Exactly what form the 50th Anniversary Corvette would assume was settled once and for all on April 10, at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, when some of Chevrolet's top brass and the IMS management team, led by Tony George, unveiled both the 50th Anniversary Edition coupe and convertible and the Official Pace Car for the 86th running of the Indy 500.

The fact that the 50th Vette would pace the 500 miler was no surprise-we'd been informed of that back in January and broke the new, without attribution, in May's "CURRENTS." But while there were plenty of rumors, we didn't have any factual details about the 50th Anniversary Edition, and none that enlightened us about the Indy 500 Pace Car for 2002.

Perhaps the best thing would be to start off with what the 50th Anniversary Special Edition (and the rest of the '03 Corvette lineup) isn't. There is no ber-Vette, no testosterone-drenched 7L 500-plus horsepower Viper killer, for '03. Nor is there any significant body or trim change for the Corvette's 50th. The '03s represent a cautious and evolutionary move forward.

First and foremost is, of course, RPO 1SC, the 50th Anniversary Special Edition package, which will be offered on both coupes and convertibles, but not on Z06s. The most prominent feature of the 50th Anniversary package is the special paint, an intense red that closely resembles an old-fashioned candy-apple red when applied over a heavily metallic-gold base. The color, aptly named Anniversary Red, really needs to be seen to be appreciated. Thankfully, it is definitely NOT a Cadillac Red as was rumored. The Anniversary Red, which will be offered only as part of the 50th Anniversary package and only in 2003, is complimented by the 50th-only, one-year-only Shale interior (and matching Shale top on Anniversary convertibles), and champagne painted (very similar in hue to the finish on the optional magnesium wheels) standard five-spoke wheels with 50th emblem center caps. All Anniversary Editions will have unique 50th badges on each front fender, in roughly the same spot as the Z06's fender emblems, embroidered 50th logos on the seatbacks and carpet mats, and new padded door armrests and grips.

Also part of the 1SC package will be, as Corvette Assistant Brand ManagerHarlan Charles phrased it, the "high content options," and the new for '03 Magnetic Selective Ride Control system, a new continuously variable real-time damping (more on this later).

The Indy 500 Pace Car for 2002 is the '03 50th Anniversary Special Edition-no same model year as the race (as in the prior four times Corvette has paced the 500), and no special "Official Pace Car" package, although Brand Manager Rick Baldick hinted that the "Pace Car" graphics package might be available over-the-counter later this year for owners of 50th Anniversary '03s. Regarding Corvettes participation, for the fifth time, in the Indianapolis 500 Baldick stated, "This year's Memorial Day classic will showcase America's favorite sports car at the greatest spectacle in racing. It will also be a milestone event for the history books, as it signals the start of a year-long celebration leading up to Corvette's 50th anniversary in 2003."

Tony George, president and CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway added to those sentiments, "The Indianapolis 500 and Chevrolet have had a longtime relationship. It's an honor to have the 50th Anniversary Edition Corvette make its world debut at the head of the pack and to have Chevrolet return to open wheel racing with its new Chevy Indy V-8 for the Indy Racing League."

Back to the '03 Corvettes...several items that had previously been options, either individually or as parts of a "Preferred Equipment Group" (RPOs 1SB or 1SC in 2001 and 2002) will be standard equipment in all '03 coupes and convertibles. These include foglamps, sport seats, power passenger seat, and dual-zone climate control, plus a parcel net and luggage shade in coupes. Light Pewter Metallic (code 11) has been replaced by Medium Spiral Gray Metallic. Chevrolet did not have any cars (or a sample panel) painted in the new color on hand at Indy so, at least for now, we're left to wander what the hell "Spiral Gray"looks like. And all '03 Corvettes, Z06s included, will be fitted with special "50th Anniversary" badges (in lieu of the normal Corvette crossed flags emblems) on the front fascia and rear deck.

The new for '03 Magnetic Selective Ride Control utilizes a new damper design that controls wheel and body motion through a Magneto-Rheological fluid within the shock absorber body. An electromagnetic coil inside the shock absorber piston changes the consistency of the MR fluid via an electrical current with the result being continuously variable real time damping. The MSRC system is claimed to provide a quieter and flatter ride, as well as more precise and responsive handling. It is integrated with both the ABS (Anti-lock Braking System) and the standard-equipment second-generation active handling system to ensure vehicle stability. The system consists of a MR-fluid based shock absorber at each wheel, a set of sensors, and an on-board controller. As with the old F45 (electronic) Selective Real Time Damping, there will be a console-mounted switch with "touring" and "sport" settings. Brand Manager Baldick described it as, "When you don't want to feel the road, put it on 'touring;' when you want to feel what's going on, use the 'sport' setting."

The Corvette and Chevrolet management teams announced a preliminary lineup of Corvette 50th anniversary events over the next year or so, culminating with GM's Official Corvette 50th Anniversary Celebration in Nashville, Tennessee, June 26-28, 2003, at the conclusion of what should prove to be the ultimate National Corvette Caravan. By the time you're reading this, the official GM Web site, Corvette50th.com, will be fully operational as a one-stop source for the latest 50th Anniversary information. We expect there'll be a ton of licensed 50th Anniversary merchandise, and a major source will be Corvette50thStore.com. It, like the celebration Web site, should be up and going at full throttle by sometime this June.

The 50th Anniversary Edition Corvette isn't going to be the fire-breathing road warrior some of us hoped for, but it is a finely crafted sports car and fully worthy of its proud heritage. The General is not going to let us down. As Rick Baldick stated at the 50th Anniversary Edition and Indy 500 Pace Car unveilings on April 10th, "There's nothing to compare with the devotion of the Corvette community. That's why Chevrolet is answering the call for a major blowout. You name something Corvette; we've got it. A 50th Anniversary only happens once, and we're determined to make Corvette's one to remember."

They're off to a pretty good start.

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