The Best Mods & Upgrades That Can Give New Life To A C4 Corvette

When the all-new C4 Corvette debuted for the 1984 model year, it was light years ahead of the aging C3 that it replaced. Besides a fuel-injected motor backed up with overdrive automatic or manual transmissions, the C4 had fresh styling with an incredibly aerodynamic sloped windshield, a clamshell hood that offered unfettered access to the engine compartment, and a rear hatch that actually opened. Inside was a futuristic all-digital dashboard with the provision for upcoming safety features such as airbags.

Today, these cars still offer solid performance and since they sold in large numbers when new, they represent an incredible value on the resale market. For owners wishing to extract every ounce of horsepower or cornering speed, the aftermarket offers a huge selection of parts and upgrades for the C4, from mild to wild. But where should the average C4 owner begin? We put together a list of the five best mods and upgrades to help your C4 keep up with the newer generation Vettes.

Larger wheels and tires

Nothing spruces up the overall look of a car like a new wheel and tire package, with the added bonus of a performance boost. Depending on the exact year of your C4, the factory wheels are either 16-inch or 17-inch diameter, which was cutting edge at the time, but is relatively modest by modern standards. Besides accepting lower profile tires without significantly affecting overall tire diameter, fitting larger 18-inch and up wheels also provides additional clearance for larger brakes. You can also select a wider wheel and tire combo, too, for increasing the tire's contact patch with the road. 

If chosen carefully, aftermarket wheels may also reduce the weight of your C4, which is especially beneficial since wheels and tires are considered unsprung weight, which will result in more precise steering action and keeping the suspension planted. Wheels with lower rotational mass will also roll and stop more easily. And of course, tire technology has advanced by leaps and bounds. Not only do modern tires provide better traction, but they're longer lasting, safer in inclement weather, and can deliver improved fuel economy. 

Suspension rebuild kit

The Corvette has boasted four-wheel independent suspension since the early 1960s, so it's always been a pretty great handling car. The C4 generation improved on that even more with a front transverse leaf spring replacing the earlier models' coil springs. However, with some C4s nearing 40 years old, even the best suspension system is going to be getting tired and worn out.

Even a simple stock-style rebuild kit with such items as new bushings, ball joints, and tie rods will bring your C4 back to its factory-fresh state for only a modest investment. Additionally, the polyurethane bushings that are available in some rebuild kits are far superior to their stock rubber countertops in terms of tighter driving feel and last four to five times as long as rubber bushings.

But you can also take handling to the next level with new shock absorbers, composite springs, and larger diameter sway bars. Many modern shocks are adjustable, so you can choose the perfect balance between handling and a smooth ride. Or shocks can be made firmer at the autocross track, then easily dialed back for a comfortable experience when street driving. New springs can replace their sagging original counterparts and lower the vehicle in the process, reducing the center of gravity for better cornering capability.

[Featured image by Kowloonese from Chile via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and scaled | CC BY-SA 3.0]

Cat-back exhaust system

Replacing your restrictive and likely corroded factory exhaust with a new cat-back exhaust is one of the best power adders that you can do to your C4 Corvette. The term "cat-back" refers to the section of the system that is downstream of the catalytic converter, a device that removes harmful emissions from exhaust gases.

An aftermarket exhaust with modern muffler technology will reduce backpressure, allowing more air to flow into the engine, which increases horsepower. According to the popular aftermarket exhaust manufacturer Corsa, a cat-back system for the L98 engine (the most common C4 engine) adds 14 horsepower and 16 foot-pounds of torque to an otherwise stock powerplant — all while adding a deep, muscular exhaust note that'll make your C4 sound like a Corvette should.

Returning to catalytic converters for a moment, they're typically long-lasting but may eventually fail by becoming contaminated, clogged, or overheated, leading to decreased horsepower. In the process of installing a cat-back exhaust, it's worth inspecting or proactively replacing the catalytic converter itself. High-flow performance converters are available which will boost horsepower beyond the cat-back exhaust alone, yet still keep your vehicle compliant with the emissions guidelines of the EPA and local authorities.

Performance computer chip

Nowadays, we take it for granted that modern cars can be endlessly tuned and tweaked to perfection via a connection to a laptop computer or compact handheld tuning module. But in the days of the C4, you had to replace a chip in the vehicle's computer, called an Eprom (Erasable Programmable Read Only Memory) to boost performance beyond the factory parameters. Luckily, there is a larger selection than ever of aftermarket Eproms for C4 owners to select from.

These plug-and-play computer chips are easy to install, even for those with minimal mechanical ability, and recalibrate fuel delivery and ignition timing to increase horsepower and torque. Cars with automatic transmissions also benefit from more aggressive shifting and torque converter lock-up. With chips available for stock and modified vehicles at a cost of approximately $200, this is truly one of the best C4 mods that you can make for quicker acceleration.

Cold air intake

A cold air intake is another relatively inexpensive, easy-to-install mod to boost the output of your C4's engine. Cold air intakes work by delivering a healthy dose of cool outside air to the engine's throttle body, rather than relying on the stuffy underhood air and restrictive factory air filter. At colder temperatures, oxygen becomes denser, which makes internal combustion more volatile. 

Additionally, the air filters included in cold air kits are constructed with premium materials that allow more air to flow through them versus an inexpensive factory-style paper air filter. Finally, many aftermarket air filters are washable, so they can be cleaned and reused multiple times rather than discarded. According to well-known Corvette parts retailer Ecklers, its BPP Vortex Rammer Cold Air System adds up to 22 horsepower to C4 engines. Best of all, installing a cold air intake only takes an hour or two and is within reach for most do-it-yourselfers.