A C5 Corvette Is a Great Budget Race Car

While the latest mid-engine C8 is an honest supercar competitor, the other Corvette generations have their own charms. True, older ‘Vettes don’t have the latest tech or as nice of an interior. However, as with other used performance cars like the Porsche Cayman and BMW 3-Series, they’re significantly cheaper. Enough that they’re on-par in budget levels with sports cars like the Mazda Miata and Honda S2000. And if you want to take your virtual racing skills onto a real track, the C5 Corvette is a great entryway.

C5 Corvette specs

1997 Chevrolet C5 Corvette lineup
1997 Chevrolet C5 Corvette lineup | Chevrolet

The 1997 C5 Chevy Corvette was a noticeable improvement over its predecessor. The redesign brought a new chassis and a new rear transaxle for better weight distribution. Also, the C5 Corvette saw the debut of one of the best naturally-aspirated engines ever made: the LS1 V8.

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In 1997, the Corvette’s 5.7-liter V8 made 345 hp and 350 lb-ft. With a 6-speed manual, the car went 0-60 in 5 seconds, Car and Driver reports. By the 1999 model year, that had been slashed to 4.8 seconds. But the best was still to come.

2002 Chevrolet Corvette Z06
2002 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 | Chevrolet

For the 2001 model year, Road & Track reports, Chevrolet released the C5 Corvette Z06. It had redesigned suspension, titanium exhaust, lighter wheels, grippier tires, and less sound deadening. It also had 40 more hp and 35 more lb-ft than the standard C5 Corvette, thanks to its LS6 5.7-liter V8. The 2002 and later models were even more powerful, Hagerty reports, with output increased to 405 hp and 400 lb-ft. A late-model C5 Corvette Z06 could go 0-60 in 4 seconds, matching the current Ford Mustang Shelby GT350.

2004 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Commemorative Edition
2004 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Commemorative Edition | Bring a Trailer

Finally, for the last 2004 model year, to commemorate its back-to-back Le Mans victories, Chevy offered a special-edition Z06. Only 2000 Z16s were made, each featuring a carbon-fiber hood, additional suspension tweaks, and a unique blue paint.

Why the C5 Corvette is an excellent race car candidate

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Although the C5 Corvette Z06 Z16 is the most-desirable model, R&T reports, the earlier fixed-roof coupes still make great budget racers. The Z06 was built off of these cars. The 1998 model year is best avoided, though.

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There are some C5 Corvette flaws to watch out for. The interior is fairly cheap, The Drive reports, and the car’s battery is prone to draining without regular drives. 1997 and 1998 models’ parts are also more expensive than later models’, especially electronic parts like the tire-pressure sensors. Super Chevy reports the C5 Corvette’s brake rotors have been known to warp. And there were several recalls regarding its steering-column lockout, CorvSport reports.

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However, as a fun-to-drive sports car and track car, the C5 Corvette, especially the Z06, has a lot to offer. The LS1 and LS6 V8s are renowned for their reliability and avoid the C6’s early oiling issues. The aftermarket’s strong, meaning there are a ton of spare parts, upgrades, and maintenance tips on hand, R&T reports. And even compared to modern cars, Autotrader reports, the C5 Corvette Z06 doesn’t disappoint. Steering feel is excellent, the handling is tight, and overall, the car is well-balanced.

And even with modifications, it’s very affordable.

Pricing and beginning mods

It’s possible, Hagerty reports, to get a well-maintained late-model C5 Corvette Z06 for $22,000-$27,000. And they regularly go for less on Bring a Trailer. Plus, despite the Z16’s upgrades, the commemorative edition doesn’t necessarily command a premium. In 2019, a 16,000-mile example sold for $23,000 on BaT.

If you’re looking to race your C5 Corvette in something like autocross, there are a few recommended modifications. First, tires and proper alignment. A good set of tires can noticeably improve a car’s handling, even if said car’s a sports car. Next, larger brakes and brake rotors; not necessarily to decrease stopping distance, but high-temperature fade.

Although the LS1 and LS6 engines are fairly durable, R&T notes 2002 and 2003 Z06s’ did occasionally suffer broken valve springs. However, many owners upgraded them to avoid this issue. For this reason, we recommend getting a pre-purchase inspection, to identify upgrades and potential problem areas.

And, to make the most of your budget race car, take driving lessons. That way, both you and your C5 Corvette will have the best chance at carving those corners.

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