Hagerty.com

C4 Corvettes are V-8 sports-car fun on the cheap


#1

The 1984–96 C4-generation Corvette is often passed over. It doesn’t have the swoopy curves of the previous C3 generation. It doesn’t have the sheer horsepower or cornering grit of the current models. But it did take the Corvette straight out of the ’60s, setting America’s sports car on a track toward becoming the world-beating performer it is today. And for the thrifty shopper, these days they’re the cheapest Corvettes on the market.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2018/11/09/c4-corvettes-are-cheap-fun

#2

I had a 1996 LT-4 6 speed coupe. Nice except that you had to drive the right front tire onto a curb in order to tighten the screws holding in the removable top! Also the 1991 restyle did the car no favors especially in the rear with the convex cap and the squared off round tail lights. From a looks perspective the 1990 with the early body and the late interior is the one to have.


#3

I had an 1986 red C-4. The owner sold it to me just is the nick of time! Bad news was a lot went wrong with this car and I ended up putting 3000.00 into it! UGH!! The good news was I broke even on it and sold it to a guy in Israel who had to pay double what I sold it to him for to ship it over there. Moral of the story: Look these cars over carefully before buying one, no matter what the deal you may think your getting, it is a C-4!! Let me add, these vettes had faulty electric window regulators, be sure the electric windows operate up and down fully and quickly, I had to replace both window regulators and they were around 900.00 combined to fix. OUCH!


#4

I kept reading and reading the article in anticipation of it getting around to describing the REAL reason that these cars are not very desirable. The fundamental issue I was looking for never surfaced. With the high door sills and low seating position, the C4s have to be very high on the list for most difficult cars ever made to enter and exit.

It’s the older, wealthier population that generally buys specialty/optional/collector cars. But probably 90% of the guys I know have developed chronic back problems, neck injuries and hip problems over time… and would want nothing to do with the ergonomics of a C4.

I also can’t stand the limited outward visibility of these cars. The dashboards are too high for the low seating position. The door window sills are also very high which reduces side visibility - just like new cars - which I also can’t stand for that same reason. The interior is cramped. Cheap plastic everywhere - fragile switches…

A neighbor of mine in VA inherited a 1987 Corvette Convertible from her late husband in 2008. I did some fix-ups for her to better prepare it for sale. I drove it around for about a month. I never warmed up to it. Was happy to finally get it sold for just $5500.

Nice to look at from the outside - and that’s the way I like it - as an observer, not an owner.86%20Convertible1


#5

A Corvette restorer advised me to avoid the 84 Corvette. He said this model had several one-year-only parts, and restoration was more expensive. He said even the hood was not used in the 85. I have a C5, which is probably a better car, but I still look at ads for the C3’s and C4’s. I may eventually end up with one.


#6

I owned a 92 with the 300 hp LT1, 6 speed and first year traction control. I thought it was great fun to drive, Pretty fast, a comfortable highway cruiser and got over 26 mpg on the highway. I had few problems with it, I doubt I spent more than $400 to repair it in the 2 years I owned it. Traction control was intrusive, but nice when it was slick. I sold it for about what I paid for it after driving it 25000 miles.


#7

I bought a pristine LT-4 coupe a some years ago, hoping it would be the C-4 to own as an investment… Great car, still smells like new inside, with a way under rated motor (most LT-4’s made a lot more horsepower than the early LS1;s which is why GM gave them a conservative horsepower rating) . Yes, it is a PITA to get in & out of for us old guys (I consider it a challenge at my age). Love the car, but one of the worst investments I have made. I would suggest buying a cheap LT-4 & drive it like you stole it.


#8

I’ve owned a 92 coupe for 26 years and 48k miles. In that time, I’ve had one fuel injector, the fuel tank level sender, and one ECM fail. I’ve replaced the belt, hoses, water pump, and distributor–not be cause they failed, but because I felt that 25 years was long enough for the original parts. Yes, getting in and out is a major pain in just about every body part–but that won’t stop me from enjoying the heck out of this gorgeous, reliable car. I disliked the squared off corners of the early cars; the 91 and later cars are perfect. You really have to ask yourself if anyone really NEEDS more than 300hp for recreational driving. If you are looking to buy one of these cars, I feel your best value will always be a BONE STOCK car owned by a Corvette enthusiast. The original engineering really is that good.


#9

I’ve never been able to understand the low regard for both the C3 and C4 Corvettes. I owned a '69 427/390hp 4 speed coupe until about seven years ago. It was an uncomfortable nose heavy sled but it was stout in acceleration. I kind of get why the later C3s with something like 184hp were cast out, but the early cars up through about '73 sure deserve a better fate. I’ve had several friends who owned C4s and they seemed like really great cars. Horsepower had returned, weight distribution was much better and the handling was on a par with European GTs of the day. The C5 is indeed a bargain these days and that may explain the lack of interest in the two earlier generations. I currently own a C6 which is a very refined car. 430hp and great handling. My only objection with them is the electrical “nanny” systems that will eventually spell the doom of most of them as the cost of repairing these systems exceeds the market value of the cars. I think the C6 will also become a near term bargain as the new C8s come to market. Great fun cars to drive.


