History of the Corvette from 1953 to Now
You've Come A
Long Way Baby!
Entering the 1950s, no corporation
even came close to General Motors in its size, the scope of its enterprise
or its profits. GM was twice the size of the second biggest company in the
world -- Standard Oil of New Jersey (forefather of today's ExxonMobil), and
had a vast conglomeration of businesses ranging from home appliances to
providing insurance and building Chevrolets, GMCs, Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles,
Buicks, Cadillacs and locomotives. It was so big that it made more than half
the cars sold in the United States and the U.S. Department of Justice's
antitrust division was threatening to break it up. In the vast 21st century,
it's almost hard to imagine how overwhelmingly large GM was back then.
But it didn't make a sports car. The idea of a car coming from stodgy GM
that could compete with Jaguar, MG or Triumph was almost absurd.
Still, there was room inside GM for dreams even if there wasn't any room for
whimsy. Harley J. Earl, GM's chief designer (formally the head of the Art
and Color Section) and the man who invented the "concept car" with the 1938
Buick Y-Job, was in charge of the corporation's ambitious musings. In the
fall of 1951, Earl began ruminating about an open sports car that would sell
for around the price of a mainstream American sedan -- about $2,000. His
ideas were rather nebulous, but he handed those notions over to Robert F.
McLean, the concept came into focus and a concept car emerged.
Determined to keep costs down, McLean used off-the-shelf Chevy mechanical
components. The chassis and suspension were for all intents and purposes the
1952 Chevy sedan's, with the drivetrain and passenger compartment shoved
rearward to achieve a 53/47 front-to-rear weight distribution over its
102-inch wheelbase. The engine was essentially the same dumpy inline six
that powered all Chevys but with a higher-compression ratio, triple Carter
side-draft carbs and a more aggressive cam that hauled its output up to 150
horsepower. Fearful that no Chevy manual transmission could handle such
extreme power (and there were no four-speeds in GM's inventory), a two-speed
Powerglide automatic was bolted behind the hoary six. And to keep tooling
costs in line, the body was made out of fiberglass instead of steel.
While the car was conceived with rigorous attention to the bottom line and
production feasibility in mind, it was still only intended to be part of
GM's Motorama exhibit at the 1953 New York Auto Show. That is until Ed Cole,
Chevy's then recently appointed chief engineer, saw it. Cole, then immersed
in development of the world-changing 1955 "small-block" V-8, is said to have
literally jumped up and down with enthusiasm for the Motorama car. So before
it even got to New York, and after some corporate machinations, the
engineering to put it into production began.
But first Cole needed to name it. So he called Myron Scott, founder of the
All-American Soap Box Derby and an assistant advertising manager for
Chevrolet, into a special meeting of executives researching the name. Scott
suggested "Corvette," Cole loved it and the rest is history.
The public at the New York show loved the 1953 Motorama Corvette almost as
much as Cole did. Thousands of potential buyers wanted to know when they
could buy one. Just six months later, they could. The 1953 Corvette,
virtually identical to the Motorama prototype, went into production on June
30, 1953, in Flint, Mich. They've been making them ever since.
C1: Solid Axle Corvettes (1953-1962)
While the 1953 Corvette was undeniably gorgeous and, with its fiberglass
body, somewhat innovative, as a sports car it was wholly pathetic. The
chassis handled better with the 'Vette's improved weight distribution, but
it was still pretty much a '52 Chevy sedan suspension down there. That meant
the front end was suspended by a primitive independent system and the rear
held up with leaf springs. A quicker steering gear gave some reflexes to the
car, but quicker isn't the same as quick. And of course, the 150-horsepower,
235-cubic-inch six and two-speed automatic Powerglide transmission was far
less than athletic.
It wasn't cheap either. At $3,498 the '53 Corvette sticker ran almost 75
percent more than Earl had initially hoped, $1,225 more expensive than the
second most expensive '53 Chevrolet, the eight-passenger Deluxe 210
four-door station wagon, and $272 more expensive than two Special 150
two-door sedans -- then the division's cheapest car. For comparison's sake,
the basic 2003 Corvette coupe, at $44,535, is $705 more expensive than three
of Chevy's current cheapest car, the Cavalier coupe.
Motor Trend tested one of the first Corvettes and found it traipsing from
zero to 60 mph in a lackadaisical 11.5 seconds. But the publication was not
completely unimpressed with the car. "Probably one of the biggest surprises
I got with the car was when I took it through some sharp corners at fairly
good speeds," its writer reported. "I'd heard that Chevrolet had designed
the suspension so that it would stay flat and stick in corners, but I took
it with several grains of salt. It sticks better than some foreign sports
cars I've driven."
The late start and makeshift nature of the Corvette's Flint, Mich., assembly
line meant that only 300 Polo White examples were built of the '53 before it
was time to introduce the 1954 model. Not surprisingly, the '54 (now
produced in an old millwork building in St. Louis) barely changed from the
'53 with the notable exception that it could now be ordered in Pennant Blue,
Sportsman Red and Black in addition to Polo White. A total of 3,640 were
built this model year and many wound up casting their shadows across Chevy
dealers' lots for months -- even years -- waiting for buyers. As
good-looking as the Corvette was, unless it had performance to match its
appearance, buyers weren't that interested in it.
The year 1955 brought the single most important development in the history
of the Corvette: Chevrolet's brilliant small-block V-8. Originally
displacing 265 cubic inches, the first small-block was rated at 195
horsepower in the otherwise almost unchanged '55 Corvette (the most notable
tweak was the oversize "V" in the lettering along the front fenders). Still
saddled with the Powerglide transmission, performance was still less than
scintillating (Road & Track had a '55 getting to 60 mph in 8.5 seconds), but
the potential was obvious. With many '54 Corvettes still clogging dealer
lots, GM restricted production of the '55 model to just 700 cars -- all but
maybe a half dozen of them being powered by the new V-8.
It was the 1956 Corvette that established the two-seater as a legitimate
performance machine and as an American icon. While the chassis was very much
a carryover from previous Corvettes, the '56's new body was simply gorgeous
from the chrome teeth filling its mouth, down along its scalloped flanks and
back to its round rump of a trunk. Inside, the cockpit was styled like,
well, a cockpit with the bucket seats surrounded by a body-colored frame
that divided the passenger space. And a removable hardtop was offered as an
option for the first time. To many, the '56 and barely changed '57 remain
the most beautiful Corvettes of all time.
