The History of America's Greatest Sports Car
The Evolution of the Corvette: America’s Supercar
Your loyalties may lie with other sports car brands, but the Corvette garners respect from all automotive circles for its remarkable capabilities, especially in light of its price. The Corvette is truly an American automotive icon and easily qualifies as America’s supercar, though it didn’t always boast the performance numbers of today. For at least the past three generations, it has been widely considered a bargain, as far as supercars go — with the speed, handling and track chops to make cars costing three times more quake in their brake shoes. Buying one was kind of like getting Nike technology for KMart prices.
Well, 2013 marks the Chevrolet Corvette’s 7th generation and 60th Anniversary, and the new C7 surpasses expectations in terms of technology, performance and value. Though there will always be detractors of new design, no one can deny that the Corvette continues to make its mark in the automotive world. It’s one American car that can brag both performance cred as well as bonafide Stars and Stripes heritage. To explore its design and technological evolution is as captivating as watching a C6 ZR1 light up its rear tires on hot tarmac. Follow the Corvette as we detail its humble C1 inception to its modern automotive exotica in the recently released C7.
The first couple of years of the gen 1 Corvette were not exactly the most memorable. With styling not unlike the Ford Thunderbird, which arrived two years after the C1′s inception, this Corvette had a solid rear axle instead of an independent rear suspension, which didn’t arrive until 1963. Plus, it was rushed to production due to its huge reception from the public. Performance was tepid, as was the handling. Near its production end, Chevy brought in the circular quad taillights, which have carried forward to every Corvette since. Through the C1′s life cycle, design changes, especially to the front and rear of the car, vastly improved the car to its more recognized and loved form.
The completely redesigned Corvette C2 changed everything about the C1 except the quad lights. Inspired by the 1959 Mitchell Stingray (created with racing in mind), the Jaguar E-Type, the Q-Corvette concept and even a Mako shark, the Corvette Stingray revolutionized the name with muscular and sophisticated looks, wicked performance and cutting-edge technology. Not just an American muscle car, but a true American sports car that rivaled foreign competitors, the C2 is viewed by many as the most beautiful Corvette ever made. Unfortunately, the market only saw four years of these beauties, with production ending in 1967. Find a mint split-window version and you’re in hog heaven.
It’s become a right of passage for every red-blooded American man to have a story about the Corvette. Here are a few from the GP writing team at large.
My Dad bought a gold ’61 ‘Vette brand new, and his buddy bought an identical one at the same time. They’d race them up and down the rural highways here in MN, scaring my mother who was an unwitting passenger. Alas, when the balloon payment came due (do they finance cars like this anymore?), my Dad couldn’t afford it and had to sell. How I wish he kept that car… - Jason Heaton
|I didn’t think I’d care. It had been years since I’d been behind the wheel and it wasn’t even mine. As I took a break from helping my dad clean it for its next potential owner the memories came flooding in. The first time he handed me the keys with his knowing glance and smirk. When I opted out of the limo and chose to drive it to prom instead, with my date angrily battling the shape of her dress. The night I pulled up to a stoplight and Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson lined up next to me in his white Testarossa; we raced. My dad’s midnight black ’80 Corvette couldn’t compete with steroidal sprinters in Italian exotica, but it didn’t have to. It had glass T-roofs, a driver’s side window that would chop your fingers off, foot-wells that would get so hot you could fuse your footwear to the pedals. It had character. That deep black sculpted C3 was the first real sports car I had the pleasure of piloting, and getting it ready for someone else was harder than I ever expected.
- Matt Neundorf
|When I was 15, a friend of mine’s parents had a Corvette. They went out of town for the weekend and left his older sister to watch over him. That Friday night, she went over to a friends house and left two 15 year old boys alone, with keys to a brand new C6 shining like a colossal jewel of freedom. With nothing stopping pure, petroleum ecstasy, we took the C6 out for a midnight romp.
