1989 Chevrolet Corvette

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$2,660–$19,376

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chicagotribune.com
Hurry up and wait.

The rule of thumb for the military and for buying a Corvette.

Regardless of what Chevy came up with in any given year, Vette connoisseurs were always waiting for the next glimpse of high tech, the next innovation just around the corner.

Remember all the talk, rumors and speculation over an all-aluminum engine, turbocharging and twin turbos.

This year, it was the ZR-1, or King of the Hill, that Vette aficionados were waiting for-the 32-valve, 375-horsepower V-8 harnessed to a 6-speed manual transmisson. The King`s 0-to-60 m.p.h. quickness was being equated with the speed of light and/or sound, depending on who was making the comparison. But the `89 King has been put on hold until this fall, when it will come out as a 1990 model. As previously reported (Business, Feb. 10), the slow startup of engine production forced Chevrolet to delay the introduction rather than put only a few hundred on sale as 1989s.

The problem with the ``what`s next`` approach is that few people pay more than passing attention to the current Vette. If Chevy brought out the Vette with Cher as a live hood ornament, the what`s next group would still say, ``So, what`s next?``

Perhaps that`s one reason Chevy only sells a handful of Vettes each year. Potential buyers are afraid that if they buy the new model this year, next year`s car will have something that they`ll miss.

So much attention has been focused on the ZR-1 that the `89 Vette has been overlooked. Too bad. Everyone is looking for the version with the rocket under the hood and forgetting about the current model, with the FX-3 suspension and 6-speed manual transmission.

We test-drove the `89 and were pleasantly surprised on a variety of fronts.

One quick admission: We haven`t been enamored of Vette styling since 1984, when, in our opinion, it came up a bit sterile. Love those old blistered fenders and the sharply pointed nose.

Styling aside, the FX-3 suspension and 6-speed manual alone make the `89 Vette above average.

First the 6-speed. General Motors has never been able to come up with a smooth-shifting manual transmission. If you don`t experience balkiness, hesitation or stiffness going from first to second, you`re guaranteed it will happen second to third.

Not with the 6-speed from Zahradfabrik Friedshaen AG, of WestGermany. Perhaps GM should send a Zahradfabrik 6-speed to Getrag, the outfit that provided the 5-speed manual for most of GM`s cars, so it can learn how it`s done.

By now you all know that the Vette 6-speed is a bit novel. It had to be to handle the 450 foot-pounds of torque of the ZR-1 engine, yet obtain enough mileage to keep the Vette from being saddled with a federal gas guzzler tax.

To ensure the dual-purpose operation, there`s computer-aided gear selection, which means the shift lever automatically moves from first to fourth from a dead stop under light acceleration. The first-to-fourth bypass conserves fuel.

Our first thought when experiencing the feel of the lever moving to fourth when we were aiming for second was how clever of Chevrolet to eliminate the first-to-second or second-to-third balkiness by simply eliminating the trip through those two gears.

But in hard acceleration from a standing stop, computer-aided gear selection is canceled, and you move through all six gears. There was slippery smoothness in each. No arthritic movement. What a pleasure for a GM machine.

Sure-feel, short-throw shifting and light clutch play without having to bury it in the firewall-Chevy got its act together on this one.

And what acceleration. The tuned, port-injected, 5.7-liter V-8 in the Vette coupe generates ``only`` 245 horsepower, compared with the King`s 385. But those 245 horses go from trot to gallop mighty quickly, thanks in large part to sticky 17-inch Goodyear unidirecti onal radials that help propel the machine down the straightaway.

To ensure straight, accurate stops regardless of road conditions, antilock brakes are standard.

As for the FX-3 suspension, that`s where the real beauty of the `89 comes into play. You get a choice of three settings with the optional ($1,695) suspension-touring, sport or performance.

Touring gives you almost boulevard-ride softness-little or no feel of tar marks or bumps in the road, but at the expense of boulevard-like handling that`s hardly appropriate in a sport machine.

Sport gives you more road feel, but performance is the mode we chose to drive in. Great road feel but not that much harshness coming back through the seat or wheel. And road-hugging ability was superb. Again, thank the Goodyear radials, which hugged the pavement like glue in the sharpest of corners or turns at speed. Body roll or sway were nonexistent in sharp corners. Such road manners traditionally have been reserved for European exotics.

While $1,695 is a significant piece of change, you will realize its importance when driving a Vette without it. The Vette minus FX-3 is the typical buckboard on air-filled tires that the sport machine has been known as since Day1.

Excuse the blasphemy, but if you can`t get your hands on the ZR-1, you won`t be too disappointed in the regular Vette if you equip it with the FX-3 suspension.

For too long, Vette owners have had to put up with teeth-rattling, kidney-jarring, bone-crushing, tush-kicking ride and handling for the ``pleasure`` of owning the U.S. sports car. It was that or going European and having to take a Berlitz course in order to converse with a mechanic. Not with FX-3.

The Corvette coupe is built on a 96.2-inch wheelbase and is 176.5 inches long.

The coupe we drove started at $31,545. Add $240 for a six-way power seat (and set aside $240 more for Nutri-System or Chicago Health Club membership so you can fit into the narrow container) and $325 for a low-tire-pressure warning light. Our car also was equipped with a preferred equipment option package that included air conditioning, AM-FM stereo with cassette and digital clock for $615. With a few added options, the sticker read $37,183 plus $500 for freight. That`s about $20,000 less than what the King will roll away for.

>> 1989 Chevrolet Corvette Wheelbase: 96.2 inches Length: 176.5 inches Engine: 5.7 liter, 245 h.p. V-8 Transmission: 6-speed manual; 4-speed automatic Fuel economy: 16/25 manual;17/25 automatic Base price: $31,545 Strong point: FX-3 suspension Weak point: Suspension minus FX-3 >>

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