As lovely as the '56 Corvette was (and still is) what really ignited the
legend that year was that GM began racing it. The only engine offered in the
'56 Corvette was the 265-cubic-inch V-8, now rated at 210 horsepower and it
could be backed, for the first time, by a three-speed manual transmission.
That was a solid enough start for Zora Arkus-Duntov, now the Corvette's
chief engineer, to begin going fast.
At Florida's Daytona Speedweeks in February, 1956, Duntov appeared with new
'Vettes for John Fitch and Betty Skelton. Reworked cylinder heads, a
compression ratio increase to 10.3 to 1, and a few other emerging speed
parts for the small-block had the V-8s making 255 horsepower. Fitch's '56
went 145.5 mph and Skelton sped past at 137.8 mph. During that same
competition, the best a Ford Thunderbird could do was just 134.404 mph.
After the Speedweeks experience came even more Corvettes for that year's 12
Hours of Sebring and then the more exuberantly styled SR-2 racer. And with
the racing came a change in Corvette advertising that now heralded the car's
performance and competition credentials. In a real way, the '53 to '55
Corvettes were only foreshadows of the "real" Corvette that arrived in '56.
Visually, the 1957 edition was virtually identical to the '56, but inside, a
four-speed manual transmission (the great T-10) was available for the first
time. The standard Corvette engine grew to 283 cubic inches and 220
horsepower, breathing through a single four-barrel carburetor. Best of all,
for the first time, Chevrolet offered performance-upgraded engines as
options. In addition to the base configuration, the 283 could be had with
dual-quad carbs rated at either 245 or 270 horsepower or, best of all, with
Rochester mechanical fuel injection.
Fuel injection on top of the 283 increased its output to either 250 or 283
horsepower -- one horsepower per cubic inch. The top engine probably made
more than that, but the ad agency loved that one cube/one pony hook.
Suddenly, the Corvette was one of the world's truly quick cars and it drove
beautifully. "The function of the fuel injection system was notable," wrote
Motor Trend's Walt Woron at the time. "Starts were quick. Pumping the
throttle didn't pump raw gas to the cylinders, so you can't flood it.
Throttle response is instantaneous. No maneuver could flood or starve the
engine (and I tried with violent cornering and hard braking)." Road & Track
had one '57 "Fuelie" catapulting to 60 mph in just 5.7 seconds. Still,
though Chevy built 6,339 Corvettes during the '57 model year, only 1,040 of
them had the fuel-injected engine.
Both the interior and exterior of the Corvette were significantly restyled
Dual headlights, simulated hood louvers, a full mine's worth of chrome and
needless side scoops marred the '58's exterior appearance. Inside, the
cockpit theme was even more exaggerated than before with a grab bar in front
of the passenger instead of instrumentation. The interior was actually
pretty good, but the exterior was just overdone.
Again, the engine bay could be filled with any one of four different
variations on the 283 small-block. At the base was the single four-barrel
version now making 230 horsepower, dual-quad versions were rated at 245 and
270 horsepower and the fuelie engines now made either 250 or 290 horsepower.
Garish or not, the '58 Corvette was a hit and Chevy built 9,168 examples.
For the first time, say some sources, GM made a profit with the Corvette.
Cleaning off some of the chrome excess (and those hideous fake hood louvers)
resulted in the much cleaner-looking 1959 Corvette, but the car was very
much a carryover otherwise. Chevy put a full 9,670 of the '59 Corvettes on
The 1960 Corvette didn't look much different from the '59, but the rated
outputs of the fuel-injected versions grew to 275 and a full 315 horsepower.
A rear anti-sway bar helped tame the solid rear axle a bit, and for the
first time over 10,000 Corvettes were built.
A new, toothless front grille announced the 1961 Corvette when it
approached, and a new "duck tail" rear end let everyone know it was new as
it departed. But except for the styling update (the rear part of which
forecast changes to come for '63), the '61 carried over almost unchanged
from '60. It was the last year for that '50s favorite, wide whitewall tires,
on the options list and the first for one rare option, the 24-gallon,
oversize fuel tank.
Big news came in the form of a big engine for 1962 as the small-block V-8
grew to 327 cubic inches. The base four-barrel engine now knocked out 250
horsepower with dual-quad versions available in 300- and 340-horsepower
versions. The fuel injection system was back, too, and it was now rated at a
thrilling 360 horsepower.
There's a subset of Corvette enthusiasts who claim the '62 (with its
blacked-out grille and new rocker panel molding) to be the greatest Corvette
ever. It was certainly the best of the first-generation, solid rear axle
Corvettes -- but the chassis was still closely related to the '52 Chevy
sedan. A new Corvette was overdue.
C2: The Sting Ray (1963-1967)
More than four decades after its introduction, the 1963 Corvette remains one
of the most startling, engrossing and completely delightful automotive
designs of all time. For many discerning enthusiasts, the '63 to '67
Corvettes are the most compelling of the series.
The "midyear" Corvettes aren't so much beautiful as they are provocative.
And it was Harley Earl's successor as GM design chief, Bill Mitchell, who
was doing most of the provoking. Back in the late '50s, Mitchell had
acquired one of the old SS chassis that had been built to race at Sebring
and, working with his assistant Larry Shinoda, designed a new body for it
with a high waistline, a chiseled prow and sharply creased fenders and
called it the Sting Ray.
At about the same time that Mitchell and Shinoda were conjuring up the Sting
Ray body style, Corvette chief engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov was building what
he hoped would be a world-class chassis for his beloved charge. Cutting the
wheelbase down by four inches to 98, Duntov built a ladder frame that was
much stiffer than the previous X-member design and allowed the passenger
compartment to be sunk down between the rails. He also designed a new
independent rear suspension that economically (in both dollar cost and space
usage) used a single transverse nine-leaf spring and the half shafts as part
of the linkage.
It was the marriage of the Mitchell/Shinoda body design with the new Duntov
chassis that resulted in the 1963 Corvette roadster and, for the first time,
From the rotating hidden headlamps across the front to the boat tail-shaped
rear window, the '63 Corvette coupe was outrageously attractive. And with a
thick center bar splitting the rear window in two, not a car out of which it
was particularly easy to see. That design earned this car the nickname
"split window coupe."
