Corvette Generations – 1953 -2019
2020/21 Corvette C8
LA NOUVELLE CORVETTE STINGRAY
Corvette Performance History: From the first 1954 150-hp convertible to today’s C8 Bad boy!
All testing results were performed by Motor Trend in the USA.
C1 Corvette (1953-1962) A Legend Is Born
Our (Motor Trend) first impressions were printed in the March 1953 issue of the magazine, and the first test appeared in June 1954. Of that first generation, we tested every available engine (235, 265, 283, and 327). Naturally, the slowest was the 1954 Corvette: Its 235-cubic-inch 150-hp Blue Flame inline-six and two-speed automatic required 11.5 seconds to sprint to 60 mph. The fastest was the 1962, with a 327-cubic-inch 360-hp V-8 and four-speed manual, which dropped the 0-60 time to 5.9 seconds. Quarter mile testing was in its infancy then, but just 9 years after its debut, that same 1962 car was the first Corvette to break 100 mph over the 1,320 feet, coming in at 14.9 seconds at 102.9 mph. In contrast, it took 29 years after its introduction for a production Camaro to surpass a 100-mph trap speed with a 1996 SLP-built 350-cubic-inch 305-hp Z28 SS (13.8 seconds at 101.4 mph).
C2 Corvette (1963-1967) The Stingray
During the Corvette’s shortest, but some say, its greatest generation, three engines were offered: 327-, 396-, and 427-cubic-inch models of various outputs. We didn’t manage to snag a 396 to test, but we did run a 13.4-second 105.0-mph quarter mile in a ’66 427-cubic-inch 425-hp convertible. The year prior, disc brakes were made available, and stopping from 60 mph shrunk from 144 to 120 feet. Many say this was the high-water mark for Corvettes in terms of styling and performance, and we’d tend to agree.
C3 Corvette (1968-1982) Highs and Lows
What started as a strong generation with 327- and 427-cubic-inch V-8s making 350 to 425 hp, the Corvette saw a big dip in engine output corresponding to emissions requirements and the shift from SAE-gross to SAE-net horsepower ratings. First, the high point. We were treated to a track day in the infamous, mysterious Super Vette, the 1969 ZL-1 with an all-aluminum L-88 427-cubic-inch V-8. Officially rated at 430 horsepower (61.4 hp/L), reports and results suggest it actually cranked out at least 500 to 550 horses (78.6 hp/L). With a three-speed automatic and a 3,000-rpm “neutral drop” into drive (yikes!), on slick tires the ZL-1 ran a 10.6-second quarter mile at 132 mph. We wouldn’t see a pass like that for another 50 years when a supercharged 2019 Corvette ZR1 (122.5 hp/L) would run a 10.8-second pass at 133.1 mph. The absolute low spot was in 1975 (the first year of the catalytic converter and single-exhaust), when the Corvette’s L-82 made just 165 horsepower with its 350-cubic-inch V-8 (28.9 hp/L). Results were expectedly underwhelming with a 9.6-second 0-60 time and an agonizing 16.4-second 87.5-mph quarter mile.
C4 Corvette (1984-1996) A Return to Form
Skipping the 1983-model year and shedding some 200 pounds in weight, we proclaimed the 1984 C4 Corvette “the best-handling production car in the world.” To prove it, we took one to Laguna Seca (MT May 1983) and raced it against a Ferrari 308 GTSi, Jaguar XJS, and Porsche 928S. It beat them all. A few months later, we named the Corvette our 1984 Car of the Year. Other C4 highlights included the debut of the highly anticipated ZR-1 variant in 1990. It was the first (and only) Corvette to shun OHV pushrods and 16 valves, and benefit from a DOHC 32-valve engine (LT5). With the exception of that enigmatic ’69 ZL-1, this 375-hp Corvette first dipped into the 12-second field in the quarter mile with a 12.8-second run at 113.8 mph. At just 4.4 seconds, it was also the first sub-5-second 0-60 time. Antilock brakes arrived in 1986, and 60-0 stopping distances dipped under 110 feet for the first time.
