1988 Chevrolet Corvette

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chicagotribune.com
Forget the rheumatic elbow or callous on the bottom of the foot as accurate forecasters of rain.

The less scientific folk who rely on washing their car to bring on the sprinkles can forget it, too.

Want rain? Get a convertible. We just finished driving the trio of Chevrolet convertibles-Cavalier Z-24, Camaro and Corvette. On each occassion it rained at least once.

Before commenting on the three cars, let`s summarize the pros and cons of convertibles in general.

They are best enjoyed on cool spring and brisk fall days or evenings with the heater locked in the ``cook`` mode so passersby don`t realize exposed flesh is turning blue.

Top down motoring in a record heat wave has its drawbacks, even when you lock the air conditioner in the ``freeze`` mode so passersby don`t realize exposed flesh is sizzling at the medium well point.

Convertibles can be fun. About 9 p.m. when the thermostat has slipped to less than 90 degrees, a cruise in the country or along the lakefront is like opening the door to Utopia.

About 3 p.m., when the temperature is hovering around 100 degrees and you hop in the car after the top has been down all day, you`ll encounter another moving experience when skin and vinyl or leather seat meet for the first time. Breezes bouncing off your face and winds rustling through your hair are invigorating. Sun baking on the dome abondoned by follicles and grit floating through the air and settling on your chin, mouth and neck is another matter.

Of the three, only the Z-24 had a power-operated top. The Corvette and Camaro are operated manually, which means do it yourself, a pleasant enough task at 70 degrees but a bit more of a chore at 100 and rising.

As for the cars, the Z-24 has become a styling charmer. The rounded aero look on the two-door coupes inherited from the Beretta has transformed the Cavalier from the appearance of an economy model into a performance model. The plastic rocker extensions add a sporty touch.

For 1988 Chevy added a convertible to the Z-24 line for the first time. In ragtop garb the styling is even better, though you have to learn to use your mirrors because rear vision suffers a bit from the canvas top contours.

The only shortcoming on the model we drove was a gaudy exterior finish best described as neon blue, which for some odd reason is preferred among buyers over red or black in the Z-24 convertible. That blue looks very good on the Camaro, but it looked cheap on the Cavalier.

Long on looks, the Z-24 ragtop is even better when it comes to performance. The 2.8-liter, multiport, fuel-injected V-6 engine develops 125 horsepower very quickly.

Cars can be fast without being quick. The Lotus Esprit turbo (Autos, July 10) is fast, the Z-24 convertible is quick. The Z-24 jumps off the line. No lag time, no hesitation, no waiting for a turbo crutch to give it a needed boost.

The 5-speed manual that`s standard was only a shade less smooth through the gears than the whisper smooth Toyota, Honda or Mazda. Automatic will cost you $415 as an option but will return the money at trade-in that the 5-speed won`t.

Standard equipment includes tinted glass, bodyside moldings, dual remote mirrors, power door locks and trunk opener, power steering and gauge package, to name a few.

Our test car included the Z-24 option package No. 2, which for $1,270 adds AM-FM stereo with cassette and clock, air conditioning, front and rear mats, intermittent wipers, cruise control and power windows. Add $102 for all- season radial tires.

Base price: $15,990.

Corvette: The King is coming in 1989, but the `88 is a rather royal performer.

With the 245 h.p., 5.7-liter tuned port-injected V-8 and optional Z-52 suspension package, you have a `Vette long on performance not only off the line but also around the corners, bends and twists in t e roadway. With the Z- 52 package you get fully independent suspension, quick ratio power steering, Goodyear ZR 17-inch tires, Delco-Bilstein shocks and heavy-duty frame reinforcement.

After all the complaints about too firm ride and harsh handling in 1984, Chevy relegates that sports suspension package to the Z-51 designation for those inclined to run rather than cruise in their `Vette coupe-not the convertible.

The Z-52 suspension, at $970, is for those who want the ride and handling of a Pontiac SSE in a two-seat sports car.

With the tuned port-injected V-8, Chevy claims a zero to 60 mile-an-hour time of 5.3 seconds and a top speed of 155 m.p.h. But getting up to 60 m.p.h. is only half the fun. To ensure that you get back to zero in a straight line and on the road, antilock brakes are standard. With antilock brakes, Chevy claims a 60 to 0 m.p.h. stopping distance of 124 feet.

If you have $50,000 burning a hole in your designers, you may want to wait for the ZR1 or King of the Hill `Vette coming out in the 1989 model year with nearly 400 h.p. generated from its 32-valve, 5.7-liter V-8 teamed with a 6-speed manual only.

If you can afford to let 5.3 seconds pass before you reach 60 and if you only have $34,820 to spare, then it`s the `88 Vette. With the optional power driver and passenger seats ($240 each), gray leather buckets ($1,025), electronic control added to the air ($150), heated sport mirror and illuminiated visor mirror ($93), Delco Bose sound system ($773), and Z-52 suspension, the test car ran more than $38,300. Add a $475 freight charge.

The coupe starts at $29,480. Chevy says one of three sales are convertibles.

Though the top on the Camaro was operated manually, it was the easiest to fold away among the convertibles driven and the best looking once the plastic tonneau cover that hides it was in place.

You lower the rear seat backs, snap the release lever andraise the rear window portion of the top. Hit another release switch and the tonneau cover raises. Unlatch the front portion of the top and fold back and the top stores behind the rear seats. Close the tonneau cover and you`re off. It takes only a couple of minutes and looks clean when done. No snaps to fool with to release and refasten when removing or raising the top.

Good looks but even better performance from the 5-liter, fuel-injected V- 8 teamed with a 5-speed that`s getting noticeably less cumbersome. The Getrag-developed manual showed few signs of balkiness or hangup so common in GM cars the last few years.

The 5-liter V-8 was converted from carburetion to fuel injection. Faster, surer starts and quickness off the line were immediate improvements. Quick? Hold on.

Performance matches, make that exceeds, the styling. In a couple of years Camaro sheet metal will be redone. Chevy went aero with the Beretta, styling that was borrowed by the Cav alier. It is hoped that Camaro won`t be another clone of Beretta, which at one time was destined to replace Camaro.

But when the car is redone, Chevy should work on eliminating some of the squeaks and rattles brought on by the softtop hardware as well as improving safety belt tension so the strap stops loosening on its own and drooping down your torso like it does. And not all Camaro enthusiasts are 6 feet 7 inches tall and can reach the pedals without moving the driver`s seat so close to the wheel.

The Camaro Sport coupe convertible starts at $16,255. For $1,747, you add the convertible option package that includes air conditioning, tinted glass, color-keyed body side moldings, color-keyed carpet mats, cruise control, tilt steering, power windows, intermittent wipers, power door locks, AM-FM stereo with seek and scan/cassette and digital clock. Power brakes and steering are standard. The car we drove stickered at $18,649 to which you add a $414 freight c arge.




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