However, the '63 is the most cluttered of the Sting Rays, with phony vent
grilles in the hood, non-functional gills in the front fenders, ribbed
rocker moldings and that bar bisecting the rear window.
What carried over from the '62 to the '63 Corvette were most of the engines
(all of which still displaced 327 cubic inches), the four-wheel drum brakes
and the general styling of the rear quarters. A three-speed manual was still
the standard transmission and the base 327 V-8 was still rated at 250
horsepower. On the options sheet were 300- and 340-horsepower four-barrel,
and 360-horsepower fuel-injected versions of the 327. Also available was the
legendary "Z06" race pack option for the coupe that included such things as
metallic brake pads, a heavy-duty suspension and an oversize fuel tank.
Ordering the Z06 required the costly fuel-injected engine, so production was
Motor Trend tested a '63 Corvette powered by the fuel-injected engine and
backed by the Muncie four-speed transmission. The 'Vette hustled from zero
to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds and consumed the quarter-mile in 14.5 seconds at
102 mph. "We thought the old model cornered darn well," wrote the magazine,
"but there's no comparing it to this new one. It does take a little
different technique, but once the driver gets onto it, it's beautiful."
The public fell in love with the Sting Ray, buying 10,594 coupes and 10,919
convertibles. That's almost half again as many '62 'Vettes were sold and the
first time total sales topped 20,000 in a year.
For 1964 the Sting Ray's styling was cleaned up but the car otherwise mostly
carried over from '63. Eliminating the dummy hood vents, restyling the roof
vents and taking the center bar out of the rear window to drastically
improve visibility made the true glory of the Sting Ray's shape more
obvious. New to the options list was a 360-horsepower four-barrel 327, and
the fuelie motor was now rated at a stout 375 horsepower.
Visually, the easiest way to tell a 1965 Corvette from a '64 is the three
functional vertical louvers in each front fender. But the big news
(literally) was the availability of the new 396-cubic-inch big-block V-8.
And there was even better news as four-wheel disc brakes became standard
(though 316 fools did delete them in favor of drums and a $64.50 credit).
The "L78" 396 grunted out a hulking 425 horsepower and became an instant
legend as the meanest machine to leave General Motors since the company had
stopped building Sherman tanks. With the arrival of big-block power, the
mechanical fuel-injected 327's days were numbered -- 1965 would be its last
But the 396 lasted only one year in the Corvette as it was superseded by
427-cubic-inch versions of the big-block V-8 for 1966. Behind the new egg
crate grille, buyers could opt for the standard 327, which was now rated at
300 horsepower, a 350-horse version inhaling through a single four-barrel,
the "L39" 427 making 390 horsepower or the overwhelming "L72" 427 rated at
425 horsepower (the same as '65's 396, but with a less temperamental
For 1967 the louver count on each front fender went up to five and the
parking brake moved from under the dash to between the bucket seats. But the
real glory of the '67 came with the regal "L88" 427, which used aluminum
cylinder heads and an intimidating 12.5-to-1 compression ratio to make
somewhere north of 500 horsepower while wearing a huge 850-cfm four-barrel
carburetor (though Chevy would, disingenuously, only admit to 430 horses).
The L88 option carried an astronomical $947.90 price tag and ordering it
automatically eliminated the heater, radio and fan shroud. The intent was
obviously racing and only 20 L88s were ever built. Today they are the most
desirable of the first Sting Rays.
Also new to the Corvette option charts was an "L68" 427 rated at 400
horsepower and the L71 427 rated at 435 horsepower and featuring three
two-barrel carburetors ("tri-power").
In every conceivable way, the Corvette was at its peak in '67. But, for no
apparent reason, it was redesigned for '68 anyhow.
C3: The Mako Shark (1968-1982)
1965, the third-generation Corvette's styling was flamboyant in its
overall shape but restrained in its details. The fenders seemed almost to
burst over the tires, but there were no phony scoops or extraneous chrome
anywhere on the car. The nose seemed to almost be plowing into the ground
and used pop-up headlights to keep things sleek. There was a slight kickup
to the car's tail that was at least a bit reminiscent of Chapparal Can Am
race cars. This generation of Corvettes has never been as beloved as the
second generation, but it's still a car that commands attention wherever it
goes. "Getting emotionally 'hung up' on the Corvette's styling takes
somewhat longer than becoming enthused over its great driving
characteristics," wrote Motor Trend, "but not much."
Again there were coupe and convertible Corvettes offered for 1968. The
convertible again stowed its top under a hinged hard cover while the coupe
featured swooping buttresses on either side of a tunneled-in rear window.
The most unique element of the coupe, though, were the two removable roof
panels -- the first "T-tops."
However, though the body was all new, the chassis and drivetrains were all
familiar. The wheelbase was still 98 inches and the standard engine was
still a 300-horsepower 327 small-block V-8 topped by a four-barrel
carburetor. The optional engines included a 350-horsepower 327 and all the
big-block 427s from '67 including the awesome L88.
Though it replaced a beloved icon, the "Mako Shark" 'Vette proved a hit
during the '68 model year with Chevy selling 9,936 coupes (starting price
$4,663) and 18,630 convertibles (starting at $4,347). That was yet another
record, and it was accomplished despite calamitously bad quality control.
For 1969, the Sting Ray name returned, though now spelled out on the fenders
as one word -- "Stingray" -- in chrome script and the quality of assembly
improved markedly. Minor changes included moving the ignition key to the
steering wheel, and incorporating the backup lights into the taillights. The
most significant mechanical change was the replacement of the 327-cubic-inch
small-block V-8s with new 350-cubic-inch versions. As with the 327s, the
350s were rated at 300 horsepower in base form and 350 horsepower in the
optional "L46." The 427s also returned in force carrying the same power
ratings as '68's.
There was, however, one earth-shattering addition to the line: the ZL-1. The
ZL-1 engine was basically an L88 427 big-block V-8 done up in all-aluminum
construction, which made it 20 to 25 pounds lighter than a small-block.
Intended for road racing and equipped accordingly, only two of the
585-horsepower ZL-1s were produced. Motor Trend got to drive one of them.
