So You’ve Always Wanted a Corvette But Never Thought You Could Afford One? We Take You Through Some Options.
Almost since its introduction 65 years ago, there has been a stigma in the automotive community that Corvettes are only driven by older, financially-well-off members of society. This reputation exists because of the common belief that these are the only people that can afford them. To the casual observer, this “stereotype,” (for lack of a better word,) tends to ring true.
When looking at the average age of active members is most Corvette clubs, or when frequenting car shows where Corvettes are on display, the owners do tend to be on the more mature side of the age spectrum. The seemingly obvious conclusion people come to is this – Corvettes are expensive and therefore require a budget that is free from the many financial burdens that are often connected with many of the younger demographics – such as paying for college, buying a house, raising a family, etc.
While the above argument sounds reasonable, and may even prove to be true in some instances, there are a number of Corvettes in the used car market that make ownership more affordable today than ever before in the brand’s history. While a 1963 Split-Window coupe is still going to be financially out of reach for many of us, there are whole generations of Corvettes that can be purchased today for under $20k, and some now sell for less than $10k, thereby throwing those earlier claims of “senior-level-affordability” right out the window!
To help illustrate this point, and to help potential future owners find their first Corvette, we decided to collect some pricing data on eight of the most affordable Corvette models in today’s used car market. In each instance, we shopped for the same car in five different cities across the United States and then calculated the average price of each model to provide the prices you see listed below. Although these dollar amounts are an average, they reflect the pricing (+/- $1,500) listed on each car we researched in each of the surveyed markets.
Here then is our list of Corvette models that can readily be purchased by just about anyone (from most-to-least expensive (on average)):
Average Price: $20,215
It may come as a surprise to many Corvette enthusiasts, but it is possible to find a low-mileage C6 Corvette for right around $20k. The 2005 Corvette, which featured a 400 horsepower LS2 V8 engine and could be ordered with all sorts of cool options, has become surprisingly affordable over the past couple of years. Some say its because the 2005 Corvette was the first model year of the new generation, making it “more prone to issues” commonly associated with the roll-out of a new production vehicle. However, the 2005 Corvette includes a proven powerplant that promises exhilarating horsepower and performance. Moreover, it features a re-designed exterior that many enthusiasts praise as an improvement over the outgoing C5 model.
It should be noted however that the C6 Corvette was far more than just a redesign of its predecessor. GM engineers had approached the redesign of the Corvette with the understanding that, for the first time in the brand’s history, they were going to build an all-out sports car. In addition to tremendous acceleration and top-end power, the 2005 Corvette also featured strong stopping power and race-car worthy cornering. The sixth-generation Corvette provided owners with a driving experience that was far more refined than any of the earlier Corvettes that had come before it.
Still not convinced? Consider this…the 2005 Corvette was included on Car and Driver’s annual “10 Best” list and even beat out the 2005 Porsche 911 in a Car and Driver’s comparison test. Additionally, it took first place in a 2005 Road and Track comparison of nine sports-cars, a comparison that included: the Honda S2000, the Dodge Viper, the Porsche 911, the Porsche Boxster, and the Nissan 350Z, among others. As quoted from the article, written by Sam Mitani on February 16, 2005, the C6 had…
“no real weaknesses and many strengths. It possess world class performance, a high level of comfort and dashing good looks. And it’s available for nearly half the price of a Porsche Carrera S.”
2001-2004 Corvette Z06
Average Price: $18,920
When the Z06 Corvette was introduced in 2001, it was marketed as being a true, “race-ready” Corvette. While the C5 Corvette coupe and convertible had been praised by the automotive community as a whole, Corvette’s Chief Engineer David Hill had been dissatisfied with the power and performance aspects of the (then) current-generation car. He believed that some drivers simply wanted to “go faster” and have the “strongest automobile on the street.”
Early (2001–2002) Z06 Corvettes featured a 385 horsepower LS6 engine, while later models (2003–2004) featured a more robust version of the engine rated at 405 horsepower. This revised powerplant, which had been based on the LS1 engine used in the coupe and convertible models, propelled the Z06 from 0-60 in just four seconds. Per David Hill,
“We’ve enhanced Corvette’s performance persona and broken new ground with the Z06. With 0 – 60 times of four seconds flat and more than 1g of cornering acceleration (skidpad), the Z06 truly takes Corvette performance to the next level. In fact, the Corvette Team has begun referring to it as the C5.5, so marked are the improvements we’ve made and the optimization of the car in every dimension.”
Today, the fifth-generation Z06 Corvette is far-less powerful than the sixth- and especially the seventh-generation models that bear the same designation. However, as the newer cars have emerged and claimed their place in the ever-changing rankings of “most-powerful Corvette,” the price of the fifth-generation C5 Corvettes have dropped considerably. And, while 385-405 horsepower may tremble in comparison to the 650 horsepower of the current Z06, these earlier-generation Z06 Corvettes are still an absolute blast to drive.
