Manufactured for over 60 years now, the Chevrolet Corvette is one of the most beloved American sports cars of all time, even nicknamed “America’s Sports Car.” Making its debut in 1953, the Corvette’s sporty aesthetic and incredible power inspired many to get behind the wheel and enjoy everything the vehicle had to offer. Adjustments were made to the body, performance, and interior of the Corvette over the generations, and there’s something to admire about each of them. Buckle up and be reminded of the beauty of the Corvette.
The 1953 Model Is The Rarest Corvette
First produced in 1953, the debut model of the Corvette is the rarest of them all as only 300 were made. All 300 of them were designed with a white exterior, black soft top, and red interior. Designed with a 6 cylinder Blue-Flame engine, the ’53 model topped out at 150 hp.
Buyers could get behind the wheel for a base price of $3,498 which included a two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission. Reviews of Chevrolet’s first Corvette sports car were mixed, and Harley Earl, head of GM’s Styling Section, went to work to improve the all-American two-seater.
The Prototype Debuted At Motorama
General Motors kept the Prototype EX-122 a secret until the 1953 General Motors Motorama, held at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City. The prototype that was on display on January 17, 1953, is the oldest known Corvette ever made.
Six months after Motorama, production of the Corvette began. Originally estimated to cost $2,000 to build, the model reached $3,513 when it was finished. GM then sought to find ways to lower the cost of manufacturing the Corvette moving forward.
Arkus-Duntov Wrote A Letter To Chevrolet And Landed A Job
Zora Arkus-Duntov (pictured sitting in the car) was a Russian automotive engineer who saw the Corvette concept car when it was debuted in 1953. He was widely impressed with the design of the sports car but was rather disappointed in its power. Arkus-Duntov wrote a letter to Chevrolet’s Chief Engineer, Ed Cole.
He praised his work on the prototype but also included a technical paper with suggestions on how to improve the performance of the Corvette. Cole was extremely impressed and hired him onto the engineering team immediately. Arkus-Duntov was deemed the “Father of the Corvette” and would go on to work with the car for 20 years.
How The Corvette Got Its Name
In its early stages, the Corvette was known as Prototype EX-122. Once production began, the Chevrolet team began racking their brains for a name for their two-seater sports car. They had the idea that they wanted the name to start with a “C.”
Myron Scott was the assistant director of Chevrolet’s public relations department at the time. He suggested the name that was given to high-speed British Navy pursuit ships, “Corvette”. Scott was also the creator of the All-American Soap Box Derby.
The Corvette Received A New Body Style In 1956
The Corvette saw many improvements and new features in its 1956 model. With practically an entirely new body, the front of the car was updated with exposed headlamps. The convertible aspect was improved with roll-up windows, sculpted side covers, and the option of a factory-installed hardtop that was detachable.
In 1956, the Corvette’s power ranged from 210 to 240 hp with a 3-speed standard transmission and an optional Powerglide automatic. Buyers also had the option of a high-performance camshaft with a 240 hp engine.
Order Your Corvette Ready-To-Race In 1957
While visually, the Corvette didn’t change from ’56 to ’57, more performance options became available to buyers as the Chevrolet engineering team added a pricey 4.6 L fuel-injection V8 option and a 4-speed manual transmission.
Advertising the ’57 Corvette, Chevrolet emphasized its performance, boasting that the sports car had “one HP per cubic inch.” Arkus-Duntov also told buyers that they could purchase their Corvette “ready-to-race,” outfitted with special performance options including a heavy-duty racing suspension and 15 by 5.5-inch wheels.
The “Solid-Axle” Generation
The “Solid-Axle” generation of the Corvette lasted from ’53-’62. The C1 generation of Corvette was designed without independent rear suspension, which would later appear in the ’63 Sting Ray model.
From ’53-’62, the Corvette featured two new engines with an engine displacement that was increased with the addition of the 327 cu in engine. Buyers could beef up their Corvette with optional 300 hp engine or carbureted 340 hp and fuel-injected 360 hp.
Bill Mitchell Puts His Mark On The Corvette in ’63
Manufactured between ’63-’67, the Chevrolet Corvette C2 marked the second generation of the Corvette. The body style of this model was led by GM Vice President of Design, Bill Mitchell (pictured on the right) who was brought in by Harley Earl. Mitchell’s impact on GM vehicles was so substantial that his 19 years spent at GM were dubbed the “Bill Mitchell era.”
Mitchell was inspired to design the Sting Ray race car body (along with Larry Shinoda) after he experienced an encounter with a shark while skin diving in the Bahamas. The race car body was then carried over to the production car, the ’63 Sting Ray.
Sting Ray Sales Took Off in 1963
1962 was a record-selling year for the Corvette and 1963 was even better, as 21,513 units of the 1963 Corvette Sting Ray were produced and sold. This was up 50 percent from the previous year. Nearly half of the models were convertibles, with the other half being coupes. However, buyers made their preference known as convertibles continued to thrive and coupe sales went down.
It wasn’t until 1969 that the closed Corvette outsold the convertible style. By that time, the closed coupe was designed with a T-top featuring removable roof panels.
The 1963 Coupe Was The Only Model With A Split Rear Window
One bit of trivia that only true Corvette fanatics know is that the ’63 Corvette coupe was the only model to be designed with a split rear window. Although the unique rear window design had plenty of sporty aesthetic, it was a nuisance to the driver, as it partially blocked the rear view.
It was the one and only year that a Corvette was designed with the split rear window, and it was promptly removed in the ’64 design.
