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Market Watch: The 1984-1996 Chevrolet Corvette C4 Is a Used-Car Bargain

Here’s what you need to know about buying a used Chevy C4 Corvette, in various versions.

1990 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1

By the early 1980s, Chevrolet's Corvette, a once-great icon lovingly regarded as "America's Sports Car," had lost its way. Decades of emissions regulations, economic ups and downs, and a crippling fuel crisis in the late 1970s conspired to neuter one of the most capable performance cars on the planet. When the C3 Corvette bowed out of production in 1982, it was underpowered, overweight and appealed more to boulevard cruisers than backroads blitzers. So, when Chevy's C4 Corvette launched at the end of 1983 as a 1984 model-year car, General Motors had created a car with the goal of restoring the Corvette name to greatness.

Chief engineer Dave McClellan had directly succeeded Zora Arkus-Duntov, well known as the "Father of the Corvette," in 1975, and he was more than up to the task. The result was that GM once again had a value-conscious but world-beating sports car to sell to the American public. And it was one that would last a lengthy 12 years on the market before being replaced with the C5 Corvette. Thinking about putting a Chevrolet C4 Corvette in your garage while the prices are low? Here's what you need to know when it comes to C4 Corvette values, with figures referenced from Hagerty.

Chevrolet C4 Corvette: The Early Years 1984-90

Average Value: $6,100-$9,000

The earliest Chevrolet C4 Corvettes aren't necessarily the best-looking or best-performing variants, but they are the cheapest to purchase today; average examples in good condition are found for well less than $10,000. And let's not forget, the Chevrolet C4 Corvette was MotorTrend's 1984 Car of the Year.

Early C4 Corvettes' 5.7-liter V-8 engine produced a fairly meager 205 horsepower, with a notoriously unreliable Cross-Fire fuel-injection system that was often nicknamed "Cease-Fire." Transmission options were a four-speed automatic or the unusual Doug Nash 4+3 four-speed manual gearbox with electronic overdrive on the higher three gears. A coupe with a Targa-style, one-piece removable top was the only body style initially available. The interior was a chunky, straight-edge design with a fully digital display that was all the rage in the mid-1980s.

In 1985, Tuned-Port Injection replaced the Cross-Fire system, and power increased by 25 hp for 230 hp total. Chevy also softened up the suspension a bit after too many magazine reviews trashed the track-tuned Corvette's ride, though a Z51 heavy-duty performance suspension option was still available for those who didn't mind. Today, Z51 cars can fetch a small premium of $500 or so, and it's worth seeing if the car you're looking at has it.

The 1986 model year brought the return of a Corvette convertible (which paced that year's Indy 500 race in special livery), along with standard ABS and new aluminum cylinder heads that arrived halfway through the year for another 5-horse gain. While values aren't dramatically greater than earlier cars at this stage, convertibles do bring a bit of a premium, with Hagerty placing a good 1986 convertible at $7,600 versus $6,200 for a coupe. By now, more Corvettes were ordered with automatic transmissions than manuals. If you find a manual-equipped car, be prepared to pay at least 10 percent more compared to a similar automatic-equipped example.

In 1987, output increased again, to 240 horsepower, thanks to more efficient roller lifters that replaced the old hydraulic versions. A new Z52 suspension option had all the Z51 goodies with softer springs oriented for street use, and the Z52 package was standard on 1988's 35th Anniversary Edition model, which is worth a slight premium at an average $11,400 price. The year 1989 brought a contemporary six-speed manual gearbox supplied by ZF, along with an optional, body-colored hardtop for convertible models (a $1,000 value today).

Finally, in 1990, the Corvette underwent its mid-cycle interior refresh which dramatically updated the car's cabin. Analog gauges returned, but with a large LCD display in the center of the instrument panel that offered speed and some other data in a digital format. The V-8 now produced a fairly healthy 245 hp, but 1990 examples are still very affordable at about $7,200 for your average coupe, and prices hovering around $9,000 for convertibles. Well optioned, low-mileage, manual-equipped cars in show condition can bring well into the teens. The ZR-1 also released this year, but we'll get to that in a bit.

