No one speaks much about the C4 Corvette these days.
It captivated a nation weary from Jimmy Carter, gas shortages and 14 years of a C3 Corvette that hardly changed. It was a tough act to follow Zora Arkus-Duntov and the brushstrokes of Harley Earl, Larry Shinoda and Bill Mitchell, but Dave McLellan, Jerry Palmer and the C4 proved more than able to take the torch.
High-tech hardware we now take for granted like the C4’s drivable chassis, ABS, traction control, adjustable suspension, and 32-valve motors, all debuted on the 4th Gen Corvette over it’s lifespan.
Many of these breakthroughs weren’t just big news for GM but for the global auto industry as well. With Dave McLellan pulling levers from behind the corporate curtain, the C4 was massaged into a track terror and was the benchmark to beat in SCCA motorsports for years. One only has to look through the C4’s “scrapbook,” via an internet search, for proof of the glorious heights the model achieved.
Success can sometimes create problems–see the laundry list of troubled celebrities that have died this year–and with the big buzz the C4 generated, GM cranked up Bowling Green and pumped out more than 300,000 Corvettes from 1984 to 1996. This factor more than anything else, has contributed to diminished values and the somewhat tarnished image C4 is saddled with these days.
To make matters worse, the former belle of the ball was worked hard. As it lingered on the market, all the aforementioned ground breaking technology became automotive botox, and although it defered aging, it couldn’t beat father time.
Ultimately, the C4 succumbed and was retired. It was quickly eclipsed by younger siblings who stole the limelight and left the faded superstar to languish as delapitated LeMons clown cars, new age rat rods, or worse. The 1984 model, with production of over 50k units, has become especially expendable.
Corvette Online recently had the opportunity to speak with Corvette’s Program Manager, Harlan Charles, and he told us a very interesting anecdote. When we asked his thoughts regarding the C4 he recounted, “Chevrolet had a ride and drive event with all seven generation of Corvettes present and available for a track drive and no one wanted to drive the C4.”
He continued by saying, “I told the guests, no, no, no! You have to drive the C4, it’s an awesome car and truly laid the groundwork for the current crop of world beating Corvettes…” Heady praise from a guy that lives and breathes Corvettes.
Springtime For The C4?
It’s been more than twenty years since the last C4 rolled off the line and after a long winter, springtime might be around the corner for the C4. In an age of cough drop shaped cars, the C4’s styling has aged remarkably well. Jerry Palmer and his design team did a very nice job with the 1984 model and beat their best wth the refresh in 1991. Later models with the reverse flow, LT1 motor and all the updates are especially nice, muscular daily drivers.
As far as collectibility goes, certain C4s are emerging as milestone models yet they’re still bargain priced and accessible. The ZR1 aka “The Corvette From Hell” was truly the zenith of C4 development, but another model is rarer, produced in much fewer numbers and is emerging as the C4 Corvette to snatch up before folks get wise.
In fact, we spoke with a custom Corvette builder at the 2016 SEMA show and he said, if he had the money, he’d buy all the C4’s he could find.
The 1996 Grand Sport
Chevrolet killed the ZR1 in 1995 so for the C4’s final year in 1996, they cooked up a tribute to the old Grand Sport Corvettes that came out of Zora Arkus-Duntov’s secret skunkworks back in the Sixties.
Where the ZR1 saw production of 6,939 units from 1990 to 1995, Chevrolet built only 1000 Grand Sports in 1996. 810 coupes and 190 convertibles. They all came dipped in Admiral Blue paint with red hash marks, white stripes and black ZR1 wheels. They are truly the best example of McLellan’s C4 and again, with values a little soft, they’re a great way to get involved in the Corvette hobby.
Enter The Biesemeier Family
Andrew Biesemeier is a good example of the future of the C4 and the people that love them. A big, friendly guy with an easy smile, he embodies everything great about a new generation of Corvette aficionados.
A native of Hillsborough, NC, we met him at 2016 Mid America Motorworks Funfest, which happened to be a reunion for the 1996 Grand Sport Corvette as well, and Andrew was there with his super nice GS Coupe.
Although a whippersnapper compared to the average Corvette owner, Andrew was bitten by the Corvette bug in the summer of 1996. It was the end of his eighth grade year and he would enter high school that coming fall.