C5 Corvette (1997-2004) The Coke Bottle and the Hard Top
Perhaps the most redesigned Corvette since the C1-C2 shift, the C4 shed 1,000 parts from its forebear and gained a new LS1 (Gen III small block with individual coils for each cylinder) engine boasting 345 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. Shortly thereafter MotorTrend named it 1998 Car of the Year. The ride/handling balance was solved with the F45 Selective Ride suspension, and the track-oriented Z51 package made its mark. Shortly thereafter, F55 Magnetic Ride superseded F45. It was also during the C5 period that the high-performance Z06 returned (it had been MIA since 1963) with the next-gen LS6 V-8 (385/405 hp) propelling it to trap speeds in excess of 110 mph. It also posted the first ever 1.0 g lateral acceleration figure on the skidpad for a Corvette. Once the low-cost model, the new Hard Top (notch back) became the only way to get a Z06.
C6 Corvette (2005-2013) Small (Big) Blocks and Blowers
Often criticized as a warmed-over C5, the C6 improved interior materials and controls. The pop-up headlights went away, and the LS2 appeared with a gain of 50 hp and 40 lb-ft of torque, but fuel economy suffered. The engine was later bumped from 6.0 to 6.2 liters; horsepower rose from 400 to 436 and torque from 400 to 436 lb-ft. Things got interesting in 2006 when the 427-cubic-inch (7.0 L) engine returned, supplying an honest 505 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque. This put the Corvette’s 0-60 time under 4 seconds for the first time (3.8) and its quarter-mile under 12 (11.8), with trap speeds in excess of 125 mph (125.2). However, the real excitement arrived in 2009 with the ZR1’s supercharged 6.2-liter LS9 making a then-unheard-of 638 horsepower and 604 lb-ft of torque. This was the first Corvette engine capable of producing more than 100 horsepower per liter (102.9 hp/L). This dropped the 0-60 time to 3.5 seconds and the quarter-mile time to just 11.2 seconds at 130.5 mph. Late in the C6 era, Chevrolet released a 427 Convertible that rocketed to 60 mph in just 3.8 seconds on the way to a 11.9-second, 121.5-mph quarter mile, making it the quickest and fastest Corvette convertible.
C7 (2014-2019) The Front-Engine Swan Song
The standard 6.2-liter LT1 engine brought 460 horsepower and 465 lb-ft of torque to the party, and paired with the new seven-speed manual transmission, sub-4-second 0-60 times. The Z06 returned in 2016, but this time with a 650-hp 650-lb-ft supercharged 6.2-liter LT4 V-8. Paired with a new eight-speed automatic, this combination beat a manual-transmission Z06’s performance for the first time in a Corvette. The Grand Sport returned in2017 with a dry sump LT1, the Z06’s widebody, and the Z51 handling package. Some say this was the true sweet spot in the C7, as it could put all of its grip and power to full use. Again, the new eight-speed auto was slightly quicker, but they stopped in 90 to 91 feet and circled our skidpad with between 1.11 and 1.14 g in lateral acceleration. As if to throw a going-away party, Chevy resurrected the ZR1, but this time with 755 horsepower and 715 lb-ft of torque. The traction-limited car was only able to manage 3.0-second blasts to 60 mph, but with its 10.8-sec/133.1-mph drag strip performance, it was the first (and only) Corvette into the “tens” and over 130-mph in the quarter mile.
2020 Corvette Stingray: The C8 Keeps Its Promises
You’ll forgive any skepticism. Chevrolet told us moving the engine back a few feet, adding 35 horsepower (give or take), and employing a dual-clutch transmission would make the 495-hp C8 Corvette Z51 quicker to 60 mph than the 755-hp C7 Corvette ZR1, despite the C8’s considerably worse power-to-weight ratio. Plus, they said, it would come within a tenth of a g or two on the skidpad while wearing all-season tires. And, with launch control engaged and 61 percent of the weight on the rear tires, the C8 Corvette Z51 shot to 60 mph in a staggering 2.8 seconds on the way to an 11.1-second quarter mile at 123.2 mph.
