'84 Corvette combines graceful styling and awesome power

It is, without doubt, the best Corvette yet. With a deeply angled windshield, sloping front end, fastback roof line, and short rear deck, the 1984 Chevrolet ''Vette'' is a sharp improvement over the '83 model.

Indeed, the lines are much more graceful - more clean.

Like any Corvette, the car is powerful - that's for sure. But it needn't be awesome if the driver uses good sense and knows what he or she is doing.

The car will dig a hole in gravel if you don't use solid care in the use of the accelerator. If you step down too hard, the car will take off like a shot. In fact, the new Corvette will spurt from 0 to 60 m.p.h. in 6.8 seconds. Among production cars, there is nothing faster in the United States.

The Corvette is slated to get port fuel injection in 1985 and an all-aluminum 350 V-8 in order to cut weight by up to 150 pounds, thus increasing the car's handling potential as well as increase fuel efficiency. As a result, that engine will produce even more power than this year's.

Whether that is good or bad depends on the individual. What this car requires is sensible driving and the ability and willingness to follow the rules.

Despite its raw performance, the economy of the new Corvette is not all that bad. In a nondirect 262-mile run from New York City to Boston, I got a clear 21. 1 miles to a gallon of fuel by keeping the speed around the legal 55 and watching my start-ups at traffic lights and my slowdowns in the travel lane.

The on-board computer recorded an even higher m.p.g. figure, but by filling the fuel tank to the top of the filler pipe, I figured the test was rather precise.

The fact is, considering the performance, the m.p.g. statistic is exceedingly high. The computer checks the fuel flow to the engine about 80 times a second.

The car I'm driving is equipped with Bilstein shocks, although they won't be an option till sometime in the summer. They provide a firm ride with a good sports feel, but if you want the car to absorb all the bumps and dips in the road, this type of suspension is not for you. Of course, then you wouldn't be behind the wheel of a Chevrolet Corvette.

The seats - soft red leather in the car I'm driving - are superbly comfortable; more so than in any other Vette I've been in up to now.

The new Vette meets the 1984 safety standards because it's an '84-model car.

As to price, the Corvette has shifted into high-falutin country with a base price of $21,800, but that runs up to $25,000 or thereabouts very fast. In other words, the Vette is an up-market car. Actually, some of the new '85 Vettes are scooting out of the dealership front door at upwards of $40,000, a ''problem'' the General Motors car division is trying to keep under control.

It's a matter of dealers getting what they can for the car. Anything that's in short supply - more buyers than cars - will usually go for a premium - and the new Corvette, according to Chevrolet, is in short supply.

On the other side of the road, the Rolls-Royce super-price motorcar is being sharply discounted by some dealers even though the company has recently cut the price to well under $100,000 from upwards of $111,000.

The first Corvette came off the assembly line in 1953, and No. 750,000 is scheduled in October. Many early Corvettes are still around, either on the road or being preserved in barns and the like.

In new materials, the Corvette is used as a test bed by the manufacturer. It uses two fiberglass springs, for example, in the suspension.

''The new Vette,'' says David R. McLellan, chief design engineer for the car, ''was designed from the ground up.''

It has special tires, for example. ''We went to Goodyear for a high-performance tire,'' McLellan says. ''If we couldn't get what we wanted, we'd go elsewhere.

''Goodyear responded with an Eagle GT.'' The tire is certified up to 149 m.p.h., and the car itself can go 143 flat out. At that speed, it gets about 7 miles a gallon.

Chevrolet, says McLellan, is hoping for major racing activity from the Sports Car Club of America and other sanctioning bodies.

To wrap up, the new Chevrolet Corvette is not gaudy, but rather more like a compact version of the Camaro. It's easy to grow accustomed to it, so long as you remember to keep it under control.

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