"The ZL-1 has Ferrari speed plus," Eric Dahlquist, then the magazine's
editor, wrote, "Ferrari handling and Ferrari brakes but without Ferrari fuss
and bother so you can enjoy it, the car, more. Therefore, even without the
super Ferrari leather interior and Ferrari coachwork, it is still better
than a Ferrari in its own right because there is no distraction and
everything in perspective, aluminum engine, fiberglass body and all, the
ZL-1 is nearer a Chaparral 2G for the street …The ZL-1 doesn't just
accelerate because the word 'accelerate' is inadequate for this car. It
tears its way through the air and across black pavement like all the modern
big-inch racing machines you have ever seen, the engine climbing the rev
band in that kind of leaping gate as the tires hunt for traction, find it,
lose it again for a millisecond, then find it until they are locked in."
The four vertical side vents on each front fender of the '68 and '69 'Vettes
gave way to a new crosshatch pattern for the 1970 model and amber front
signal lights and square exhaust outlets also appeared. And finally a
four-speed manual transmission was made standard equipment, replacing the
desperately lame three-speed no one was buying anyhow.
The engine lineup for '70 was also revised with a new, thoroughly friendly
370-horsepower "LT-1" 350 joining the lineup and all the 427s departing in
favor of two new 454-cubic-inch big-block V-8s -- a 390-horsepower "LS5"
wearing a four-barrel carburetor and a tri-power equipped "LS7" making a
claimed 460 horsepower. However, the LS7 carried a $3,000 option price and
there's no record of any having been built. It would be a long while before
Corvettes would be so powerful again.
With stricter emissions controls in force, the compression ratios on all
Corvette engines dropped for 1971. The base 350 now plugged along with 270
horsepower, the LT-1 350 dropped to 330 horsepower, and the detuned LS5 454
now made a mere 365 horsepower. Gone was the LS7 454 and in its place was an
"LS6" 454 four-barrel V-8 rated at 425 horsepower. Those are still heady
numbers, but the diminution of Corvette performance would continue
throughout the rest of the decade. Except for the power losses, the '71 was
essentially the same as the '70.
The power drain would continue for 1972 and was exaggerated by a switch from
SAE gross to SAE net power ratings. So the base 350 now carried a measly
200-horsepower rating, the LT1 made just 255 horsepower, and the sole
big-block, an LS5 454, could only muster 270 horsepower. About 30 '72
Corvettes were powered by a special "ZR1" version of the LT-1 350 as part of
a club-racing package.
A body-colored rubberized front bumper took up residence on the 1973
Corvette, replacing the chrome strip used previously. Furthermore, the side
vents were now single, almost vertical, openings and radial tires were
standard for the first time. And power dropped again, with the base 350 now
rated at 190 horsepower and a new optional "L-82" 350 made 250 horsepower.
The sole 454 was an "LS4" rated at 275 horsepower.
The '73 Corvette's rubber nose was paired with a matching wedge-shaped,
body-colored tail on the 1974 Corvette as designers elegantly coped with new
bumper regulations. There was some more jiggling of power ratings on the
engines, but the big news was that this would be the last year for the
Ordering a 1975 Corvette was simplified down to two engine choices: the base
350 V-8 making a hideous 165 horsepower or the L82 making 205 horsepower --
both exhaling through a catalytic converter. A modification to the bumper
system meant the '75 Corvette's rear bumper cover was now a one-piece
molding, unlike the '74's that had an unsightly seam down its center. But
the Corvette was still amazingly popular with Chevy selling 33,836 coupes
and 4,629 convertibles during the '75 model year.
Chevy sold exactly zero 1976 Corvette convertibles by simply stopping
production. The base "L48" 350 was now rated at 180 horsepower as engineers
were beginning to grasp the intricacies of emissions regulations and the L82
350 jumped to 210 horsepower. Both engines breathed in through four-barrel
Inside, the '76 Corvette got a new four-spoke steering wheel similar to that
used on the Vega and Camaro -- a wheel that was instantly despised by most
enthusiasts -- and the dash was now grained with "stitching" molded in.
The Stingray lettering was excised off the 1977 Corvette's fenders and steel
reinforcements were added to the hood, but otherwise the car was a carryover
To celebrate the Corvette's first quarter century, the 1978 model's tail was
redesigned with a huge wraparound rear window replacing the buttresses that
had long been one of the coupe's signature design elements. However, while
the large window did increase luggage capacity, it didn't open so loading
was still a matter of working around the seats. The interior was
comprehensively tweaked and that included new instrumentation, a lockable
glove box and the relocation of windshield wiper controls to a stalk on the
The base L48 350 was now rated at 185 horsepower and a new dual-snorkel
intake bumped output of the L82 version to 220 horsepower. The standard
transmission was still a four-speed manual with a three-speed automatic
Two special-edition models became instant collectibles during the '78 model
year. The first was a "Silver Anniversary" edition that featured a two-tone
silver-on-top/charcoal-on-bottom paint job, and the second was the iconic
black-on-top/silver-on-bottom limited-edition Indy Pace Car that also
featured a deep chin spoiler and ducktail rear spoiler. This was the first
time a Corvette had paced the May classic and buyers snatched up the pace
cars. Many pace cars wound up going directly into storage and ultralow
mileage examples still regularly show up at auctions and on eBay. However,
the pace cars aren't particularly rare as Chevy wound up making about 6,500
Though it was hardly the quickest Corvette ever, the '78 was tremendously
popular with Chevy building 40,725 of them -- the first time the company had
sold more than 40,000 units.
On the outside, changes to the 1979 Corvette were indiscernible. A dual
snorkel air cleaner now fed the L48 350 and that boosted output to 195
horsepower. The L82 was treated to a new cam, larger valves, a
higher-compression ratio and a more efficient exhaust system which all
combined to push the engine to 225 horsepower. For some inexplicable reason,
production jumped to 53,807 during the model year -- yet another record --
and the Corvette's first production push beyond 50K.
An extensive design updating and weight reduction program had the 1980
Corvette looking more angular and weighing in about 250 pounds lighter. In
every state but California, the base L48 350 now made 190 horsepower and the
L82 was rated at 230. Both were available with either manual or automatic
Californians, however, were stuck with only a 305-cubic-inch V-8 making 180
horsepower that was lashed to a mandatory three-speed automatic
transmission. Sales of the '80 Corvette slumped to 40,506 units.
