There’s a new 350 on the (engine) block, it comes in three flavors, and is available at your local purveyor of GM crate motors.
The first flavor, call sign: “Gen 1” was designed as a replacement engine for 1987-95 trucks, vans, and SUVs, then there’s “Gen 1e LD” which covers 1996-2002 light-duty trucks, and “Gen 1e HD” intended for ’96-’02 Heavy-Duty trucks. To create this new family of 5.7 liter, 350 cubic-inch “service” V8s, General Motors started with a clean slate, no reverse engineering, or remanufacturing to be seen here. Next, they added new cylinder head and block castings, valve covers, oil pan and timing cover, forged steel crankshafts, CNC-machined cylinder heads, block castings, and other CNC’d components, and dipstick tube provisions for both sides. The (also new) four-bolt main blocks are roller camshaft ready and mechanical fuel pump capable.
This is all well and good but the circumstances surrounding the release of an all-new 350 ci V8 got the Creative Content Department of Corvette Blogger’s High Altitude Outpost thinking; if the 5.7 “service engine” were transformed into a production, “paved surface weapon,” fortified and tuned to somewhere between Corvette from Hell Mk. I and C5 Z06 Mk. II on the Great 350 Power Scale, then paired with the first-ever mid-engine Corvette chassis, we would have the potential makings of an awesome, new, sub-Stingray “entry-level” ‘Vette.
Now, before you jump straight to the comment section to condemn this proposed “devaluing” of the proud Corvette brand, hear me out. I think you’ll find the idea of a base Corvette extremely compelling; after witnessing the public reaction to the $60,000 mid-engine C8 Corvette, just imagine the frenzy that would accompany the reveal of a version that starts at a 25% discount.
So, we’ve got a 5.7L pushrod V8 with 400ish HP installed behind the cockpit of the C8 platform. Here, conveniently presented in bullet-point form, is how the rest of the base Corvette should/would be configured:
- The mythical clutch-by-wire 6-speed manual transmission as standard
- Optional 10-speed auto, leaving the expensive DCT as a Stingray (and higher) exclusive
- A unique front fascia and wheel options to differentiate from higher-end Corvettes
- A full-scale interior materials downgrade (saving weight and helping to reach cost targets)
- C6/C7 1LT levels of luxury
- Maybe even standard cloth seats
- All non-essential on-board technology (head-up display, OnStar with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Bose system, etc.) moved to optional tech pack(s).
- A loss of all non-federally mandated safety features (again saving weight, money, and aggravation)
- eLSD standard
- An optional Z51 handling package with a standalone option for Magnetic Ride Control
Chevrolet has repeatedly said that one of the core motives behind the C8’s revolutionary engine location change was a desire to attract younger buyers to the crossed flags. As a Millennial who happens to spend workdays with Gen Z high schoolers, I’d say that gaining the attention of the youths has been a raging success. Kids are talking about Corvettes again, just check YouTube, Instagram, etc. if you need proof. The problem is that even for the most successful members of the coveted 24 to 39 demographic, outside of the Kardashian/Jenners and the Facebook guy, $60k is a stretch for a second or third car.
A sparsely equipped 5.7L Corvette with Z51 and Mag-Ride at $50,000 though? That’s worth stretching the budget for! I’d be first in line and thousands of my compatriots would be hooked for life, just like most regular readers of this site were when they were young.
The addition of a $45,000 base Corvette to the lineup would bring back a lot of the value proposition that ‘Vettes of the past built their loyal following upon. In 1963, the legendary split-window coupe started at $4,252 or, just under 36,000 of today’s dollars (interestingly, the ‘63 convertible was even cheaper, at $4,037). Price creep through the ‘70s and ‘80s meant that by the time I was born and 1990 ‘Vettes were starting to reach dealerships at an MSRP of $31,979 ($37,264 for the drop-top!), the value proposition was nearly cut in half to a 2020 equivalent of $63,076. The Corvette team has done a commendable job at keeping the inflation-adjusted price near $60,000 in the ensuing 30 years but it is time to make America’s Sports Car accessible to America’s young people again.
All signs point to General Motors, once again, pulling the plug on the Camaro at the end of the current, sixth-generation model’s life cycle, in 2023. The absence of Chevy’s pony car leaves a sizeable gap below the Stingray’s $59,995 starting price that a new base Corvette could comfortably slide into, while also ridding showrooms of the awkward price overlap between top-tier Camaros and today’s “starter” ‘Vettes.
Our new Corvette lineup would start where the Camaro SS left off, at about $45,000. That’s where we find the 5.7L Corvette. After that everything will be pretty familiar; Stingray starting at $60ish thousand, a $75k Grand Sport, Z06 at $85-90 grand, and so on. (if you’re curious, we also have a candidate for the vacancy left by the sub-V8 Camaros that would round out the Chevrolet Performance portfolio).
Which brings us back to the devaluation argument. The official Corvette Blogger stance is that a base car would only add to the brand. There would be a larger community of owners and having a little brother would only pump up the image of the rest of the lineup. As capable as the 2020 Corvette is, the second a Z06 hits the market, it will start to suffer from the “every day ‘Vette” stigma. If our proposition were put into action, the Stingray would become the Denali to the 5.7’s Tahoe; not an Escalade, but still bringing more power, luxury, and panache of its own to the table.
If it is actually feasible to produce, an entry-level Corvette would work wonders for General Motors. It is quite simple to imagine such a car rivaling the ZR1 of just a decade ago in performance while also going toe-to-toe with the best selling sports coupe in the global marketplace. The Stingray has already proven that the public is hungry for mid-mounted V8 supercars, even if they don’t hail from Italy and cost a fortune. The new 350 could be Chevrolet’s high-volume, low(er) cost solution to letting more people than ever “live the dream.”
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