The Top Ten Under-Appreciated Corvettes, and Under-Valued Corvettes to Buy
Best Corvette to buy on a Budget
Are you looking to buy a Corvette on a budget? The 2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 has a starting price of $106,395 but let’s face it, that isn’t in everyone’s budget. Check out K. Scott Teeters’s article on the top ten under-appreciated, under-valued Corvettes to buy in his article on Which are the Best Used Corvettes to Buy.
Find out the Best Corvette used Corvettes to Buy under $10,000, the Best Corvette under $15,000, and the Best Corvette under 30K. You can buy a Corvette on any budget that is under-appreciated and undervalued! While you are here, check out our Corvettes for Sale classified ads and find a used Corvette for sale by the owner.
If you follow the unfolding saga of Chevrolet’s latest, greatest wonder Corvette, the 2023 Z06, the prices are eye-popping! It’s very easy, after adding the top-level interior and extra goodies, to be looking at a $130,000-plus on the new Corvettes.
Yes, it’s a bargain compared to some of the offerings from Porsche that are close to and above $200,000, but still! And then there are all the supply-chain issues and production stoppages, plus the Gas Guzzler Tax. It can make your head spin! But let’s all take a breath… and look at a longer perspective.
With a history as rich and deep as the Corvette’s, there are lots of hidden gems if maximum horsepower isn’t your only criterion. So, let’s have a look at my personal list of the “Top 10 Most Under-Appreciated, Under-Valued Corvettes” available right now! You do not need mega-bucks to be in the Corvette community. Really!
To make Corvette ownership easily affordable, you have to loosen the criteria of “low mileage” Corvettes. “Low Mileage” is the latest data point trend in recent years. This is based on the notion that if, say, a 30-plus-year-old (a 1992 Corvette) has “low mileage,” it’s a “better buy.” Maybe, maybe not!
Cars are “machines,” and they work best when they are used frequently, like muscles. So, it would be best to consider a few things when seeing a 30-year-old Corvette with very low mileage.
First, the mileage might not be correct. Odometers CAN be rolled back. Then there’s this. If a 30-year car has very low miles on the odometer, it wasn’t driven very much, which means it sat for long periods. Old cars DON’T like that!
Raw steel surfaces begin to rust, oil gets not-so-oily, and gasoline starts forming lacquer that can seriously muck up a fuel system. Ten years of “just sitting” can turn a once-performance Corvette into a problem Corvette.
So, be very careful about the “allure” (think “fishing lures) of the “low-mileage” Corvette. If you are looking to get into an older, classic-type Corvette without the nose-bleed prices, look for “drivers.” Corvettes that might be a wee bit tired but driven regularly.
So, having outlined all that, if you are looking for a “driver” Corvette, and don’t want to pay high prices, consider these hidden Corvette gems in chronological order. That is, in my humble opinion!
Table of Content: The Best 10 Affordable Budget-Friendly Corvettes
- 1962-1965 L75 327/300
- 1969 L46 350/350
- 1980-1981 Corvette
- 1988-1989 Corvette Challenge Cars
- 1985-1991 L98 Corvettes
- 1982, 1988, and 1993 Special Edition Corvettes
- 1996 LT4-Optioned Chevy Corvette
- 1997-2000 Corvettes
- 1999-2000 Hardtop Corvettes
- 2001-2004 Z06 Corvette
1. 1962-1965 L75 327/300
Back in the day, Corvettes could be anything from very mild to wild. The base engine for the 1962-to-1965 was the 250-horse 327. If you ordered one with the 2-speed Powerglide transmission, it was a nice secretary Vette.
Next up was the $53, 327/300 option. But here’s the secret. The engine had 350 LB/FT of torque at 2800 rpm. The mighty L84 375-HP Fuelie that cost $538 had 352 LB/FT of torque! This means that the lesser 327’s pulling power (torque, that “other” horsepower) was only eight ticks LESS than the Fuelie! Optioned with a four-speed gearbox, the 327/300 was a true sleeper Vette.
1962-to-1965 Fuelies are great, but today they come at a steep premium. If a mid-year Sting Ray is your passion, do not overlook the L75 327/300 Corvette. If such a driver Sting Ray, because of its lack of pedigree status, no one will mind if you do some period-correct modifications. With headers, low restriction exhaust, some intake work, hotter ignition, more curve on the distributor, and a few other street tricks – you’ll have yourself a surprisingly stout driver.
2. 1969 L46 350/350
The C3 1969 Corvette with the L46 350/350 option was $131 extra. Oddly, the slightly larger 350/350-horsepower engine has 2-ticks less torque than the 1963-1965 L75 327 for only an additional $131. Plus, at 3,245 pounds, the 1969 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray was the second-lightest C3 ever made. On the sex-appeal side, only big-block Corvettes got the big, sexy hood bulge. However, with an L46 350/350 ’69 Corvette and a little tweaking, as outlined for the 327/300 L75, you could easily have a sleeper Vette. And you can do most of the work yourself!
