The insurance and valuation guys over at Hagerty recently put together a list of Five Of The Best Corvettes For Under $20,000. Their list is full of Corvettes, so it’s obviously a good list. And, the folks at Hagerty know their stuff when it comes to sniffing out potential value-hoarders that are sure to appreciate over time.
While the later-model Corvettes are still living the life of daily drivers and low-mileage car show attendees, the earlier models have separated themselves into cliques consisting of the valuables, and the valuable-nots. The Hagerty list looks at several of these earlier cars that have not quite attained the lofty, value-laden status of previous generations, but do separate themselves nicely from the rest of the herd.
C5 Corvette Z06
To start off the list, the C5-era Z06 took the world by storm when it was introduced. The automotive press (and some non-automotive big names) crawled all over the story when photos of the car first surfaced. Taunting insurers and competitors with 385, and then 405 horsepower, the hi-po C5 definitely showed that performance was back, and at a negligible price, comparatively speaking.
C4s With More
The next two contestants on Hagerty’s list come from the C4 generation. If you’ve ever heard the saying, “Give a kid a hammer and EVERYTHING becomes a nail,” then you C4 owners can relate to this generation being the time GM figured out how to make things (EVERY-thing) out of plastic. The dash, the console, the sub-structure for the dash and console, door skins, switch mechanisms, and on-and-on, were all fabricated out of formed plastic. That doesn’t fare well for the daily-drivers of this group, but it does help those low-mileage examples stand out from the rest.
Beyond the rank-and-file C4s, there were a couple of stand-outs that still stand head and shoulders above the rest. A production model, such as the 1990-’95 ZR1, is still listed among some of the most desirable C4s, and the pricing on these high-winding monsters is still quite reasonable. The fact horsepower numbers equaled those of the vaulted Z06 one generation later, just shows how advanced these cars were when they first hit the streets.
On the other side of the spectrum are the Callaway B2K Corvettes. Built before the rev-happy LT5, B2K Corvettes used twin-turbos to boost performance of their L98 engine. While no Tune-Port engine was ever accused of excessive RPM, the turbos and long intake runners were a recipe for a neck-snapping 562 lb-ft of torque.
Built by Reeves Callaway and his engineers at Callaway Cars under Regular Production Order (RPO) B2K, these cars could be ordered through any Chevrolet dealer, and the car was then shipped directly to Callaway Cars in Old Lyme, Connecticut for the transformation.
While the C4 generation has stood as a value-riddled means of getting into a Corvette for quite some time, these two special editions stood out as special from the onset, and should continue to do so as the hands of time move forward.
Once the C3 (1968-1982) Corvettes lost the chrome bumpers front and rear, their value as an “everyman’s car” went through the roof. There are several reasons for this besides the buying public’s appetite for shiny stuff on the front and rear of their cars. Namely, horsepower dropped like a rock during this decade, and you could say GM’s bent for making things out of plastic had its seeds planted during this generation.
There were a few high-points, as duly noted in Hagerty’s article. Namely Corvette’s first pace car activity for the famed Indy 500 race. When the public first caught wind of this car’s existence, there became public interest like the Corvette world hadn’t seen since the 1953 Motorama.
Dealers started clamoring over the opportunity to make a profit by selling one of these cars through their showroom. There was such a commotion, that Chevy was forced to make just over 6,500 of these cars, one for each dealership. Demand was so high, many dealerships simply sold their allotment to other dealers who had a better Corvette market.
While the 1978 Corvette Indy Pace Car hasn’t rewarded many of those investors that were searching for a huge pay-day down the road, the cars they hoarded away are now coming onto market as extremely low-mileage examples. Again, later sharks haven’t typically been the focus of investors, so these cars are still considered a bargain for those who sincerely desire one.
In 1973, big-block engines and chrome bumpers on Corvettes were fading much like Ironman’s red beacon and the final result was much the same. While the horsepower of production 454s was listed much lower than previous years, they still had the stigma of being the bad-boys on the block. When you consider the industry’s change from gross to net horsepower ratings, you can see the drop in power was mostly on paper, not on the pavement.
Likewise, many enthusiasts’ interest faded when urethane bumpers replaced both sides of the shark. At least in 1973, chrome enthusiasts could still cuddle up to the chromed rear bumpers on their C3s, a one-year-only design.
While these five cars stand out, perhaps as investment-grade options, there are many other cars available within each of these three generations which stand out as excellent value-per-dollar choices for those enthusiasts who like a particular body style or generation.
While low-mileage, excellent examples will always demand a premium, those seeking a daily-driver or weekend warrior can also make the vast production numbers work to their benefit. The C4 generation has only started to see an up-tick in those more highly-sought after segments, such as the ZR1s and Callaways. The Shark Corvettes have remained very obtainable and still serve as a great value for the money. Many C5s have reached the “old car” milestone, but have MANY more miles to go on their odometers.
Whether you’re searching for your first Corvette, or just another one to fill a void, choosing one from any of these three generations can give you a thrill for your dollar. And, as Hagerty points out, if you’ve got about twenty-Gs sitting around, there are a few excellent examples on the menu for those tastes as well.