9 Facts You Didn’t Know About the ’63 Corvette

The 1963 Corvette kicked off the second generation of “America’s Sport Car.” As iconic as it is today, the first C2 Corvette still holds lots of surprises.

The C2 Reinvents the Corvette  

1963 Chevrolet Corvette - media.chevrolet.com
1963 Chevrolet Corvette - media.chevrolet.com

Well into its eight generation, the Chevrolet Corvette has long been “America’s sports car” and a halo car for the bowtie brand for over 60 years. With all that success in the rearview mirror, it’s easy to forget how rocky the Corvette’s initial generation was or how pivotal the second-generation proved to be. The C1 Corvette was high on style, thanks to GM’s legendary designer Harley Earl, but it took a full two years and the advocacy of engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov to get the car the V8 it needed. Even with the boost in horsepower, the Corvette was more show than go. 

Duntov, however, was determined to change that with the next generation Corvette. The new car debuted in late 1962 as a nearly complete overhaul. The 1963 Corvette was reimagined as more modern and comfortable while also being a quicker and more formidable performance car. The C2 brought the Corvette into its own, setting the stage for decades of future success. Today, the second-generation Corvette, and the 1963 model especially, has graduated into iconic status, and yet there’s plenty about this legendary car that you might not know. Below we highlight some of the 1963 Corvette’s unique features and lesser-known bits of history. 

Only One Engine for 1963 

1963 Chevrolet Corvette - carsforsale.com
1963 Chevrolet Corvette - carsforsale.com

The 1963 Corvette had just one engine, though with multiple versions thereof. The 327 small-block V8 had been carried over from the first-generation Corvette and offered a standard output of 250 horsepower. Depending on the carburetor configuration 300 and even 340 horsepower versions were also available. The top of the range was the fuel-injected 327 V8 which made a full 360 horsepower. Fuel-injection being still a somewhat new and rare phenomenon on production cars, many mechanics reportedly converted fuel-injected versions to a carbureted setup to ease maintenance.  

First Z06 Modified Corvette for Racing 

1963 Chevrolet Corvette - media.chevrolet.com
1963 Chevrolet Corvette - media.chevrolet.com

Every proper sports car needs its performance variant. Duntov and his engineering team were eager to make good on their design improvements to the Corvette by giving would-be racers a race-ready performance version. Thus, the RPO (Regular Production Option) Z06 was born. Modifications included a 36.5-gallon gas tank (over the standard 20gallon tank), a sport tuned suspension with bigger springs, shocks, and anti-roll bars, plus the top-of-the-line fuel-injected 327 V8 good for 360 horsepower. The power drum brakes on the car were also upgraded with a dual master cylinder, vacuum brake boost, and better cooling. Just 199 Z06 Corvettes were built before GM’s self-imposed moratorium on racing, which made the first Z06 a one-year-only affair. 

Iconic Split Window One Year Only  

1963 Chevrolet Corvette - media.chevrolet.com
1963 Chevrolet Corvette - media.chevrolet.com

You’ll find “one year only” is a recurring theme when it comes to the 1963 Corvette. The car’s iconic split window design is another feature that did not survive its initial year of production. The origin of the split window design is credited to GM’s exec Bill Mitchell and stylist David Holls. Mitchell was enamored of the shapes of fish and so imbued the new Corvette with fins, gills, and slipstream smooth body panels. The ’63 Corvette’s fishy finishing touch, a spine-like centerline running the length of the car and splitting the rear window, was also inspired by European-style split window designs like those of the ’37 German Alder Trumpf Rennlimousine and the Bugatti 57SC Atlantic.  

The Corvette’s split window was certainly high fashion, but it was also not entirely safe or practical as it severely restricted rearward visibility. Duntov had disliked the design from the start and argued for its elimination. He got his wish as the 1964 and subsequent models dropped the split window. That the split window design lasted only one year makes the ’63 Corvette especially collectable today. The fact that dealers sometimes cut out the split window and traded it for a full pane of glass at a buyer’s request only adds to their rarity. 

