convertibles were Indy Pace Car editions and were equipped for the first time with anti-lock brakes. About the only bad news was the choice of transmissions. The automatic really didn’t suit the performance of the 5.7 TPI engine, and the 4+3 manual had a balky linkage that made the car less enjoyable to shift than it should have been. Plus, the overdrive that engaged in the top three gears broke early and often. Fortunately, it was replaced in 1990 by a sophisticated ZF 6-speed.

Almost as annoying as seatbelt interlock

Unfortunately, it was a case of what Chevy giveth, Chevy also taketh away. The ZF had an annoying feature known as CAGS, or Computer Aided Gear Selection. A solenoid prevented second from being selected under certain load conditions. This in theory helped the car avoid the gas-guzzler tax. In reality, it was nearly as aggravating as the seatbelt interlock of 1974, although long-term owners claim you can get used to it. The 1990 model year also saw the replacement of the digital “flat dash” with a much more attractive dash that mixed digital and traditional analog readouts. The biggest news from 1992 until the end of the C4 in 1996 was the LT1 5.7-liter engine with multi-port fuel injection. It put out an even 300 hp and offered tons of torque down low. The LT1 was universally praised and arguably made the peaky ZR-1 redundant. Aside from the usual collision, excessive wear and ill-advised modifications that are easy to spot, there are few weak points to a C4 convertible. Early ABS systems can give trouble, as can the early digital dashboards. Strangely, the Bose stereo setups are unique to the car and there are few alternatives if the system acts up; ditto for electronic a/c controls.

Drive for years without losing anything

One of the biggest advantages of nearly any Corvette is the fact that they aren’t finicky. Unlike a Ferrari or even a Porsche, you can and should drive your Corvette every day. C4s are modern enough that it isn’t in the least bit punishing to use one as a daily driver. They’re near the bottom of their appreciation curve, so you should be able to pick one up now and drive it for several years without losing anything. In spite of the often-repeated myth that cars reach some sort of milestone status as far as collectibility when they hit 25 years old, don’t look for anything unusual to happen to ’86 convertible prices in three years. Since the jury is still out on the long-term collectibility of the ZR-1, it will be a long time until we see C4 convertibles trading for prices in excess of their original list. In the meantime, an LT1 convertible has to be one of the greatest performance car bargains on the market today. There are plenty to choose from, so hold out for the best example in your favorite color and drive it as often as you can.