Aiming for nothing less than the title of “America’s Sports Car,” the 1988 Corvette celebrated the brand’s 35th anniversary with the best in speed, design, and performance.
Hailing from Lotus, a British company acquired by GM in 1986, technical director Tony Rudd led a team of engineers on a mission to advance the Chevy L98 engine. While they managed only a modest boost in horsepower, the true appeal of the Corvette’s tuned-port fuel-injected V8 engine was its harmony with the transmission.
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Ownership costs for a 1988 Corvette
The 1988 Corvette coupe initially hit the market for $29,489, but today you can pick up a used model for $5,325 to $15,700. Originally priced at $34,820, the convertible body usually runs from $6,000 to $19,999 for good and not-so-good specimens, respectively.
There were a host of factory features available for the 1988 Corvette, the most notable of which were the Z52 and Z51 packages. At $970, the soft and springy Z52 Sport Handling suspension upgrade was widely touted as one of Chevrolet’s most value-packed purchases. On the stiffer side, the Z51 Performance Handling upgrade was priced at $1,295. Both suspension packages included 17” Goodyear Eagle GT tires.
Of course, the jewel in the crown of the 1988 Corvette lineup was the Special 35th Anniversary Edition, coded Z01. Featuring a bright white lower body, white leather-upholstered interior, and 17” wheels, this limited run didn’t skimp on goodies. Inside, drivers could expect to find commemorative badges on the side body gills and seats and a special plaque atop the console. On the technology side, dual six-way power sport seats, automatic climate control, and a GM Delco/Bose audio system rounded out the features list, with a black hoop roof and transparent black acrylic roof panel for contrast. Originally priced at $4,795, an immaculate example will run you $39,500 today.
Continuing its partnership with Lotus from the year before, GM again offered a Callaway Twin Turbo engine upgrade; owing to the additional $25,895 fee, only 125 were ever installed.
Of course, car ownership costs don’t stop with the purchase. Remember to factor ongoing expenses like insurance payments, repairs, maintenance, and taxes—collectively known as real ownership costs—into your budget.
Where to buy a 1988 Corvette
What does the 1988 Corvette bring to the table?
Most of the 1988 upgrades focused on fine-tuning its handling. The rear suspension was revised to improve straight-line and braking stability, while the brakes themselves were fortified to increase directional control.
The chassis redesign included space for larger, 17” x 9.5” “Cuisinart” rims and Goodyear Eagle GT tires, which were bundled into special packages. These new wheels boasted a tight grip on the road, even when pushing speed limits and enduring wet conditions, as well as sustained rides over 149 miles per hour.
In 1988, Corvette unwrapped an unwelcome birthday surprise: the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) elected to ban all showroom Corvettes from their competitions, owing to Chevrolet’s three-year winning streak and the complaints of its opponents. To lessen the sting, the SCCA also gifted Chevrolet a marque-specific race series, the Corvette Challenge, which thrilled fans from 1988 to 1989.
In addition to 2,000 Special 35th Anniversary Edition Corvettes released in 1988, GM built 56 race cars for the new race series. After the competition, the street-legal racehorses were retired via sales to private owners. All in all, 1988 was a unique year of both triumphs and tribulations for the Corvette name, as Chevrolet continued to work on cementing its place in sports car history.
Strengths and weaknesses of the 1988 Corvette
As many reasons as there were to celebrate the Corvette’s 35th birthday, there were also a few persistent problems.
The good: engine power
Chevrolet’s refinements to the L98 engine only got better and better. Testing it in 1988,
Car & Driver reported hitting 60 miles per hour in 5.6 seconds flat.
The good: smooth transmission
Despite its sports car status, the Corvette’s gear shifting can only be described as luxurious. The V8 engine and automatic transmission option form an irresistible combo that will eat up the miles in no time.
The good: speed and value
While their competitor’s price tags may be twice as high, Corvettes can keep pace with all of them. Ingenuity and continuous tinkering produce a high ratio of raw performance per dollar.
The bad: fiberglass body
The 1988’s amazing engine was packed into a light fiberglass interior that tends to squeak as it ages. While the lightweight material might have produced an appealing price tag for the American public when it was first released, you’ll undoubtedly notice the difference in body quality if you park it next to something like a
The bad: dubious cosmetics
There’s a thin line between tacky and cool, and where you draw it comes down to personal taste. A white-wrapped steering wheel, white wheels, and white center console certainly date the special edition—but since it was meant to celebrate everything great about ‘88, isn’t that kind of the point?
The bottom line—which 1988 Corvette to buy
Skip this early iteration of the Callaway Twin-Turbo engine; better versions exist in later model years. Either the coupe or the convertible will serve you well when it comes to the driving experience, so the question is: do you want to save your ‘Vette for fair and sunny days, or would you rather make sure nothing rains on your parade?
If you opt to track down a Special Anniversary Edition, be prepared for a lot of attention—whether it’s positive or negative will depend on whether or not the person is a diehard fan.
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