Let’s geek out on these numbers for a hot minute. The best the C7 could ever manage is 3.0 seconds to 60. That 2019 C7 ZR1 weighed only a few dozen pounds more than this 3,622-pound C8 Z51 but had to launch just 4.8 pounds per horsepower to the new car’s 7.3. The best a C7 Z51 could ever do was 3.7 seconds to 60, with the same power-to-weight as the new car thanks to a slimmer curb weight. Even the C7 Grand Sport, with its stickier tires and Z06 suspension, only managed a 3.6. The quickest factory Corvette ever is the new base model with a sport package.
As you’d expect, much of the advantage is in the launch, but you’d be surprised just how much. The quickest C7 ZR1 ran a 10.8-second quarter mile at 133.1 mph, just 0.3 second quicker. So great was the C8 Z51’s launch advantage that the C7 ZR1 barely got ahead of it by the quarter by running 10 mph faster.
Similarly, it neither looks nor feels like a sub-3-second 0-60 sprint, but the numbers don’t lie. There’s never a big shove of torque; the engine’s delivery is always exactly the same. You just gain speed, as simple as that. The dual-clutch transmission is exceptional for a first try, a game effort to match Porsche’s benchmark PDK. The steering is precise and accurate but could stand to give you more road feel.
For decades, we made excuses for the Corvette’s foibles, arguing its performance per dollar trumped all else. The C7 changed that, showing us Chevy could afford to make the Corvette nice, too, in addition to fast. Still, it wasn’t as nice as the cars it was beating on the stopwatch.
No more. The C8 is not only powerful, but, dare we say, it’s also the most premium-feeling Corvette that Chevrolet has ever made.
It’s the quickest Corvette to ever roll off the assembly line.
Article by Chris Walton, Photos Motor Trend Staff, July 24, 2019
Ten of the Most Valuable “Classic” Corvettes
The 10 most valuable Corvettes, according to CNN-Money’s research, used “mean” sold prices. It is understood that there may be some very unique or special editions that have drawn even higher dollar figures, but this list covers the more well known Vettes.
Many of the Corvettes listed continue to climb in value and as the years go by, these cars are only becoming older and more rare. As much as most of us love the new capabilities and technology that GM has put into the more recent Corvettes, there is just something about a classic.
1963 Grand Sport
The true piéce de résistance of Corvette history has to be the 1963 Grand Sport. Nearing the end of 1962, in an attempt to end Carol Shelby’s reign on the racing circuits, Zora Arkus-Duntov and his colleagues issued a plan to build 125 ultra-light, high performance Corvettes. The 125-unit production number was selected so that the special Corvettes would qualify as “GT production cars” per the racing rules of their organization.
Sadly, General Motors put the brakes on the idea and canceled the program; but not before Mr. Duntov and his team were able to produce five cars – the Grand Sport was born. Due to the 125 minimum never being produced, the Grand Sport would never make its planned debut at the 1963 Le Mans race in France. That was not the end of the road for these natural born racers, they still brought plenty of thunder to road race circuits around the country in the hands of private racing teams.
These five, first generation, Grand Sport models were equipped with 377 cubic inch, aluminum V8s putting out an impressive 550 hp, four-speed manuals, four-wheel independent suspension, and proudly sat on the scales at 1,900 pounds. The massive weight reduction can be attributed to swapping many of the steel and iron parts for aluminum and magnesium.The special project team for the Grand Sport even went as far as not using any gel coat on the special hand-laid fiberglass bodies which gives the paint an odd translucent effect.
1969 Chevrolet Corvette ZL-1
Ironically, the second most valuable Vette doesn’t appear to be any different than the 1969 L88, which is worth about a third. Most people will never even see this car in person, and that is because a mere two were ever built. The ZL1 engine was roughly an all aluminum version of the iron L88. That being said the internal construction was quite different as the journals and web areas were all much beefier, for more bolting locations and the ability to handle increased power.
Additionally, this motor had the ability to accept a dry sump oiling system, an optional gear drive for the camshaft which was ground with a higher lift and different duration than the L88. So why didn’t more of the public choose this option? It added about $6,000 to the cost of their Corvette which was more than double that of the seemingly identical L-88.