And romp we did. Underage, grinning from ear to ear, and not a single thought towards “what-ifs” or “maybe we shouldn’ts”, I was pierced straight through the heart by the fury of Cupid’s car arrow.
|My buddy Tim gave me a ride in his 2009 C6 ZR1 a couple years ago. This is a guy all about his toys — he’s got a gun collection to make the Idaho militia envious, a quiver of motorcycles, and a big truck, but this was what got my attention. For a while he took it easy, but as we joined I-5, he said, “watch this”, words that anyone who leads young men comes to dread. My head snapped back as we quickly doubled the legal California speed limit in the space of the on-ramp. I’ve been a fan/owner of German sports cars for the past 10 years, but this single ride has had me re-evaluating ever since. If I can figure out where to put the baby seat, that is.- Scott Packard|
The C3′s production spanned a full 10 more years than the iconic C2. The engine and chassis from the C2 were carried over, but an all-new Mako II concept-car-inspired body took center stage. Rather than the long and lean look of the C2, the C3 sported pronounced curves that garnered mixed reviews; the vertical rear glass was a huge change from the curved version on the C2. The C3 brought in the t-top roof panels (and some buyers sadly added on louvers to complete the look). Luckily, in 1978, Chevy changed the rear glass to a fastback style and made interior tweaks — resulting in record Corvette sales in 1979. Regardless of your feelings, it’s still a pimpin’ ride.
The fourth-generation Corvette was the first all-new Corvette in fifteen years. It redefined the modern American sports car with a totally re-done automobile that looked truly exotic, as opposed to the angry frog look of the C3. The C4 sported a long hood, low belt line, and handled like it meant it. Comparisons to Ferrari did not go unnoticed. With the C4 came the emergence of the high-performance Corvette ZR1, an ultra-expensive version that boasted more power and better handling. It was really with the C4 that the Corvette started being taken seriously as a bargain high-performing sports car. Things could only get better.
Of the biggest changes in the fifth generation Corvette, none of them was the design, though it displayed a more curvaceous look than the C4. The C5 made use a new hydroformed aluminum chassis and a rear-mounted transaxle that essentially moved the transmission to the rear, giving it ideal 50/50 weight distribution. A completely new engine upped the performance. The suspension changes and introduction of the high-performance Z06 also contributed to the C5′s emergence as a real-world supercar. Whatever laughter there was about the Corvette’s status on the podium of performance cars was now gone forever (especially if you ignored the interior).
Earlier this week GM invited us to a private viewing of the new C7 here in New York. A quiet space was packed with every iteration of the Corvette, including the original C1 unveiled at the 1953 Motorama auto show. Our favorite detail, though? The wheels. Literally. Here’s a 6-generation rundown of Corvette rolling stock. – EY
How do you improve on the Corvette? Don’t drink a Super Big Gulp while driving it? No. You break with tradition (a little) and make it faster, with better handling and an added level of sophistication. The loss of the flip-up headlights (the first time since the C1) and the addition of the extremely potent LS2 V8 engine with 400 horsepower made the C6 a world contender. Plus, the tighter body and less pronounced rear end made the C5 look the part of an American sports car that could go toe-to-toe with Italy and Germany. Though some lamented the loss of the unique flip-up headlights, what was gained in performance and style more than made up for it. Nine years later, it would be high time for a worthy successor.
Unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show a few days ago, the newest addition to the Corvette legacy is also the most sophisticated and the most powerful (sans the C6 ZR1′s 638 hp) with a new LT1 V8 with an output of 450 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque. Dubbed the Stingray (for the first time since the C3), this all-new Corvette boasts a far more aggressive and angular look with an extensive use of carbon fiber for lightness. The interior also shows vast improvements, with higher-grade materials and a greater level of refinement. Borrowing a bit of Italian flair, it is perhaps the most daring styling we’ve seen in the Corvette to date. The C7 has yet to be tested, but performance should be very impressive. Acid wash jeans are officially banned while driving this one.