In 1953 the Corvette was debuted at the Motorama display at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City. It was conceived by Harley J. Earl. It was a two seat convertible built by GM aimed at capturing the small car market from manufacturers like Jaguar and MG. All 1953 Corvettes were convertibles with black canvas tops, Polo white with red interiors, and built by hand.
Power came from an existing Chevrolet 235 cubic inch 6 cylinder engine. Modifications were done to it such as a three carburetor design and dual exhaust which resulted in higher horsepower ratings. The 150 hp 'Blue Flame Special' engine was paired with a a2-speed automatic gearbox. The first twenty-five vehicles used the standard Chevrolet 'baby moon' passenger car wheel covers due to a shortage of wheel covers.
During the 1953 production year, 300 Corvettes were produced making it the rarest Corvette. 255 are still in existence. In 1953 the base price for the Corvette was $3,498 with a heater and AM radio offered as optional equipment. The heater could be purchased for $91.40 and the AM Radio for $145.15.
The 1954 Corvettes were built at a newly renovated facility located in St. Lous Missouri. That year, GM had high hopes for its new sports-car flag ship vehicle. They expected 10,000 Corvettes to be built and sold. However, only 3,640 vehicles were made but only about 600 of them were sold. Chevrolet was finally able to unload the rest of them in 1955 although it proved to be very difficult.
The 235 cubic inch six-cylinder was modified during the middle of 1954. A camshaft change increased horsepower to 155. Also, three new exterior colors were offered: Pennant Blue, Sportsman Red, and Black. A beige interior was introduced. 4 black, 100 red, 300 blue, and 3,230 white vehicles were produced.
The base price of the 1954 corvette was $2,774.00, over $500 less than then 1953 model.
1955 could have been the year that Chevrolet stop producing the Corvette. It was plagued by slow-selling 1954 versions. Styling remained the same for the 1955 model year. GM decided to insert a new 265 cubic inch V-8 engine into car and as well as offered a manual transmission. The 195 horsepower idea worked. A Soviet emigrant named Zora Arkus-Duntov (also known as the 'Father of the Corvette') is credited as being the engineer responsible for making the manual transmission work with the new V8 engine. This transformed the Corvette into a true sports car bringing the 0-100 time from 41 seconds to 24 seconds. Just in time to do battle with Ford's Thunderbird. It is easy to distinquish the sixy-cylinder versions from the V-8 version. GM had an enlarged gold 'V' in the word 'Chevrolet' located on the front fender. This meant the vehicle was powered by the V8 engine. The 8 cylinder used a 12-volt while the six cylinder remained with the 6-volt electrical system.
Also during this year, Zora Arkus-Duntov, a former European road racer, set a new record in the Daytona 'Measured Mile' reaching a speed slightly above 150 miles per hours.
Up to this point in history, the Corvettes were not selling very well. Corvette decided to change that by offering bigger engines, better handling, options, and new styling. The projecting taillights were removed and were placed into the fender. The side of the car received a large scallop. This was similar to the Cadillac LeSalle II and Buick Wildcat II. Roll-up windows became available, outside door handles, and an optional power system for the convertible top.
The new V8 option was about 40 pounds lighter than the six cylinder option. It was also shorter and lower which meant better weight distribution throughout the vehicle. With the standard Carter four-barrel carburetor, 210 horsepower was produced. By adding the optional second four-barrel carburetor, the horsepower was increased to 225.
The 1956 Corvette was able to climb to the top of the 12.5 mile Pikes Peak in a record 17 minutes and 24 seconds. The enthusiasm did not catch on. So they decided to beat their competition at top speed. The Jaguar XK-120 was capable of 130 mph, and the Mercedes gull-wing 300SL could do 140-146 mph. At Daytona on the sandy beach the Corvette ran two certified runs that averaged 150.5 miles per hour.
Four cars were entered into the 12-hour Sebring race. The results were disappointing. Two Corvettes did not finish, while the other two received a 15th place finish, and a 9th place finish.
In February 1956, a General Motors factory team arrived at Daytona Beach looking for a speed record. Three specially prepared Corvettes, driven by John Flitch, Betty Skelton and Zora Arkus-Duntov, achieved their moment of glory when one of the Corvettes broke the 150 mph mark. This was an incredible high speed for a production car.
A month after the record breaking Daytona run, this 1956 Corvette was the Class B winner, 9th overall, at the 1956 Sebring 12-Hour Race driven by John Fitch and Walter Hansgen. It is fitted with a 307 cubic inch engine coupled to a 4-speed ZF transmission.
Following this summer of 1956 performance, Chevy's ad department touted the triumph in national ads calling the Corvette, 'The Real McCoy!'