What changed about the 1981 Corvette was the adoption of a new, much lighter
fiberglass transverse rear leaf spring and a new, 190-horsepower "L81"
version of the 350 V-8 that was the only engine available. For most of the
country, the L81 was no great shakes, but it was a definite step forward for
California. In June of that year, Corvette production moved from St. Louis
to a brand-new facility in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Manual transmissions were banished from the 1982 Corvette, all of which were
equipped with a four-speed automatic transmission for this year. Also, back
after a 17-year absence was fuel injection -- this time an electronic
throttle body system known as "Cross-Fire Injection." The injection system
boosted output of the L81 350 to 200 horsepower with much better
Also offered during '82 was the "Collector Edition" Corvette that featured
silver-beige paint, special graphics, multivaned wheels, bronze-colored
glass roof panels and a rear glass window that opened hydraulically for
easier storage access.
With sales down to 25,407 units for the '82 model year, it was obvious the "Mako
Shark" 'Vettes had exhausted their welcome -- finally.
C4: Scientific Corvettes (1984-1996)
C4: Scientific Corvettes (1984-1996) Hey, what happened to 1983? What happened was that the change from the
previous-generation Corvette to the new one was so radical that it took a
while to get the Bowling Green plant up and running. So while 43
preproduction "1983" C4 Corvettes were built, none of these was ever sold to
the general public and only one of them survives today. Instead, in March of
'83, Chevrolet began selling the 1984 Corvette and it was the most
dramatically different Corvette since the '63 Sting Ray.
This new machine rode on a 96.2-inch wheelbase, used simply gorgeous cast
aluminum suspension components and featured a larger interior with fully
digital instrumentation that looked as if it had been ripped off a 'Star
Trek' movie set. One of the particularly cheesy and unconvincing 'Star Trek'
Gone were the old coupe's T-tops in favor of a single fiberglass section
that could be removed using a wrench, but many of the C3 styling themes
continued, though more conservatively expressed. The hideaway headlights
were now single square units on rotating mounts and the hood itself was a
giant clamshell piece that made access to the engine easy, but appalled
insurance companies who had to cover its enormous replacement cost.
Everything mechanical about the C4 Corvette was significantly better than
before. The new suspension system used composite transverse leaf springs
both fore and aft, the steering was by rack-and-pinion for the first time,
the brakes were oversized discs, the frame itself featured a large aluminum
C-section beam that made for a stiffer structure and the tires were enormous
(for the time) Goodyear P255/50VR16 unidirectional "Gatorbacks" on 16-inch
wheels. About the only thing that carried over was the small-block 350 V-8,
again equipped with Cross-Fire throttle body fuel injection and now rated at
At the beginning of the 1984 model run, the only transmission available was
the 700R4 four-speed automatic, but by January of 1984 a new Doug Nash "4+3"
manual transmission was offered which featured an electronically engaged
overdrive on the top three gears. Although intriguing, it was a balky and
completely crummy excuse for a transmission.
The major criticisms of the '84 Corvette were its incredibly stiff ride,
particularly when equipped with the Z51 performance suspension package, the
still lackluster engine and the obnoxious dash graphics. Despite that,
however, the '84 Corvette quickly established itself as the dominant car in
showroom stock racing and Chevrolet sold a stunning 53,877 of them during
the extended model year.
Messing with success where needed, the Corvette was treated to the new Tuned
Port Injected (TPI) version of the 350-cubic-inch (now more commonly
referred to as a 5.7-liter) small-block for 1985. This vastly more efficient
induction system bumped output of the V-8 to 230 horsepower with a thick and
friendly torque curve. The better "L98" engine was combined with a retuned,
more comfortable suspension to produce a significantly better Corvette than
the previous year.
A convertible returned to the Corvette lineup for 1986 and a bright yellow
version was used to pace that year's Indianapolis 500 -- the second time a
Corvette had had the honor. Another significant advance was the fitment of
Bosch antilock brakes for the first time, making for a safer everyday
machine. Every Corvette coupe also got a third brake light over its rear
hatch, while the convertible's was integrated into the rear fascia. Chevy
sold 27,794 '86 Corvette coupes and 7,315 convertibles.
The fitment of hydraulic roller lifters to the L98's valve train boosted its
output to 240 horsepower for 1987, but the car was virtually unchanged
otherwise. Two interesting additions to the options list were a new Z-52
suspension system for higher performance without the complete sacrifice of
comfort and new electronic tire-pressure monitors.
New 17-inch wheels inside P275/40ZR17 tires were added to the 1988 Corvette
options list while new aluminum cylinder heads and a revised camshaft
boosted the L98 to 245 horsepower with even better torque characteristics.
This was also the last year Chevy would foist the dreadful 4+3 transmission
off as the shift-it-yourself choice. A 35th anniversary model, done in a
white-on-white scheme, marked this milestone.
The new manual transmission for 1989 was a ZF six-speed that was a joy to
shift as long as you didn't mind using some muscle. And as long as you
didn't resent the "skip shift" feature that forced a shift from first to
fourth gear under part throttle conditions to improve fuel economy. Other
changes to the lineup included a new FX3 selective ride control system for
the Z51-equipped coupes and a new optional fiberglass hardtop for the
convertible. Every enthusiast knew, however, that much bigger, much brawnier
news was coming to the Corvette for 1990.
That big news was, of course, the 1990 Corvette ZR-1 coupe (the ZR-1 was
never available as a convertible). Nicknamed "King of the Hill," the ZR-1
was built around the Lotus-designed, Mercury Marine-built, all-aluminum,
5.7-liter, DOHC, 32-valve LT5 V-8 making an astounding 375 horsepower. That
is, it made 375 horsepower when an in-dash key was set in "full-power" mode
and not in the "valet" mode when it was limited to just 250 horsepower. The
only transmission available in the ZR-1 was the ZF six-speed and inside its
swollen rear fenders were humongous P315/35ZR17 tires on suitably wide
The widened rear fenders on the ZR-1 were capped by a new rear fascia
distinguished by squared-off taillights and convex (as opposed to the
usually concave) rear fascia.
