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A Short History of the Chevrolet Corvette

Red white and blue C3 corvette

General Motors launched the Chevrolet Corvette in 1953, as the first and only American sports car, at a time when all their other products were full sized, six passenger family cars (up to nine of you choose a wagon), or practical hard working trucks. The public reaction on seeing such a radical, low slung, two-seat coupe on the show circuit from staid Chevrolet was overwhelming and they quickly rushed it into production, which showed.

Chevrolet Corvette - C1 1953-62

This first-generation Corvette ran from 1953 to 1962 and went through a number of changes to both the bodywork and drivetrain. Unfortunately, the Corvette launched with the only engine Chevrolet had a the time, the pedestrian "stovebolt" straight six, jazzed up with 3 side draft carburetors, and a hotter cam. The only available transmission was the two-speed Powerglide automatic. Corvette was almost history in 1955, but the introduction of the 255 cubic inch small block Chevy V8, and the option of a manual transmission transformed the car, and sales took off. A fuel-injected V8 option was introduced in 1957 which produced 283 horsepower from its 283 cubic inch engine (one of the first engines to achieve 1 horsepower per cubic inch) and a four speed manual transmission finally became available.

It took five years, but by 1957 the Corvette was a true sports car and one of the fastest money could buy.

Chevrolet Corvette - C2 1963-67

The C1 Corvette, with a platform based on the Chevy passenger car with origins just after WWII, was replaced by a very different second generation model in 1963. The front suspension was based on the clean sheet 1958 Chevrolet design, and in the rear was an advanced independent set up that would be revised and remain until the end of 1982. The radical styling, dubbed the "Sting Ray" and styled after a fish, looked more like a jet fighter than a passenger car, and unlike any other car on the road.

The hard top coupe version featured fastback styling with the iconic Sting Ray split rear screen, though this was replaced with a single rear window in 1964, or you could choose a convertible. the Sting Ray was the first Corvette to feature pop-up headlamps, an iconic feature which continued right up until 2005.

This was the era of big engines and big power outputs as the small block grew and the big block was introduced. 1964 brought a maximum power output of 375 horsepower out of just 327 cubic inches, and in 1965 the big block 396 cubic inch motor with up to 425 horsepower debuted. The power mad engineers at GM continued, and culminated with an optional L88 engine in 1967 rated at 430 horsepower, but estimated by some to be over 550.

Chevrolet Corvette - C3 1968-82

The third generation C3 Corvette ran from 1968 to 1982, with styling changes but no significant platform updates, but our cutaway image is of a 1969. This was the generation where the Corvette grew up and become more responsible. The C3 Corvette had curved, muscular lines and introduced removable T-top roof panels. The engine and chassis components were mostly carried over from the previous generation but the body and interior were all new for 1968.

1969 brought a new all-aluminum ZL1 big block motor officially rated at 430 horsepower but reported even stronger than the original L88, giving the ZL1 a reported standing quarter mile time of under 11 seconds. And in 1970, the engine lineup reached its zenith, with the 454 cubic inch big block (rated at up to 460 horsepower) and the iconic 350 cubic inch LT-1 (rated at 370 horsepower).

But the C3 generation would be hit by the oil crisis, safety regulations, and toughening emissions rules. In 1971 GM lowered compression ratios to cope with the change over to low-lead fuel, which led to reduced power ratings – the 350 cubic inch base model went from 300 horsepower down to 270, and similar reductions were felt across the range.

And then in 1972 General Motors (bowing to government regulations) switched from reporting gross horsepower to SAE net power ratings, which lowered the ratings still further – the cars still made the same power, of course, but the quoted numbers fell. When catalytic converters had to be added in 1975, along with other smog concessions, the base ZQ3 engine produced just 165 horsepower, a long way from the pre smog big block days.

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A short history of the Chevrolet Corvette

Chevrolet Corvette - C4 1984-96

The C4 Corvette brought a compete redesign in 1984, with a whole new platform updated with all the latest advances in suspension geometry, handling and brakes. The Cross-Fire Injection was carried over from the previous generation for the first year, but other modern innovations were all over it, like an electronic dash, with LCD displays for the speedometer and tachometer. In 1986 anti-lock brakes and electronic climate control were introduced, and 1992, Acceleration Slip Regulation brought a state of the art system for traction control under acceleration, .

For 1985, the standard engine became the 230 horsepower 5.7 liter (350 cubic inch) Tuned Port Injection L98, but 1987 brought the option of the Callaway modified 345 horsepower twin-turbo B2K motor, later pushed up to 450 horsepower, which actually carried full GM warranty coverage. This high-performance model was joined and eventually replaced by 1990's ZR-1 model, with a Lotus engineered 32 valve DOHC motor. In 1992, the new LT1 engine brought the power up to 300 horsepower, a useful boost over the L98 motor. The Corvette was getting its mojo back thanks to advances in smog tuning and computer controlled fuel injection.

Chevrolet Corvette - C5 1997-04

The fifth generation Corvette ran from 1997-2004, with smoother lines and the most complete exterior redesign since the original 1963 model. It brought better aerodynamics, improved fuel economy, 50/50 weight distribution thanks to a new rear mounted transaxle, new suspension geometry, 'active' handling and an all-new hydroformed box frame chassis to replace the old ladder frame design. The C5 also introduced a new notchback body style, with a fixed roof and trunk, which was lighter and stiffer than the fastback or convertible, for better performance. This new body style was used in 2001 for the higher performance Z06 model with a 386 horsepower LS6 motor, which in later years was upgraded to 405 horsepower.

Chevrolet Corvette - C6 2005-13

The sixth generation Corvette was touted as 'all new' but under the skin it was really a refinement of the existing design. Cosmetically there was a new body with regular headlights instead of pop-up units and an improved interior. A new LS2 engine provided 400 horsepower from an increased 6.0 liter capacity, and the option of a 7.0 liter small block engine producing more than 500 horsepower arrived in 2006 with the Z06 model. Then, in 2007, a new ZR-1 model was announced with a supercharged 6.2 liter engine producing 638 horsepower for a supercar-like top speed of 205 mph.

Chevrolet Corvette - C7 2014-Now

The seventh generation Corvette was launched in 2014 featuring the most significant platform update since the introduction of the C5. The best performance so far comes from the Z06 with its 650 horsepower supercharged 6.2 liter V8. It might be unrecognizable next to the cute 1953 convertible that kicked off the whole line, but the 'Vette is still going strong with its core values as a low-cost, high-powered, all-American sports car.

Rumors have been swirling around, and many spy shots are already online, of the next generation C8 Corvette which may be throwing away 65 year of tradition and swithcin to a mid engin design.