In the economic boom that occurred at the end of World War II, General Motors introduced the only production sports car being offered by American automotive manufacturers at that time. Soldiers, returning home from Europe, were introduced to the C1 Chevrolet Corvette, a two seat “image” car that had an immediate initial appeal as a sensational show car.
The appeal was short-lived. In 1953, when Chevrolet rolled the first Corvettes off their assembly lines, they presented a car that was more sparkle than substance. The car quickly earned the nickname “the plastic bathtub”, a title that was a distinct correlation between the stark white shell of its body and it’s slow, unimpressive performance.
Fortunately for GM, their engineers and marketing teams listened and responded to the criticism of those first Corvette owners. In the years that followed, Corvette came into its own and GM began producing cars that offered greater performance that matched the attitude and styling of its 1953 Corvette counterpart.
By the 1960’s, Corvette had developed a solid reputation both on the open road as well as at the racetrack. With ever increasing horsepower being packed into each of these cars, General Motors had developed a car that could truly hold it’s own on race day against such competitors as the Shelby Cobra.
DID YOU KNOW: While there are many Corvette enthusiasts that deny the existence of the 1983 Corvette, there actually is one. The “One and Only” 1983 Corvette resides at the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky and is available for public viewing.
The 1963 Grand Sport Corvette, though short lived, solidified the future for Corvette not only as a production car, but as a true American sports car. The Grand Sport, along with the 2nd generation C2 Corvette production models, captivated the hearts and imaginations of car enthusiasts worldwide and secured a future for Corvette that continues to flourish today.
By the early 1970’s, the Corvette (along with many production model sport and muscle cars) was met with a lot of adversity. Internal issues within GM which included serious lags in the new Corvette’s production mixed with the politically charged Vietnam War, mass civil unrest, the emergence of federally mandated safety guidelines, pollution regulations, and a need for increased fuel efficiency brought into question the future of this iconic sports car. However, with the emergence of the Mako Shark II prototype (in the late sixties) laying the foundation for the future look and feel of the third generation C3 Corvette, GM pushed on despite these odds and the Corvette triumphed, remaining in its same basic form for fifteen years.
Because of the immense popularity of the third generation Corvette, speculation began to emerge how GM was going to top the durable and appealing “shark”. Great debate began to circulate around the prospect that the next Corvette might indeed be the long-hoped for mid engine model that would rival it’s European counterparts. Even so, the “Shark” kept going, and Chevrolet continued to improve upon the car throughout the late 1970’s and into the 1980’s, introducing subtle changes to the car’s physical appearance as well as complementing the car with some surprisingly new high tech features including a hatchback model in 1982 which foreshadowed the next generation of Corvette – the C4.
In 1984, GM began production of the fourth generation Corvette. This new Corvette was the first fully redesigned Corvette in 15 years and compromised some of the outrageous performance of it’s predecessor and emerged instead as a more sophisticated and practical sports car. Still, despite the notable decrease in horsepower (in early fourth generation models) due to ever increasing emission regulations, GM focused its attention instead to develop a car that, at least at its launch, focused primarily on handling. Like the generations of Corvettes before it, the new 4th generation Corvette got better over time. In 1986, Corvette enthusiasts celebrated at the return of a convertible model which hadn’t been available to consumers since 1975.
One of the crowning achievements of the 4th generation Corvette was the birth of the ZR-1 in 1990. The ZR-1 was strictly a high performance Corvette and almost immediately came to be known as “the king of the hill” – a title that was well earned. A true supercar in every sense of the word, the ZR-1 could run with some of the most exotic sports cars in the world including Ferrari and Porsche. However, the ZR-1 remained a surprisingly inexpensive alternative, offering comparable handling and performance for less than half the exuberant sticker prices tied to its European counterparts.
Despite the emergence of the ZR-1 and the ever increasing handling and performance of this newest Corvette, incredibly challenging financial markets and internal corporate issues had GM questioning the feasibility about the Corvette’s future as it pressed on into the 1990s. Despite these concerns, the C4 Corvette continued to improve in performance and quality, opening the door for an even more advanced, more sophisticated Corvette.
The arrival of the fifth generation C5 Corvette in 1997 marked a turning point in the evolution of these incredible cars, becoming the first truly all new Corvette since the 1953 original. Designed from the outset to be a sturdy convertible, the C5 Corvette was engineered to achieve higher levels of performance, sophistication and quality than any of it’s predecessors. The styling of this new Corvette was also a departure from earlier models. While the styling of the C4 had largely been a simplification of the seventies era “Shark,” the C5 now had a more rounded and graceful appearance that helped to recapture some of the aggressive looks of the C3 without compromising aerodynamics. Critics hailed the C5 Corvette as “the best Corvette in history.”
Much like the ZR-1 before it, GM recognized the opportunity to produce a higher end Corvette and introduced the Z06 in 2001. This “high end” Corvette included an updated suspension, larger wheels and tires, revised gearing ratios and function brake cooling ducts as well as an impressive step up in horsepower with the additional of a more powerful engine that carried the Z06 to an impressive 385 horsepower. While this Corvette was superior to the ZR-1 in almost every category except speed, it was also substantially less expensive, which helped further catapult it’s popularity with automotive enthusiasts everywhere.
The sixth generation C6 Corvette was introduced in 2005. The C6 was considered more of an evolution of the C5 than an all new Corvette, although the C6 continued to take giant steps forward in the areas of performance and styling. Perhaps the most notable changes that GM made to the newest of the Corvettes was the return of the exposed headlamps (which had been absent from the Corvette since 1962). Along those same lines, the C6 re-introduced a somewhat retro design that was a throwback to the Sting Rays of the 1960s.
In 2010, General Motors unveiled the Grand Sport Edition Corvette and the Z06 Carbon Special Edition Corvette. Like the ZR-1, each of these special edition Corvettes provides consumers with upgraded and more robust performance options, greater horsepower, better handling, and a broad assortment of options – from satellite radio to built in GPS and more.
While the Z06 was notably absent at the roll out of the C6, it wasn’t long in coming. In late 2005, the 2006 Z06 model was announced. This Corvette was engineered for the race track, producing performance and handling unlike any Corvette in the history of America’s favorite sports car – that is, until the rumors began to circle of an even higher-end Corvette that was known only by it’s codename “Blue Devil”. General Motors began to release details of the Blue Devil project in April, 2007 and later that year revealed the “Blue Devil” was, in fact, the return of the ZR-1 Corvette. This “super-Vette” emerged from the shadows to become known as the fastest (and most expensive) production Corvette ever.
On January 13, 2013, amidst a flurry of speculation from enthusiasts and critics alike, Chevrolet unveiled their most recent entry into the Corvette family – the 2014 C7 Stingray – at the Detroit Auto Show. More powerful than any stock Corvette that came before it, the new C7 features technology that was developed as a partnership between Chevrolet and Corvette Racing, and is the most advanced Corvette of all time. Both a coupe and convertible model will be available to consumers in its inaugural year, and there is already considerable speculation as to which other iterations of Corvette (such as a return of the Z06, ZR-1, and Grand Sport models), will be re-introduced as the seventh-generation Corvette becomes commercially available to consumers.
The Pocket Book of the Corvette: Definitive Guide to the All American Sports Car