The body of the 1957 Corvette was unchanged from the 1956 version. The base price was increased slightly to $3,176. The heater, the cars most popular option, still had not become standard equipment.
An SS version was produced to race at Sebring. This car had bigger brakes, engine modifications, and other racing-inspired improvements. The Corvette qualification went well and was placed near the front of the pack. Unfortunately, after 23 laps the car was un-drivable and had to retire from the race. A rear-bushing had failed after the eighth lap.
This Chevrolet Corvette 'SS' was an experimental magnesium-bodied car and set a new lap record at Sebring, Florida, in 1957. It has served as the forerunner of many Corvette sports/racing models. Zora Arkus-Duntov, engineer-designer of the car, presented it to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 29, 1967, during the drivers' meeting prior to the 51st Indy 500 mile race, which was paced by a Chevrolet Camaro.
In 1958, six colors were offered for the Corvette. The most powerful engine to be offered during this year was the fuel-injected 283 cubic inch V-8 that was capable of 290 horsepower. The heater was still optional. A handling package was offered that provided stiffer springs and heavier finned brake drums with metallic brake linings.
The Corvette received quad-headlights. The chassis length was increased to 177.2 inches, and the width to 72.8. It also received 200 extra pounds, even though these are not the modifications that sports-car drivers typically like to see. The car, in a way, became more 'secure' with bumpers being secured to the frame. The nitrocellulose paint was replaced with acrylic lacquer. More chrome was added to the front and back of the vehicle. The interior was revamped. All the instruments on the dash were relocated with the highlight being the 160 mph speedometer.
1958 was the year of Harley Earl's retirement.
In 1960, production of the Corvette finally reached and exceeded 10,000 cars. The base price had risen to $3,872. From 1960 through 1962, minor styling and performance enhancements were introduced to make the car more appealing to buyers.
Briggs Cunningham, a famous American racer and sportsman entered three Corvettes into the 24-Hours of LeMans. One of the vehicles finished eight place.
1961 was the final year that whitewall tires were offered on the Corvette. It was also the last year for the 'coves' that were painted in contrasting colors. The exterior of the 1961 Corvette saw some changes. The grill of the vehicle was modified, removing the 'teeth' that had been apart of the Corvette since its inception in 1953. The back had four round tail-lights.
The copper-core radiators were replaced with aluminum versions. This increased capacity by 10 percent while reducing weight by almost half. The engine was now producing 315 horsepower from the 283-cubic-inch V-8 with Rochester fuel injection.
Stock Corvettes were entered into the 12-hour Sebring race by a Dallas Texas Chevrolet dealer named Delmo Johnson. Johnson and his co-driver Dale Morgan finished 11th. This was the best placing for a stock Corvette to date.
During the 1961 production run, 10,939 Corvettes were produced. The base price was $3,934, with half of the buyers buying the removable top option.
The 1962 Corvette was the last year for the C1 generation. The 1962 Corvette utilized the 327 cubic-inch engine for the first time.
This particular car has the 327 cubic-inch engine generating 340 horsepower. The car cost $4,038 new, and they produced 14,531 units that year.
In 1963, Corvette introduced its all new Corvette Coupé and Convertible models called the Sting Rays. The car incorporated a boat-tail taper that was common of sporting roadster of the 1930s. The back featured a Bugatti Atlantique and Bertone BAT inspired split rear-window. This styling was replaced in 1964 with a single piece because of drivers complaining about visibility problems. The headlights were concealed in the front and would 'pop' out when in use.
New plants in St. Louis, Missouri were opened to keep pace with the vehicles popularity.
This was the very first time Corvette was available as a hardtop coupe model as well as the traditional convertible. The wheelbase was shortened by four inches to 98 inch. This, along with independent rear suspension, improved the handling and maneuverability. The steering ratio decreased from 3.4 to 2.9 turns-to-lock. Hydraulically assisted power steering was also offered for the first time. The drum brakes were still used. The optional sintered metallic linings and finned aluminum brake drums were offered and allowed greater fade resistance and better cooling.
During the development process, the car was called the XP-720.
For the 1965 year, there were no major improvements to the body of the vehicle. However, under the hood lurked a new engine. The 396 cubic-inch V-8 was introduced offering 425 horsepower. A bulge in the hood of the Corvette hinted at this monster engine it was hiding. Disc brakes were added and helped in stopping the vehicle. For an optional price, the exhaust pipes could be fitted to the side of the car, just like they had been done for the Bill Mitchell show cars.
The 1967 Corvette is the most popular of the 'Sting Ray' models built from 1963 thru 1967.