In testing a preproduction ZR-1, Motor Trend concluded that "With a top
speed in the neighborhood of 175 mph, a 0-to-60-mph time of 4.71 seconds and
13.13-second/110.0-mph quarter-mile, no one's going to accuse the DOHC
'Vette of being limp-wristed." They were right, no one dared call the
limited-production ZR-1 limp-wristed, but it was criticized for its
incredible $58,995 price -- nearly twice that of a regular L98-powered
All the '90 Corvettes got a new dashboard with a vastly improved mixture of
analog and digital instrumentation, better ventilation, better sound systems
and an airbag for the driver. Otherwise, the Corvette was very much status
Restyling came to the Corvette for 1991 with a slicker front end
incorporating wraparound foglights, a new rear fascia reminiscent of the
ZR-1's that incorporated the third brake light (the latter would remain on
the hatch of the ZR-1) and new wheels. Everything else was pretty much a
carryover, though the price of the ZR-1 had now ballooned to $64,138 -- the
first GM automobile to carry a price beyond $60,000.
For 1992, the L98 was dumped in favor of the new next-generation small-block
V-8, the LT1 (no hyphen, unlike the '70 version with the similar name). The
LT1 was rated at 300 horsepower thanks to significant revisions to the
cylinder heads, accessory drives, cooling system and fuel injection. But
despite that healthy increase in output, it was also an even more engaging
driving companion than the L98. Along with the LT1 came traction control
(Acceleration Slip Regulation -- ASR -- in GMspeak) whose best feature was
that it could be turned off.
On July 2, 1992, the millionth Corvette, a white '92 convertible, was built.
No other sports car has even come close to that.
A special 40th anniversary package, consisting mostly of badges and special
Ruby Red paint, was offered for 1993 on both LT1 and ZR-1 Corvettes.
Otherwise, the most notable change for the year was refinement of the LT5
engine in the ZR-1 that boosted its horsepower from 375 to an epic 405 -- in
real-world terms (accounting for the difference between the old SAE gross
and current SAE net rating methods), the most powerful production Corvette
up to that time. Other changes were minimal.
An airbag was added for passengers in the 1994 Corvettes while the cockpit's
trim and steering wheel were refined. The LT1 was treated to sequential fuel
injection that improved drivability and simplified emissions control but
didn't increase total power output. The ZR-1 got new five-spoke wheels, but
that's about it.
New side gills distinguished the 1995 Corvette from previous editions, but
other changes were much more subtle and included improved brakes, revised
springs, de Carbon gas-charged shocks and a quieter-running engine fan. And
for the third time, a Corvette (this time a convertible) paced the Indy 500.
It was also the last year for the ZR-1. "When the LT5's throttle body opens
into the 16 tuned intake runners (assuming the power key is twisted to
'full')," Motor Trend's intrepid scribe wrote in its last ZR-1 test, "it
humps. Beyond hazing the P315/35ZR17 Goodyear Eagle GS-Cs under the car's
trademark swollen flanks when accelerating, it bursts down the quarter-mile
in 13.05 seconds at over 117 mph. Getting to 60 from rest takes only 4.9
seconds, and getting from 60 to 100 takes only 4.8 more. The midrange power
is even better than the Ferrari F355's.
"The engine is sophisticated, but the sound of it and the transmission could
only be more involving if the driver sat in the crankcase. The ZR-1's
mechanical character thrills in an era when so many cars isolate their
occupants. Like all current Corvettes, the handling limits are high, but the
ZR-1's larger tires mean that once those limits have been exceeded that it's
even tougher to rein in. And, like all current Corvettes, the cockpit is a
challenge to enter and cramped once inside."
For 1996, Chevy followed up the ZR-1 with
two unique editions that would mark the end of C4 production. The first was
a "Collector's Edition" available on coupes and convertibles that consisted
mostly of special emblems, five-spoke wheels and Sebring Silver paint. Far
more intriguing was the Grand Sport which swiped its name and
blue-with-white-stripe paint job from an early-'60s racing Corvette and
featured an amplified version of the LT1 small-block called the "LT4" that
made a healthy 330 horsepower. A debate still rages on whether the ZR-1 or
Grand Sport best expressed the essence and potential of the C4 Corvette.
What was obvious, however, was that it was time for a new Corvette.
C5: World Beater (1997-2004)
The fifth-generation Corvette was the most wholly new Corvette since the
'53. Not even the engine carried over from the C4, and the entire concept of
how the car was built changed.
Unlike every previous Corvette that bolted its transmission directly behind
the engine, the 1997 version split the transmission off and placed it in the
back of the car between the rear wheels where its weight could be used to
offset that of the engine in the front. This transaxle arrangement had been
used before on cars like the Porsche 928, but it was a radical departure for
the Corvette. The suspension itself still used aluminum links and transverse
leaf springs, but the wheels and tires were now 18-inchers in the back and
17s up front and there was no provision for a spare tire since all tires
would be of run-flat design.
The new frame used large, hydroformed rails and a thick backbone for extra
strength, while relying on engineered wood products to make up part of the
floor. The hatchback coupe body (the only body offered during '97) again
evoked styling themes established in the previous two generations of
Corvettes, though with reduced front and rear overhangs as the wheels moved
out toward the corners of the car. Also, the clamshell hood was gone in
favor of a less expensive conventional hood.
The C5's engine was also completely new and unrelated to any previous
Corvette V-8. While still displacing a nominal 5.7 liters and using a single
in-block camshaft to drive the two valves per cylinder via pushrods like the
old small block, the C5's "Gen III" "LS-1" was an all-new, all-aluminum
design using all the latest production techniques. And its output was a
satisfying 345 horsepower. The rear-mounted transmissions were either a
version of the Borg-Warner T56 six-speed manual or Chevy's own 4L60-E
four-speed automatic in a new case for this application.
With so much power in such a capable chassis, the C5 Corvette was an instant
sensation. "As if anyone doesn't know it already, the new Corvette is
unfathomably good," wrote Motor Trend in one early comparison test. "Despite
being the least expensive car gathered for the Decathlon, its 4.8-second
clocking to 60 mph is as quick as the most expensive car's and matches that
Ferrari's quarter-mile elapsed time as well. On top of that, it's roomy,
easy to get in and out of and forgiving of almost any boneheaded input from
the driver. In its 45 years history, the Corvette has never before been so
excellent in so many ways relative to its competition. It's a colossal
Wisely not messing with something so fundamentally wonderful, Chevy merely
expanded the C5 Corvette range for 1998 by adding a convertible model. And
for the first time since '62, this convertible included a trunk that was
accessible from outside the car. Magnesium wheels were also offered as an
option this year for those seeking the ultimate in unsprung weight savings.