1967 Chevrolet Corvette L-88
While the C2 had only come into existence a few years prior, 1967 would mark the end for the C2 Corvette Sting Ray. Aside from changing the rear window after the first year, the body changes we relatively small. The typical changes were made to the grilles, lights, wheels, and rocker panels but the car stayed relatively similar; this may have contributed to its now iconic shape.
The 427 cubic inch motors of the time typically came equipped with three Holley two-barrel carburetors, which the factory dubbed Tri-Power. These engines were certainly no slouch, but the L-88 was the real beast of the era. It was essentially the closest thing to a race motor that Chevy had ever released to the public.
The L-88 featured: lightweight heads with huge ports, an very aggressive camshaft, an aluminum radiator, small-diameter flywheel, and a giant Holley four-barrel carburetor. The engine design produced a compression ratio of 12.5:1, which required an fuel octane rating of 103, available at select filling stations. The factory claimed that the motor produced 430 hp at 4,600 rpm. In reality, this motor produced about 560 hp at 6,400 rpm… a bit more of a handful than expected.
The motor and accompanying chassis options were quite impressive but the additional $1,500 over base deterred most buyers. In fact only 20 1967 L-88s were sold that year.
1969 Chevrolet Corvette L-88
1969 marks the year that the Chevy small block increased in size from 327 cubic inches, to 350, or 5.7-liters. These cars featured 8-inch wide wheels, though tires remained the same. Positraction was an option for the Corvette at this time, though more than 95-percent of all cars would receive it from the factory. Badges were affixed to the front fenders, and it was changed to “Stingray” from the C2 “Sting Ray” nameplate.
However, the L88 was a different animal. These cars came equipped with a 427 cubic inch engine, a L88 competition hood, heavy-duty M22 four-speed transmission, and even special brakes, suspension, and an ignition system. The L88 was a full package, and the previous options had to be ordered to make your car a true L88.
1953 Chevrolet Corvette
The first model year for the Corvette was 1953, but America’s sports car had a bit of a slow start. During this year, only 300 cars were produced marking it as the lowest production volume model year in Corvette’s history. Effectively, these cars were hand-built and appropriately each 1953 Corvette is slightly different from the next.
A lack of experienced craftsman and quality fiberglass created issues with water leaks, fit and finish, and door fitment. While these issues were eventually resolved, the public had a negative reaction to the Corvette’s debut.
That being said, all the cars were finished with Polo White exteriors, red interiors, and black canvas tops. Original manuals depict them as options, but all 300 cars were built with heaters and an AM radio. The original cost of the C1 was $3490, and over 200 are reported to be in existence today.
1963 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 “Big Tank”
1963 marks the year of the first C2 Corvettes, and was also the only year of the split rear window. These cars were all constructed with 327 cubic inch engines, and produced 250 hp standard. While there were several variations that increased horsepower production, the most powerful engine utilized Rochester fuel injection and made 360 hp.
This would also mark the first year a performance equipment package would be offered, ordered using RPO (Regular Production Option) code Z06 was born. The reason these cars are referred to as “Big Tanks” is because the Z06 package initially had a 36.5-gallon gas tank, compared to the 20-gallon tank. Only 199 1963 Z-06 Corvettes were ever produced, 63 of which were factory-documented “Big Tank” builds.
1957 Chevrolet Corvette “Fuelie”
The 1957 Corvette has nearly identical styling to the ’56 though this would be the last year of the single headlights. The engine was pumped up to 283 cubic inches, and fuel injection became a factory option. A four-speed manual transmission became available in the Spring of that year, which helped to better control the engine’s 290 hp.
At the time, Chevrolet’s advertising agency used the slogan, “One horsepower per inch.” All of mathematicians have realized that this would equate to 283 hp, but the 290 hp is correct when equipped with fuel injection. Chevrolet actually marketed this motor on the conservative side. This year, the Corvette could also be ordered “ready-to-race” with special options, some of which included: a 283 hp engine with the Fresh Air and Tach Package, Heavy-Duty Suspension, and 15×5.5-inch wheels.
1955 Chevrolet Corvette – V8
The big news for 1955 was the introduction of a V8 engine. It was an option, at first, but it wasn’t long before the straight-6 was no longer offered.
