The 1999 C5 Corvette proves that base models don’t have to be boring

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YouTube/Jay Leno's Garage

Everybody loves a bargain, and depending on how hard you’re willing to dig, chances are you can find some quality American metal for pennies on the dollar. But you’d still be hard-pressed to beat what Leno paid for his 1999 C5 Corvette. Back in ’99, after ripping around the oval at the 83rd Indy 500 in a Monte Carlo pace car, GM asked him what he’d like in return for his trouble. In true car-nut fashion, Leno responded, “I like to get paid in product.”

Now that’s celebrity status being put to good use.

The C5 featured in the latest episode of Jay Leno’s Garage is finished in a stunning Navy Blue Metallic and, when Leno got it, was a demo car with only 2500 or so miles on the odometer. Under the hood is an untainted, original LS1 that pumps out 350 hp and is paired with a Borg-Warner six-speed manual transmission. Two decades on, Leno revels in the powertrain’s performance and reliability; apart from routine oil changes and fresh brake fluid, Leno’s machine remains untouched, unless he’s behind the wheel. Rightfully so, the C5 has earned a reputation as a bonafide turn-key fun machine: In good Corvette tradition, it offers robust performance at the fraction of the cost of its European competitors.

If you needed to find a performance-oriented two-seater that’s also practical, the C5 excels there, too. As an added bonus beyond the fun-per-dollar factor, the coupe boasts 24.8 cubic feet of cargo volume in its trunk. For the visualizers, that’s at least a couple golf bags and a few sacks of Quikrete.

As ’90s sports cars come increasingly into vogue, the C5’s sleek, rounded styling and pop-up headlights are aging well. The fifth-gen Vette was one of the last vehicles to sport the design before it fell from grace and faded out of the automotive design vocabulary. To our eyes, the C5’s smooth silhouette is the perfect canvas for pop-up lamps’ swan song.

We’d all like to get paid in product. But we’re not Jay Leno. So $15K–$20K to make a 996 911 owner nervous doesn’t sound too bad to us.

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