Again, a Corvette convertible paced the Indianapolis 500 and, again,
Chevrolet offered replicas to the public -- this time in bluish purple.
A fixed roof coupe, lighter in weight than either the hatchback coupe or
convertible, was added to the 1999 Corvette lineup. The intent behind the
fixed roof coupe was hinted at by the fact that it could only be had with
the six-speed manual transmission. Otherwise the most significant addition
to the '99 Corvette options list was a surprisingly effective head-up
display unit that projected major information on the windshield in front of
Gone from the 2000 Corvette was the passenger-side door lock cylinder as
Chevy concluded that the keyless entry system made it unnecessary.
Otherwise, all that was left to be excited about were two new exterior
colors (Millennium Yellow and Dark Bowling Green Metallic), a new interior
color (Torch Red) and new five-spoke forged aluminum wheels.
The real reason for the fixed roof coupe became obvious with the 2001 model
year as Chevrolet brought forth the ferocious Z06 Corvette that year.
Running a revised high-compression, low-reciprocating-weight version of the
LS1 dubbed the LS6, the Z06 went into battle with 385 horsepower, shooting
its exhaust out a titanium system. The Z06 also got a special FE4 suspension
system that was stiffer and had thicker anti-sway bars than other C5s,
special lightweight wheels and bigger, lighter, more aggressive Goodyear
tires that weren't run-flat in design. In just about every way, the Z06
either matched or exceeded the vaunted ZR-1's performance and did so for far
Regular C5 owners weren't completely overlooked during 2001, however, with
the LS1 seeing its output increase from 345 to 350 horsepower. It was also
an even more flexible and torque-rich engine.
As good as the '01 ZO6 was, the 2002 ZO6 was even better, as output of the
LS6 jumped to an astounding 405 horsepower -- matching the highest output of
the ZR-1. Furthermore, the Z06's suspension was retuned to perform even
better than before. On the LS1-powered side of the Corvette equation, there
were revisions to the sound systems and a new Electron Blue paint color.
Chevrolet acknowledged the 50th anniversary of the Corvette for 2003 with,
naturally, a 50th Anniversary Edition Corvette. Available either as an
LS1-powered hatchback coupe or convertible, the 50th Anniversary car got
special deep red paint, a new Magnetic Selective Ride Control system and a
bunch of logos. Of course, it was also used to pace the '03 edition of the
Indianapolis 500. Other Corvettes got more standard equipment, including a
power passenger seat and dual-zone climate control system. The Z06 was
The C5 entered the 2004 model year with everyone fully aware that this would
be the last year for this beloved Corvette. There were commemorative
editions of all three models, with the Z06 featuring a carbon-fiber hood and
revised shock valving. If there was ever a car that didn't seem to need
changes, this was it.
More power and style for less money (2005-2013)
Rather than start over with a clean slate, Chevrolet's engineers decided to
take the best aspects of the C5 and build on them. The idea was to create a
car that does more things well than performance cars costing two or three
times the price. The chief goal for the new Corvette was to improve its
refinement and performance while addressing every notable imperfection of
the previous generation. At first glance, the 2005 Corvette appears to be
little more than a styling refresh; dig deeper, though, and one quickly
realizes that the C6 is much more. Exposed headlamps, not seen on a Corvette
since 1962, combine with a lean grille to create a distinctive "face."
Addressing complaints of the C5's big rear end, the backside was slimmed
down so as not to appear as disproportionate as before. In profile, the
sharply cut lines that trail away from the side vents look as if borrowed
from the Dodge Viper, yet the overall look still says Corvette -- even more
so than the C5.
For the first time since 1968, an engine with 350 cubic inches (5.7 liters)
of displacement is not offered under the Corvette's hood as the C6 uses a
new 6.0-liter "LS2" V-8 as its sole power plant. Output is an astounding 400
hp and 400 lb-ft of torque providing performance on par with the world's
best from Italy and Germany. According to Chevrolet, the Corvette rushes
from zero to 60 mph in an adrenaline-pumping 4.2 seconds continuing on to a
top speed of 186 mph. The standard six-speed manual received serious
upgrades, and the clutch is smoother and lighter with a shift feel that is
precise and satisfying in its snick-snick shift quality.
Three suspension setups are available, and it's important to note that not
one single suspension part was carried over from the C5. The standard setup
provides a comfortable and controlled ride, along with the kind of precise
handling you would expect. The optional F55 Magnetic Selective Ride Control
suspension adjusts the shock damping rates instantly in response to changing
conditions. The result is an even more comfortable ride than the base
suspension, yet better control during aggressive maneuvers. The Z51 package
is the closest thing to "Z06-like" performance -- at least this year, that
is. This package includes more aggressive dampers and springs, larger
stabilizer bars, shorter transmission gearing and larger cross-drilled brake
rotors. Even in Z51 form, the 'Vette would make a perfectly acceptable daily
driver. Regardless of suspension setup, the chassis manages to be both
highly capable and forgiving.
In the cockpit, everything from materials quality to overall ergonomics is
vastly improved. The seats provide great support and comfort while plenty of
headroom gives the cockpit an open and airy feel. The straightforward
climate control setup is light-years ahead of anything else in the
Corvette's segment. Only the mostly hidden button clusters that flank the
gauges mar the superb layout. The standard removable top is now easy to
remove and install, and can be handled by one person. Gone are the days of
erector-set tools and ill-fitting connectors. Even the top storage brackets
in the rear hatch were carefully engineered to keep a firm -- and quiet --
grasp of the stowed top.
With the C6, Chevrolet's engineers outdid themselves; the newest Corvette's
handling is spot-on, the powertrain is smooth and scary-fast, the look is
classy and the ergonomics top-notch. Making this all the more impressive is
that the C6's base price is actually less than the outgoing Vette.
C7: Refinement, the return of the Stingray and even
more power (2014-2019)
According to Motor Trend, GM executives began planning
the next-generation (C7) Corvette sports car in 2007. On October 18, 2012,
GM made an official news announcement confirming it would debut on Sunday
evening, January 13, 2013, in Detroit at the North American International
Auto Show. Chevrolet also showed the new Crossed Flags logo for the new 2014
Corvette. The car was originally planned for the 2011 model year, but was
delayed. Mid-engine and rear-engine layouts had been considered, but the
front-engine, rear-wheel drive (RWD) platform was chosen to keep costs
lower. The C7's all-new LT1 6.2L Small Block V-8 engine develops 455
horsepower and 460 pound-feet torque, which can accelerate the car from 0-60
mph in 3.8 seconds. The C7's suspension consists of independent
unequal-length double wishbones with transverse fiberglass mono-leaf springs
and optional magnetorheological dampers, similar to its predecessor.