By this time, General Motors was just about ready to give up on the Corvette. The V8, which finally generated some real performance excitement, was one of the things that saved it. The other, ironically, was the Ford Thunderbird. Ford’s competing car outsold the Corvette but showed that there really was a market for a fun American two-seater. Before long, Ford added back seats to the Thunderbird, leaving the two-seat sports car market to the ‘Vette.
1962 327 “Fuelie”
At this point the Corvette was about ready for a makeover, making 1962 the last year of the C1 Corvette. This year also marked the last year for exposed headlights until 2005, and the last time a solid-axle rearend would be utilized, which would never return; after all it is a sports car.
Engine displacement would increase to 327 cubic inches across the board, and they were available in a few horsepower varieties. The most valuable and most potent option was fuel-injected, utilized solid lifters, and had a compression ratio 11.25:1. This motor punched out 360 hp, it was definitely a contender on the strip and street.
1996 Grand Sport, convertible
The 1996 Grand Sport convertible is one of the rarest C4s built. While there were a few special edition cars built with extremely limited numbers, few are more recognizable then the famed C4 Grand Sports thanks to their paint schemes; which is Admiral Blue, an Arctic White stripe down the center, and two red slashes on the driver side front fender.
There were 1,000 C4 Grand Sports built, but the convertible only made up 190 of these. Equally as notable as the paint, is the LT4 engine which housed: a 10.8:1 compression ratio, aluminum heads and camshaft, a 6,300 rpm rev limiter, and produced 330 hp at the crank. Quite the engine for 1996!
Corvette C4 – to know one is to Love One
Everyday Driver Digs the C4 Corvette — By:Dave Cruikshank – Oct 20, 2020 (corvetterblogger)
When the 1984 Corvette was introduced in the spring of 1983, it set the automotive world on its ear. It wasn’t just a breath of fresh air, it was like taking a long, undiluted hit of pure oxygen. After 14 years of the long-in-tooth C3, the 1984 Corvette ushered in the budding decade of the eighties with many high-water engineering milestones.
This new Corvette debuted with a non-structural composite body, a drivable chassis, unidirectional tires, electronic instrumentation, and slinky, slippery styling that made everything else look old and dowdy. Though some might disagree, the C4 established the modern blueprint that led to all later iterations of front-engine, rear-wheel-drive Corvettes.
It was also a demon on a road course. In fact, it was so good and so fast, the Sports Car Club of America banned it in the late eighties. According to an article from our friends over at Hagerty, “Auto racing might be the only sport that penalizes a team for winning. When that happened to the C4 Corvette in the late 1980s, the incident started an intriguing new chapter in the marque’s racing history. The C4 Corvette thrust Chevy’s sports car into supercar handling territory, if not ultimate speed, when it debuted in 1984. With 0.9-g cornering, reliable Chevy small-block V-8 performance, and excellent brakes, the C4 quickly proved its mettle in SCCA Showroom Stock GT racing. The Vette utterly dominated the podium in the Playboy and then Escort Endurance Championship from 1985–87, relegating the Porsche 944 Turbo to a cameo role in the series.
“The Corvette beat Porsche 29–0 from 1985 to 1987, says John Powell, who ran a racing school at Canada’s Mosport track in Ontario, Canada, and campaigned ‘Vettes in that series. Corvette fans were happy, but the ‘Vette’s dominance threatened race participation by other brands, as well as fan attendance.
“And so, after the 1987 series, the SCCA booted the Corvettes. Powell says that when Corvette chief engineer Dave McLellan asked him for ideas, he proposed creating a new spec series along the lines of the Player’s Challenge that he’d produced in Canada for the Camaro and Firebird. Chevy leadership and marketing got onboard with his proposal and birthed the now-famous Corvette Challenge.”
The C4 also began what would become a Corvette tradition that eluded the poor old C3. While Chevrolet let the Shark flounder in the automotive equivalent of a tidepool, Corvette Chief Engineer Dave McLellan implemented constant improvement of the C4 through its twelve-year lifespan. Tuned Port Injection, ABS, Traction Control, adjustable suspension, and the multi-valve LT5, ZR1 “King of the Hill” model were just some of the highlights. As a finale in the early nineties, the C4 received a very deft cosmetic refresh and the LT1 V8 which was probably underrated at 300hp.
