Home » This Gives Me An Idea: 1985 Chevy Corvette vs 1988 Chevy Corvette

This Gives Me An Idea: 1985 Chevy Corvette vs 1988 Chevy Corvette

Sbsd 6 14 2024
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Good morning! It’s Friday, and today we’re going to do something just a little bit silly, inspired by my observations of cars on the road during my first week here in Maryland. We’re looking at two examples of almost the same car, but there’s a reason for it. Just bear with me for a minute.

I had a feeling that yesterday’s love-it-or-hate-it Civic was going to have more detractors than admirers. That’s fine – those of us who like it just won’t let you borrow it. So there. The purple Miata won the day handily. I’m still not sure it’s always the answer, but it’s not a bad choice at all.

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But I’ve already done the scruffy Miata thing. I have no desire to do it again. If I ever went looking for another NA Miata, it would be a nice clean example, preferably an LE in black with a red interior. And although a lot of you panned the Civic as a “kid’s car,” I’m on the far side of 50, and I feel no need to care what other people think of what I drive. I want something I can find in a parking lot.

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As a car guy, I can’t help noticing what vehicles are around me in traffic, or parked in the driveways I pass, and I’m sure most of you are the same. In my first week here on the eastern shore of Maryland, one car has jumped out at me, over and over again: the Chevy Corvette, particularly the late C3 and early C4 generations. I’ve seen half a dozen or more on the road just in the past week, and one guy near me has both a C3 and a C4 parked in his driveway.

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But what I don’t see are very many Corvettes for sale around here. And that gave me an idea: What if one were to, say, buy nice-ish but cheap Corvettes out West, drive them across the country, and sell them at a profit to Vette-starved Marylanders? So I found two likely candidates, both C4s, one coupe with a 4+3 and one convertible with an automatic. Let’s see which one you think would be a bigger hit on the East Coast.

1985 Chevrolet Corvette – $5,000

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Engine/drivetrain: 5.7 liter overhead valve V8, four-speed manual with overdrive, RWD

Location: Santa Barbara, CA

Odometer reading: 163,000 miles

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Operational status: Runs and drives great, driven almost daily

The early C4 is the car that pops into my head when someone says “Corvette.” I suppose it’s that thing where whatever is new and exciting during your formative years remains your favorite no matter how old you get. I know this isn’t the best Corvette – though it’s far from the worst – but it’s always going to be my favorite.

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I’ve actually driven a car almost identical to this: white, with the Doug Nash 4+3 manual in it. It felt like a rocketship at the time, though I know my current Chrysler 300 could blow its fiberglass-clad doors clean off. Corvettes aren’t really about ultimate performance, though; it’s feeling fast that counts. You sit low in this car, and that hood seems impossibly long, and the squeaks and rattles and shakes over bumps make it feel almost alive, somehow, and a little bit dangerous.

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Being a 1985 model, this Corvette benefits from an L98 multi-port fuel injected version of the standard 350 V8, putting out 230 horsepower. It runs well, the seller says, and they drive it “almost daily.” I guess that explains the odometer reading. High-mileage Corvettes aren’t common, which is a shame, because they’re meant to be driven. This one has a new starter, and just passed a smog inspection, which suggests that the engine is indeed healthy.

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It looks clean and well cared-for, too. C4s often end up with trashed interiors, but this one looks nice inside. The seller says it could use a repaint, but that’s kind of the beauty of white cars; they look presentable even when the paint isn’t in great shape.

1988 Chevrolet Corvette convertible – $3,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 5.7 liter overhead valve V8, four-speed automatic, RWD

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Location: Las Vegas, NV

Odometer reading: 90,000 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives well

For the first couple of years, the C4 was only available as a coupe with a removable targa roof. It allowed the sunshine and fresh air in, but it was no substitute for a real convertible, which finally returned to the Corvette lineup in 1986 after eleven long years. The C4 makes for a handsome convertible with the top down, but you’ll have to take my word for it, because this seller only posted photos of it with the top up (who does that?).

