It was never intended to be a production model. The original Corvette was concept car was introduced to the public at the 1953 GM Motorama. The car caused such a stir at the annual event that General Motors decided it would be to its advantage to make a limited number of its new muscle car available to the public. Three hundred hand built; polo-white cars with red interior and black tops were eventually sold that year. This made the Corvette the most successful concept car in history. It also launched the name that would come to embody the idea of an American sports car. Named for a fast, agile war-ship; for almost 70 years and through 8 generations the Vette has out powered and outmaneuvered the competition to stand alone as the most popular sports car ever built.
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While most people include the 1953 Corvette as part of the C1 or first generation, we feel it deserves to stand alone an be recognized as the work of genius that it was. Created as a show car, the 1953 Vette drew so much attention that Chevrolet was almost forced to introduce the car a full year before the design was actually finalized. Because of this, the Vettes had to be built by hand since no assembly line was yet set up, and there were basically no options available; buyers took what they could get.
Often referred to as the solid axle generation of Corvettes because the had a solid rear axle rather than an independent rear suspension the early Vettes got off to a rocky start and went through several design changes. Thankfully, Chevrolet didn’t give up on the car despite poor sales of the original production models and finally realized that what they had was a sports car instead of the elegant convertible that they had originally envisioned.
Always a step ahead of its time the Corvette really started to come of age with the 1955 to 1957 model years. In 1955 it became the first American built two-seater to be available with a V-8 engine and then in 1957 with the introduction of the Ramjet fuel injection system it became the first car with an engine that actually produced over one horsepower per cubic inch of engine displacement. Many see these events, along with changes in body style that accompanied them as the keys to the cars eventual success.
One of the driving forces behind the entire concept of the Corvette line was the fact that despite being the worlds largest car company, General Motors wasn’t having much luck on the world’s racing circuits. To remedy this situation GM turned to Zora Arkus-Duntov, the father of the Corvette. What he delivered was the single seat LeMans inspired Street Racer (SR) 2 that was capable of reaching 150.58 mph while still being legal to drive on the street.
The most forgotten of all Corvette designs, the Q-Vette was a car that was literally decades ahead of its time. The concept was pretty simple in the begging; take the transaxle and independent rear suspension design that GM had been developing for the Corvair and pair it with a super lightweight body and engine. Unfortunately, the recession of 1958 killed the “Q,” and it took 40 years for the mechanical features it had to emerge in the fifth generation 1997 Corvette.
Also called mid-years Vettes, the second generation or C2 Corvettes saw many many improvements both in design and the mechanics of the car. It was this generation that brought 4-wheel disc brakes, big block V-8s, full fiberglass bodies and an independent rear suspension to the line. Perhaps most importantly, from a historical point of view, it was with this generation from designer Larry Shinoda - drawing inspiration from the Q-Vette and a Mako shark he caught while fishing created the Stingray body design.
In 1959 GM placed a racing ban on all its brands fearing that beating its competition on the track and the sells floor would lead to an antitrust lawsuit. This didn’t set very well with then head of Chevrolet Semon Knudson who went off the books and developed the 1963 Grand Sport as a black project. The Zora Arkus-Duntov designed car was only officially raced one time at Nassau Speed Week where it destroyed all the competition including Shelby’s famed Cobra.
The C3 or third generation Corvettes were really the coming of age for the car. The more modern Stingray design based on the Mako II concept car was introduced, bigger engines as large as 454 cu in were added as options, T-tops made their first appearance and monikers such as LT-1, ZR-1, Z07 and Collector Edition were first used. It was also in this period that the Corvette celebrated its 25th anniversary with a special two-tone painted edition and the car made its first appearance as the pace car for the Indianapolis 500.
In 1983 the Corvette received its first complete facelift in almost 15 years. Virtually everything about the car from its body design to its drive train was completely reworked and updated. To say that it was a total failure is an understatement on the same proportions as saying rain is a little damp. The cars had so many quality control issues and parts availability problems that Chevrolet gave up after only producing 43 - none of which were ever sold.
After the debacle of 1983 Chevrolet finally got the fourth generation of Corvettes into consumer's hands in late March of 1983 making it an early release for 1984 model year. The new Vette had a totally new body profile, but the real jewels came in areas that weren’t so obvious to the naked eye. This generation of Vette saw the introduction of an all-aluminum suspension for weight savings and improved rigidity, an Acceleration Slip Regulation (ASR) to improve takeoff control and the introduction of a 6-speed manual transmission.
The C5 Corvettes were the most innovative and original series since the cars were first introduced in 1953. Virtually everything about the car was redesigned and upgraded with over twenty new patents being issued for the car's technology. These Corvettes weren’t just high-tech though, every innovation from the more powerful powerplants to the slipperiest body every designed for an American car contributed in some way to making the car faster, more controllable, and more fun to drive.
More of a marketing ploy than an actual new generation of Corvette, the C6 Vettes were only slightly upgraded from the C5s with most of the changes being nothing but new parts numbers for the same old items. Consumers and the automotive press both quickly saw through the charade, which has lead many to call these cars "C5 and 11/16ths." The few changes that were made amounted to little more than the creation of a more refined cockpit and a slightly longer wheelbase necessitated by the introduction of a new transmission.
It seems that Chevrolet learned its lesson about rushing new cars to market after the fiascos they suffered in the 1980s. They began working on the seventh generation of Corvette in 2007, and it took them seven full years to bring it to market. What they delivered though was truly a work of art looking much like a blending of classic Stingray lines with Ferrari proportions, and making extensive use of carbon fiber and nano panels to keep the car light even with the addition of larger superchargers and turbos.
The 8th generation of Corvette may be the most exciting redesign in the history of the car. It is the first mid-engined Corvette to ever be produced and has three engine options available with the top end option placing it firmly in the supercar category with 1000+ hp. It also has several transmissions available to suit any drivers taste including an 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters. The C8 has purportedly set the second fastest lap time ever recorded on the famed Nuremberg ring.