It seems only fitting that a Chevrolet should pace today's 500-Mile Race.

After all, that's the name of a pioneer race driver, Louis Chevrolet, who was a prominent presence in the early days of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He also built the first Chevrolet automobile, a nameplate that is now a major part of today's General Motors Corp.

The 1995 Chevrolet Corvette convertible that will pace the 1995 Indianapolis 500is faster than any of the race cars built by Louis. It's America's only production two-place sports car, and for today's race all Chevy had to do was paint it and add some safety equipment required by the Speedway and the United States Auto Club.

Other than that, the pace car is the same as those you see in Indianapolis Chevrolet dealers' showrooms. Only 527 of these convertibles have been built, and you can have any color you want as long as it's dark purple metallic over Arctic white.

Building only 527 of these things probably isn't a bad idea. After viewing the sticker price on the car GM's Bill O'Neil provided for a test, it took a few moments to get the heart pumping again.

It didn't read like the national debt. But there were some breathtaking numbers -- like $49,750.

But considering that many good things come in large-dollar packages, this fire-breathing set of wheels does Louis' image proud.

Specifications are identical for all 527 cars.

The prime mover is Chevy's 5.7-liter (350-cubic-inch) LT1 V8. The transmission is a four-speed automatic, with 3.07:1 performance gearing.

This LT1 is Chevy's hot setup, with an innovative cooling system in which coolant first goes to the aluminum cylinder heads instead of the cast-iron block.

Other features include an electronic spark-control system, sequential-port fuel injection, and four-bolt main bearing caps.

Put it together and you have 300 horsepower, a stump-pulling 340 foot-pounds of torque, and the ability to fly low.

To grab hold of the road, the Vette has 17-inch five-spoke ZR-1 wheels and Z-rated (high-speed) P275/40ZR-17 Goodyear GS-C blackwall tires.

That gets a maximum footprint on the road, and highly enhances stability through very fast corners. The flip side is that the steering effort becomes a little heavy when parking, even with power steering.

In motion, however, effort is normal and there's excellent road feel.

That's essential when Chevrolet General Manager Jim Perkins drives the Vette at the head of the pack today. He will be running at more than 120 mph. That's nowhere near the limit for this car, but it's through the corners, where it's a good idea to keep going in the right direction.

All the pace-car interiors also are identical, with black-and- purple leather sport bucket seats and headrests with embroidered Indianapolis 500 logos.

The overall styling theme retains the lean-and-mean look that is part of a Vette's appeal. It also influences entrance and exit to the driver's seat, which require a certain amount of acrobatics wit h the top up.

This car is a sports car, not a family sedan, so access is easier with the top down, when you can enter in a somewhat erect position.

Once in, the cockpit is quite comfortable. You sit low in the chassis, but six-way power-assisted seats help find a comfortable position.

It takes a few minutes to adapt to looking up at drivers and cars beside you on the road. But if you get tired of the view, just lean on the throttle and like magic they seem to disappear.

The Vette doesn't offer a limo ride. The suspension is strictly sports car, meaning on the firm side.

It's not firm to the point of shaking your back molars out. In fact, on decent pavement the ride is pretty good. But if you're after a boulevard ride, better look at something with four doors.

The firm suspension also imparts a degree of body shake over uneven pavement, one of the penalties of an open car. Even though the body/chassis is braced for added stiffness, removing the roofe ncourages torsional move ment.

Obviously, this pace car gets up and runs. With 300 horses, it comes off the line like a shot with a unique engine sound.

The V8 never seems to quit pulling, and if you can find some place to run flat-out, you'll be looking at 150-plus.

In normal driving, the pace car was versatile but limited to two people. It had all the comforts with air conditioning, power equipment, stereo and electronic dashboard information.

The Corvette is a specialized automobile with a loyal customer base and a following as a "500" pace car. This is the third time a Vette has paced the race, and we expect it won't be the last.

1995 Chevrolet Corvette Pace Car Base price: $43,665.As tested: $49,750.Type: Front engine, rear-wheel drive, four-passenger, convertible coupe.Engine: 5.7-liters, OHV V-8, 16 valves, fuel injected, 300-horsepower, 340 foot-pounds of torque.Transmission: Four-speed automatic.Acceleration: 0-60 mph in 5.4 seconds.Top speed: 150 mph.Mileage: 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway.Wheelbase: 96.2 inches.Length: 178.5.Width: 70.7 inches.Height: 46.3 inches.Curb weight: 3,360 pounds.Options: Pace car preferred equipment group (incl. air conditioning, Delco/Bose stereo, digital clock, compact disc player, cassette tape, power seats, leather bucket seats, performance axle ratio), pace car package.