Production of the C5 Corvette began in 1997 and ended with the 2004 model year. The C5 was a major change from the long-running C4. The transmission was moved to the rear of the car to form an integrated rear-mounted transaxle assembly and was connected to the engine by a driveshaft. Gone were most of the squeaks and rattles of the C4. The new C5 was judged by the automotive press as improved in nearly every area over the previous Corvette design.
Also introduced with the C5 was GM’s new LS1 small block. This third-generation small block was a completely new design, including a distributor-less ignition and a new cylinder firing order. It was initially rated at 345 horsepower (257 kW) and 350 ft·lbf (470 N·m) torque, but was increased to 350 horsepower (260 kW) in 2001.
For its first year, the C5 was available only as a coupe, even though the new platform was designed from the ground up to be a convertible. The convertible returned to the lineup in 1998, followed by the predecessor to the Z06, the fixed-roof coupe (FRC), in 1999.
The Corvette’s 50th Anniversary was celebrated June 20-21, 2003, in Nashville, Tennessee. The venue provided a bonanza of flawlessly restored Corvettes. Also, a worldwide caravan of over 10,000 Corvettes gathered at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, KY. with every model year of the Corvette along with engineering and restoration seminars. Participants were also invited to visit the factory located across from the museum, with special tours not provided to the general public. The anniversary also brought some Chevrolet Concept Vehicles into focus including the approved-for-production Chevrolet SSR. Also on hand were several Corvette race cars, including the Corvette SS built by Zora Arkus-Duntov and the C5-R that won its class at Le Mans. Among the many displays were examples of the 2003 50th Anniversary Edition as well as a few 2004 “Commemorative Edition” and Indy Pace Car Corvettes.
Recently, the factory has expanded to build the Cadillac XLR roadster, which shares its platform with the sixth-generation Corvette. Bowling Green is also home to the Corvette Museum, which celebrates this American automotive icon by displaying in chronological order the various regular production models as well as some unique one-off versions created by Chevrolet. Bowling Green is also the home of the National Corvette Homecoming, a large annual gathering of Corvettes and their owners.
The building in Flint in which the first cars were assembled was spun off with GM’s Delphi Electronics division and later donated to GMI/Kettering University in the late 1990s. The building has since been remodeled and is now the C.S. Mott Engineering and Science Center, housing the Mechanical Engineering and Chemistry programs. In the garage housing the school’s Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) club is a plaque commemorating it as the place where the first Corvette was built.
A successor to the FRC C5 made its debut in 2001 as the Z06, a nod to the high performance Z06 version of the C2 Corvette of the 1960s. The Z06 models replace the FRC hardtop (1999-2000) models as the highest performance C5 Corvette. Instead of a heavier double-overhead cam engine like the ZR-1, the Z06 used an LS6, a high-output version of the standard LS1 Corvette engine producing 385 hp (287 kW). Although the Z06′s total power output was less than that of the last ZR-1′s, the Z06 was lighter and therefore quicker than the ZR-1. Despite these specifications, the ZR-1 still had a higher top speed, thus maintaining its “King of the Hill” status.
As with the ZR-1, Chevrolet found that added power output did the Z06 little good without platform modifications to bring the rest of the car up to par. A hardtop body, upgraded suspension, larger wheels and tires, a new six-speed manual transmission, along with improved gearing and functional brake cooling ducts, all became part of the total package. The Z06 is 38 lb (17.3 kg) lighter than the previous hardtop C5 thanks to a titanium exhaust (from the catalytic converter back), thinner glass, lighter wheels, and a lighter battery. From 2002 onward, the Z06 produced 405 hp (302 kW) thanks to minor engine modifications including a more aggressive camshaft profile, lightweight sodium filled exhaust valves, stiffer valve springs, and deletion of the precats. Many dynamometer test have proven that Chevrolet underrated the engine by 20 hp (15 kW) giving it a total of 425 hp.
The 2002 Z06 also received revised rear shock valving and steel links to replace plastic ones of the 2001 model. An Electron blue color replaced Speedway white. The HUD became standard, and the previous forged wheels were replaced by lighter spun cast ones. The fender Z06 badges bear “405 hp” on them. The 2003 models received special silver 50th anniversary badges and revised headliner. Later 2003 models received a more durable steel shift fork instead of aluminum.
GM claimed that 405 hp (302 kW) versions of the Z06 could make the 0-60 run in 3.9 seconds and through the quarter mile in 12.4 seconds. In the hands of experienced drivers the 2002-2004 Z06 has made 11 second passes. The current quarter mile record is 11.7. The car’s top speed of 176 mph (283 km/h) was achieved in 5th gear at 6,500 rpm(redline), as 6th gear was an overdrive/economy gear. It proved to be a well rounded track vehicle as well, with the ability to do more than simply accelerate. Thanks in part to its upgraded suspension system, the Z06 is capable of holding its own against contemporary versions of the Dodge Viper, Ford Mustang Cobra R, and even the Porsche 911 around a road track.
The 2004 Z06 Commemorative Edition came with a carbon fiber hood which saved some weight and also received polished aluminum wheels. In addition it was equipped with a Nürburgring-tested suspension tuning to improve handling, along with an exclusive Le Mans blue color.