The third generation of Corvettes began in 1968 and lasted for 15 years. The design was different in appearance from any other Corvette. Their design cues came from Bill Mitchell's 'Mako Shark II' concept vehicle. The Mako Shark II was displayed at the New York International Auto Show in April of 1965. A running version using a 427-cubic inch V8 was displayed at the Paris Salon. For the rest of 1965, the vehicle was toured throughout the United States and Europe.
The design featured hidden windshield wipers and headlights, and removable T-Tops. A luggage rack was optional on the coupe models.
One of the big problems that plagued the designers of the 1968 Vette was engine cooling. For the production version, cooling was still barely sufficient for big block engines with air conditioning.
The 327 cubic-inch, 300 horsepower engine was offered as standard equipment. The L71 aluminum head L89 427 cubic-inch, 535 horsepower engine was still offered as optional equipment. The Powerglide automatic transmission was no longer offered. As its replacement, a three-speed Turbo Hydra-Matic was offered which improved performance and fuel efficiency.
During the 1968 production year, 9,936 coupes with removable roof panels and rear windows, and 18,360 convertibles were sold.
For 1969, the word 'Stingray' was placed on the front fender.
During the 1970 Corvette production year, the small block 350-cubic-inch engine was offered. It generated 370 horsepower. The displacement on the 'Big Block' was increased to 454 cubic-inches, which now offered a 390-425 horsepower rating in the LS5 version.
The ZR1 and ZR2 package was offered to satisfy the buyers who wanted a vehicle they could race. These vehicles were stripped of radios, power steering, power windows, and air conditioning. The ZR2 used the LS6 454 cubic-inch engine, of which only 12 were purchased. The ZR1, based on the LT1, was purchased by eight buyers.
During 1970, Congress passed the Clean Air Bill in the National Environmental Policy Act due to oil embargos and increasing government regulations about the fuel. This established regulations specifying fuel economy and emissions standards. By doing so, the big block faced extinction due to standards it could never meet. Toxic emissions were to be cut by 90 percent for all engines in less than six years.
In 1971, a special-purpose 'Big Block' V8 was available that produced 425 horsepower. But 1971 was the last year for 'gross' horsepower ratings. The industry changed to a 'net' rating system that accounted for the exhaust system, vehicle accessories and other components. It provided a truer measure of an engine's performance and is still used today.
1971 was also the year that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEX) failed to negotiate price increases with 17 western oil companies. In doing so, the price of a barrel of Middle-Eastern crude oil was nearly doubled. OPEC and Western companies reduced production and export volume by nearly 75 percent before the end of 1973. As a result, gas prices began to rise.
Emission standards and insurance companies were responsible for many of the changes that occurred to the Corvette and other vehicles during this period. A 5-mile-per-hour impact-resistant bumper was now part of the law. So the Corvette was fitted with a 'soft nose' bumper that complied with these new regulations. It had urethane plastic skin and was painted in the color of the body of the car and added 35 pounds to the weight of the vehicle. The hardtop's rear window was no longer removable. This was an attempt to limit exhaust fumes from entering the interior of the vehicle.
The 454-cubic-inch engine was still available but was now packing five extra horsepower over the previous year and now rated at 275 hp. It was renamed to LS4. The hydraulic-lifter L82, small block produced 250 horsepower from the cast-iron 350-cubic-inch engine. The engine and body mounts were changed and more sound insulation was added throughout the body. This stiffened the car and decreased road and mechanic noise.
This was the last year that the Corvette was offered with the Big Block engine. The Corvette had been under 'attack' from some-time due to rising emissions and insurance standards. So Chevy finally stopped offering the 454-cubic-inch engine and also removed the dual exhausts from the small block. The exhaust was collected into a single catalytic converter from which it would then split into two twin mufflers and tailpipes. Unleaded fuel was introduced by Petroleum refineries and General Motors was forced to re-engineer their vehicles to run on the lower octane.
The front and rear chrome bumpers were removed.
For the 1974 model year, 32,028 coupes and 5,474 convertibles were sold. The base price of the coupe was $6,000 which included the 350-cubic-inch 195-hp engine. Power steering was the most popular option.
This was the last year the convertible would be made for the Corvette until 1986. This decision came about due to poor convertible sales the year prior, and new, stricter laws mandating rollover-protection.
The only optional engine available for the Corvette was the 350-cubic-inch L82 that was capable of producing 205 horsepower. The base model was increased by $800 to $6,800. The price increase was in part due to meeting and complying with federal clean air and vehicle safety regulations.
The standard engine also received less horsepower than the previous years and was now producing 165 horsepower.
