1997 C5 Corvette

Replacing an American icon like the Corvette is an enormous responsibility. No other sports car in the world is so popular — well over one million units have been built since 1953. No other automobile in the world has so many dedicated enthusiasts and car clubs (more than 750 worldwide) associated with it.

Quite simply, Corvette is an American trademark all its own. It's a living, breathing symbol of American know-how and American style. Which makes the creation of a new-generation Corvette that much more daunting.

Should the new Corvette be a radical departure from the current model or a natural evolution? Should it be front-engined or mid-engined? Should it have a futuristic or a retro look? Should it be V8 powered or something different? Should it be a raw performer or a luxury tourer? Should the price be similar to the current car or be priced higher or lower?

These and other factors faced the team that designed, engineered and developed the fifth generation of Corvette. These were complicated issues — issues in need of an arbiter, an impartial source that could be trusted. But who could be entrusted to decide such important matters?

The answer is sports car enthusiasts.

It was decided early to let people who know and love sports cars — both Corvette aficionados as well as the owners of competitive makes — be the primary drivers of the content, looks and performance of the new Corvette. That direction, of course, would be based on the kind of sports car they would like to have parked in their garage.

Many of those competitive owners may not have considered a C4. Some might have pre-conceived notions about what a Corvette is. Some might have the impression that the C4 Corvette would never live up to their expectations. In their minds, they seek a new-generation Corvette that is exciting, excellent and intelligent — one that completely changes their mind about Corvette.

As for Corvette loyalists, they seek a car that is right on the Corvette trajectory (in terms of looks, power and handling) giving them a much better sports car than they thought possible.

Both groups want a new Corvette that is true to the great things about its past while meeting or beating their current expectations in performance, styling, safety, fuel efficiency, packaging, comfort, quality and durability.

That's quite a challenge. But it is a challenge that was met head on by the Corvette team.