The arrival of the 1988 model year brought with it the 35th anniversary of the Chevy Corvette. For General Motors as a whole, and especially for the teams of people responsible for the design and development of “America’s Sports Car”, this anniversary was significant not only because of the milestone it represented, but because the thirtieth anniversary of Corvette had passed with barely a whisper.
After all, the Corvette had turned thirty years old in 1983, and, because of engineering decisions that were made to support increasingly high emissions standards, Chevrolet had opted not to build an ’83 Corvette at all. The result was that Corvette had gone a decade without any type of anniversary special edition model to celebrate its ongoing successes.
So, for its 35th anniversary year, the Corvette was treated to a number of important engine and chassis upgrades. With Tony Rudd, Lotus’s former technical director, leading a team of design engineers in an engine development program to advance the L98’s overall performance, the 1988 Corvette would serve as a platform upon which his design advances could be utilized.
For 1988, the L98 received another five horsepower bump in power thanks to the addition of freer-breathing cylinder heads and a re-profiled camshaft.
Additionally, Chevrolet introduced a new, less restrictive muffler package for the 1988 model. Believed by many to be another possible cause for the horsepower bump, these new mufflers were introduced only on Corvette coupes that were fitted with the optional 3.07:1 performance axle.
The increased resonance from the mufflers was deemed too loud for the convertible models. Similarly, the taller gearing of the 2.59:1 gears were also considered impractical for the less-restrictive mufflers, which meant that, at least for 1988, the standard axle ratio model Corvettes were fitted with the same mufflers as their 1987 counterparts.
Advances in chassis design included the introduction of larger, 17 x 9.5 inch “Cuisinart” rims that were mated to hefty P275/40ZR-17 Goodyear Eagle GT tires. The new rims featured a freshly designed twelve-slot pattern. Still side specific (meaning that four-way tire rotation was not possible), this new design was a considerable improvement over the original C4 wheels.
The new tires were classified as “Z-rated” tires, meaning that they could maintain sustained driving speeds in excess of 149 miles per hour, which was a significant advancement in Corvette’s tire/wheel program. While this new tire/rim assembly was only offered as part of the Z51 and Z52 suspension package upgrades in 1988, the standard 16 x 8.5 inch rims were similarly updated, featuring a new six slot pattern that was mated to P255/50ZR-16 Z-rated tires.
With the introduction of the higher performance tires to its platform, Corvette engineers wanted to ensure that they utilized the new tires’ greater durability while also developing better directional control of the Corvette during hard stops. To achieve this, the front suspension geometry was re-worked to incorporate “zero scrub radius”. A “zero scrub radius” is a steering access that intersects the exact center of the tire’s contact patch, rather than an outboard (positive scrub radius) or inboard (negative scrub radius) as has been found on some European cars of that era.
The rear suspension was also revised and was fitted with slightly more rebound travel and reduced camber for improved straight-line and braking stability. To further aid in the development of directional control during braking, the brakes were fortified as well. For 1988, Corvette came standard with larger, two-piston, front calipers. Further, larger (12.9 inch fronts and 11.9 inch rears), thicker brake rotors were also added to all four wheels. Lastly, an integral handbrake was introduced to the rear discs, replacing the previous small, separate drums that served as the parking brake on earlier C4 models.
The interior of the 1988 Corvette received few upgrades from the previous model year, though there were some minor, but significant updates that were introduced to increase ease of driving and the driver’s overall comfort. Much like the Porsche 928 from that same era, the C4 had been introduced with a pull-up handbrake mounted outboard of the driver’s seat. It featured a brake lever that could be folded down after engagement so that it would not interfere with the driver’s ability to enter and exit the vehicle. While this design was not changed for 1988, the location of the parking brake lever was moved a bit lower and further back from its original position with the intent of being less intrusive.
Another, less notable change to the interior involved the modification of the interior air extractors within all Corvette coupes. This was done to increase the flow rate of air through the climate control system, which was now offered with the extra-cost automatic-temperature control that was phased in toward the tail end of the 1987 Corvette’s production run.
DID YOU KNOW: The 1988 model represented the 35th Anniversary of the Corvette. 2,050 35th Anniversary Corvettes were built to commemorate this occasion. All were white coupes, with white leather interiors and white wheels, and each received special badging. Also, in preparation for the SCCA Corvette Challenge Series, GM built 56 race cars for the newly appointed series and all of these special Corvettes were street-legal. After competing in the SCCA sanctioned events, these Corvettes were then sold to private owners. Lastly, the 1988 Corvette was the first to include unidirectional wheels.
For its 35th anniversary, Chevrolet announced that a limited production of 2,000 Special Anniversary Edition Corvettes would be manufactured. The anniversary model would only be available as a coupe. Officially offered under option code Z01, the car featured a bright white lower body (which included color-matched door handles, mirrors, body side moldings, and 17-inch wheels) which was set off by a black roof hoop and a transparent black acrylic roof panel.
In 1988, the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) banned all showroom stock Corvettes from competing in its racing events. The reason for this decision? The Chevy Corvette had not been beaten in three years of racing competition against some of the world’s best sports cars, and the competition complained so loudly that the governing body of the SCCA had to respond. To appease Chevrolet, SCCA developed a marque-specific race series for the Corvette. The Corvette Challenge ran from 1988-1989 and was a huge hit with race fans, mostly because it showcased driver talent instead of engineering expertise.
Special edition commemorative badges were inserted above the body side gills as well as being embroidered into the all-white leather-upholstered interior. Additionally, the Special Anniversary Edition Corvette was fitted with a commemorative console mounted anniversary plaque. Other features packed into the 35th anniversary model included dual six-way power sport seats, automatic climate control, the GM Delco/Bose audio system, and heated door mirrors.
As a homage to the original 1953Motorama Corvette, which was originally introduced at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Chevrolet executives decided to introduce the 1988 35th Anniversary Corvette at the New York Auto Show on April 1, 1988. The car was well received and the limited edition Anniversary Corvettes quickly sold out. Even so, the sale of these Corvettes – 2,050 units in all – was not enough to change the overall direction of Corvette sales at the dealership level.
As with every model year since 1985, total Corvette sales continued to decline. With just under 23,000 units sold, the 1988 Corvette was the lowest selling model-year since 1972.
At the same time, the C4 was continuing to find success at the race track. It had been the undefeated class champion in SCCA Showroom Stock racing for three straight years. For 1988, Chevrolet decided to build fifty-six street-legal cars for the 1988 SCCA Corvette Challenge series.
Stock engines would be manufactured at the CPC engine plant in Flint, Michigan, and would then be shipped to Bowling Green, Ky. for installation. Upon completion of their assembly, the Corvettes would then be transported to Wixom, Michigan, for the additional roll cages and other racing modifications.
During the course of the year, Chevy would replace most engines, swapping them for motors that had a more evenly calibrated.
For all 1988 Corvettes, the Vehicle Identification Number was stamped on a plate on the inner vertical surface of the left windshield pillar visible through the windshield. Read more: 1988 Corvette VINs.
1988 Corvette Recalls, Technical Service Bulletins, & Maintenance Schedule
The information contained on this page is for reference only. The time and mileage intervals for each of the maintenance items included on this page were established by General Motors with the introduction of the 1988 Chevy Corvette. Please note that the original service intervals may not reflect the standard service intervals used in current automobile engines.
The following list of common issues is intended for individual reference only, and may not reflect the specific issues of every 1988 Corvette. This information comes from a variety of sources including the NHTSA Defects Reports pages. While the intent of this page is to identify the common issues pertaining to the 1988 Corvette, it is not an all-inclusive list and should be used for reference only.