We did it, Corvette Nation! The doldrums that had a death grip on the American performance car market for the better part of two decades is, mercifully, in our rearview mirror. Welcome to the ’90s! The decade that saw the emergence of new “models” under the Corvette banner. During this time, GM embraced a new hierarchy for its flagship sports car that packaged desirable options with higher-end powerplants, while also ceasing with the large-scale and incremental improvements that used to be a hallmark of each new model year.
Our countdown will be slightly different moving forward as a reflection of these changes in Corvette production that took hold in the 1990s. Most of the cars highlighted in the ’90s-2010s lists will be more specific than the ones in our first four weeks that were crowned by model year.
We are kicking off this updated format with our third place Corvette(s) of the ’90s; the 1996 LT4-powered cars. The LT4 was a one-year-only powerplant that improved upon the already-stellar LT1 in every way. Corvette powertrain engineers were able to extract 30 extra horses for this new 5.7L mill by giving the existing architecture a total over hall. They added new aluminum heads, a freer-flowing intake, a new, roller-type timing chain, a compression boost from 10.4:1 to 10.8:1, and premium head gaskets to deal with the heightened compression. This was all in conjunction with improved crank and camshafts, water-pump, and main bearing gaskets. The result was 330 ponies and 340 lb/ft of torque which could scoot any Corvette that housed it to 60 mph in 5 seconds flat and to 100 in 12.4 seconds, just before crossing the quarter-mile at 105.1 MPH in 13.5 seconds.
Every customer who desired the 6-speed manual transmission in their ’96 ‘Vette was forced into a $1,450.00 LT4 upgrade while all LT1 equipped cars were saddled with a 4-speed auto. All cars with the LT4 under their clamshell hood received a special 8,000 rpm tachometer (the tach on the base car went to 6k) to handle the motor’s 6,300 rpm peak (700 higher than the LT1).
The most desirable of all LT4ized C4s is undoubtedly the resurrected Grand Sport which almost claimed this spot on our countdown all to itself. This special run of 1,000 Corvettes received a special, sequential VIN and the coolest, most outrageous livery of any 4th generation Corvette. Inspired by the most famous of Zora’s ’63 GS race cars, it consisted of Admiral Blue paint with a single, centered, white “skunk” stripe running the entire length of the car, and red hash marks on the front driver’s side fender along with, way ahead of their time, black painted five-spoke ZR-1 wheels and tires.
Production was broken down into 810 coupes, which featured rear, molded fender flares, necessary to house the ZR-1’s substantial rubber, and 190 convertibles that had skinnier rear rubber and no flares.
When new, the GS package only added $3,250 (or $2,880 for a droptop) to the Corvette’s $37,225 ($45,060 for the ‘vert) base price. Today, Grand Sports command over $30k on the used market which brings us to the rest of the LT4’ed 1996 Corvettes and how they ended up included on our countdown with the show-stopping Grand Sport.
Any of the non-Grand Sport, manual transmission 1996 Corvettes is nearly identical to the striped special edition but can be had for less than half the price of a comparable GS, making them one of, if not the, best buys in the C4 world. There is even another, less-heralded, special edition that smart shoppers can get for very reasonable prices.
A “Collector Edition” was again offered in 1996. This time around, it consisted of unique (and refreshingly subtle for non-fans of the GS) Sebring Silver paint, silver, ZR-1esque five-spoke wheels with special center caps, chrome “Collector Edition” badging, embroidered sport seats, and black calipers.
In total, 6,359 of the 21,536 final-year C4s received the gen II small block V8 in its final form. This engine, and the LT1 that it was based on, are largely significant, not only because they brought back real performance to the masses at a decent price, but because they acted as a test-bed for technology that would become the most legendary line of V8s in the history of the automobile, the Gen III small block Chevy, better known as the LS line.
Check out all of our Best Corvettes of Each Decade features:
- The Best Corvettes of the 1950s: No.3 – The 1953 Corvette
- The Best Corvettes of the 1950s: No.2 – The 1959 Corvette
- The Best Corvettes of the 1950s: No.1 – The 1957 Corvette
- The Best Corvettes of the 1960s: No.3 – The 1965 Corvette
- The Best Corvettes of the 1960s: No.2 – The 1963 Corvette
- The Best Corvettes of the 1960s: No.1 – The 1967 Corvette
- The Best Corvettes of the 1970s: No.3 – The 1978 Corvette
- The Best Corvettes of the 1970s: No.2 – The 1970 Corvette
- The Best Corvettes of the 1970s: No.1 – The 1971 Corvette
- The Best Corvettes of the 1980s: No.3 – The 1982 Corvette
- The Best Corvettes of the 1980s: No.2 – The 1986 Corvette
- The Best Corvettes of the 1980s: No.1 – The 1984 Corvette
- The Best Corvettes of the 1990s: No.3 – The 1996 LT4 Corvette
- The Best Corvettes of the 1990s: No.2 – The 1999 Corvette FRC
- The Best Corvettes of the 1990s: No.1 – The C4 Corvette ZR-1
- The Best Corvettes of the 2000s: No.3 – The C5 Corvette Z06
- The Best Corvettes of the 2000s: No.2 – The C6 Corvette Z06
- The Best Corvettes of the 2000s: No.1 – 2009 Corvette ZR1
- The Best Corvettes of the 2010s: No.3 – The C7’s Z07 Ultimate Performance Package
- The Best Corvettes of the 2010s: No.2 – The C6’s Z07 Ultimate Performance Package
- The Best Corvettes of the 2010s: No.1 – The 2019 Corvette ZR1