The LT5 ZR1 was wicked fast on the track and smashed speed records in 1990 as well. “A stock ZR-1 set seven international and world records at a test track in Fort Stockton, Texas on March 1, 1990, verified by the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) for the group II, class 11 category:”
100 miles (160 km) at 175.600 mph (282.601 km/h)
500 miles (800 km) at 175.503 mph (282.445 km/h)
1,000 miles (1,600 km) at 174.428 mph (280.715 km/h)
5,000 km (3,100 mi) at 175.710 mph (282.778 km/h) (World Record)
5,000 miles (8,000 km) at 173.791 mph (279.690 km/h) (World Record)
12 Hours Endurance at 175.523 mph (282.477 km/h)
24 Hours Endurance at 175.885 mph (283.059 km/h) for 4,221.256 miles (6,793.453 km) (World Record)
In total, the C4 had an incredible twelve-year run and is undeniably a bright spot in the history of the marque. Fast-forward to today and the C4 is the misfit of the Corvette hobby. Huh? So how did this happen?
Well first off, Chevrolet made approximately 350,000 of them as it was a big seller over twelve friggin’ model years. To put it bluntly, there ain’t anything rare about a C4.
Secondly, the car is a bitch to get in and out of and that’s soured many folks on C4s. Lastly but most critical, the reason the C4 is at the bottom of Corvette desirability is because it missed the LS revolution. Had the C4 been the recipient of an LS update, as opposed to the reverse-flow LT1 in 1992, it would be a triple hot commodity, not only on the used car market, but with modders and rodders as well. Sadly, that was bestowed on the new for 1997 C5 and the rest is history.
They drive three affordable used sports cars, a Porsche Boxster, a Nissan 370Z and a later-era C4 Coupe, each valued at $10k or under. As Corvette fans, we could care less about lumpy Nissans or dopey Porsches with fried-egg headlights and tiny, trouble prone motors. We want to know how the Corvette compares.
It turns out, they loved it! They wax euphorically about its poise, power and road worthiness. The most telling aspect of this comparison happens at 18:44 in the video. One of the talking heads says, “We never have spent much time in a C4…” I would wager to say the most vocal critics of the C4 haven’t spent much time in one, or know jack about it’s still impressive performance envelope or history of trophies and speed records.
As the owner of a 1995 roadster, I can tell you the car has many virtues. I bought my four-owner, 35k original mile car in Lincoln Park, a suburb of Los Angeles, in the summer of 2016. It was an accident-free car that had been properly maintained over its lifetime. I always say, but the best car you can right out of the gates, it will save you headaches down the road.
After four years of ownership, my C4 has revealed itself to be a multi-talented sports car. It has an ample reserve of power, a hell of a passing gear, and is a tremendous highway cruiser, easily inhaling ribbons of asphalt with nary a quibble. Also, I prefer Jerry Palmer’s styling to that of the C5 and C6. It has longer front and rear overhangs and has just a skosh of old-school styling mixed in with the air tunnel tuned shape.
I modded my car with 18-inch CCW SP500 wheels, Nitto NT555 G2 tires and Baer Eradispeed rotors. I also upgraded the interior with Mid America Motorworks seat covers. When the car was finished, I placed third in my class at the Plastic Fantastic Car Show in San Diego in 2018.
The car does have well-known C4 bugaboos, (OptiSpark, Fisher-Price interior, flexible chassis, shift lockout failure, and steering rag-joint waddle) but other than that, it has been incredibly stout and reliable. It’s probably the last true Corvette as well. What I mean by that, it’s an exotic, rough and tumble bruiser that revels in its uncompromising personality. The C5 became a “real car” with all the rough edges polished off and while a quantum leap forward, it brought the Corvette into the era of modern automotive refinement. An old-school Corvette is about many things, but polished edges ain’t one of them.