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This one has a TH700R4 overdrive automatic transmission instead of the 4+3 manual. I’ve driven an automatic C4 as well, and honestly, I could go either way on the transmission. The manual is fun, but the automatic feels more at home. But I feel the same way about Camaros and Firebirds, too. GM just does automatics I like, I guess. This car runs and drives well, and has “lots of new parts,” but that’s about all the information we get.

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It looks like it’s in acceptable condition, if a little bit rougher than the coupe, particularly inside. I quite like the stripes on this one. I’m getting a model kit vibe from it, and that’s not a bad thing, though I never was any good at applying those water-slide decals. I always tore them.

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I’m not as fond of the aftermarket wheels. I don’t like black wheels in general, and these look particularly cheap and tacky, though I know they were probably pretty expensive. Ah well, I suppose you can’t see them from the driver’s seat.

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Now, I’m not saying that I’m going to fly back to California and buy one of these two to road-trip back here and sell. I’ve had my fill of cross-country drives for a while. I’m just saying someone could do so, if they were so inclined, and I bet either one of these cars would sell for close to double the purchase price around here. And if not, well, you’ve still got a Corvette to tool around in. Which one is your choice?

(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Ricardo
Ricardo
26 days ago

Am I the only one who think that the convertible roof seals would be toast?

Coupe all day for me.

Jon S
Jon S
27 days ago

The coupe is the easy pick here. I’m not a fan of most convertibles unless they’re designed as one from conception.

Phil Layshio
Phil Layshio
28 days ago

The automatic is unfortunate but, convertible. Wheels are easy to change. And it’s not like it’s hard to find parts for Corvettes.

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
28 days ago

Definitely the 85 Vette…it’s a stick, in better shape, and just looks better

Anonymous Person
Anonymous Person
28 days ago

It runs well, the seller says, and they drive it “almost daily.” I guess that explains the odometer reading. High-mileage Corvettes aren’t common, which is a shame, because they’re meant to be driven.

High-mileage?

For an ’85?

163,000 ÷ 39+ years old = a little over 4,000 miles a year.

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
28 days ago

Fuck Doug Nash LOL

didn’t that transmission suck?

JDE
JDE
28 days ago
Reply to  Dogisbadob

the Basic 4 speed part is fine, the Electrically engaged OD portion is sometimes finicky. but not terribly difficult to sort. I would take a manual vette over even the pretty reliable 700R4 auto any day though.

Soasas
Soasas
28 days ago
Reply to  Dogisbadob

At one point there was an issue with 4+3 parts being unobtanium. Hopefully resolved. Love the tilt clip.

Mike F.
Mike F.
28 days ago

Not a fan of either type of Corvette, but if forced to choose then I’ll take the ’85. We don’t get all that much convertible weather around here (it’s either too hot or too cold or too rainy), so that part’s not a draw. And manual always wins over automatic.

Michael Wierzbicki
Michael Wierzbicki
28 days ago

The manual is an objectively better car, but as a recent seller of a 6M Z51 ’89 C4 there are exactly two camps of C4 buyers. The first wants an absolutely pristine unit and will talk about C4s as if they were true exotics. Neither car meets the “niceness” levels required a so that’s not your target audience. The other is newly divorced midlife crisis man with caviar taste on a ramen budget. They want to invest nothing to make it better but they want to feel like the first group. That gives the vert the upper hand.

Piston Slap Yo Mama
Piston Slap Yo Mama
28 days ago

I, too, had a 6-speed manual ’90 Corvette and absolutely loved it. It’s the best bang for the buck I can think of, though I did regret that it was a convertible: there was no real trunk to speak of.
https://imgur.com/gallery/6-speed-convertible-90-corvette-is-radwood-approved-jsp9emv

Last edited 28 days ago by Piston Slap Yo Mama
Jimmy7
Jimmy7
28 days ago

We once had a family scheme to buy European cars in Pittsburgh where they were cheap and drive them to L.A. to sell. We spent a lot of time in St. Louis and Albuquerque waiting for parts. This might work with Chevys. Good luck.