Even by today’s standards, the 2001–2004 Corvette Z06 is a “race ready (sports car) right of the box” and is still considered a bargain amongst comparably equipped sports cars from Europe – such as Ferraris and Porsches – from that same era.
1999 Corvette Convertible
Average Price: $16,295
Considering that the 1999 Corvette convertible had a retail price that started at $45,579.00 in 1999, it is nothing short of incredible that there are many low-to-moderate mileage examples of this car on the market today for well below $20,000.00! While this statement holds true for most of the C5 models, we selected the 1999 Corvette convertible because we felt it reflected the most value for the money of all the fifth-generation Corvettes on the used-car market today.
For the 1999 model year, the engineers behind the Corvette had introduced a lot of awesome new technology into the car. One of the most exciting new features was the introduction of the “Heads Up Display”, a sophisticated and high-tech system that projected data – from speed to engine RPM’s – on the lower left section of the car’s windshield. The display was customizable and included a “check guages” warning light that would illuminate when the driver needed to pay attention to something on the dashboard gauge cluster that was not included as part of the heads up display. Elsewhere on the car, the 1999 Corvette featured a telescoping steering column, twilight sentinel headlamps and magnesium wheels
But why recommend the convertible over the coupe? There is no black-and-white answer to this question. We selected the convertible over the coupe in this instance primarily because, having driven both version of this car at length, we felt that the convertible was simply more enjoyable – more fun – to drive. Although some might argue that the addition of a convertible top adds considerable weight to the car, thereby reducing its performance capabilities, the reality is that the 1999 Corvette convertible weighed only one pound more than its coupe counterpart. With a standing 0-60 time of just 4.9 seconds, the 1999 Corvertible was a solid performer, and still enabled consumers to drop the top without the trouble of having to store a hard top in the rear half of the car’s cabin area.
1975 Corvette Coupe
Average Price: $14,800
For many Corvette enthusiasts, the C3 is the very definition of what a Corvette should look like. The large fender flares, the swept back profile and the car’s long hood are all part of the car’s iconic look. This body design, which was the hybrid brainchild of Zora Arkus-Duntov, Bill Mitchell and Larry Shinoda, was built from 1968 to 1982, with only minor revisions to the overall look of the car during that entire duration. It remains the longest production run of any single generation of the Corvette. So, given the number of other third-generation model years available, why did we choose the 1975 model?
The answer is two-fold. First, and probably the most relevant reason (as it relates to the topic of this article), is that General Motors reduced the number of available engines for the 1975 model year. As a result, the only available choices were either the stock 165 horsepower engine, or the optional L82 engine, which produced a modestly more impressive 205 horsepower. While neither of these powerplants offered consumers the blistering speed of the earlier third-generation Corvettes, this reduction in power has also made purchasing a C3 far more affordable in today’s used car market, providing you aren’t looking for high-output power.
The second reason that we selected this Corvette is that it marked two important milestones:
It was the last time that the C3 Corvette would be offered as a convertible.
It was the last time that a Corvette convertible would cost less than a coupe (when it was sold new), and is still a terrific value on the used car market today (NOTE:1975 Corvette convertibles sell (on average) for about $1800 more than the coupes, though there are still some amazing deals out there.)
Now we know what you’re probably thinking – our recommendation was for the 1975 Corvette coupe, NOT the convertible, right? When assembling this list of cars, we discovered that the 1975 Corvette coupes are now LESS expensive than the convertibles, though both are great values for someone interested in purchasing a third-generation Corvette. In fact,when it comes to buying a mid-generation C3 Corvette, the 1975 model year is about the perfect blend of classic design and affordability.
1979 Corvette Coupe
Average Price: $11,480
Known as the fastback Corvette (a re-design that was originally introduced in 1978), it is arguable that the 1979 Corvette was growing “long in the tooth” from a design standpoint. Chevrolet had been manufacturing the third-generation Corvette for more than a decade already, and while the fastback rear-end gave the car an updated appearance, it was argued by many automotive critics from that era that Chevrolet had “worn out its welcome” with the current body design. Despite these criticisms, Chevrolet manufactured 53,807 Corvettes in 1979, a production run which set the record for the largest number of Corvettes built in a single year (a record that still stands today.)
The 1979 Corvette came equipped with either the base L48 engine, which produced 195 horsepower, or the L82 engine, which produced 225 horsepower. These powerplants resonated with consumers, and afforded owners a straight-line 0-60 time (when equipped with the L82) of just 6.6 seconds, a standing quarter mile time of 15.3 seconds and a top speed of 127 miles per hour. While these numbers are tame by today’s super-car standards, the performance and value of the 1979 Corvette could not be questioned back in its day.