So to all the folks who hate C4s, please drive one before slagging them? Learn the incredible history of the car too. I think when we’re all driving autonomous pods, the C4 Corvette might come back into favor with a new set of fans, especially ones who are unaware of the current Debbie Downer narrative.
Until then, buy the best one you can, focus on well-maintained model of any year, and snap them up while they’re cheap.
C1 Corvette – The Complete Reference, Facts, and History
The Chevrolet Corvette is an icon of American automotive history and one of the most recognized and revered cars across the globe. The first-generation Chevrolet Corvette (commonly referred to as the C1) debuted in 1953 at the General Motors Motorama event at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City.
The C1 Corvette had a nine-year production run when it was replaced by the second-generation Corvette, or the C2, in 1962. Penned by legendary car designer Harley Earl, the Chevy Corvette drew inspiration from numerous sources. Earl wanted to create a true American sports car, and he noticed all the European sports cars that American GIs were bringing home with them after their service in World War II. Another inspiration was the Nash-Healey, a two-seat sports car from Nash Motors. Earl and his team created “Project Opel” in the early 1950s, which eventually became the original Corvette we know today.
Another notable member of the Corvette team was Zora Arkus-Duntov, the head Corvette engineer and commonly referred to as the ‘Father of the Corvette.’ Duntov joined the team after seeing the original car at the Motorama event, and he became the man responsible for many of the car’s innovations, much of its early racing success and the implementation of the successful Grand Sport program. Of Duntov’s many accomplishments with the Corvette, developing it into a proven sports car was one of his most significant. Duntov and his team set a stock car record at the Pike’s Peak hillclimb in 1956, and also set a new record at Daytona Beach by hitting 150 mph in the flying mile.
Duntov’s Grand Sport program launched in the final year of the C1 Corvette in 1962. The program was focused on creating a lightweight racing Corvette that could compete against established marquees. Only five original Grand Sports were built with a 550-horsepower aluminum small-block V8 engine. These incredibly rare cars weren’t formally allowed to go racing by GM and ended up in the hands of private car collectors.
The very first production Chevrolet Corvette C1 rolled off a makeshift assembly line in Flint, Michigan in June of 1953. The initial batch of cars, which was limited to only 300 units, were all black canvas soft tops, and all wore the now iconic Polo White exterior color scheme and featured an equally iconic red interior. Under the hood, they used a 3.8-liter inline six-cylinder engine (no V8 yet) with three Carter carburetors, mechanical lifters, and a high-lift camshaft. Nicknamed ‘Blue Flame,’ the engine produced 150 horsepower and was mated to a two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission.
Earl’s design for the C1 Corvette is beautiful and immediately recognizable. The Corvette convertible’s styling is tight and compact and features sweeping lines that run from the headlights over the rear fenders, white-walled wheels, taillights that protrude in classic 1950’s styling, and a unique chrome grille. Instead of a steel body, GM used fiberglass to shape the Corvette; it was one of the first instances of such extensive use of then-revolutionary lightweight
1954 saw a significant increase in the Corvette’s production run, with some 3,640 cars being produced. General Motors also expanded the colors customers could get their Corvette in – Sportsman Red, Black, and Pennant Blue – and increased the engine’s output to 155 horsepower.
In 1955, the Corvette received arguably its most significant update ever, an improvement that would set the template for all future Corvettes. This was the year that GM put a 4.3-liter small-block Chevy V8 engine under the Corvette’s hood, dramatically increasing power over the six-cylinder to 195 horsepower. GM fitted the Corvette with a three-speed manual transmission, the first time the car featured anything other than an automatic transmission. These improvements were well received and helped improve the Corvette’s sportscar credentials. Chevy built 700 Corvettes for the 1955 model year.
More improvements and upgrades arrived in 1956 including a removable hardtop, exposed headlamps, a redesigned exterior that now included the famous ‘coves’ or sculpted side scoops, and manual roll-up windows. Horsepower was again bumped up – the small-block V8 now made up to 240 horsepower – and the original inline six-cylinder engine from the first year Corvettes made was phased out entirely. Duntov, who was instrumental in continually pressing GM to improve the Corvette’s performance, tried to convince GM to formally begin a racing program with the car but to no avail. He’d have to wait a little longer for that to happen.
