For human beings, turning 50 means middle age, a little over halfway through life’s journey. But few car models ever make it to 50, and if they do, rarely retain the sprit and excitement of their earlier years. Well, one rare exception to that rule is the Chevrolet Corvette. It’s 50 years young, and in the prime of its life. Maybe middle age isn’t so bad after all.
Of course, few of us have had such an exciting journey through life as the Chevrolet Corvette. Born in the early 50s as a super-stylish young roadster, the ‘Vette was a feisty pre- adolescent during the 60s, a tortured teenager during the 70s gas crunch, and finally emerged into the 80s all grown up as America’s Big Daddy sports car. The 90s saw the Corvette gain the refinement of middle age, without losing the tire-shredding fire of its youth. And now in the first years of the 21st century, Chevrolet celebrates the Corvette’s five decades with a special edition 50th Anniversary model which is available in both hatchback coupe and convertible. No, it’s not the much anticipated C6 , that comes next year , but rather the current C5 platform, now with standard fog lamps, dressed up with special Anniversary Red paint, 50th anniversary badges, and champagne-painted 5-spoke alloy wheels , 17s in the front and 18s in the back.
Inside, the 50th Anniversary plastic fantastic features a unique Shale interior color, and a host of new standard features shared with all 2003 Corvettes. These include new sport seats, that in the Anniversary car wear embroidered 50th Anniversary badges, and dual zone climate controls.
Underneath the paint and badges, the Anniversary rides on GM’s new and innovative Magnetic Selective Ride Control. Replacing the driver adjustable Selective Real-Time Damping, MSRC is now available on all Vettes for 2003, as well as the Cadillac Seville. Standard on the Anniversary Vette, MSRC shocks contain a special Magneto-Rheological fluid that changes consistency, and therefore the shock damping, according to the output of a special electromagnetic coil inside the shock. Sensors on each wheel feed road information to a computer that constantly adjusts the damping to optimize both ride and handling.
‘‘This is a suspension technology with great, great capability. And what it enables us to do as a company is to very skillfully tailor the ride personality of a vehicle just for a targeted kind of a customer group. So the technology can be applied to a luxury sedan or to a sports car.’‘Dave Hill, Corvette Chief Engineer
That said, our staff was divided on the benefits of Magnetic Selective Ride Control, some feeling it delivered the promised ride quality, while others felt that transitions between soft and hard were too sudden, giving the car a jerky feel over bumps. On smoother pavement, however, the 50th Anniversary model still delivered all the handling and grip that Corvettes are world famous for. MSRC virtually eliminates body roll and front plow, though you can still break the rear end loose in a smooth, controllable slide if you wish. Thank goodness!
That’s because the 50th Anniversary Vette still packs 5.7-liters of pure pushrod V8, which pumps out 350 horsepower and 360 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels. The power flow is controlled by either a 6-speed manual gearbox, or our test car’s 4-speed automatic, which when engaged punched the big Vette to 60 in only 4.9 seconds. The 1/4 mile flashed by in an equally exhilarating 13.4 seconds at 106 miles-per-hour! As before with the latest generation 5.7 small-block, the power band is wide and flat, with maximum torque available at only 4,000 rpm. Throttle response is instantaneous, so much so that it actually breaks the rear tires loose with each up shift. Raw American power!
But power is nothing without control, and the Corvette’s big 4-wheel disc brakes with standard ABS allow it to stop from 60 in a precise 120 feet. It does dart about a bit when stopping on a loose surface, but never enough to unsettle the chassis. And pedal feedback is excellent.
Fuel consumption is surprisingly good as well. EPA estimates for our automatic Corvette are 18 city/25 highway. We got a very fine 23 miles-per-gallon in 500 miles of normal driving.
Price numbers, however, jump a bit, with the Anniversary package adding $5,000 to the Vette’s sticker. This gives a 50th Anniversary hatchback coupe a base price of $48,995. The 50th Anniversary convertible, like our test car, starts at $55,745. Still, that’s nearly 25 grand less than a Dodge Viper RT-10, and less expensive than most high-end European sports cars with a lot less power, handling, and heritage.
The Chevrolet Corvette may be five decades old, but it sure doesn’t feel middle aged. It’s still fast, ferocious fun. Fifty years young, and in the prime of its performance life!
Engine: 5.7 Liter Pushrod V-8
Torque: 360 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 4.9 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 13.4 Seconds @ 106 MPH
60-0 MPH: 120 Feet
EPA Mileage: 18 MPG City 25 MPG Highway
Motorweek's Mileage Loop: 23 MPG Mixed City/highway