The C4 Corvette was known for its evolved, sleek and modern look. In a departure from the fiberglass builds of its forebearers, it was made from reaction injected molding plastics, a sheet molding compound. The C4 coupe was the first general production Corvette to have a glass hatchback (the limited edition 1982 Collector Edition being the first Corvette equipped with this feature) for better storage access. It also had all new brakes with aluminum calipers. The Corvette C4 came standard with an electronic dashboard with a digital liquid crystal display dash, with graphics for speed and RPM and digital displays for other important engine functions.
The C4 represented a clean break with the previous generation of Corvette. Since emissions regulations were still changing and electronic engine management was in its infancy, horsepower was, compared to earlier generations, comparatively low. Therefore the primary design emphasis, at least for the launch, was on handling. The price of this no-holds-barred emphasis on handling was ride comfort, especially with the Z51 performance handling package. The unit-body frame used in the C4 was prone to rattles and squeaks due to minimal sound deadening. Also due to the external unit-body frame, the door sills were quite deep, with and entry and exit likened by contemporary auto journals to a “fall in and climb out” experience. The emergency brake, located between the door sill and the drivers seat, was moved lower and toward the rear of the car in 1988 for easier entry and exit.
From 1984 through 1988, the Corvette was available with a Doug Nash “4+3” transmission – a 4-speed manual coupled to an automatic overdrive on the top three gears. This unusual transmission was a synergy that allowed Corvette to keep a stout 4 speed, but add an overdrive. As technology progressed, it was replaced by a modern ZF 6-speed manual. However, the C4 performance was hampered by its L98 250 hp (186 kW) engine until 1992, when the second-generation LT1 was installed, markedly improving the C4s performance. 1996 was a high point of small block Chevrolet development and the 330 hp (246 kW) LT4 was installed in all manual transmission cars.
The 1986 Corvette was notable for being the first car with an electronic anti-theft system. GM had created the Pass Key I, wherein each key contained a special pellet that could be detected and identified by the car’s computer system by detecting electrical resistance. Being early in the rollout of this new technology, there were only 15 different resistance values available, which, once thieves discovered this weakness, markedly reduced the value of this early system.