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New World and Telegraph-On Line Motoring Editor, Jafa Raza, goes to the South of France with its echoes of by-gone American men of letters, particularly Fitzgerald and Hemingway, for the launch of the fifth generation of an icon

Chevrolet Corvette

What makes the Chevrolet Corvette the World’s best-selling Sports Car?


So you are surprised that the world’s best selling sports car is not Japanese or German, but quintessentially American. Frankly, I myself, in common with some of my colleagues at the Corvette launch in the French Riviera, were not au fait with this palatable fact. There would have been cause for anti-American envy a few years back, but this has given way, albeit reluctantly, to an acceptance that without the formidable American industrial presence here, especially in motor manufacture, the British economy would be the poorer.

 

There is another factor. Most of us are no longer parish pump villagers, we are either fully-fledged, or unenthusiastic citizens of the global universe. But none of this affected our judgment of the Corvette. The origin of the car was irrelevant. Our first task was to establish whether the Corvette could live up to its fabulous billing.

Two other famous stable mates of the Corvette, the Chevrolet Camaro, the Chevrolet Blazer and the Cadillac Seville were all equally inviting in the car park outside our hotel, we did not conceal our eagerness to grab a Corvette before the others did.

The 2000 Corvette is the fifth generation of an aristocratic and polished breed.

Its makers describe it as a "muscular two-seater sports car". It first appeared in the 1950s. Most film buffs and admirers of the American way of life may not know much about cars, but they have seen so much of the Corvette on screen that they may be able to tell you a thing or two about its thrilling performance.

The much-loved Chevrolet ‘small block’ engine powers the latest Corvette. Chevrolet engineers tell us that the ‘small block’ is mounted behind the front axle to optimize weight distribution. The manual version of the Corvette leaps from 0-62mph in 5.2 seconds. It has a top speed of 169mph. Their American owners must be frustrated by the strict 55mph limit on the motorways. They can do little about it because the American police take a grave view of speeding. It is likely that the affluent owners of the Corvette sports model vent their frustrations on privately owned racing tracks!

The car is not indifferent to the environment. It has two catalytic converters. You have a choice of six-speed manual or four-speed electronic automatic transmission.

My long-standing complaint about most sports cars is that they are uncomfortable, and the ride is far from pleasant. Perhaps this is because they are modeled on authentic racing cars where the emphasis on discomfort seems deliberate, obviously to wonderfully concentrate the mind of the driver! The Corvette’s designers and engineers have skillfully eliminated the discomfort syndrome. It probably has the best ride, handling and road holding in the business. Certainly that was my exhilarating experience at top speeds on open French roads, where they are not as fussy as the Americans about speed violations. For this highly civilized level of comfort, we must be thankful to the creators of the car’s ingenious suspension. This has independent double wishbones, front and rear. Corvette engineers point out that the front upper control arms are made of wrought aluminum; the rest of cast alloys. The company holds the patent on Corvette’s synthetic cantilever springs, which are mounted crossways at front and rear.

As for the superb handling and smooth ride, they can be attributed to the adroit tuning of springs and dampers. GM engineers point out: "The Corvette buyer can order variable shock detection, with a choice of three different settings - Tour, Sport and Performance. The system reacts to the vehicle’s movements so that at high speeds the dampers automatically switch to a rigid bias. Speed sensitive servo steering further enhances the Corvette’s sporty handling."

What about the all-important safety factor? The Corvette’s elaborate safety measures will only help when you drive sensibly, not like a maniac. The normal well-adjusted driver will find much comfort in ABS and traction control, which are standard. You also have "An Active Handling System" as an option. This is a clever electronic device, which deals with over steer or under steer by selectively applying the brakes and throttle to keep the car on an even keel.

The Corvette is available as a full convertible, or as a coupe T-top. At the moment it is only available in left-hand drive for the good reason that it is selling like hot cakes and GM have to pull out all the stops for a Europe clamoring for the Corvette. The Japanese are said to be delighted with the Corvette.