Andrew recounts the experience, “That summer, a friend’s mom took us to tour Corvette Final Assembly in Bowling Green, Kentucky and it was there that I saw a brand new, Admiral Blue Grand Sport hit the ground, do a maiden run on the dyno, and roll off the line.”
As all Corvette owners can attest, it walloped him.
“The C4 Grand Sport became my “bucket list car,” said Andrew, and the former aspirational apple of his eye, the Lamborghini Countach was sent packing.
The journey from that fateful day at the assembly plant to the reality of owning a 1996 Grand Sport Corvette is an interesting story. One that not only includes Andrew, but his brother Nathan and his dad, John.
Around 2002, 19 year-old brother Nathan Biesemeier bought “Andrew’s” C4 at Roger’s Corvette Center in Orlando, Florida with a little over 16k miles on the clock. It came equipped the black interior, Z51 suspension, the 330 LT4 V8 and the obligatory six-speed manual transmission.
Nathan wasted no time lowering the suspension front and rear, added a hot cam, heavy duty brakes and got a set of A-Mold 17 X 11″ inch wheels with R compound tires. From there, he set out to kick some ass at local SCCA Autocross events.
And kick some booty he did.
According to Andrew, “Nathan really took the local autocross events by storm and won SCCA Rookie of the Year in 2003 with the car.” The car’s no slouch in a straight line either. Andrew says the car dyno’d at 311hp at the rear wheels and did a 12.9 second 1/4 mile at 110mph without dumping the clutch. Not bad for a funky old, reverse flow Gen II V8 with a hot cam.
From there, the car passed hands to father John Biesemeier and sat for 5 or 6 years. According to Andrew. “The car went in to have it’s water pump replaced,” and via some shoddy repair work, “The new pump pee’d all over the Opti-Spark which rendered the motor in-operative.”
After languishing during that time, big daddy Beisemeier had enough and expressed his intent to sell the car. Andrew piped up and said “My bucket list car needs to stay in the family,” so 2012 became the year that the elder Biesemeier son’s name first appeared on the title.
Andrew went to work getting the car running and back into shape. His Grand Sport only has 42K miles on it now, so it didn’t need a ton of work when he bought it. He fixed the Opti-Spark, replaced the brakes, the rack and pinion steering rack–Nathan was hard on the car back in it’s tarmac terror days–and refinished the wheels back to glossy black.
The interior was freshened up with new pedals, shifter boot and other odds and ends. Resourceful Andrew even applied fabric dye to the faded “Grand Sport” stitching in the headrests to bring them back to as new.
These days according to Andrew “The Grand Sport now leads a pampered, retired autocrosser’s life..”
The car’s paint and bodywork miraculously survived Nathan’s time behind the wheel and after a compound rub out, is unbelievably shiny and well-preserved. “I only wash the car once or twice a year. I use detailer with a lot of lube to make sure Im as easy as possible on the paint.”
Andrew likes to show the Grand Sport at local car shows and charity events and will trailer the car if the distance is over 100 miles. When folks get witty about the car being a trailer queen Andrew is quick to remind people that, “During Nathan’s ownership the car was driven the way it was designed to be driven, and has the record to prove it. This car has seen many stages and uses over it’s lifetime.”
Your author was a “Celebrity Judge” for the 2016 Funfest. A highlight of the 2016 show was the homecoming for the Grand Sport. Andrew is a member of the Grand Sport Registry and the club had a big showing in Effingham. Andrew’s car was so clean and nice, I awarded it it as one of two favorite cars at the show.
With Corvette demographics through the roof age wise, Andrew’s story is exactly the kind of trajectory that the C4 Corvette should be heading, and GM should be taking note. The C4 allows younger folks to enter the Corvette hobby without breaking the bank and creates an aspirational pathway for stepping up to a new Corvette.
For now, the Biesemeier family’s love of this Grand Sport is proof that the C4 Corvette is alive and well. Dave McLellan’s team created a hell of machine and Nathan’s track record combined with the Grand Sport landing on Andrew’s bucket list, are a testimony to the long retired C4 development team’s work.
Thanks Dave McLellan, the Biesemeier family, and long live the C4.
Photography – Jessica Lea Whittington/Jessica Lea Photography
Photography – Eric Ross – Stealth Imagery, Facebook/StealthImagery