5 Special Edition Chevy Corvettes That Will Always Turn Heads

After WWII, soldiers returned home with a new interest in sporty roadsters like the ones they saw and experienced while stationed overseas in Europe. Chevrolet's response was the "Corvette" — reportedly named after a fast, compact war ship. Introduced in 1953, the 'Vette has been produced continuously even since, celebrating its 70th birthday this year.

Over the years, Chevrolet stuck to a consistent formula of a powerful V8 engine (except for the earliest years) wrapped in a stylish fiberglass body, all for a relatively affordable price. But every so often, Chevrolet goes off script with a special edition Corvette. The reasons vary from homologating an engine for motorsports, marking the end of an era, celebrating a milestone anniversary, or participating in a famous racing series.

With literally dozens of limited production Corvettes to choose from — ranging from mild to wild — here are five with striking visuals and performance that are guaranteed to turn heads, now and into the future.

1978 Indy 500 Pace Car Replica Corvette

Chevrolet had a lot happening with the Corvette in 1978. The aging C3 body style received a significant interior and exterior refresh, including a new fastback rear window design. Also, 1978 represented the 25th anniversary of America's sports car. Fittingly, a Corvette was selected to be the Pace Car for the famed Indianapolis 500 mile automobile race.

To commemorate this achievement, Chevrolet decided to manufacture an official replica of the 1978 Pace Car to sell to the general public. It featured a unique black over silver paint scheme, silver interior with special bucket seats, and highly polished aluminum wheels with red trim. Only 6,502 Pace Car editions were produced — one for each Chevrolet dealer in the United States at the time.

The 1978 Pace Car became an overnight sensation, and bidding wars ensued for the limited number of cars. Some buyers wound up paying massive dealer markups in excess of the car's $13,653 sticker price in a fervor to get one. Mechanically, the 1978 Pace Car was no different than a regular Corvette. However, the optional L82 220 horsepower V8 and four-speed manual transmission pushed the car from 0-60 mph in 6.5 seconds, making it the fastest American-made car at the time.

1982 Collector Edition

By 1982, the third-generation "C3" Corvette was getting old. Its curvy fiberglass body dated back to 1968, and its chassis was even older than that, shared with the C2 that debuted in 1963. An all-new fourth-generation Corvette was on its way, but in the meantime, Chevrolet had to do something to keep buyers interested. That "something" was the decision to debut the upcoming C4's fuel-injected 5.7 liter V8 and four-speed automatic overdrive transmission in the final year of the C3.

All 1982 Corvettes received the updated powertrain, but Chevy took things one step further with a fully-loaded "Collector Edition" to punctuate the end of the C3 era. The Collector Edition was mostly an appearance package, with a distinctive silver-beige paint color and large gradient stickers on the sides and hood of the vehicle. 

The CE also received special finned alloy wheels that mirrored the 1967 Corvette's "Bolt-On" wheels, and unlike all other 1978-1982 Corvettes, the rear window glass actually opened for easier access to storage. The interior of the CE had a similar color treatment to the exterior, with varying shades of beige and brown leather upholstery on the seats and door panels.

Unlike the Pace Car inventory fervor a few years earlier, Chevrolet promised to manufacture as many Collector Editions as buyers demanded. In total, 6,759 were sold versus 18,648 standard Corvettes in 1982. The Collector Edition also had the dubious distinction of being the first Corvette to break the $20,000 barrier, with a base price of $22,537.

[Featured image by Greg Gjerdingen via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and scaled | CC BY 2.0]

1996 Corvette Grand Sport

Not unlike the 1982 Collector Edition, 1996's Grand Sport was also intended to hold the interest of consumers in the final year of the long-running C4 body style, which debuted in 1984. For approximately $3,000 more than the price of a regular Corvette, the 1996 Corvette Grand Sport delivered a handsome Admiral Blue and Arctic White color scheme. The package also included add-on fender flares reminiscent of the original 1963 Grand Sport, blacked out wheels, and an optional lipstick red leather interior.

Only available with a six-speed manual transmission, the Grand Sport got a serious boost in the horsepower department via Chevy's new LT4 V8, which cranked out 330 horsepower, or 30 horsepower more than the regular LT1 engine for 2006. What Chevy probably hoped that potential GS buyers didn't notice was that the LT4 was the designated powerplant for all manual transmission equipped 'Vettes in 2006, not only the Grand Sport, which somewhat diminished the value of the GS package.

Still, it's a very rare car with only 1,000 total manufactured — 810 coupes and 190 convertibles. When new, Road & Track measured a 0-60 MPH time of 5.2 seconds, on its way to a standing quarter-mile of 13.7 seconds.

1998 Indy 500 Pace Car Replica

Nothing turns heads like a purple sports car with yellow wheels. For 1998, a Corvette was selected to pace the Indy 500 race for a whopping fourth time, and like always, Chevrolet marked the event by selling a limited number of replicas to the public.

Available only as a convertible this time around, the 1998 Pace Car replica featured a Radar Blue paint job (technically not purple) and a huge yellow, checkered flag-themed graphics package across its hood, sides, and decklid. Of course, this motif required matching yellow wheels, and even the interior didn't escape the yellow treatment as the leather seats had yellow inserts.

Besides its wild appearance, the 1998 Pace Car replicas came fully loaded with comfort and technology options, as well as debuting Chevy's new JL4 Active Handling System. The Pace Car package, RPO Z4Z, added $5,039 to the base Corvette's $44,990 price tag. A total of 1,163 replicas were manufactured, split approximately 50/50 between automatic and manual transmission examples.

Since the C5 Corvette's LS1 V8 was now up to 345 horsepower in stock form, no modifications were necessary for the cars that actually paced the race, making them mechanically identical to the replicas. That meant a 1998 convertible example with a manual transmission could go from 0-60 MPH in only 4.9 seconds. 

2008-2009 Hertz Corvette ZHZ

Not many rare special edition sports cars are made for rental, but that's precisely the case with the ZHZ Corvette. Manufactured by Chevrolet exclusively for Hertz, these eye-catching C6 Corvettes were intended to join the likes of the Nissan 350Z, Ford Mustang, and Shelby GT-H as part of Hertz's "Fun Collection."

The Corvette ZHZ packed a 436 horsepower V8, paddle shifted six-speed automatic transmission, and Hertz's signature yellow and black paint scheme. Other features included a dual-mode exhaust system, magnetic selective ride control, chromed mesh inside air openings, and a rear spoiler. Although most of the ZHZ's accoutrements could be ordered on any Corvette, it did wear an exclusive set of seven-spoke performance wheels measuring 18 inches tall in front and 19 inches out back.

What's really interesting about the ZHZ Corvettes is that Chevrolet delegated the final assembly to a Chevrolet dealer named Bob Hook in Louisville, Kentucky, rather than doing the work at the Corvette factory in nearby Bowling Green. Bob Hook would receive the cars from GM, then add the black stripe package, polished wheels, special emblems, and a rear spoiler. 

Once complete, GM would send a car carrier or two back to the dealership to pick the cars up for delivery to Hertz. A total of 500 coupes were produced in 2008, joined by 375 convertibles in 2009.

[Featured image by denipet via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and scaled | CC BY 2.0]