Chevrolet C4 Corvette: The Later Years 1991-96

Average Value: $7,200-$11,400

The year 1991 brought the Chevrolet C4 Corvette's first mid-cycle exterior refresh, with smoothed-over corners and side vents, new square-shaped taillights (derived from the 1990 ZR1), redesigned wheels, and an embossed "Corvette" marking on the rear panel, rather than a glued-on badge. For this model year, power remained at 245 hp, but 1992 brought an all-new, second-generation Chevy small-block engine dubbed LT1. Output was now an impressive 300 hp, enough to really stick it to entry-level supercars like Porsche's 911. In 1993, a 40th Anniversary Edition arrived with Ruby Red paint and interior, and today such cars can bring a $3,000-$4,000 gain on a coupe and convertible, respectively.

A decade into production, the 1994 C4 Corvette had only minor changes, including a passenger-side airbag and another revised fuel-injection system that had no effect on output, though drivability and emissions improved. In 1995, bigger front brakes from the ZR1 became standard equipment along with softer front springs and Z07 equipment packages. In the C4 Corvette's final year, 1996, manual-equipped cars got a special LT4 5.7-liter V-8 engine with 330 hp, and a Collector's Edition model boasted silver paint and special badges (CE versions today are worth an extra $3,000, if you come across one).

Chevrolet C4 Corvette: The Mighty 1990-95 ZR-1

Average Value: $19,000-$22,800

In the late 1980s, the Corvette engineering team partnered with Lotus in the U.K. to produce a true world-beating Corvette that could take the fight directly to Europe's best. The result was the 1990 Corvette ZR-1, with a Lotus-designed, Mercury Marine-built LT5 V-8 engine that ditched antiquated pushrods for a true DOHC design with aluminum block and heads. The ZR-1 even featured a special extra key you had to turn in order to release its full 375-hp peak, a full 130 hp more than the standard Corvette of the same year.

Quickly nicknamed "The King of the Hill" by Chevy engineering folks, the ZR-1 cost roughly double the price of a standard Corvette, or around $60,000, and it was only available in a coupe body style. Bigger brakes, wider wheels and tires, and new square-shaped taillights were all part of the package, along with the ever-important "ZR-1" badge on the rear bumper. In 1993, power increased to 405 hp, but by 1995, the ZR-1 was canceled after Chevy built just 6,939 total examples.

Because the Chevrolet C4 Corvette ZR-1 was often thought of as a future classic, there are plenty of low-miles examples out there still waiting for the appreciation that hasn't arrived 30 years later. Keep in mind, the LT5 engine is a very different beast from the standard L98, LT1, and even LT4 V-8s. Service costs, which can be surprisingly affordable for a standard Corvette, are far more expensive for these American supercars.

Chevrolet C4 Corvette: The 1996 Grand Sport

Average Value: $23,500

What's the most collectible Chevrolet C4 Corvette? The ZR-1 is a good guess and is easily the highest-performing model of all C4 variants. But in recent years, the 1996 Chevrolet C4 Corvette Grand Sport coupe and convertible have risen to the top of the pecking order when it comes to price.

Built as a homage to the ultra-low production C2 Grand Sport racers of the mid-1960s, the 1996 Corvette Grand Sport was released for the C4's final year in production with the range-topping ZR-1 already out of production. The most recognizable feature of the Grand Sport models is the Admiral Blue paint with a white center stripe and red hash marks on the driver's-side front fender, but there are a bevy of lesser-seen improvements that really distinguish this model from the rest.

Underhood is the 330-hp, 385-lb-ft LT4 V-8 paired only with a six-speed manual, ZF-built gearbox. Two-piece, five-spoke wheels are ZR-1-size on coupe models, and they necessitated tacked-on rear fender flares to cover them adequately for the Department of Transportation. Convertibles stuck with the standard Corvette wheel/tire package.

So why should a 1996 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport be worth more than a super-powered ZR-1? Consider that while a '96 Grand Sport is down roughly 75 hp on a '95 ZR-1, handling and braking ability is about the same, and the ZR-1's service costs far exceed those of the Grand Sport. Also, Chevrolet built just 1,000 Grand Sport models (810 coupes, 190 convertibles) compared with six times as many ZR-1s, making them the most difficult C4 Corvette versions to find for sale today. Add in the Grand Sport name's compelling history, and you now have a sought-after collectible.

1984 Chevrolet Corvette