So how come they’re so affordable and so readily available now?
The limited market value that the 1979 Corvette has today can be correlated from those same criticisms that many made against this model year when it was new. Namely, it was an uninspired design that had lived past its prime. Chevrolet had manufactured a lot of these cars, and while they sold quickly, their value also depreciated quickly, especially once the fourth-generation Corvette arrived on the scene. Moreover, while the factory engine offerings might have excited consumers back in the late 1970’s, the L48 and L82 powerplants were hardly noteworthy entries in this history of the brand.
Still, the intrinsic collectors value of the 1979 Corvette (along with the 1980–1982 models that would follow it) has rebounded some over the past (almost) thirty years. Like other cars from that era, the classic nature of the 1979 Corvette adds to its mystique. While the car may have lacked the factory power of its younger (and older) siblings, the overall aesthetic and allure of a late-model C3 is unmistakable. More than that, the abundance of these cars makes finding parts for repairs/maintenance far more manageable, which helps keeps costs down….and let’s face it, if you are going to consider buying a decades-old car, there will be costs associated with its upkeep.
However, if you on the hunt for a classic-looking Corvette that will show well at the Saturday morning Cars & Coffee meet-up, then a 1979 Corvette may be just what you are looking for!
1996 Corvette Coupe/Convertible
Average Price: $8,840
For anyone that’s looking for affordable fun with genuine performance, you need look no further than the 1996 Corvette. The 1996 model year was to be the last of the fourth-generation Corvettes. While Chevrolet was already geared up to begin production of the C5 model, the departure of the C4 was celebrated with a couple of special edition models – the 1996 Collector’s Edition Corvette and the 1996 Grand Sport Corvette – both of which were offered for just a single year. These cars (especially the Grand Sport) still retail on the used car market for considerably more than the base model coupe and convertible referenced in this article, but both of these “special editions” have also become increasingly affordable over time.
What makes the 1996 Corvette (and the late model C4‘s in general) such an exciting buy is that this car was really the first model of the Corvette brand to feature exceptional handling and drivability, and not just straight-line performance. The 1990–1995 ZR1 Corvette had catapulted the Corvette brand into supercar status, if briefly, but the base coupe and convertible had made performance driving affordable for a much broader audience than companies like Porsche or Ferrari.
Hidden under the hood of the 1996 Corvette was either an LT1 engine, rated at a very-respectable 300 horsepower or, for the 1996 model year ONLY (and then, only in those cars equipped with a manual transmission), the optional LT4 engine, which was rated (very conservatively) at 330 horsepower. The LT4 engine, which many claim was underrated by GM for tax purposes, was a stepping-stone towards the more robust LS platform, which would prove to be transformative in the performance of future-generation Corvettes. Still, for consumers on a budget, finding the right 1996 Corvette will provide big-dollar fun without breaking the bank. Trust us, we’ve driven these cars, and they don’t disappoint.
1989 Corvette Coupe
Average Price: $8,140
These last two entries are all about fun on a budget. The 1989 Corvette was introduced in conjunction with the Corvette ZR-1. While the ZR-1 was unveiled in 1989, its arrival would be delayed a year due to an “insufficient availability of engines caused by additional development.” However, some of the technology developed for the ZR-1 would find its way into the 1989 Corvette, including an all-new six-speed manual transmission.
The six-speed manual transmission was developed as a replacement to the never-popular Doug Nash 4+3 transmission, which had been part of the C4 Corvette program since its introduction in 1984. The new transmission was met with unquestioning approval, and would become a staple of the Corvette platform for the next 25 years (albeit with updates to the design).
The other big change for the 1989 Corvette was the inclusion of the Z52 suspension package on all models of the car. While the Z52 had previously been offered as an option, its inclusion as a standard feature in 1989 was a welcome addition among Corvette enthusiasts. The package included a combination of the Z51 handling package with a softer suspension on the base models. It also included a radiator boost fan, Bilstein shock absorbers, an engine oil cooler, a heavy-duty radiator, a faster 13:1 steering ratio and a larger front stabilizer bar.
Powered by the L98 V8 engine (the predecessor to the LT1, which would be introduced in 1991), the car produced a respectable 245 horsepower. This translated into a 0-60 mph time of just 5.4 seconds and a quarter mile time of 14.1 seconds, both of which were on-par with the European sports car offerings of that era.
1985-1986 Corvette Coupe
Average Price: $5,780
When it comes to affordable Corvettes, you won’t find any on the market for less money than a mid-eighties C4, especially one built between 1984 and 1986.
