The 1998 Corvette Indy Pace Car makes you a one-man Parade

By Mike Covello

The 1998 Corvette Convertible is one of the best values available in today's automotive market. That may sound like a strange statement to make about a car whose sticker starts at $44,425, but I believe its true. The 345 horsepower V-8 is the epitome of modern engineering despite its overhead valve configuration. Whether you choose the burly six-speed manual transmission or the effortless four-speed automatic, the Corvette delivers unparalleled pleasure.

As exciting as the 1997 Corvette coupe was when it was introduced, its delights are eclipsed by the 1998 Convertible. Unlike most convertibles, the C5 (fifth generation) Corvette was designed from the outset as a convertible. This means that the engineers did not have to apply Band-Aid solutions to a car whose structural integrity was ruined by having its roof removed. Instead the hydroformed rails, balsa-wood-sandwich floor and enclosed torque tube tunnel all work together to form a platform that is stiffer than many coupes and sedans on the road today.

The result of having such a stiff chassis to work with is that the suspension can be tuned to keep the wheels on the road, and deliver a very supple ride at the same time. I found the 'good' ride to be that much more amazing despite the choice of tires. The Goodyear 245/45 X 17 front and 275/40 X 18 rear tires are a unique offering. These tires were designed with sidewalls that are stiff enough to support the car, even with no air inside them. Sensors within each wheel monitor the tire pressure and alert the driver when there is significant loss.

Because there is no spare, the 1998 Corvette Convertible offers something unmatched by its competition, a real trunk. Besides being able to swallow the obligatory two golf bags, the Convertible offers 13.9 cubic feet of storage with the top up and 11.2 with it down. Now some critics may scoff that on a car this expensive, a power top would be included.

I say, "Why?"

Just release two latches at the top of the windshield, lift the back of the roof up a bit, push the release button hidden under the sensuous tonneau cover, lift the lid then drop the top. It takes about the same amount of time to do it as it does to read how to do it. The result is a beautiful shape that defines the word desire. With the side windows raised, the cockpit is a comfortable place to hold a conversation up to speeds approaching the car's 165-mph top end. (The coupe will do 175 mph.)

This powerful performance will come in handy on May 24, 1998. For the fourth time a Corvette will pace the Indy 500 the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing." Chevrolet is making 1,158 of the '98 Corvette Indy 500 Pace Car replicas. My test unit was an automatic, and had only one option, the $5039 Pace Car Package. This included YELLOW seats and aluminum wheels and the official exterior decal package. Also included were a host of the most desirable options: dual power sport seats complete with the memory package, the performance axle, the Bose stereo with the in-dash CD player, dual air conditioning and my favorite the Active Handling System.

New for the second half of the model year, this performance package expands the safety envelope for Corvette drivers whose cars are so equipped. The system uses a blend of sensors that read steering imputs, vehicle yaw rate and lateral g-force, then activates the Vette's brakes on a selective basis in emergency maneuvers. No other sports car has a system like this, only Mercedes-Benz and BMW offer a less-sophisticated version on their top-end cars. The Corvette system differs in that it gives the driver more latitude before it engages. There is even a switch that allows you to shut the system off, or to select the Competitive Driving mode. This set of software defeats the traction control (allows even more wheel spin) but keeps the ABS and Active Handling.

I found the system to work very well. In the dry, you have to push the car very hard to activate the system. In wet weather it provides a safety net that tames the Corvette's awesome power. So what about the "one-man parade?" The body's Pace Car Purple Metallic is actually a very handsome color. The stripes on the hood and flanks do a good job of accenting the body's character lines. I solicited a lot of opinion on the yellow wheels and seats, and the majority of people found them attractive. One Chevrolet salesman summed it up best by saying, "This is for the guy who wants EVERBODY to know that he just bought a new Corvette." Personally I would order black with the tan interior, but I say, "To each their own."

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