C2 Debuted the Stingray Moniker 

1963 Chevrolet Corvette - carsforsale.com
1963 Chevrolet Corvette - carsforsale.com

The 1963 Corvette was also the first model year, but certainly not the last, to carry the Stingray name (and yes, you’ll often see it in materials of the time writing it as two words, sting ray). The Stingray name started to be applied to Corvette back during development when Bill Mitchell was advocating for a racing version of the car. The Stingray Racer was based on the Corvette SS concept and designed by Larry Shinoda and Pete Brock (designer of the Shelby Cobra Daytona) 

Lighter Than C1 Corvette 

The second-generation ’63 Corvette improved on the C1 Corvette in many ways. It was roomer inside, despite a smaller footprint. It handled better. It was even lighter than the preceding Corvette, despite using more steel in its construction and running the same powertrain. The C2 saved weight by having thinner fiberglass in its body panels 

Duntov Wanted a Mid-Engine Corvette 

1963 Chevrolet Corvette - media.chevrolet.com
1963 Chevrolet Corvette - media.chevrolet.com

If you’re familiar with the current eighth-generation Corvette, you’ll know it’s unique to it the preceding seven generations by dint of being the first to go mid-engine. It may have taken the Corvette over sixty years to finally get there, but mid-engine designs had been increasingly common, especially in racing cars by the early 1960s. Duntov, the man today known as the Father of the Corvette, had initially wanted the second-generation Corvette’s engine in the rear. The plans were for a very 911-esqe air-cooled flat-six to replace the V8 using the Corvair’s existing architecture. In the end, an ambitious move to a midship engine just wasn’t feasible financially for the Corvette and it would take decades before it finally happened.

First Corvette Design with Wind Tunnel Testing 

If you take a moment to reflect on the prevailing automotive designs of the 1950s and ‘60s, it’s not surprising that most of them never had the benefit of wind tunnel testing to improve their aerodynamics. In fact, despite early attempts like the Chrysler Airflow (1934-37), most automotive designs gave little attention to the amount of drag produced, instead making a car look like an airplane or spaceship often sufficed. But starting in the 1960s, wind tunnel testing, which had been widespread for aeronautics, began to be applied to cars. The new 1963 Corvette was the first Corvette whose design benefitted from wind tunnel testing, in this case performed on a 3/8-scale model at Caltech’s facilities.  

’63 Exclusive Hubcaps 

1963 Chevrolet Corvette - carsforsale.com
1963 Chevrolet Corvette - carsforsale.com

The ’63 Corvette’s split window isn’t its only visual distinction of note. The 1963 car also had unique and elaborate 17-piece hub caps. They were both flashy and expensive to produce, the latter fact resulting in their cancelation, replaced with simple stamped hub caps for the 1964 model year 

Fake Vents Galore 

1963 Chevrolet Corvette - media.chevrolet.com
1963 Chevrolet Corvette - media.chevrolet.com

Bill Mitchell’s stingray inspiration was thoroughgoing on the 1963 Corvette and extended well beyond just the name and the split window “spine.” The second-gen Corvette also got gills on the side panels and C-pillar, all of which ended up being fake. That even extends to the large vents on the ’63 Corvette’s hood. Duntov had wanted those vents to be functional. The Corvette’s new design tended to lift off when running at high speed and Duntov intended the hood vents to alleviate that upward pressure. Though they might have been nice for the Z06 racing version, the vents were deemed impractical for everyday use (letting in rainwater to the engine bay, for instance) and thus became merely ornamental.  

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Chris Kaiser

With two decades of writing experience and five years of creating advertising materials for car dealerships across the U.S., Chris Kaiser explores and documents the car world’s latest innovations, unique subcultures, and era-defining classics. Armed with a Master's Degree in English from the University of South Dakota, Chris left an academic career to return to writing full-time. He is passionate about covering all aspects of the continuing evolution of personal transportation, but he specializes in automotive history, industry news, and car buying advice.

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1 Comment

  1. Anonymous April 28, 2024

    GM also produced 5 Corvette GT’s given to GM execs. One was given to A.J. Foyt which he sold to Richard Sievers of Austin, Texas.

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