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Illustrated Corvette Series No. 161 - Special Edition Corvettes
"A Look Back At Special Versions of Chevy's Special Sports Car"
Since 2003, “special edition” Corvettes have become somewhat common. Before we go any further, let’s define the term. A special-edition Corvette is one that was assigned an official RPO code number, was only available as a package, and was specifically advertised and promoted as a special-edition car. Following the above criteria, and if you include the Indy 500 Pace Car replicas, there were 20 such Corvette models released from 1978 through 2010. Let’s take a look at the various anniversary and commemorative edition Corvettes.
In retrospect, it’s surprising that it took 25 years for Chevrolet to offer its first special-edition Corvette. Despite all the challenges of car designing in the late ‘70s, the 25th anniversary of the company’s flagship sports car was just too big a milestone to ignore. Corvette designer Jerry Palmer came up with a silver treatment complemented by red stripes. Chevrolet was scheduled to pace the Indy 500, and at the last minute it was decided that the Corvette should do the honors. Suddenly, the Pace Car Vette had all the attention, and the Silver Anniversary model was reduced to a two-tone silver paint option for the bargain price of $399. Between the new fastback roof, 60-series tires, alloy wheels, and special paint, the ’78 Anniversary car was one sweet-looking Corvette. Of the 40,274 Corvettes produced that year, 15,283 units had the Anniversary option. A loaded version cost just over $12,800.
Performance interests aside, the C3 Corvette was a big success from a sales perspective. And as the last of the C3s, the '82 Collector Edition Hatchback option was the proverbial cat’s meow. Unlike the ‘78 Anniversary option, the ’82 Collector Edition cost $4,247 on top of the $22,537 base Corvette. The most notable feature was the lifting rear hatch, something that should have been offered years earlier. The complete package included special silver-and-beige paint, decals on the hood and sides, pinstriping, ’67-style finned aluminum wheels, a silver-and-beige interior with special emblems, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and horn button, and luxury carpeting. The Cross Fire 350 engine only had 200 hp, and there was no manual-transmission option. Overall, it was a $24,800 beauty that accounted for 6,759 of the 25,407 units sold that year.
Since production was shut down for ’83 to start work on production C4s, there was no 30th Anniversary Corvette. The next milestone came in ’88, for the Corvette’s 35th birthday. Like the previous special edition, the 35th Anniversary option consisted of paint and special features, with no performance enhancements, but it was still an excellent package. For $4,795 on top of the $29,489 base price, buyers got a monochromatic white Corvette with a white body molding, a black B-pillar, a dark-blue tinted roof panel, and white, 12-slot wheels. The interior had white-leather-trimmed seats, steering wheel, and horn button; a power driver’s seat; and a console-mounted plaque. Also included on all ‘88s were electronic air-conditioning controls, a lighted driver’s vanity mirror, and rear-window and side-view mirror defoggers. Coupes with the 3.07:1 rear axle came with the 245hp 350 L98 and less-restrictive mufflers. Convertibles and 2.59:1-axle couples had the 240hp L98 with quieter exhaust. To bring it all together as a worthy GT car, the Z52 suspension package was included. A total of 2,050 35th Anniversary Corvettes were sold, with a maximum price of around $25,600.
For 1993 Chevrolet offered the 40th Anniversary Corvette, nicknamed “Ruby Red” for its unique dark-metallic-red paint. While distinctive-looking, this package wasn’t as loaded with extras as the previous anniversary Corvette. As such, it was priced at just $1,455 and was available on all-model Corvettes. Features included special paint, emblems, Ruby Red leather sport seats with anniversary embroidery, a power driver’s seat, and special wheel centers. The 300hp LT1 was improved to reduce noise on all ‘93s, but there was no power increase. A maxed-out coupe version cost just over $42,500, while the ZR-1 version was a whopping $74,150. A total of 6,749 units were produced.
After the 15-year C3 production run, no one expected the C4 to roll on for 13 seasons. Considering where the Corvette was in 1982, the C4 was a true performance success. To wrap up the C4 production run, two special editions were offered: the $1,250 Collector Edition and the $3,250 Grand Sport. Hearkening back to the ‘78 25th Anniversary Edition, the Collector Edition consisted strictly of paint and minor trim changes. The Sebring Silver paint was coordinated with silver-painted, ZR-1 five-spoke wheels and dedicated badges. Brake calipers were black with silver “Corvette” lettering. The interior was available in black, red, or gray, with embroidery on the headrests of the perforated sport seats. There were no power enhancements to the 300hp LT1, but the optional LT4 (manual only) had an extra 30hp thanks to an assortment of hot-rod tricks. A loaded coupe cost around $44,300, and a loaded convertible went for just over $53,200. A total of 5,412 units were produced.
But the big dog for 1996 was the Grand Sport. This package was available for $3,250 on the coupe and $2,880 on the roadster. Production was limited to just 1,000 units—810 coupes and 190 roadsters. This was the first time Chevrolet officially used the moniker “Grand Sport” on a Corvette, and with its limited production, the car caused quite a stir. The Grand Sport was loaded with every performance option available on a C4. The Admiral Blue paint, white stripe, red fender hash marks, and black ZL-1 wheels created a beautiful-yet-purposeful look. Under the hood was the 330-horse LT4, topped with a powdercoated red intake and crammed with every performance trick Corvette engineers could stuff into a production Vette. To put the extra power to the ground, the Grand Sport was shod with ZR-1 315/35ZR17 tires that necessitated the use of the little-known export rear fender flares. (Since the roadster didn’t have the same chassis rigidity, regular size tires were used on that model.) The interior was available in either all black or black with red trim. The perforated sport seats and floor mats had Grand Sport embroidery. To complete the package, all Grand Sports had separate serial-number sequences. A loaded Grand Sport cost almost $45,000.
The C5 was arguably the most complete “new” Corvette to ever hit the market. Between the arrival of the Z06 in 2001 and the racing success of the C5-Rs, suddenly it was 1970 all over again. Anticipation of the 50th Anniversary Vette was as high as it was for the ‘78 Pace Car, and many were disappointed that the car wasn’t more performance oriented. But with the C6 already in development, the 50th Anniversary Corvette was destined to be a trim-and-accessories package. The $5,000 option boasted every creature comfort Chevy had on the shelf, including Head Up Display, power telescoping steering column, electrochromic mirrors, memory package, twilight sentinel, and F55 Magnetic Selective Ride Control. The car was painted with Anniversary Red “Xirallic Crystal” paint and dressed up with unique emblems. The five-spoke aluminum wheels were painted champagne. The Shale interior had light gray-beige seats and carpeting, with darker gray-beige on the console, instrument panel, and door panels. The seats and floor mats were embroidered with the 50th Anniversary logo. Unfortunately for performance fans, the package was not offered on the Z06.
The logistics of modern automobile manufacturing are a mind-numbing enterprise. And coordinating special-edition versions is a no small feat. Fortunately, Corvettes inspire designers, product planners, and line workers to build special versions of an already special car.