’57 Corvettes benefited from yet more advanced technology including optional fuel injection and a limited slip differential. If a Corvette had fuel-injection back then, they were given the nickname ‘fuelie.’ The car’s V8 engine was increased to 4.5-liters and made around 290 horsepower, increasing the car’s top speed to a reported 132 miles-per-hour. A new four-speed manual transmission was also introduced in 1957.
Another notable achievement made by this year’s Corvette was that it became one of the very first mass-produced engines to achieve a rating of one horsepower per cubic-inch, something Chevrolet capitalized on with their “One HP per cubic inch” marketing slogan. ’57 Vettes could also be had with heavy-duty racing suspension and other premium racing-derived components. Chevy also offered a tachometer that could be mounted to the steering column on ‘fuelie’ optioned models. This was also the last year that GM used ‘Polo White’ on the Vette.
Updates for the 1958 Corvette were substantial and focused primarily on the car’s exterior. The single headlights with mesh covers were replaced with a four-headlight design (two on each side), the hood was given faux louvers, and the trunk area received unique chrome accents. The interior also got an update, most notably the new instrument cluster which placed the tachometer directly in front of the driver. 1958 also marked the year that the Corvette finally turned a profit
Despite the philosophy of continuous performance improvement, the power output for both the 1958 and the 1959 Corvettes remained constant and didn’t change. 1959 also only saw minor interior and exterior changes as well. A turquoise soft top color was available (the only year this was offered, actually), there was a new ‘T-shift’ handle for the four-speed gearbox, and sun visors could be had as an optional extra.
For 1960, Chevrolet gave the Corvette aluminum radiators and the rarest factory paint color to come on any Corvette: Cascade Green. There are reportedly only 140 cars wearing this color. The 1960 model year Corvette also marks the final time the car would have its taillights molded into the rear fenders.
The following year would see new rear lights that echoed the car’s headlights – four lights, two on each side of the vehicle, placed into the bumper. These new taillights would become one of the Corvette’s signature design elements. 1960 marked the first time that the Corvette crested the 10,000 unit-per year mark with Chevrolet producing 10,261 cars with a base price of $3,872.
In popular culture, the Corvette was featured in the hit television show ‘Route 66’. The show ran for four seasons on CBS and followed the adventures of two men, Tod Stiles and Buz Murdock, crossing the United States in their Chevrolet Corvette. A 1960 model Corvette was the first car to be used in the show, and the characters would use a new model year Vette with each new season. When the show ended in 1964, the characters were driving a ‘Saddle Tan’ colored C2 Corvette.
Several classic Corvette styling elements were changed with the 1961 model year. In addition to new taillights, this year marked the end of white-walled tires and the word ‘Corvette’ was spelled out on the car’s nose instead of the round emblem found on previous cars. The two-tone paint job in the car’s cove area was eliminated, and also gone were the chrome “teeth” on the front grille in favor of a mesh screen over the radiator opening. The rear of the car was changed to a new ‘boat-tail’ design, and power from the engine was increased to 315 horsepower for the most powerful fuel-injected V8 engine.
The 1962 Corvette was the last model year to use a solid rear axle. Solid axles had been a feature of the Corvette since the original car back in 1953. A new engine was another major update for the Corvette: Displacement on the V8 was increased to 5.4-liters, and power swelled to a maximum of 360 horsepower.
Another element of the Corvette that changed was the exposed headlights. That styling element disappeared for decades while pop-up headlights became the norm until 2005 when the C5 model Corvette brought them back.
1962 also saw the largest production run of the Corvette in the car’s history to that date, with over 14,500 cars. The car’s price also reached a new high point with a base sticker of $4,038.
C1 Production Ends
1962 was the final year of the C1 Corvette. Over its nine-year run, the C1 Corvette became a legitimate competitor to the sports cars coming from Europe. The next iteration of the Corvette, the C2 in 1963, would see significant changes to the Corvette’s body style, a new design language, improved performance, and the introduction of perhaps the most famous moniker in the Corvette’s history: ‘Sting Ray’.
Article by Autolist, November 7, 2019
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