Trend Setting, Part 16: A look back at Chevrolet’s experimental, prototype, concept car, and show car Corvettes
The Body Kit That Didn’t Catch On
We tend to mark the beginning of Corvette generations from the moment we first saw the car. However, preliminary designs are developed years before the finished new car hits the streets. Final designs are refined and approved well over a year before the debut, and then parts are developed and groomed for final production. But prior to the efforts needed for mass-production, countless ideas and designs are considered and rejected even before 3D models are built. Ideas that don’t make it aren’t necessarily bad; they’re dropped in favor of other designs.
Concept cars generally take on two forms. One is, “all-out, over-the-top, this will never go into production, but it sure is cool.” Think of the ’65 Mako Shark II and the ’10 Corvette Stingray Concept cars. Milder concept cars are sometimes previews of what is called a “mid-cycle refresh,” or teaser show car. The C5 Tiger Shark is one such concept car. Chevrolet debuted the Tiger Shark and the Tiger Shark accessory kit at the 2001 SEMA Show. Painted PPG Tiger Yellow, the Tiger Shark was very well received and was even featured on the cover of the December 2001 issue of Vette magazine, with a feature story by John Nelson.
The Tiger Shark offered up some previews of designs that would take some time to make it into production of future generation Corvettes. The wide front grille and vertical bars on the Tiger Shark eventually became design elements on the C6 Z06, ZR1 and Grand Sport. The Tiger Shark’s C3 L88-like hood dome was necessary for clearance for the supercharged, bored out to 427 cid LS1 engine. The air extractor at the leading edge of the dome, also seen on the C5-R Corvette race cars would eventually show up on the C7.
Two Tiger Shark design elements never went anywhere, but would have made for an awesome optional package. The side coves featured a grated opening with a single chrome spear. This element never even made it into the aftermarket world. The rear spoiler was pure muscle car era design. The taillight configuration is stock C5 but the license plate was placed in between the taillights, the inboard taillights include the back-up lights, the third brake light is wide and thin, and the horizontal bar in the lower vents is gone. The Tiger Shark could have been a nice mid-year refresh. The immediate question from the press was, “When will the Tiger Shark go into production?” The quick answer was, “There are no plans to put the concept into production.” Which was probably why the Tiger Shark was also announced as a kit.
Detroit prototype shop Wheel-To-Wheel did an excellent job building the Tiger Shark. This wasn’t just a stock ’97 coupe with a body kit. The build showed just how much red meat was built into the then-new LS1 engine. The all-aluminum LS1 had 427 cubic-inches, a Vortech “T” supercharger, 8.7:1 compression, ported throttle body, roller hydraulic cam, ported heads, stainless steel headers and a 3-inch Corsa exhaust system with 3.5-inch exhaust tips. The modified LS1 pulled 742 hp and 690 lb-ft of torque! The suspension was treated with Hotchkis Performance stabilizer bars and coilover shocks. The brakes were upgraded to Brembos, 14×1.25-inch on the front and 12.32×1.25-inch on the back. The 18-inch Kinesis Motorsport K58 forged wheels with polished faces were shod with Goodyear F1 Fiorano tires. The interior of the Tiger Shark should have gone into production. The black-leather, custom-contoured seats had gray bolsters and Seaton diamond perforated inserts. Accessory gauges were mounted on the lower portion of the dash center and the dash gauges had yellow trim. Custom aluminum pedals were added to the stock pedals for a race car touch.
In January 2009, the Tiger Shark was part of a massive sell-off auction of GM Heritage cars at the Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale Auction. This was an “everything must go – NO RESERVE” auction. It was someone’s lucky day, as the one-of-a-kind Corvette show car sold for just $112,200. The 2009 production ZR1 had a base price of $103,300 and Chevrolet built 1,415 units that year. The Tiger Shark, with its supercharged LS1 and 106 hp more than the ZR1 and one-and-only status, was a steal!
As slick looking as the Tiger Shark was, it seemed that the majority of C5 owners liked their C5 as they came from the factory. Consequently, you’ll see very few C5 Tiger Sharks. Full body kits and just parts of the kit were available for a while then went away, probably due to a lack of demand. However, in July 2015, GMAuthority.comannounced that Innovative Vehicle Solutions, in Redford, Michigan, was making the Tiger Shark body kits again. The front-end openings changed slightly from the original concept car, but the flavor is the same. Jay Leno has one. Good design lives on.