Buying a Corvette

How many ‘vettes are there in your personal target group?

Thirty thousand? Fifty thousand?

GM have built around twenty to thirty thousand Corvettes most years of the car’s existence, so the target of ‘possibles’ should be quite high for any given year.

Or perhaps not.

Corvettes traditionally come with quite a lot of options, especially in the earlier years when some models had as many as four or five engine choices, gearbox options, rear-end ratios, suspensions etc.

This profligacy ended when the laws were changed to require all variants to be tested for safety, crash testing and fuel efficiency, which is why later models typically have less mechanical options. On top of these we have the various technology updates which on a  ‘vette tend to be a yearly cycle as well as interior and exterior trim and things like performance brakes or suspension.

One Corvette owner I met told me that ‘all Corvettes are rare’ and indeed that’s true. Compared to a typical saloon or minivan twenty or thirty thousand vehicles isn’t many. He then went on in great detail how his car was rare because GM had changed supplier mid-year and his shade of blue was slightly different to the one that replaced it.

In engineering circles this sort of thing happens all the time and is called a manufacturing or engineering tolerance. It’s nothing special, it just means that nothing is truly perfect or consistent.

On that basis, every Corvette (and in fact every single manufactured item on the planet!) will be unique and infinitely valuable. If GM changes supplier for 10mm bolts during a year and you get one of the cars with the lesser suppliers bolts does that mean you have a rare or valuable ‘vette?

A feature in ‘Corvette Fever’ recently featured a car they celebrated as unique, purely because the owner ordered a bunch of options that weren’t really standard and the engineers at the factory threw the car together haphazardly, often not even bothering to make the various options work correctly. Poor workmanship does not a valuable Corvette make…

In fact, if producing poor quality vehicles was the key to success, GM, Ford et al. would be kicking Toyota and Nissan’s collective arses.. instead of suffering from their customers walking away them in droves.

A significant number of ‘vette owners vastly over-rate their cars value, at least judging by the asking prices seen, and many don’t even know what they own. I’ve seen numerous ‘T-roof’ C4s (there were none ever built), ZR-1s with automatic transmissions (again none were built) and a host of others that are rare by distiction of being only one of ten thousand built that year with a red exterior.

This for example, labelled as a ZR-1. The engine is clearly not an LT-5. It claims to be a 412ci engine, which might be true, but it isn’t a ZR-1. Dressing up an L-98 base-engined car like a tart’s handbag doesn’t make it a ZR-1 😉

I hate negotiating a deal. To me something is either worth the asking price or it isn’t. If you’re trying to sell me something you are far better off quoting a fair price than adding on in the expectation that I’ll haggle you down.

The chances are I won’t even look your way if you overprice and if you mark something at a real rip-off price I won’t buy it even if you subsequently drop the price to something reasonable or even cheap – you’re already tagged as a rip-off merchant in my mind and my principles kick in.

What’s more, we all know the market value for things these days (or if you don’t, then you need to start using this thing called the internet for something more useful than reading my reading my immortal prose!). Everything is published online, somewhere, from used car values to what the neighbour really got for his house.

I often see rather ordinary ‘vettes at outrageous prices, so high that you have to wonder where the owners are coming from. Often the strategy seems to be wildly over-optimistic to put it mildly and I often wonder whether the sellers ever achieve these inflated demands or whether they eventually rein back on their hallucinogenic inspired prices.

Interestingly too, I seem to notice this more in ‘vette prices here in Canada than I do in ads ‘South of the Border’. Okay, so Corvettes are less common here (so are buyers!) than in the US, but not that rare, and heads up guys, it’s not exactly hard to find a likely vehicle, hop over the border and drive it back…

A recent example comes to mind – a ’90 ZR-1 advertised at $35k US. KBB price lists this as being worth around $20k, if the car is absolutely flawless!

Fifteen grand is a hell of a ‘maple leaf markup’!

I’ve been looking at a ZR-1 for a few weeks now, exchanging emails and phone calls with the owner. So far it looks like it might be a ‘go’. The photos of the car look okay – not stunning – but okay.