This was also the year Zora Arkus-Duntove, the chief engineer for the Corvette for nearly 22 years, retired. David McLelan was his replacement.
The interior of the 1977 Corvette was redesigned mainly so it could accommodate the GM Delco radios.
The big landmark achieved during 1977 was the 500,00th Corvette. This vehicle was produced at the St. Louis assembly plant.
During the 1977 model year, the power steering was a very popular with all vehicles, except 173, ordered the optional equipment. Every car purchased had the optional power brakes. Leather seats became standard for the first time, however the cloth seats could be chosen at no extra cost. The base price for the Corvette was now $8,650. 49,213 Corvettes were produced this year.
1978 was the Corvettes 25th anniversary, and in celebration and recognition, was offered the official Pace Car position of the Indianapolis 500. This was also the 62nd running of the Indianapolis 500.
Chevrolet produced two special edition Corvettes, one being a Pace Car appearance edition and the other a special silver anniversary paint package. The silver anniversary paint package was a $399 option of which 15,283 were produced. 6,502 Corvettes were Pace Car editions and delivered to showrooms, one for each Chevrolet dealership. The price of the Pace Car edition was $13,650 while the base model sold for $9,350. The L48 engine was standard with the L82 optional.
With the optional L82 205-hp engine, the Corvette could charge to 60 mph in 7.4 seconds.
During the 1979 production year, GM produced 53,807 Corvettes. This is a record that is still standing today.
During the 1982 model year, there were no manual gearboxes available for sale. The three-speed-plus-overdrive automatic gearbox was standard equipment.
25,407 Corvettes were produced during 1982, with 6,759 of those being 'Collect Edition.'
There were no 1983 Corvettes produced for public sale, but 43 pilot models of the new-generation Corvette were built in 1983 for testing purposes. Today, one of those 1983 pilots is on display at the Corvette Assembly Plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The rest were scrapped.
1984 was the first year of a redesigned, all new corvette since 1968. During the initial stages of designing the concept that would eventually become the production vehicle, many ideas were entertained. John Delorian, the general manager of Chevrolet, had suggested shortening the vehicle by using the F-body platform which was used for the Firebird and Camaro. This would save chassis pieces and development expenses. The idea was passed-over. Another idea was to improve performance and handling by using the mid-engine design. This idea also did not happen. Mid-engine cars were mostly owned by wealthy people who had many vehicles to choose from. On the other hand, Corvettes were often the only
vehicle owned by the owner. This meant the vehicle would need to be practical enough to do domesticated chores such as hauling groceries.
The new Corvette would have to meet fuel economy, safety, and emission standards. One way the Corvette was successful at overcoming these obstacles was to become 25 percent more aerodynamic and by reducing the weight by 250 pounds. The wheelbase was also shortened by 2 inches and the length was decreased by almost 9 inches. A colapsible steering column was installed in the event of a head-on collision. The 'breadloaf', a padded structure located where a glove-box usually is located, was used to help cusion the passenger in the event of an accident.
Chevrolets smallblock eight-cylinder engine produced 205 horsepower. The new four+three-speed manual gearbox was located behind the engine. The new 'electronic control module' or ECM provided shorter, quicker shifts. An automatic four-speed Turbo-Hydra-Matic gearbox was still available upon request. A zero-to-sixty mph could be achieved in about 7 seconds with a top speed in the neighborhood of 140 mph.
A double wishbone front suspension and five-link independent rear suspension was teamed with Goodyear Gator back unidirectional tires. This was in response to Dave McLellan's performance targets for the 1983 Corvette, that is should be the best-handling sports car in the world. The Goodyear tires were developed based on work done on Formula One rain tire development. The tires were also capable of holding up to the nearly 150 mph top speed. They were quiet, visually appealing, long lasting, and provided the response that was required in a Corvette.
During the 17 month, 1984 Corvette model year, 51,474 cars were sold. The first seventy vehicles that rolled of the production line were kept by General Motors for enineering and development purposes. The base price was set at $21,800.
The rear wheel size was increased to 9.5 inches wide.
The 1985 model year was the second year for the C4 series of the Corvette. During this model year, 39,729 Corvettes were sold. The base price was $24,878.
For 1985, updates were done to improve the ride of the vehicle. This was done by adjusting the shock valving on both the Z51 Blistein gas shocks and the base shocks. The spring rates in the fiberglass transverse leaves were also modified and helped with the improvement.
The front wheel size were enlarged.
The 1986 Corvette received a convertible option, now seen since the 1975 model year. To celebrate, the Corvette once again took to the track to pace the Indy 500. All convertibles were designated Pace Car replicas.
New for this year was the PASS-Key theft-detternt system which now came standard on all Corvette models.
