1996 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport
Say you’re Chevrolet. During 1995, you killed the Corvette ZR-1, your performance flagship, for not performing in the sales column. Next fall, you have the all-new, fifth-generation Corvette coming. In the meantime, what do you do for 1996 to generate a little excitement over your lame-duck, 13-year-old Corvette?
First, you find another 30 horsepower in the 5.7-liter V-8 engine.
Then you mix up some “Admiral Blue Metallic” paint, spray some five-spoke aluminum wheels black, dig up some fat Goodyear radials left on the ZR-1 shelf, and journey back to 1963 to revive the name of the most famous racing Corvette ever—the Grand Sport.
And you add red-leather interior and a couple of small red hash marks on the driver’s-side front fender. On the coupe, you tack on a couple of rear fender flares that don’t look unlike stuff available at the nearest Pep Boys, probably found next to the pink windshield wipers and fuzzy dice.
Finally, you add a big white stripe down the middle. Has every manufacturer now built a blue sports model with a white stripe or two down the middle? Coming next, we suspect: the Hyundai Accent Grand Sport.
But that’s being snide. At $4934 over the price of a base automatic Corvette, the 1996 Corvette Grand Sport is a nice ride, and the 30 extra horses don’t hurt. Still, it’s a hung jury. Comments overheard at its unveiling ranged from “Gorgeous!” to “That’s the ugliest Corvette since that 1978 pace-car model.” Chevrolet plans to build 1000 Grand Sports, a mix of coupes and convertibles. All will have the ZF six-speed manual transmission—and yes, it still has that annoying first-to-fourth skip-shift, which kicks in when the car is driven casually, in order to artificially up the EPA fuel-economy rating. Which is, incidentally, 17 mpg in the city, 25 mpg on the highway.
The massaged 330-horsepower LT1 engine has been renamed the LT4. Not only is it standard on the Grand Sport, but it’s the only engine you can get with any manual-transmission Corvette. The automatic comes with the 300-horsepower LT1.
Performance-wise, the only thing you gain with the Grand Sport coupe over the standard six-speed Corvette are the 275/40ZR-17 Goodyear radials in front, 315/35ZR-17s in the rear. Convertible Grand Sports have 255/45ZR-17s in front, 285/40ZR-17s in back, like regular Corvette coupes and convertibles.
While no one will mistake the LT4 engine for the late ZR-1′s 405-horsepower LT5, it has noticeably more kick than the LT1, especially through third gear. The extra 30 horsepower comes from a more aggressive camshaft, higher-flow aluminum heads, larger valves, higher-compression pistons, new high-flow fuel injectors, and roller rocker arms.
The LT4 is rated at 330 horsepower at 5800 rpm and 340 pound-feet of torque at 4500 rpm. The LT1 is rated at 300 horse‑power at 5000 rpm, 335 pound-feet of torque at 3600 rpm. Redline for the LT4 is 6300 rpm; for the LT1, it’s 5700 rpm.
We spent a day at Road America putting several Grand Sport coupes through their paces on the four-mile road-course, and we also drove some regular 1996 Corvettes with the LT4 engine. As you would suspect, the larger tires on the Grand Sport are just a bit grippier. Otherwise, the difference seems negligible.
Not so the difference between the LT4 six-speed Corvettes and the LT1 automatics: Chevrolet has finally given us a reason to pass up the excellent automatic transmission for the six-speed. Still, 80 percent of the Corvettes sold are automatics, so it will be interesting to see how many buyers saddle up the extra 30 horses.
If you want the hottest Corvette, get the $43,248 Grand Sport coupe (it’s the only way you can get those big ZR-1 tires) and opt for the $350 Z51 handling package, which has stiffer springs, new Bilstein shock absorbers, and front and rear stabilizer bars.
And you might look into the $1695 optional Selective Real Time Damping system, essentially a semiactive suspension that uses sensors and accelerometers at each wheel, feeding information to the Delco ride-control system, which readjusts the shock damping in 10 to 15 milliseconds.
Or then again, you could wait until 1997 for the new Corvette. But Chevrolet hopes you won’t. There are already plenty of customers saving up for that model.
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2-passenger, 3-door coupe
BASE PRICE: $43,248
ENGINE TYPE: pushrod 16-valve V-8 iron block and aluminum heads, GM engine-control system with port fuel injection
Displacement: 350 cu in, 5733 cc
Power: 330 hp @ 5800 rpm
Torque: 340 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm
TRANSMISSIONS: 6-speed manual
Wheelbase: 96.2 in
Length: 178.5 in
Width: 73.1 in Height: 46.3 in
Curb weight: 3400 lb
PERFORMANCE (C/D EST):
Zero to 60 mph: 5.0 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 13.5 sec @ 104 mph
Top speed (drag limited): 168 mph
FUEL ECONOMY (C/D EST):
EPA city/highway driving: 17/25 mpg
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