Following the thirteen year run of the C4, the public anxiously anticipated the new fifth generation Corvette. And GM was well aware that due to the vastly improved, entirely redesigned C5 they needed to use some print advertising, which they had not used in over a year, to promote the changes the newest generation of Corvette offered. This marketing philosophy of only using print advertising to introduce new models or generations was to set the stage for print Corvette advertising from that point on. GM turned to David Hill, the Chief Engineer of the Corvette, to deliver the word on the radically changed car in a series of ads during 1997.
The advertisements were arranged like a series of brief articles explaining the changes, features and performance of the new Corvette. The first ad titled, “The Death of Speculation” began by dispelling the speculation that the new C5 would be only a warmed-over version of the C4. In the ad, Hill explains one of the reasons for this speculation was the fact that the C5 test mules were disguised to look like C4’s during testing. He also states that the all-new C5 was definitely not just an overly-civilized, styling exercise on the old car. More important to the development of the new generation was designing a vastly improved car beginning with a clean sheet of paper the objective being to build the best Corvette possible from a performance, handling, ride, reliability, and fuel economy perspective.
One of the most important aspects to the design of a new generation Corvette was just how much should a “classic” be changed and Hill was clear that the “spirit and soul” of Corvette had to be maintained while making the C4 positive attributes even better and great things even greater.
The next aspect the Corvette chief engineer addressed in the two page ad was the performance and handling of the new car: top speed 175 MPH, 0-60 in 4.7 sec, and 345hp. He called out the improved structure, 450 times more rigid than the C4, and the much improved ride quality the new car offered as a result. He even addressed the much criticized access and egress of the prior generation car and the fact that the new C5 addressed those shortfalls, “No matter how much someone says that a sports car should be challenging, we found that people will put up with minor inconveniences, they’d much rather not be hassled by a car. Even sports car drivers want leg room, and they like to get in and out of their car easily.”
In the next ad titled, “The inordinate difficulty of simplicity,” Hill speaks to the design and engineering approach used when designing the C5. The fifth-gen used a “systems engineering philosophy” he explained, which means the requirements are first clearly defined and then the components are designed to meet those requirements. This approach was used throughout the design and engineering of the new C5 from the engine requirements (instantaneous throttle response, 345hp, and fuel mileage of 18 City, 28 Highway), to the design of the balsa wood floor (lightweight rigidity), to the development and design of an entirely new single hydroformed rail frame to improve stiffness and the resultant ride, handling, and rattles inherent in the typical 24 piece frame.
Obviously the design philosophy paid off. Not only was the car beautifully styled but it was an outstanding performer. Enthusiasts still talk about the incredible engine which delivered power as well as astounding fuel economy. And it wasn’t only Corvette enthusiasts singing the praises of the C5, in 1999 the Society of Automotive Engineers voted the C5 as the best engineered car of the 20th century.