Chevrolet’s brawny plastic-bodied two-seater has long been a dream machine for countless enthusiasts. Today, that dream is more in reach than ever. The fourth generation or “C4” version of these cars are absolute steals on used-car lots.
These potent performers made their debut for 1984, replacing the soft, boulevardier 1968-82 “Shark” design. With vastly improved aerodynamics and extensive use of aluminum in its construction, the C4 was enormously more capable than its predecessor.
Throughout the C4’s long production run, practically every model year brought significant improvements, including revised suspension, higher-quality interiors, and new electronic performance aids. Horsepower for 1984 was a somewhat tame 205, but it went up by 25 hp the next year and continued to steadily climb. A convertible was introduced for 1986, and the following year horsepower reached 240.
For 1990, the C4 got a redesigned dashboard, followed a year later with an exterior facelift that included more rounded front- and rear-fascia styling. For 1992, horsepower jumped to 300. From 1990 to 1995, Chevrolet offered the limited-production ZR-1, which was powered by a 375-405hp Lotus-designed V8. Output of the regular small-block-V8 C4 peaked in 1996, at an optional 330hp.
With strong V8 power and exceptional handling, any C4 is a tremendously potent machine, even against some of today’s pricier new performance cars. Best of all, you can find loads of good C4s practically anywhere in the U.S. for less than $10,000.
When shopping for a C4, it’s best to look for as late a model as you can, to take advantage of the many refinements the design received over the years. The most desirable cars are the 1992 and later ones. Besides having considerably more power, their softer styling is less 1980s “high-tech” and thus doesn’t look as dated at this point.
Early C4 coupes (1984-91) show up by the truckload for less than eight grand, with a fair number of them listing for under $5000. But realistically, you should expect to pay $6000 or more for a decent one. Scrounge up at least another thousand or two on top of that if you have your heart set on a good 1992-96. As for ZR-1s, forget about ’em — they currently sell for about $25-$40k.
Convertibles command about a 30-percent premium over equivalent coupes, which basically puts the 1992-96 ragtops out of our $10k Budget-Speed cap. Earlier convertibles, however, are still within range.
So while the performance-car world is drooling over new C6s or shopping for used C5s, these cars’ fine predecessor is going for clearance-sale prices. And that’s great for you — a good used C4 can offer more thrills per dollar than most performance cars, making them well worth a look.
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About the Author
David Bellm is a seasoned test driver and automotive writer. His work has been featured in a wide variety of online and print publications.
Written by: David Bellm