Introducing The Big Block Engine
Midway through 1965, the Corvette Sting Ray debuted with the new Big Block 396 cu in engine, capable of producing 425 hp. This led to the discontinuation of the Rochester fuel injection system in the Sting Ray, as it cost nearly twice as much as the carbureted 396 ci/425 hp option.
The same year, disc brakes were added to the design with two-piece calipers and cooling fins for the rotors.
The Popularity Of The Corvette Continued With Updates In 1966
The 1966 model offered buyers two forms of V-8 engines, the 390 hp, and 425 bhp. The grille received a new look, replaying the previous horizontal bars with an egg-crate grille. The vents were removed from the roof design and an emblem was added to the corner of the hood.
Headrests became an option, as well as power windows and air conditioning, which were only included in 33 coupes and seven convertibles that year. Corvette sales were through the roof in ’66, selling 27,720 units — roughly 4,200 more than the previous year’s sales.
The Designers Delayed The C3 Generation
Always aiming to improve the performance and design of the Corvette, Arkus-Duntov and his team delayed the release of the Corvette C3 generation to prevent cars with aerodynamic issues from entering the market. Initially planned to be introduced in 1967, the C3 generation was delayed as more testing was conducted in the wind tunnel.
Overall, not many changes were made to the ’67 Corvette Sting Ray. A few of the design elements were cleaned up and simplified, including minimizing the front fender vents, installing a single backup light and a few interior design adjustments.
The Corvette C3 (1968-1982)
The Corvette C3 generation is the longest-lasting of all of the Corvette models. Manufactured from 1968 until 1982, the C3 generation was designed with mostly the same engine and chassis components of previous the C2 generation but outfitted with a new body and interior design.
The Corvette’s popularity continued as the car once again broke its sales records, with 53,807 Corvette models being produced in 1979. The Sting Ray was shortened to a single word for this generation– “Stingray.”
A Hot Wheels Car Accidentally Unveiled The Mako Shark II Prematurely
GM attempted to keep the appearance of the newly designed Corvette “Shark” model a secret but made one major misstep that ruined the unveiling. GM had partnered with Hot Wheels to create what they called the “Custom Corvette” which was actually the new Mako Shark II concept car.
Just weeks before the Shark would make its debut, Hot Wheels released the “Custom Corvette” toy, taking auto enthusiasts by surprise as they caught a glimpse of what the next hot Corvette would look like.
The 1968 C3 Corvette Saw Some Changes
A few design elements were reconfigured in 1968 to make the Corvette C3 sleeker and sportier. The headlamps featured a pop-up design while T-top roof panels were added. The coupe was also given an added feature of a removable rear window.
The front grille of the vehicle was made black, while a Stingray nameplate was added to both front fenders. The ’68 Corvette C3 featured 8-inch wide steel wheels and new options like a rear window defroster, anti-theft alarm system, and AM-FM stereo radio.
Not Much Changed From 1970-1971
Chevrolet knew not to mess with a good thing, as Corvette sales continued steadily. From ’70-’71 there were few changes to the Corvette design, as the American sports car was being closely compared to Germany’s Porsche vehicles.
It’s difficult to decipher between the two years of Corvettes, although, in ’71, more than half of consumers chose to pay for the option of air conditioning. Automatic transmission also became an available option.
The Corvette’s Look Changed After 1972
1972 was the last year that the Corvette would keep a few of its body features. After ’72, the Corvette would no longer include both chrome rear and front bumpers, or side-fender grilles. The front grille would also develop a new look after ’72.
It was also the last year for the pop-up windshield wiper door and removable rear window. More consumers were opting for automatic transmission, and the alarm system became standard in all Corvettes.
The 1973 Corvette is the Only Year To Have This Bumper Combination
Governmental regulation on vehicles continued to change in the ’70s. In 1973, the bumpers of the Corvette were adjusted to meet regulations. The front bumper was made of polyurethane with a 5-mile-per-hour system and urethane bumper cover. The rear bumper saw the same chrome two-piece bumper as previous years’ models.
The 1973 Corvette is the only year with this unique bumper design and the last year that chrome bumpers appeared on the Corvette. Moving forward, all Corvettes were built with polyurethane bumpers, both front and rear.
Some Environmental Improvements Led To Lower Horsepower
The Chevrolet Corvette underwent more changes in 1975 that made the car more environmentally-friendly but in turn, decreased its horsepower in standard vehicles. The ’75 model included a federally mandated catalytic converter and required unleaded gas.
The converter helped transform gasses into less-toxic pollutants, but would knock the hp down to 165, a historic low for the C3 Corvette generation. If consumers wanted a boost, they had the option of purchasing an L-82 engine.
1975: What Could Have Been The Final Year Of The C3 Convertible
As safety measures tightened even further on car design, 1975 marked what Chevrolet believed to be the last year that the Corvette C3 would be manufactured as a convertible. Surprisingly, the soft top Corvette would make a comeback in 1986.
Overall, the ’75 model featured a more efficient design, including electronic ignition and inner bumper systems with molded front and rear simulated bumper guards. The rear axle ratio for the base engine remained the same.
Corvette Production Moved From St. Louis To Bowling Green In 1981
After the Corvette debuted in 1953, the first 300 were hand-built in Flint, Michigan. Afterward, Corvette production was exclusively out of St. Louis until June of 1981. GM then decided to renovate an air conditioning unit factory they owned in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and turn it into the new “Home of the Corvette.”
Eight hundred production workers were hired to assemble the vehicles at the plant, with around 50,000 tourists paying a visit each year. You could even order a Corvette and go to the Bowling Green facility to watch it being built.