Early C3 427s and LT1 Corvettes get all the attention these days as the “must-have” Vettes. But we’re looking at “affordable” driver Corvettes here. The classic, chrome-bumper Mako Shark-themed Corvette is still highly desired. Having one need not be crazy expensive.
3. 1980-1981 Corvettes
Corvette engineers put the car on a crash diet when, from 1975-to-1979, the cars bloated up to over 3,500 pounds, thanks to government safety and emissions regulations. 1980/1981 was the lightest Corvette since 1972, weighing in at 3,336 and 3,307, respectively. Unfortunately, in the classic sense, the 1980-1981 engines were hobbled.
The cars look a little different with re-styled front and rear bumper covers, and owners appreciated the opened-up rear glass fastback that came out in 1978. The suspension and brakes are basically the same as the early beast Vettes. The cars just need more grunt.
The 1980 $595 “performance” L82 came with 230 horsepower and 275 LB/FT of torque. Out of 40,614 Corvette sold that year, only 5,069 had the L82. So, most likely, a driver 1980 Corvette you’ll find will have the 190-horsepower base engine with 280 LB/FT of torque. Then there are the hopeless 305/180-horsepower “California” Corvettes. Don’t even try to goose one of these passenger car engines. Another thing about the 1980 Corvettes is that they are all automatic transmission cars.
1981 Corvettes only had the base engine, 350/190-horsepower with 280 LB/FT of torque, but the car could be ordered with a four-speed transmission. Of the 40,606 1981 Corvettes, only 5,757 had the four-speed manual gearbox. Both cars can be nice drivers, just don’t expect them to be pavement-pounders.
But forty years later, there’s nothing stopping anyone from ditching those choked old small blocks and dropping in a beefy 383 stroker crate engine from the Chevrolet Performance Parts Catalog. Then, suddenly, it’s 1969!
4. 1988-1989 Corvette Challenge Cars
At the C8 Z06 Michelin Corvette Bash at the National Corvette Museum in May of 2022, Corvette product planners clearly explained what the C8 Z06 is; they said, “This is a race car you can drive on the street!” But truth be told, this is not the first time Chevrolet sold Corvette “race cars that could be driven on the street.”
From 1985 to 1987, L98 Corvettes won every race in the SCCA Showroom Stock Series and were unceremoniously kicked out! Yes, kicked out for being too fast! Chevrolet sponsored the Corvette Challenge Series and made available specially optioned 1988 and 1989 Corvettes with balanced-and-blueprinted L98 engines, all dynoed and certified with the same horsepower.
These were assembly-line-built cars that were then taken to outside vendor shops to be retrofitted with full roll-cages, lightweight Dymag wheels, and various other racing equipment. The completed cars were then sold to privateers for around $30,000 on top of the price of the car. (We will soon be running a feature story about Dan Barr’s Corvette Challenge car in Vette Vues Magazine.) But the kicker is that they were totally street legal.
Challenge Corvettes didn’t have much power, perhaps slightly more than the advertised 245-horsepower. But anyone that ever drove or owned one can tell you that they are hot, dirty, rough, harsh, smelly race cars. After the two-year series was over, the cars were sold off and pretty much forgotten, especially as newer Corvettes only got better and better.
For decades, these cars could be bought for cheap, but prices are starting to go up. In May 2022, at the Mecum Indy Auction, the Hutchings Chevrolet of Alaska Corvette Challenge car sold for $39,600. While at the high-end of the price scale, these are unique Corvettes with only 116 Challenge cars made. And they are street legal!
5. 1985-1991 L98 Corvettes
Because C4 Corvettes, in general, are at the bottom of the Corvette pecking order, and there are so many of them (just over 204,400 L98 cars), the first wave of C4 Corvettes can be seriously inexpensive; in the $5,000-to-$6,000 range.
Many are seriously abused or neglected, but then many were driven and enjoyed, but not flogged. Dave McLellan and then Dave Hill’s engineering teams did such a great job of honing and improving the cars over the thirteen-year production run that it is easy to forget that when the L98 1985 model came out, Car and Driver pronounced the Corvette as “The Fastest Car in America” capable of 150-mph!
The Corvette community lionizes the classic small-block Chevy engine; it’s important to remember that the 350 L98 is just a classic SBC with a pretty good electronic fuel-injection system. It means you can get into the Corvette community without spending big bucks.
