Review: 2003 Chevrolet Corvette 50th Anniversary Edition


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SEE ALSO: Chevrolet Buyer's Guide

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

    The Corvette marks its 50th year in 2003, and Chevrolet's rather 
subdued response is somehow appropriate. Sure, Chevy could have 
come up with an ultra-expensive and limited-production special 
edition, perhaps something along the lines of a street-legal version 
of the C5R endurance racers. But Chevy didn't. Instead, the 50th 
Anniversary Edition is a trim package available on coupes and 
convertibles. If this seems less than special, considering the 
occasion, you're missing the point.
    A Corvette is not, and never has been, an exclusive vehicle for 
the extremely wealthy. While Corvettes have never exactly been 
inexpensive, they have never been as expensive and exclusive as 
imports with similar performance. With its large V8 engine and 
stylish fiberglass bodywork a Corvette is a uniquely American 
vehicle, much like a certain variety of V-Twin cruiser motorcycle. 
And like the bike owners, Corvette owners tend toward extreme 
enthusiasm. Just for them, Chevrolet is planning a gathering of the 
faithful for a serious anniversary celebration in Nashville, TN - the 
nearest big city to the Bowling Green, KY factory - this June. It 
should be a good party, for a very good reason.
    I've just finished a week with a new Corvette coupe decked out 
in 50th Anniversary trim. Fans can endlessly argue about which 
Corvette is the best-looking (I'll take the original 1953 model and 
the 1963 Sting Ray split-window coupe, thank you) but the current 
one is by far the best for comfort, handling, and power. In the form 
of my test car, with the standard four-speed automatic transmission, 
it's not as hard-edged as a manual car or the Z06, but it's hardly a 
soft luxury impostor. Consider it a four-wheeled version of the 
classic American cruiser motorcycle.
    Late-breaking news: A special edition 2004 Z06 Corvette has 
just been announced, commemorating the car's success in 
endurance racing at Le Mans. Continuing Corvette's place as 
Chevy's technology leader, look for carbon fiber front bodywork, 
special suspension tuning, and a color scheme like that of this year's 
Le Mans cars.

APPEARANCE: A Corvette looks only like a Corvette, and the 
current version is a low, rounded wedge in convertible, fastback 
coupe, or notchback Z06 body style. It fittingly incorporates many 
different historical Corvette styling features. Its shape is an 
evolutionary development of its immediate predecessor, the `84 to 
`96 `Vette, which itself evolved from the `68 to `83 models. Check 
the fender lines. The scooped-out ``coves'' on the side go back to 
the 1956-62 body style. The rear of the coupe's greenhouse echoes 
the shape of the `63 to `67 coupes (with better visibility and minus 
the `63's split window).  The 50th Anniversary Edition Corvette is 
distinguished by unique metallic maroon ``50th Anniversary Red'' 
exterior paint color, ``champagne'' colored wheels,  and 
commemorative badging on the front fenders and trunk lid. 

COMFORT: A Corvette is a Corvette, meaning that it's a low-slung 
sports car designed for serious driving. In some older models, 
accessibility was, if not quite down to Italian exotic levels of 
contortion, still somewhat gymnastic. It's much better in the current 
version, as the old high door sills are gone. The 50th Anniversary 
package builds on the standard Corvette interior, with the 
commemorative logo embroidered into the headrests and floor mats 
and a unique ``shale'' gray color scheme. The instrument panel is the 
latest interpretation of the classic Corvette ``twin cowl'' design 
pioneered back in 1953. There is room for two, with an emphasis 
on driving. Luggage space is adequate for traveling light, and a new 
cargo cover in the coupe adds some luggage security. 

SAFETY: Corvette crash avoidance features include quick 
acceleration, top-notch handling and maneuverability, and 4-wheel 
antilock vented disc brakes. A safety cage around the passenger 
compartment, front and rear crush zones, three-point safety belts, 
and next-generation airbags protect occupants in case the crash is 
not avoided.

ROADABILITY: As it has been true for the past half-century, the 
current Corvette has body-on-frame construction, with plastic 
composite bodywork. The current frame is the most rigid yet, and, 
with a fully-independent aluminum-intensive double wishbone 
suspension architecture with transverse composite leaf springs, is 
fully capable of dealing with Corvette levels of horsepower and 
cornering force. The ``magnetic selective ride control'' suspension 
that is part of the 50th Anniversary package is also available on 
other non-Z06 2003 Corvettes. It replaces the standard shocks with 
special units that use fluid that changes viscosity according to the 
strength of a computer-controlled electromagnetic field. This allows 
for quick real-time control of damping rates for flatter cornering 
and a smoother ride. There are two driver-controllable settings. 
Soft adds comfort at low speeds around town and on poorly-
surfaced roads, but it allows too much body roll at highway speeds. 
The firm setting gives the standard Corvette firm ride, with good 
damping and little body roll. Anyone expecting a soft luxury-car 
ride in a Corvette has been seriously misinformed. Cornering is 
further enhanced by huge contact patches of the staggered-size run-
flat Goodyear Eagle GS tires, P245/45 ZR17 front and P275/40 
ZR18 rear. 

PERFORMANCE: With 350 horsepower at 5600 rpm and 360 lb-ft 
of torque at 4000 rpm (375 @ 4400 for the 5-speed manual 
version), the standard Corvette LS1 V8 is underpowered only in 
comparison to the 405-hp LS6 in the Z06. The standard four-speed 
automatic mellows the Corvette somewhat, but again it's mellow 
only relative to the six-speed manual LS1 or Z06. Each pony has 
only a little over nine lbs. of Corvette to move, and so it moves 
very quickly. Acceleration or exhilaration? With only light 
application of the throttle, the `Vette is a pussycat, purring 
smoothly through traffic. Press a little harder and the claws come 
out, as it rockets forwards to classic V8 sounds. With the massive 
amount of torque available, the automatic has little effect on raw 
acceleration. In spirited driving, holding the transmission in either 
second or third works fine even on tight roads. 

CONCLUSIONS: Fifty years old and going strong, there is nothing 
like a Corvette.

SPECIFICATIONS
2003 Chevrolet Corvette 50th Anniversary Edition

Base Price			$ 43,335
Price As Tested		        $ 49,490
Engine Type			aluminum alloy pushrod overhead 
                                  valve V8
Engine Size			5.7 liters / 346 cu. in.
Horsepower			350 @ 5600 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			360 @ 4000 rpm
Transmission			4-speed electronically-controlled 
                                  automatic
Wheelbase / Length		104.5 in. / 179.7 in.
Curb Weight			3246 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower	        9.3
Fuel Capacity			18.0 gal.
Fuel Requirement		93-octane unleaded premium gasoline
                                  recommended
Tires				Goodyear Eagle GS F:P245/45 ZR17 
                                                  R P275/40 ZR18
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / vented disc,
                                 antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent unequal-length double 
                                 wishbone with transverse composite
                                 leaf springs
Drivetrain			front engine, rear-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		18 / 25 / 20
0 to 60 mph				est 5.0  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
50th Anniversary Edition Package - includes:
  memory package, electrochromic mirrors,
  magnetic selective ride control, power 
  telescoping and manual tilt steering column,
  twilight sentinel, head-up display, special
  50th Anniversary color and trim		$ 5,000
Performance axle ratio			        $    395
Destination charge				$    760
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