While the 1984 Corvette tends to be the lowest price ‘Vette out there, we have excluded it from this list mostly because their actual value – even at such a low price point – is questionable at best. The 1984 Corvette was setup with both the Doug Nash 4+3 manual transmission as well as the incredibly finicky and fairly unreliable Crossfire Fuel Injection system. Yes, one can be had for less than $5,000.00, but the constant upkeep to keep the car on the road makes this one less desirable than its slightly more expensive younger brothers, the 1985 and 1986 Corvette.
In 1985, the engineers behind the Corvette abandoned the Crossfire Injection in favor of the more conventional, and utterly more reliable Tuned Port Fuel Injection platform. This new fuel delivery system, combined with a half-point compression increase (9.5:1) improved the 1985 Corvette‘s power output to 230 horsepower, a 25 hp gain over the 1984 Corvette.
So improved was the car’s performance that the 1985 Corvette was actually capable of performing at the same level as the Porsche 928, yet sold for approximately half the price when new. In fact, the 1985 Corvette was named the “Fastest Car in America” after achieving a top speed of 150 miles per hour!
The big news for the 1986 model year was the return of a convertible top, an option that had been absent on the Corvette since 1975. The 1986 Corvette also marked the second time in the brand’s history that the Corvette would serve as the official pace car of the Indianapolis 500. While convertibles today are a popular commodity, the price point of the Corvette convertible was high enough that the car did not sell very well its first year back on the market. Instead, the dominant – and the most readily available 1986 Corvette on the market today – is one equipped with the Z51 option.
Consider this, there are still a good number of available mid-eighties Corvettes on the road today. While the condition of these cars varies significantly, it is still possible to find one that has been well maintained and in good, working order. Better still, there are a number of reputable after-market parts distributors (both online and in actual store fronts) that sell just about every part conceivable for the fourth-generation Corvette.
What does all this mean? It means that buying a used fourth-generation Corvette is not only possible, but its an excellent way to try your hand at Corvette ownership. Naturally, you’ll want to do some homework and make sure the car you are buying is mechanically sound – unless, of course, you are intentionally looking for a project car (believe us, there are plenty of those out there too.) Still, with a little bit of patience and determination, it is possible to find a great Corvette for less than six-grand!
But What About That Stereotype?
You might recall at the start of this article that we discussed the stereotypes surrounding Corvette ownership. While the argument has been made that owning a Corvette is simply too expensive for most people, we’ve proven beyond reasonable doubt that this simply isn’t true.
Why, then, does the general consensus indicate that the majority of Corvettes are owned by older individuals/couples?
First, we don’t think the older demographic makes up the majority of Corvette owners as some have suggested. Yes, many Corvette clubs are made up of more senior members of society – but that’s largely because retirees have the time and resource to be actively involved in a club. Like many other car clubs across the country, Corvette clubs take multiple-day trips throughout the year, and so it makes sense that the majority of the participants would be retired – the rest of us are probably at work, wishing we could be out there on the open road with them!
Second, (for the two or three people on the planet who didn’t already know this,) Corvettes are strictly two-seat automobiles. The limited seating poses a challenge for anyone with children who need to be driven anywhere.
As both a Corvette owner and a father of three, I can tell you that I don’t get my car out on the road as often as I’d like. It’s a “juggling act” at times – finding time to drive my car when there are dance classes, soccer tournaments and countless other kid-friendly activities to attend to. Still, I find the time – often early on Saturday morning – where I get to hit the open road for a few hours while my wife and kids continue to sleep…but this isn’t just a Corvette-thing – my good friend, who is several years older than me, gets out during this same time to ride his Kawasaki Vulcan motorcyle – a vehicle that is commonly purchased by all age demographics both young and old!
Still, my comment proves a point. The fact is – most Corvette owners who can routinely drive their cars are one of the following: single, a young couple who either don’t yet have children or who have either elected not to have children or have since raised their children and now live only with their significant other. These lucky couples have the opportunity and ability to jump in their cars and go out wherever, and more importantly WHENEVER they choose.
See where I’m going with this?
Short answer – don’t let the “old men own Corvettes” stereotype prevent you from buying into your dream of Corvette ownership. Age is not a defining characteristic of Corvette ownership…and for most of us, it’s also NOT a mid-life crisis playing itself out.
These cars are designed to enthrall, to excite, to remind us why we are alive. If you’ve dreamed of owning one of these cars but have been waiting for the right time to buy one, let me suggest that the right time is just about NOW.
Take some time and explore the cars available to you in your own backyard, or across this beautiful nation of ours….and if you have to fly across the country to land an amazing deal, justthink of the adventure you’ll have driving your new Corvette – or at least NEW TO YOU Corvette – home.
Young or old, the feeling of driving your Corvette for the first time is priceless and it will be a memory that you’ll treasure the rest of your life.