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Thinking of buying a C4, just test drove one & have questions


New member
Aug 17, 2020
Chapel Hill, NC
Hi, new member here. I've always liked the look of late-model C4s and just test drove a 1996 Collector's Edition with 111k miles, LT4, 6-speed.

I love the design and the manual trans but had some serious concerns after the test drive. I'm used to smaller engines (V6s and turbocharged 4s) and have zero experience with Corvettes so I could really use some advice.

1) It made a lot of noise but felt much slower than I'd expect for 300+HP. Looking through the service records there were some receipts from about 10 years ago that showed zero compression on two cylinders and subsequent work on valve seats. Records also showed replacement of several synchros in the gearbox. Are these common problems? For a car with just over 100k miles this seems like a lot of work, and I've heard these V8 engines are supposed to be reliable.

2) Fit & finish just felt off in a lot of ways - the driver door wouldn't fully close unless slammed, the rear hatch would pop but wouldn't lift open, driver door panel was loose, interior trim panels didn't seem to fit right, the plastic trim on top of the transmission tunnel was sticky, the center storage compartment lid rubbed against the driver's seat when opening & closing, etc. I've heard older Corvettes had interior issues but these seem above and beyond squeaks & rattles. Are these problems considered typical?

3) The front end sits a couple of inches lower than the rear, which is visible in the photos. Looking at the shocks they were yellow Delcos - is that factory or has the car probably been lowered? Would it be expensive to return it to stock ride height?

4) Carfax shows no accident history but it does have 6 prior owners - is that a typical number of prior owners for a mid-90s C4?

Sorry if these concerns are ignorant or overblown, I really wanted to like this car but the way it felt during the drive was a far cry from what I was expecting and some advice would be greatly appreciated.
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Welcome to CAC! :w

First off Not sure exactly what you mean by "a lot of noise" What you have there is an LT4. Probably the best iteration of that era of engines. They are pretty spunky and underrated at 330hp. At 111k that engine should be pretty tight yet. Although not common, valve seat problems shouldn't be a deal killer. The ZF transmission is one tough trans. maybe a little more noisy compared to other transmissions.

Drivers door might just need adjusting. With 111k a hinge pin might be worn and needing replaced. Rear hatch is common problem and, I think, there is still a repair/fix for that. Fit and finish has been a complaint for a long time, especially with the 4th generation Corvette. The ''sticky' surface is probably the dulco (I believe that is what the rubberized material is called) is known to become sticky and many remove it completely and redo it. Again, with 111k the seat bolsters are probably breaking down and allowing that console cover to rub. New foam is available.

Front end might be lowered on that car. Transverse leaf srings (front and rear) and they are easily adjusted up or down...a little research on how that is done will yield the instructions how. Are you sure those are Delco? Yellow shocks could very well be Bilsteins.

A car that is 24 years old could easily have 6 owners... I was the forth owner of 007 (my current Corvette) and it was only 6 years old when I bought it.

In the end, if you don't feel right with the car, you probably shouldn't even consider it. My question is, Is this the first Corvette you've test driven? I'd say test drive several. I think you might be able to find a better price for a car you feel better about...or maybe, negotiate a better price on this one
Thanks for replying! By "noise" I meant the car generally seemed louder than it was fast, a lot of engine & road noise but no oomph. This is the first Corvette I've driven but compared to an E38 BMW (282HP 4.4L V8, 3,800lbs, automatic) it felt slower when it should have been a lot faster - it wasn't anywhere near the kick in the seat I was expecting when I floored it (and that was with traction control disabled). That makes me wonder if there's a problem with the motor along the same lines as the valve seat issue it had years ago that may be reducing compression. As for the gearbox it felt fine.

The shocks were definitely Delco, I saw the labels. Didn't realize the car has transverse leaf springs, reminds me of a first-gen Lumina I owned a while ago. Glad to hear the height is adjustable without swapping parts.

You're right, I should drive another C4 and compare. I want to find one that drives as good as it looks. This car had a stack of service records about a half-inch thick that indicated all kinds of work done, and in my experience the more a car has been futzed with the more it tends to have issues due to poor workmanship and cheap aftermarket replacement parts.

PS - One other thing I noticed was some subtle bubbling under the paint just behind the passenger door. The body is fiberglass and shouldn't be corroding, correct?
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Like Tom suggested,test drive a few.& Welcome !
Yup, SMC (Sheet Molded Composite) body panels. I would think bubbling, like you describe, indicates body damage and repair, and probably, not properly prepared surface.

I will tell you, that an LT4 will absolutely put you back in your seat when you put your foot in it, if it is running right. Even my 94, with the LT1 and auto would run like a bat out of hell when it had 120k on it. I think you might be better off passing that one by.
Probably used a paint stripper & some remained.
With due respect, I think your expectations for a 25-year old car with 111, 000 miles in it are way too high. You either need to get "real-world" with what you expect, or raise your budget and look for a car with less mileage and better condition.

As for the engine, the LT4 was the final production iteration of the "traditional" small-block V8. It was rated at 330-hp but, at this point in time, there is a vast body of evidence that it's performance was more like 360-hp. In a straight line, the car's performance was within a few tenths of the '93-'95 ZR1. Yes, the valve train of the LT4 was a bit noisy compared to the LT1 but the noise was not what I'd consider "excessive". You saw "work on valve seats" in the service records. What that a "valve job" or just a repair of the faces and seats for the cylinders which had zero compression. BTW, from your OP, sounds like that engine burned some valves. I think I'd require the owner to provide a compression test before I'd buy.

At 111K-mi, transmission work...the new synchros...doesn't surprise me, especially if the driver was abusive, lacked skills or the car had clutch problems which increased the load on the S6-40's synchronizer assemblies during shifts.

The interior of a 25-year old car which obviously was not cared-for properly is going to have the problems you discuss. The driver door not closing properly can like be repaired. The hatch not popping up is probably because the hatch lifts are shot.

As for trim height, it should sit level. If it's significantly lower in the front, it could have been lowered. Also, the front shocks might be worn out. Repair of that is possible. Contrary to information posted above the C4 trim height, especially in the front is not easily adjustable. It can be changed within a narrow range by adding sprint shims to the spring mounts. In other cases, some people permanently modify the spring. If that's been done, the spring has to be replaced and...they're getting hard to find.

If the car has had six owners, it's likely had poor maintenance. If the price is low and you consider it a "project car", you could eventually end-up with a nice C4.

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