Pneumatic Tool
Pneumatic Tool
28 days ago

I woud love to own that ’85.
That is all.

Daniel MacDonald
Daniel MacDonald
28 days ago

Definitely the ’85 coupe with the manual, that ’88 needs to go to the junkyard in the sky at this point. I had an ’88 TransAm with the L98 350 and 700r4 and I’m sorry the 700r4 neuters that engine’s already barely adequate power, and it’s a weak POS to boot, mine lost 3rd and 4th gear out of the blue with only 105K on the clock. And I know a couple other people who had 700r4s crap out with relatively low mileage.

I’ve always wondered if I would’ve kept that car longer if it was a stick (i know, it was never offered with the 5.7). Also unless you have a garage and love a ragtop who wants to deal with the extra maintenance and the even weaker creakier structure-which based on reviews and assuming it was like a slightly better version of my firebird it would be really bad even by the standards of the time.

Cerberus
Cerberus
28 days ago

It’s funny that the story I remember is that they didn’t sell the 350 with the manual because it couldn’t handle it. Damn, at least it would have been more fun. Friend of mine had a Formula 350 swapped to a manual. Don’t know which transmission as I think he bought it that way, but that was a great car. Nice blue color, too. If they were more my thing, I would have bought one years ago when they were dirt cheap and done the swap. I guess at this point, might as well go LS, though.

Daniel MacDonald
Daniel MacDonald
25 days ago
Reply to  Cerberus

Probably true-I thought about trying to manual swap mine and everyone said the T5 transmission it came with was really weak. Otoh the mustang used the same transmission in the 302 fox bodies-they did have less torque though so who knows. F bodies tend to get abused pretty badly so it’s possible for a caring enthusiast the t5 is no problem. And yeah at this point the move is totally an LS, even a 5.3 truck LS would be a huge upgrade over the L98 and if you can get an LS1, LS2, etc with a T56 you have a geniunely fast car that has a cool unique look and surprisingly good handling, though 0 steering feel.

Cerberus
Cerberus
25 days ago

Mustangs were several hundred pounds lighter, so maybe that made enough difference with the transmission? Or if they had a shorter a rear end, that would put less internal stress on it. Or Ford just had lower standards for durability!

Cerberus
Cerberus
28 days ago

Super easy vote for the coupe: little interest in full convertibles (plus the coupe is a targa, which I do like), coupe is a manual, seats are better, and the higher mileage, good condition, and originality all point to a good driver that was cared for. I’ll take that over an extremely low mileage old car nearly every time.

Bomber
Bomber
28 days ago

As someone who LOVES Corvettes, these are both pretty sad examples. The 85 because it’s an 85. The 88 because of what has been done to it. It’s been neglected and those wheels are hideous. With a gun to my head I’ll go 85. At least it looks like it hasn’t lived in swamp despite being used “more”.

Dr Buford
Dr Buford
28 days ago

High mileage corvettes are *incredibly* common – a quick cL dig this morning shows over a dozen with 100,000 miles. Sure, a lotta old farts tool them around and polish them with cloth diapers but many go on to live successful lives with second (fifth) cheap bastard owners like me :).

.

IanGTCS
IanGTCS
28 days ago

As a bald man convertibles are never the answer for me.

Also those wheels make it look like the car has been lifted.

Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
28 days ago
Reply to  IanGTCS

They really are awful wheels aren’t they?

DaChicken
DaChicken
28 days ago

I’ll take the 85 coupe. I prefer manuals over the auto. It also looks better maintained. The 4+3 gets a lot of hate but it’s really a decent transmission. Takes some getting used to, though.

Clear_prop
Clear_prop
28 days ago

I’ll take the white Vette.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
28 days ago

4+3 Corvette for me as well. It also looks like it’s in better condition. And I prefer coupes over convertibles.

Last edited 28 days ago by Manwich Sandwich
Ecsta C3PO
Ecsta C3PO
28 days ago

Agree. They’re both going to leak, whether it’s from the T tops or vinyl roof, but new seals are much cheaper than a new top

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