Cheap LS1 Thrills? Used C5 Corvette vs 4th Gen Camaro & Trans Am
When the fourth-generation GM F-body debuted for the 1993 model year with a brand new, sleek platform and an LT1 engine borrowed from the Corvette, a new bar was set for affordable performance.
And that bar went even higher in 1998 when the refreshed F-body got the all-new LS1 V8, again handed down from the cutting-edge C5 Corvette.
It was a great era for GM performance, and for many buyers, the LS1-powered Camaro Z/28 and Firebird Trans Am offered near Corvette-level performance with a back seat and a much smaller price tag.
But what about today? Now that both of these cars are about 25 years old, how do these two late ‘90s GM designs compare as enthusiast options in the current market?
Pricing & Rarity
Though the F-body was the substantially cheaper option when the cars were new, that’s not necessarily the case today. In fact, when considering today's supply and demand, the Corvette is likely going to be the more affordable option for many buyers.
As with many once “affordable” performance cars, the lower price of the LS1 F-body made a popular choice among budget-minded speed junkies, and few owners left their cars stock.
In contrast, many C5 buyers were still the typical ‘Vette owner: you know, the older type that’s big on maintenance, car care and only taking the car out on weekends when the weather is nice.
That means today that supply and demand have in many cases made the C5 cheaper, especially for those looking for un-abused cars in better than average condition.
This is even more apparent if you are looking for a late Camaro SS or Trans Am WS6. At today’s values, you can actually buy a low mileage Corvette Z06 for cheaper than a comparable Camaro SS or WS6, and the Vette is simply in another league performance-wise.
The less pristine examples can still be had for around $10,000 or less though. If you are set on the F-body and plan to do modifications, we'd suggest buying a higher mileage car or one that needs a little work, because those cars won't be subject to the same "collector" demand.
Speed That Holds Up
Neither of these cars was known for its refinement or excellent build quality, even when new — but that’s not the reason you buy a fourth-gen F-body or C5. And generally speaking, both cars have aged about the same.
The engines for the base C5 and F-body are similar, though the Corvette version of the engine does make a little more power as you’d expect.
The major differences come in the rest of the car. The F-body has a more traditional layout, with the V8 sending power through a normal four-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission to a solid axle differential in the rear.
The Corvette not only has an independent rear suspension, but it uses a transaxle (transmission in the rear) for optimum weight distribution.
Both cars have a low-slung, sports car seating position and while the F-body offers a T-top option, the Corvette coupe has a removable targa top. The F-body also has a small backseat, while the Corvette is a two-seater.
In terms of performance, the lighter more powerful Corvette has the out-of-the-box advantage, and its more advanced suspension and weight distribution make it a fantastic track day platform.
That’s not to say the F-body is a slouch. It’s still a quick car, and can be made to handle very well, especially with some suspension upgrades and modern performance tires.
All things considered, as we sit here heading toward the mid-2020s and both of these cars age into “classics, " the Corvette delivers for the money.
Not only does the the C5 offer more power and a more exotic “sports car” layout, it’s also the one that’s easier to find and often found in better condition.
Unless you are drawn specifically to the design of the F-body or need the (small) backseat, the Corvette just offers more.
That doesn’t mean the Camaro or Firebird is a bad choice. We still love how they look and can understand the nostalgia factor that draws many to these cars today.
Ironically perhaps, today it’s the working class F-body that makes the better collector car, garage ornament, or conversation piece, while the C5 Corvette has emerged as the dominant choice for budget-minded street car enthusiasts and track drivers.
And no matter which of these two platforms you prefer, we don't see either one getting cheaper anytime soon we'd recommend picking one up sooner rather than later.
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