The 2023 Chevrolet Corvette is an all-American V-8 marvel. It has finally become what many of the Corvette's creators dreamed it could be: a well-balanced, mid-engined sports car that can stand toe-to-toe with more exotic rivals. It's a blast to drive that punches far above its weight even in its less powerful trims.
It is also—no matter how many times they update it or where they stick the engine—Dad's car.
For every car person, there is a model that got them into cars. For me, it was the Chevrolet Corvette. Dad had a series of Corvettes until he decided to have a kid, and as that kid, I am still salty about that. Yet I still have to credit the Corvette as the car that opened up my love of automobiles. Dad would bring me along to car shows as a kid and point out cars that looked like his old ones. Eventually, I started liking the friendly, round shape of the Porsche 911 more, but my respect for the Corvette always remained.
Dad had all kinds of stories about his Corvettes, some of which shape my preferences to this day. I still won't live in a flood plain because of the 1978 Indy Pace Car Edition Corvette he lost when a swollen Holliday Creek inundated his apartment's parking lot. Grandpa had to help pull it off of the sidewalk, and the car was subsequently totaled.I still won't eat in the car if I can avoid it, either. The time Dad threw a melting ice cream cone out the window instead of letting it drip inside his Corvette—while on a date with my mom, no less—became a running joke over the years. It's a bit of an overreaction, but it's hard for me to blame him too much there. That's how you get ants!
When I finally got a Corvette test car to review earlier this year, it felt like I made it. Sure, I've had more expensive and exotic review cars before, but this was the latest version of the reason why I ended up in automotive journalism in the first place. I often feel like a failure lately, having been laid off last September with hardly any options for a new full-time job. I feel like a letdown and a burden to everyone who's put up with me lately, and it's been hard to pick myself up and keep going. Yet for a week, I had the cool car of my most formative years. I even took it on a small road trip to show it off to Mom.
Dad passed away six years ago, but this made me wonder: would he have been proud of me? My week with the car soon became less about testing the capabilities of GM's latest giant slayer, and more about confronting my loss.
As fun as the car was, I noticed myself treating it a little differently than other test cars. My collection of Fisher-Price Puffalump stuffed animals always annoyed my dad, so I intentionally took more Puffalumps than usual in the Corvette when I went to visit Mom. That and I couldn't listen to Marty Robbins in the car, going so far as to begrudgingly change the radio station when any of Robbins' songs started playing. "Big Iron" played at Dad's funeral, and it still strikes a raw nerve.
Back in 2017, I was supposed to go drag racing for Jalopnik and continue on to visit my parents afterwards when I got the bad news. Dad had another stroke, and this would be his last. The next few weeks were a whirlwind of trying to hold it together as my mom was overcome with grief. Mom and Dad took care of each other, each watching out for the others' assorted health conditions as they settled into old age. When Dad died, I needed to make sure Mom could handle things herself from here and I didn't want to add to the chaos. I took a few extra days off when I got home, but I still don't know if I ever really took the time to process my own grief.
Yet here I was with a Corvette for the week, haunted by the memory of Corvette Man. The association was unavoidable. "Dad" and "Corvettes" will forever be together in my brain, no matter how much time has passed. Cool cars were a shared love of ours, even if we disagreed over things like stuffed animals. Mom said we would "walk around the same car several times and look at every nook and cranny" at car shows. I'm guilty of the same thing today when I see one that I like, and possibly worse, given that I sometimes want to crawl underneath.
I'm merely adding to the chorus of C8 enjoyers at this point in the car's life, but the latest Corvette is phenomenal. This one was a $99,160 3LT-trim hardtop convertible with the Z51 performance package, clearly spec’d more for enjoyable backroad cruising than hardcore track use. While I didn't get the chance to test it out on track, the Corvette handled the well-worn back roads around my house and Mom's brilliantly. Its limits are far above any legal speeds in Texas, but this one wasn't brutal at all in the way a front-engined C7 Z06 was. This C8 was easy to control, approachable, and even chuckable, even on its hardest-core track mode. The eight-speed dual-clutch transmission offered extremely fast, smooth gear changes that were perfect for twisty country drives.
Actually using it as a convertible at enjoyable Corvette speeds was out as soon as I realized that no matter what I did with the windows, it would blow my long flyaway hair directly over the left side of my face. Perhaps this is a feature best left for bald dudes like my dad, but the contrasting black folding roof opened with ease at the push of a button and really did make the car look a bit sharper than its single-color counterpart when it was up. The convertible roof added a sizable blind spot, but the blind spot monitor lights do a decent job in its place.
There are some other impractical features, such as thick doors that make getting in and out a beast in tighter parking spots and the strange walled-off passenger side. Who is this interior for, horny teens? That being said, the air conditioning still blows ice cold, there's ample storage in both the front and back, and the controls were easy enough to get used to. You could daily this if you wanted, and probably be fine. Most of all, front cameras and a nose lift make it easier to live with than the Corvettes of yore.
Even as I tried to critique this car on its own merits, it brought back memories of talking about cars with my parents. Mom was less of a fan of Dad's Corvettes than I was, and complained it was impossible to see a C3 'Vette's pointy, low front end. She said she would always stop far back from any curbs out of fear of hitting anything. Dad had a red one with velour seats when they first started dating that she thought was very pretty, followed by the Pace Car Edition, and finally, a blue one—all low, curvaceous C3s. She soon grew irritated with how Dad would park further away to avoid door dings and how low the car was, claiming that you "couldn't go over a rabbit pellet without dragging the pellet around."
The Corvette got traded in for a K5 Blazer shortly before I was born, which Mom found to be a relief. "I wasn't sitting on the ground anymore," she said. I was always less enthused with this trade even though I was the reason it happened. Perhaps that's why I have such a visceral revulsion to the idea of a Corvette SUV. A K5 is cool, but not Corvette cool. The idea of slapping a Corvette badge on the less cool style of car that replaced it in our family is a bridge too far.
I had to know, though—what did my mom think of the latest one? "It doesn't have that distinctive Corvette look," she said, claiming that it looks more like a Ferrari or a Lamborghini now. The long hood and short rear end that defined the Corvette's shape for as long as she could remember were gone. Those of us who have kept up with Corvette lore may know that the idea of a mid-engine Corvette has been around since the late Fifties, when Chevrolet's then-newly minted Director of High Performance Zora Arkus-Duntov suggested it as a way to make the Corvette a better endurance racer. Yet to my mom, this was a completely different car, albeit an awesome one.
"Dad would probably still be out there, looking at every little thing," she said, after we went back inside to escape the summer heat.
The associations we make with certain cars or other objects are easy to dismiss as silly, foolish, or even materialistic, but I would argue the exact opposite. They're what makes us human. An object can unlock a key memory, or be a starting off point to make new memories of our own. They can be an excuse to visit family and friends, and make new memories. After I came home, I went to take pictures of the car with a friend who was about to move away, adding another chapter to the volume of Stef's Personal Corvette Lore. She wanted take a break from packing up to hang out and see the car, and I couldn't blame her. It's a really great one.
This is why we're really into cars. Which car doesn't even really matter in the end. We all have that one vehicle that gets us interested in automobiles, or that will always be associated with certain points in our lives. Being a car person is more about what we do with cars and who enjoys them with us. If that's something else I learned from Dad, maybe he would be proud of me after all.
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