These cars are easy to upgrade visually under the clamshell hood. I’ve seen many examples of early C4s that have been lowered, have larger diameter wheels, some aero parts, etc., that look quite modern. And regardless of the C4’s low status, it’s still a “Vette”!
6. 1982, 1988, and 1993 Special Edition Corvettes
The common denominator of all three of these Corvettes is that they are all very, very nice cars. Each was premium-priced Corvettes for that year. They were chock-full of goodies and creature comforts, but none had any performance enhancements; then factor in their late C3 and C4 status, and many go ignored.
The 1982 Collector Edition was the sendoff for the Shark C3. Not only did the car have every option available, but it also had dedicated paint and 1963-1967 knock-off-style 15×8 wheels, elaborate pinstriping and decals, and a rear hatch window. These unique features were only available on the Collector Edition package.
By the end of the year, 6,759 cars were sold with a premium of $4,247 on top of the $18,290 base price tag. The C4 made such a big splash that the 1982 Collector Edition Corvettes were quickly forgotten.
When the 1978 Indy 500 Pace Car came out as a celebration of Corvette’s 25th anniversary, the car created an unbelievable uproar and insane speculation. Chevy skipped Corvette’s 30th anniversary because there were no production Corvettes in 1983.
To celebrate Corvette’s 35th anniversary, a very special package was offered. White was chosen as a nod to the 1953 Corvettes. The car’s white painted wheels, black B-pillar, transparent black roof panel, and white leather interior trim made the car so distinctive.
As with previous special edition Corvettes, the engine was stock. The price was steep, $4,795, on top of the $29,489 base price. Only 2,050 35th Anniversary Corvettes were built, making them somewhat collectible. Prices for clean versions are drifting up, but as with almost all C4s, you can get one for not a lot, relatively speaking.
The 1993 40th Anniversary Edition was similar to the 35th Anniversary Edition in that it was loaded with options, including dedicated “Ruby Red” metallic paint. The specially optioned Vette was reasonably priced at $1,455, and Chevrolet sold 6,749 40th Anniversary Corvettes. At least the 1993 40th Anniversary Corvette had the new and improved 300-horsepower 350 LT1 engine that can be messaged to coax some more horsepower. Prices for these cars are all over the map, depending on condition and mileage. Generally, these cars are just nice drivers.
7. 1996 LT4-Optioned Chevy Corvette
If C4s are your thing, a 1996 LT4-optioned Corvette is what you want. The 330-horsepower LT4 was the end-of-the-road for the classic high-performance small-block Chevy production engine; the LT4 was standard in the top-of-the-line Grand Sport but was a $1,450 option on any regular ’96 Corvette!
But here’s the secret. Scuttlebutt has it that the 330-horsepower rating on the LT4 was bogus. It was more like 370 horsepower! The all-new LS1 was waiting in the wings, and Chevrolet didn’t want their all-new, modern engine showing LESS power on paper than the last of Chevy’s old engine. By the end of the 1996 production run, 6,359 Corvette customers wisely checked off that “LT4” option box and got themselves a real sleeper fourth-generation Corvette. But here’s another consideration.
1971 was the last year that General Motors measured engine horsepower as “gross” horsepower. Beginning in 1972, engines were measured as “net” horsepower. “Gross” was the engine’s power without any energy-robbing accessories and using cold air and long-tube headers. “Gross” factored in a fan, water pump, alternator, under-the-hood hot air, and a real exhaust system.
The 1971 LT1’s “gross” rating was 330-hp. In 1972 the same LT1’s “net” rating was 255-hp, an apparent 75-horsepower drop, but attributed to the difference in measurement parameters. So, what would be the “gross” rating of the C4’s 330-hp LT4? Somewhere around 427-horsepower, IF the 330-hp was correct, or 478-hp if the rumored 370-hp was correct! The classic SBC was never so good! That’s why you should look for an LT4 for your ’96 Corvette.
The LT4 option could be ordered on any 1996 Corvette Coupe or Convertible. The 1996 Grand Sport is the obvious Top Shelf last-of-the-C4 Corvettes. But if you search diligently, you can find a regular ’96 Corvette with the same engine used in the Grand Sport.
According to CorvetteMaster.com, of the 5,412 Collector Edition Corvettes (coupes and convertibles), 2,009 had the LT4 engine, plus 1,000 Grand Sports that had the LT4, which accounts for 3,009 of the 6,359 LT4 1996 Corvettes, leaving 2,350 non-Special Edition ’96 Corvettes with the bad-boy LT4.
But you must love rowing and banging gears, as the LT4 was only available with the manual 6-speed transmission. So, when looking for an LT4-powered ’96 Corvette, expect to pay a little more, but only if the seller knows what they have. I’m sure most do.