To add to the performance of the Corvette, 4-wheel ABS brakes were added. Horsepower from the 5.7 liter V-8 rose to 230. The suspension received attention and improvements.
1989 was a great year for the Corvette. The performance and handling recieved much attention propelling this car even further ahead of its competition.
Chevrolet equipped the Corvettes with the Performance Handling Package as standard equipment. The visual appeal of the car was enhanced with 17-inch wheels and tire.
New for this year was the Selective Ride Control adjustable suspension. This allowed the driver to select between three different operating modes: 'Touring,' 'Sport' and 'Performance.'
A 6-speed manual transmission was also made available.
Production Total for the 1989 model year were as follows: 30,632 total production. 20,007 coupes. 10,625 convertibles.
In 1990, Chevrolet introduced the ZR-1 package. This was a limited-production, high-performance version of the standard Corvette. The ZR-1 consisted of a 32-valve, daul overhead cam, LT5 engine designed by Lotus Engineering and built by Mercury Marine. To segregate the standard Corvette from the ZR-1 Corvette, an all new convex rear fascia and quad rectangular tail-lights were fitted to the ZR-1.
The ZR-1 was among the fastest street cars being produced during its time. The ZR-1 was discontinued in 1995.
The interior of the Corvettes received a new cockpit design which included analog gauges and digital readouts. The Corvettes became safer with the addition of driver-side air bags.
The standard L98 engine had its power increased from 230 hp to 250 hp.
For the 1991 model year, the Corvette received styling refinements. The ZR-1 performance package, introduced the prior year, was further segregate from the standard Corvette when the high-mounted stop lamp was reposition into the rear fascia for both the Coupe and Convertible.
New wrap-around front parking and cornering lamps were added as well as new side-panel louvers and a ZR-1 style convex rear fascia on all models.
The production total for the 1991 model year was 20,639. 14,967 were coupes including 2044 ZR1s and 5672 were convertibles.
The second generation LT1 engine was introduced and became the standard engine for the Corvette. It was capable of producing 300 horsepower, a great increase from just a few years prior when in 1989 the standard horsepower was 230 and in 1990 the horsepower rating was 250.
It received the LT1 designation because it was the first Chevrolet 'Small Block' to surpass the horsepower of the original LT1 in 1970.
New for this year was the Goodyear GS-C asymmetrical tires and the Acceleration Slip Regulation (ASR) system, both standard equipment.
The Corvettes that contained the ZR-1 performance package were branded with a ZR-1 badge mounted on the side of its clam-shell hood.
This was also the year of a major accomplishment. The one-millionth Corvette rolled off Bowling Green, Kentucky's assembly line on July 2nd, 1992.
The production total for the 1992 model year was 21,590 with 15,450 being coupes including 448 ZR1s and 5692 being convertibles.
New for the 1993 year was the increase in horsepower for the LT5 engine. The engine was not capable of producing 405 horsepower.
A special 40th Anniversary package became available on all models.
Passive Keyless Entry (PKE) was also added as standard equipment.
For the 1994 Corvette model year, the interior received attention. The cockpit was given a single piece instrument panel and new door panels. In 1990, air bags were added for the driver. Now, in 1994, airbags were not available for both the driver and the passenger. The Standard and Sport seats received styling updates. Leather seats were now standard.
The production total for the 1994 model year was 20,742 which included 15,771 coupes of which 448 were ZR1s, and 4971 convertibles.
1995 was the last year for the ZR-1 performance package.
During this year, it was once again the Official Indianapolis 500 Pace car. An honor it was last bestowed in 1987, the same year the Convertible option was re-introduced, after being absent since 1975.
There were minor styling enhancements; the most noticeable change was the revised grill panel design.
The production total for the 1995 model year was 20,742 which 15,771 were coupes including 448 ZR1s and 4971 were convertibles.
To add to the heritage of the celebrated Corvette in 1996, a Grand Sport and Collector Edition became available. These two distinctive Corvettes marked the end of the fourth generation Corvette.
The Grand Sport engine was fitted with the new LT4 engine.
1997 was the first year for the fifth generation Corvette, a generation that would last until 2004. The C5 was a radically change from its predecessor. The engine was an all-new aluminum push-rod V8 that was lighter, more powerful, and more fuel efficient than its predecessor.
The rigidity of the Corvette was enhanced by a new process called hydro-forming. This created frame rails from a continuous steel tube. The transmission was moved to the rear of the car and connected to the engine via a torque tube. This not only improved the performance, but also the balance.
The cockpit became larger and the controls became handier. Due to the frame requiring less space, it was easier to get in and out.By Daniel Vaughan | Oct 2017