The C7 was designed not only to provide a bold styling statement, but also
to incorporate an interior makeover that would put to rest past complaints
about the quality of interior fit and finish. While overall the C7 attempts
to provide an evolutionary redesign to an iconic theme, the car's designers
took their inspiration from the Chevrolet Camaro's squared rear end,
incorporating aggressive angular elements that disappointed many Corvette
enthusiasts. The C7 received criticism for some of the more styled elements
of the car. "The rear contains what will surely be the C7's most
controversial styling elements. It's all creases and vents back there, with
aggressive trapezoidal taillights similar to those found on the current
Camaro and quadruple-barreled tailpipes lined up in a neat row in the center
of the rear valance", wrote Jason Kavanagh for Edmunds. Functional
aerodynamic aids are tacked on or cut into every body panel of the C7, often
juxtaposed against sharp creases. This is a radical departure from the prior
generations of Corvettes, whose styling had no spoiler, few body panel
creases, and only semi-functional gills for front brake cooling. In
addition, past Corvette models minimized the size of headlamps or even hid
them altogether. The C7 reverses that minimalist styling language with
intricately styled headlamps with LED Daytime Running Lights (DRL).
C8: The long awaited Mid Engine Corvette, finally!!
(2020- and beyond)
C8 is the eighth generation of the Corvette sports car. Following several
experimental CERV prototype vehicles, it is the first mid-engine Corvette
since the model's introduction in 1953 (as well as GM’s first production
mid-engine sports car since the Pontiac Fiero was discontinued in 1988),
differing from the traditional front-engine design. The C8 was announced in
April 2019, and the coupe made its official debut on July 18, 2019 during a
media event at the Kennedy Space Center (referencing its association with
NASA) to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission. The
convertible made its debut in October 2019 alongside the racing version, the
The first production model of the C8 Corvette is the Stingray with its new
mid-mounted 6.2 L LT2 V8 engine; available as a 2-door targa top or a
retractable hardtop convertible.
The C8 retains some design elements found on the C7, but the majority of the
exterior has been completely overhauled. The engine's re-positioning has
necessitated a stronger focus on aerodynamics and cooling: large side scoops
house air intakes and accentuate the side panels, and the rear features
smaller vents below the taillights. A conventional trunk is located at the
rear, with additional storage spaces over the engine and at the front of the
car. Combined, these provide 13 cubic feet of cargo space, 2 cubic feet less
than that of the C7. As a result of the switch to a mid-engine layout, the
passenger cell has been shifted forward by 16.5 inches. The C8 will also be
offered in both left and right hand drive configurations, another first for
the Corvette. The cockpit has been designed to be driver-centric, with
numerous controls mounted on the center console (known as the Electronic
Transmission Range Selector, or ETRS) as well as implementing a new
hexagonal steering wheel. A 12 in digital screen replaces the instrument
cluster and reflects one of the six driving modes selected, and is
accompanied by an 8 in touchscreen. A special Z button (a homage to the Z06,
ZR1 and Z51) is also mounted on the steering wheel; this can quickly
activate customized performance settings. Models equipped with the available
magnetorheological dampers will also offer adjustable suspension settings.
Trim levels and options
Three trim levels will be available, 1LT, 2LT and 3LT, augmented by three
suspension setups, FE1, FE3 and FE4 which correspond with the two Z51
Performance packages. Three seat options will also be available: GT1, GT2
and Competition Sport. The interior is upholstered in leather, microsuede or
performance textile with carbon fiber or aluminum trims. Additionally, the
Performance Data Recorder has been upgraded with a higher resolution camera
as well as a new interface. GM’s virtual camera mirror will be optional,
which projects video from the backup camera onto the rear view mirror.
The C8 Corvette Stingray uses a new version of the LS based GM small-block
engine derived from the C7 Stingray's LT1, now called the LT2. The new
naturally aspirated V8 is rated at 490 hp at 6,450 rpm and 465 ft. lb.
torque at 5,150 rpm, an improvement of 40 hp and 10 ft. lb. torque over the
outgoing C7 Corvette Stringray. The engine uses dry sump lubrication.
The optional Z51 performance package adds a sport exhaust system to the
Stingray, bringing the total power output to 495 hp and torque to 470
ft. lb. Chevrolet claims that the C8 can accelerate to 60 mph in under 3
seconds when equipped with the package; Car and Driver recorded a time of
The Stingray is only offered with an 8-speed dual-clutch automatic
transmission made by Tremec, with no manual transmission option available.
The only other model not offered with a manual transmission were the
1953–1955 C1 model. The C8 Corvette Stingray does however allow for
semi-automatic shifting action with paddle shifters on the steering wheel.
The manual was dropped primarily due to lack of demand for manual C7's,
although other factors include improvements for the dual clutch automatic
transmission and structural concerns.
The base model of the Stingray comes with unequal length double wishbone
suspension at the front and rear axles made from forged aluminum. Monotube
shock absorbers are standard at all four wheels. The car can be equipped
with a front-axle lifting height adjustable suspension system that can add 2
in of ground clearance at speeds under 25 mph.
The Z51 package adds a performance-tuned adjustable suspension setup with
threaded spring seats for further setup customization, as well as an
electronic limited-slip differential. Additionally, the top-of-the-line FE4
trim level includes the fourth generation of GM's magnetic ride adaptive
The Stingray is equipped with alloy wheels with diameters of 19 inches at
the front and 20 inches at the rear. The standard tires are Michelin Pilot
Sport ALS, with Michelin Pilot Sport 4S available as a part of the Z51
performance package. All-season tires are used on base models for better
grip. The exact tire dimensions are 245/45ZR-19 at the front and 305/30ZR-20
at the rear. The standard brakes are four-piston Brembo ventilated discs
with diameters of 12.6 in at the front and 13.6 in at the rear. The Z51
package provides upgraded and enlarged brakes measuring 13.3 in at the front
and 13.8 in at the rear.
*Credits for much of the above
Corvette content to Wikipedia and Edmunds.com*