#10

I owned an 84 C4 for 30 years and put over 100,000 miles on it. It was a proper Corvette in that it shook, rattled, and rolled. It would rearrange your kidneys on a rough road, but would eat Porche 928’s alive. It only let me down once 60 miles from nowhere when the fuel pump failed. A mile walk to a hilltop found cell phone reception and Hagerty services came to the rescue.

The fuel pump change was one of the easiest repairs I’ve ever done. The pump hangs on a rod from rear filler neck. One screw, remove the old pump, slide in the new one. All cars should be this way.

I liked the digital dash. I hated the 4+3 manual transmission. I disable the auto-shift feature. I’d run it through the first four gears, then hit the overdrive button inconveniently located on the console to cruise. I replaced the carpeting once, the OEM stuff went to pieces in about 10 years. The door panels were starting to come apart when I sold it. Other than that, it held together well. I drove that car to both coasts, the Gulf, and Canada. It was always fun in the curves.

The author is entirely correct, the C4 is a poor investment, but an inexpensive and fun way to own a Corvette. I keep an eye out for that 1996 convertible cream puff.


#12

I currently own a ‘92 and love this auto the most of all that I have had. The Corvettes attributes are unmatched at this price point. The fact that so many low mileage cared for examples are available makes it a great choice if one wants to join the club. Parts are plentiful and it can be serviced anywhere.


#13

I have a '93 Arctic White with Torch Red interior convertible. My air started blowing warm so I took it into a shop. I was told that I had the older R12(?) system and that it needed to be changed over to the newer R113(?) system. Once installed, and after being flushed a number of times, they still couldn’t get it top blow cold. They suggested it might be the control unit in the dash. Is this a common problem with the C4’s and if so, any recommendations? Thanks.


#14

Have a 1986 Pace Car. 75k original miles. Bought it two years ago for $6000.00 Probably have put $3000 in it since I bought it ($1000 in stereo, speakers and amp. Factory Bose was shot!) The rest in broken plastics, dash rebuild and lots of odds and ends. Did not buy it for investment. Bought it to tinker with and enjoy in the spring, summer and fall. For this kind of money how could you not have more fun! It is a blast to drive and get thumbs up everywhere I go!


#15

I always wanted a vette. Re stored over 1/2 dozen cars over the years (after i was divorced). Mustangs, Jaguars, Triumphs and the last car was a 69 firebird conv. w/a 350HO engine muncie 4 speed. All great cars. I bought an 84’ c4 for 700.00 because that was all it was worth. Took me about 8 mos. to restore/refurbish. I don’t know if you can can really call a car restored that is only worth $5000.00. I restored everything on the car. Paint,suspension, electrics, interior. I do all my own work. Had a lot of fun doing it. The car ran great for the 3 years i had it. Never a problem. I put about 4k into the car. I never put more into a car than what i can sell it for. Sold it for $5700.00. It was fun as hell to drive. My joke was if you have kidney stones, for $50.00 i would drive you around on a really bad road and guarantee you won’t have them we get home. For the money it was fun car to drive and worth everything i put into it. My next is the 2nd generation c4 i (91 and up) i can buy on the cheap and restore. My cars have to be at leas 25 yrs old for the cheap insurance/registration. Where i live cars over 25 yrs old are considered collector cars and i don’t want to be indebted to the car. It’s a hobby after all.


#16

I’m not sure buying a C4 because it is cheaper than a C5 works for me, but I own a C5.


#17

Having owned quite a few classic cars, this summer I bought the car I wanted when I was in high school: an '88 Corvette Greenwood. Rare color (Charcoal Metallic i.e. “brown” with grey interior). Bought it from the second owner who’d taken good care of it and done a lot of the important work (new headlight motors, radiator, gas tank and fuel lines, new Borla exhaust, etc.). I put on new tires, brakes, calipers, rotors, fixed a few of the odds and ends that needed to be addressed. Overall I have about $6000 into the car. I’m 44 years old and 6’3" and don’t have any issues getting in and out of it. I can’t agree with some commenters about visibility issues…these cars have a lot of glass. Yes there are rattles that you cannot track down for the life of you, but most old cars are like that. I actually like the digital dash a lot, but I’m an 80’s “Atari” generation child, so that probably helps.
They are not easy cars to work on…even changing valve covers is a huge undertaking. But there are tons of aftermarket and upgrade parts. I’ve installed a underdrive pulley system, smog pump delete, open air box with K&N filter, custom ECM chip, and combining all that with the free flow exhaust am getting somewhere close to 300hp. Might not sound like a lot these days, but it’s enough for me and with the Targa top off on a nice fall day the car is a blast to drive with the Z52 handling package.
If you’re going to buy one do your homework. Budget for tires, brakes, shocks. Interior parts such as recovered the seats, door panels, or replacing the dash pad are really expensive compared to other classics like a Mustang. But I can say it’s one of the more fun classic cars I’ve ever had.


#18

We have owned our 89 C4 coupe since day one. Things have gone wrong but considering its 30 years old it has been darned reliable and fun. Now it sits in the garage next to our 2019 Grand Sport coupe. Both are equally distressing regarding entry and exit.


#19

I’d say a lot of people feel the same way. They’re generally better cars from day 1.