8. 1997-2000 Corvettes
The all-new LS1 base engine was rated at 345 horsepower, but when locked into the C5’s vastly improved structure, it did everything better. And it didn’t take long for buyers to discover that the all-new engine had LOTS of red meat that was not hard to extract from the LS1.
The C5 sports car was a great platform and indeed revolutionary, and the newer cars just kept getting better and better. But that doesn’t mean the early C5s are bad, far from it. While prices are drifting up, they are still bargain performance cars. They respond very well to performance enhancements, are comfortable cruisers, and can get over thirty miles per gallon, thanks to the wonderful transaxle with two overdrive gears.
Chris Draper chronicled the rebuild of his 1998 Corvette on his “My Corvette Life” YouTube Channel a few years ago. We published Chris’ story in the September 2018 issue of Vette Vues. Chris bought a very dirty but mechanically sound 1998 Coupe with 110,000 miles for $7,750!
The car came with a performance cam and long-tube headers. Just for fun and to feed his YouTube Channel with material, Chris has completely rebuilt the car and paid for most of the parts and things he couldn’t do in his home garage with what he made from his channel. Today, the car is pretty much done, packs as much power as a C6 Z06, and is beautiful! These cars have tremendous potential.
9. 1999-2000 Hardtop Corvettes
These cars have all the pluses of the before-mentioned C5, plus an overall stiffer, more rigid structure. This is thanks to the bonded and bolted-on hardtop roof. Hardtop C5 Corvettes also have the status of being the platform that was used to create the Z06 Corvette.
Everything previously mentioned about early C5s can be done with these Corvettes. 1999-2000 Hardtops (also known as “FRC,” Fixed Roof Coupe) carry a slight premium over the regular 1999-2000 Corvettes. And there aren’t as many of them. Only 6,121 in total; 4,031 in 1999 and 2,090 in 2000.
Earlier in the 1990s, when the C5 was being planned, management thought a lesser-expensive, stripped version could be offered. Insiders called it the “Billy Bob” version. But it turned out there wasn’t a cheaper LS engine or transaxle to use or lesser-expensive components to be substituted. No one liked the proposed Billy Bob Corvette. As it turned out, the “cheaper” Hardtop was priced at $38,777, just $394 less than the base model coupe. So much for the Stripo Corvette idea.
10. 2001-2004 Z06 Corvettes
Think “C4 ZR-1” performance, costing $47,500, instead of $68,043! The C5 Z06 was designed to be the near “track-ready” or bad-ass street Vette that Corvette performance-hounds had been lusting for decades. Goodies included the 385-horsepower (2001) and 405-horsepower 2002-2004 LS6 engine, improved brakes, suspension, tires, dedicated wider wheels, and distinctive side rear, functional brake cooling scoops.
While on the higher scale of our under-appreciated, under-valued Corvette list, C5 Z06 Corvettes can be purchased for around $25,000! Most likely, these cars have been driven hard to very hard, not unlike the big-block Corvettes from ages ago. You will not find a “cheap” C5 Z06 unless it has hundreds of thousands of miles on the odometer and has been completely trashed, bashed, and smashed!
But, like all LS Corvette engines, more can be squeezed from these beautiful LS6 engines. The LS6 is essentially a hot-rodded-up version of the LS1. But wait, there’s more! Improve the intake and exhaust, install a stiffer cam, and a few other goodies, and you can blow past the C6 Z06 505-horsepower level.
Perhaps lower the car some, and you don’t need to do much more than a front splitter and rear spoiler. So, the basic look of the C5 Z06 is already serious looking. Maybe machine-faced wheels and hood vents if you don’t mind cutting up your Z06. A tricked-out C5 Z06 can be a real head-turner!
Corvette is arguably the ultimate Detroit Cinderella success story. The car’s performance has ebbed and flowed up and down over the decades and has been on the chopping block many times. But like Star Trek, it’s a survivor! And with 70 years of cars to pick and choose from, it’s never been better pick’ns for under-appreciated, under-valued Corvettes!
So, with some careful searching and some, okay, maybe a lot, of elbow-grease, you can join the Corvette community with a ride you will be happy with and proud of for a fraction of the cost of a new C8 Corvette!
Graphic Layouts: K. Scott Teeters
This article is meant to help you find the best Corvette to buy in 2022. We learned some low-cost Corvettes are underappreciated, undervalued, and affordable for any budget, but prices are on the rise.
Are you aware that older Corvettes are appreciating in value quickly since the demand for used cars is so high?
Supply-chain problems, chip shortages, and a spike in demand due to the effects of a pandemic have made it much more difficult for customers to find a new car in the time period they wanted to. As a result, many are turning to the used car market, where used cars often sell for more than new ones. For those who don’t need that second or first car, it’s been a boon.
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