1999 Chevrolet Corvette

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1999 Chevrolet Corvette

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Available in 3 styles:  Corvette 2dr Convertible shown
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Asking Price Range
$11,071–$25,347

Estimated MPG

17–18 city / 25–28 hwy


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Expert Reviews

    Expert Reviews 2 of 3

By 

Orlando Sentinel
If Chevrolet is right about the latest version of the Corvette, history will repeat itself, and the '99 hardtop will someday find a cherished home among the classics.

If Chevrolet is wrong, the hardtop's low production probably will make it irresistible to Corvette collectors, and someday it will find a cherished home among the classics.

Not a bad scenario for the latest iteration of America's iconic sports car.

Only once in the Corvette's 46-year history, from 1963-67, has a hardtop model been available. All other Corvettes throughout the years have been either convertibles or coupes with removable roof panels. But it's those scarce mid-'60s hardtops - especially the coveted '63 ``split window'' model - that are now some of the hottest (read: most valuable) collectible Corvettes of the entire series.

Although the '99 hardtop shares its 345-horsepower, 5.7-liter aluminum V-8 and six-speed manual gearbox with the Corvette coupe and convertible, there are big differences.

The hardtop comes standard with Chevy's Z51 high-performance suspension system, which includes superstiff springs, bigger front and rear stabilizer bars and upgraded shocks. Also standard on the hardtop is a higher-performance, limited-slip rear axle, which keeps the rear tires from losing traction. The car weighs less, and because the fixed roof adds rigidity, the hardtop has a stronger, stiffer body.

The hardtop also is marginally quicker than the coupe and convertible, said Jim Campbell, brand manager for the Corvette. Performance, Campbell said, is the main reason for the hardtop's existence. He said the hardtop was created for enthusiast drivers who like to race their cars on weekends.

But why do a low-volume Corvette hardtop when the coupe and convertible are selling so well that the factory can't keep up with demand?

``We identified a core group of target customers who are focused on elemental performance,'' Campbell said. ``They are [driving) enthusiasts looking for a Corvette that could meet their needs. The hardtop's more solid body structure is designed for pure performance. This is the kind of vehicle that will be popping up at autocross events across the country.''

Apparently there's a small band of drivers who like street-legal race machines. Dodge plans to sell its 10,000th Viper sports car in the 1999 model year. That car is little more than a race car with seats belts, air bags and an air conditioner.

Drivers who like to race on weekends won't account for a big chunk of the Corvette's total sales. Campbell is estimating that only about 15 percent of all Corvettes built in 1999 will be hardtops - which means no more than 4,300 cars this model year out of a planned production run of 28,500.

Chevrolet probably could sell many more Corvettes, but production is limited because each car is almost completely hand-built in a special factory in Bowling Green, Ky. Corvette's delicate fiberglass body panels require special handling, making th e car more difficult to assemble than most other vehicles.

Chevrolet completely revamped the Corvette for the 1998 model year, and it has been a sellout success ever since it hit the road in the spring of '97 as a '98 model.

The latest version of the Corvette has many innovative technical features. The transmission, for instance, is mounted in the rear of the car, not mated to the engine. The V-8 engine is made of aluminum, and the car's frame is light, yet strong.

Unlike previous models, the new Corvette was created with an eye toward being more user- friendly. The new model is much easier to get in and out of, and there is room for such things as golf bags and groceries.

Chevrolet always planned to introduce a hardtop version of the Corvette, but it wasn't until fairly recently that the decision was made to turn the hardtop into a race-ready car. The original plan called for Chevrolet to make the hardtop modelsort of the budget Corvette, minus ma ny of the computerized fr ills and luxury features and with prices starting in the low $30s.

That never came to pass because when prototypes of stripped-down Corvettes were built and shown, Corvette fans were disappointed, said Campbell.

``We went out and showed a Corvette hardtop [with less equipment) to our target customers. They told us loud and clear that they expected more content in the vehicle. We listened very closely to what our target customers said,'' said Campbell.

According to Chevrolet, the average Corvette buyer is a college-educated married male about 45 years old who makes a cool 100 grand a year.

Thus, as with the coupe and convertible, the hardtop comes loaded with such things as power windows, mirrors, door locks, and seats; cruise control and traction control; air conditioning; and a computerized information system that allows the driver to check everything from the fuel in the tank to the air pressure in the tires.

At $38,777, the hardtop does have the lowest base price of any Corvette model but not by much. Campbell says the hardtop's standard high-performance suspension system, a $1,200 option on the other two models, adds value to the hardtop. The Corvette coupe has a base price of $39,171 while the convertible has a sticker price of $45,579.

Chevrolet provided a white hardtop to test. It proved to be a solidly made, quiet and civilized high-performance car. The engine seems to have unlimited power, and the electronic traction control and powerful brakes make the car almost foolproof.

The hardtop comes only with a six-speed manual gearbox. The automatic is not available in the hardtop for the 1999 model year and likely won't be, Campbell said.

The hardtop's styling isn't as sinewy as the convertible or coupe. Co-workers, friends and car fans around town said they liked it, while others think the Corvette should be made only as a convertible.

The hardtop's profile is a bit more formal, with the roof having plain angular lines and simple, gentle curves.

If the 1963 ``split window'' is the sexiest Corvette hardtop of them all, then this new model doesn't rate on that scale.

Some automotive historians consider the '63 on par with the Jaguar XKE as one of the greatest sports car designs of all time. But the '99 Vette has a very large rear end that takes a little getting used to. (Comparing the '63 version to the '99 is kind of like placing a '60s Sean Connery next to a '90s Marlon Brando).

At Don Mealey Chevrolet in Orlando - one of the nation's highest volume Corvette dealerships - salesman Larry Hundley said he's fielded a few calls from Corvette fans interested in the hardtop. He predicts the car will do well because of its lower price and because some potential buyers don't like either the convertible or coupe versions of the Corvette. Hundley said the first Corvette hardtops are scheduled to be delivered in December.

Jack Terpening of Altamonte Springs, who has owned a '63 split-window Corvette since 1964, lo ves the lines on his car, but really likes the performance, handling and especially the brakes on the '99 hardtop.

``I could get used to this,'' Terpening said as he wheeled the new Corvette around Altamonte. ``I love a car that will perform.''

1999 Chevrolet Corvette hardtop

Safety features: Anti-lock brakes, dual front air bags, side-impact protection, traction control and daytime running lights

EPA rating: 18 mpg city/28 highway

Base price: $38,777

Available: December


    Expert Reviews 2 of 3

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