There is a little surface rust underneath (C.V. joints etc.) and it definitely shows signs of being ‘driven’. That’s okay though, I intend driving it too and as long as you’re aware of any possible problems it’s no big deal.

I have to say that the people on the ZR-1 forum have been invaluable in looking at the pictures with a more clinical and knowledgeable eye. It certainly has helped immensely getting their feedback.

The next stage is to go and look at the car to see if it’s as good ‘in the flesh’ as it is in the photos. The owner is in Wisconsin and I’m in Northern Ontario, so it’s around a 2000km round trip in deteriorating weather conditions – not ideal circumstances, but worth it to potentially get a ZR-1.

The vehicle I am looking at is a ’92, so one of only five hundred and two made. It has a black exterior and interior, which isn’t my favourite colour but that’s okay too – Dark Red Metallic (my favourite) are so rare that I don’t really have much chance of getting one, so a respray will be in order.

The owner has it advertised at $28k US and describes it as in ‘excellent’ condition, an assessment which the photos don’t really hold up. I’d judge it to be ‘fair’ to ‘good’ based on the guides on KBB. This gives it a value of between $22k and $24k – just inside my budget.

Although it’s looking good, the one thing I won’t do is get pulled in to a bad deal. I’d rather walk away and put the trip down to experience. That said the opportunity is there and looks good so far.

There’s a ZR-1 for sale on ZR1.NET. My favourite year/colour – ’95 Dark Red Metallic. It has a beige/saddle interior which I’m not keen on, but I’d still take it!

Sadly it’s $48k US, which translates to almost $60k CAN and far beynd my budget. Yes I’m searching for a ZR-1 but that doesn’t mean I’m made of money or won the lottery.

At the moment I can go up to about $25k US, which buys several ’90/91sand a couple of ’92s that I know of. There were a couple of ’94s that I would have jumped at, but I wasn’t able to move fast enough financially. A ’94 for $25k is a bargain.

By Spring my budget should be up around $30k US which brings more cars in to play – it’s always hard when you have a tight budget. There is always the thought lingering at the back of your mind that you have to get the absolute best deal for your money. The problem is that sometimes that makes you hesitate and end up losing out on what would have been a good deal.

It’s very hard being in this position. On the one hand, I could never have afforded to think about getting my dream car in England where I grew up, but here in Canada it is actually doable. On the other hand, when you see something you tend to jump for joy and start making all sorts of plans, then the doubt demons jump up and you start ‘what-if’-ing yourself out of things because of fear.

I’m fighting hard against it.

I’m looking to buy a Corvette ZR-1. These are pretty rare as ‘vettes go (and even a ‘regular’ Corvette is rather rare by typical domestic car production numbers) and to be honest it’s rather a scary proposition.

On the one hand, we can afford the payments no problem and I have the full support of Hil, my fiance. On the other, we’re talking about spending 30-40 thousand dollars (Canadian) on what is essentially a ‘toy’. And not only that but one that we can only really use 7 or 8 months of the year here in Northern Ontario.

That’s a lot of money. In fact a significant percentage of what we paid for our house!

Hil is all for it and 100% behind me. She knows just how long I have dreamed of this and how much I want it. In fact she probably pushes me more to get one than I do myself, because I always feel ‘guilty or something.

Still, it worries me and all of those ‘doubt demons’ start jumping around inside my head, bouncing the the “what if’s” around in the space between my hairy ears.

I talk to Hil about it over and over. She must think I am a complete pain in the arse sometimes. She always soothes my troubled thoughts though and reassures me that it’s okay to go ahead.


The search for a Corvette can be a long and complex journey. The road to ‘vette ownership rarely seems to run straight, and although ‘vette owners generally like a few curves ( in all senses :-) ), perhaps in this instance the enjoyment breaks down a little.

This goes double if your goal is a slightly unusual ‘vette or, as in my case, you’re looking for a rare edition like the ZR-1.

There are basically three main sources to check when it comes to acquiring a car – dealers, private sales (through ads or enthusiast clubs) and auction houses – some of which specialise in Corvettes.

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