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Chevy Corvette Through the Years

Niel Stender

The Chevy Corvette, “America’s Sports Car”, has been in production for nearly 7 decades. Here are some highlights of this enduring symbol of performance.

The One and Only Chevy Corvette

America’s sports car, the Chevy Corvette, has been in continuous production since 1953, which is just about 70 years ago. Starting life as a C1, the Corvette is now into its eighth-generation and going strong with a completely new engine configuration. Inspired by the small, maneuverable warship of the same name, the Vette – as it’s also known – has been a halo sports car for Chevrolet since day one. Through the years, the Corvette has been defined, in part, by the use of fiberglass or composite body panels. The other part would of course be its performance, which has only gotten better as time has gone on.

C1: 1953-1962

1954 Chevrolet Corvette - media.chevrolet.com
1954 Chevrolet Corvette - media.chevrolet.com
  • Designed under the guidance of Harley Earl, the 1953 Corvette was a show car at GM’s Motorama show in NYC, sporting a 235 cubic inch (ci) Blue Flame inline-6 (I6). Interest in the vehicle was strong enough to warrant production.
  • The only solid-axle generation, just 300 hand-built convertibles were produced in the first year and they were all painted Polo White.
  • Blue, red, and black paint options were added in 1954, but slow sales saw less than 4,000 vehicles built.
  • 1955 Corvettes were offered with a 265 ci V8 that proved far more popular than the I6.
1960 Chevrolet Corvette - media.chevrolet.com
1960 Chevrolet Corvette - media.chevrolet.com
  • The famous side-cove design feature was added in 1956 along with power windows.
  • An optional RamJet fuel injection (FI) system is introduced in 1957 to a 283 ci small block as well as heavy-duty brakes, upgraded suspension, and a 4-speed manual.
  • Round taillights show up in 1961, which is a Corvette design feature for the next 50+ years.
  • By the end of C1 production, the small block is up to 327 cubes of displacement good for 360 horsepower (hp) when paired with FI.

C2: 1963-1967

1963 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport - media.chevrolet.com
1963 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport - media.chevrolet.com
  • Designed by Larry Shinoda, second-gen Chevy Corvettes continue with fiberglass construction and add a coupe body style for the first time.
  • Zora Arkus-Duntov, “father of the Corvette”, enters the scene planning a run of 100 lightweight Grand Sport model intended to race against Ford’s Shelby Cobra. Only 5 were ever made.
  • Sting Ray joins the Corvette lexicon in 1963 as does a split rear window. This year also sees the live rear axle replaced with independent suspension, puts in an electronic ignition, and adds air conditioning.
1966 Chevrolet Corvette - media.chevrolet.com
1966 Chevrolet Corvette - media.chevrolet.com
  • The first Z06 Corvette appears in ’63 with competition tuning, but only a couple hundred were produced.
  • The 1963-only split rear window goes away for 1964 due to Duntov’s concerns over poor visibility, creating a limited collectible in the process.
  • In 1965, four wheel disc brakes are added and a 6.5-liter big block V8 shows up making 425 hp. At the time, this was a $292 option.
  • The last year of C2 production, 1967, brought a mild design refresh plus an L88 engine option. Rated at 430 horses (but likely making more than 500), only 20 were installed by the factory making them extremely valuable today.

C3: 1968-1982

1972 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray - media.chevrolet.com
1972 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray - media.chevrolet.com
  • Initial C3 Corvettes had fresh sheet metal and interior design, but carried over the C2 engine and chassis.
  • By 1969, the 327 ci V8 is replaced with a 350 cube motor. ’69 also introduces the all-aluminum ZL1 big block, capable of sub 11-second quarter mile runs.
  • Fender flares are added, the interior is upgraded, and a host of engine changes arrives in 1970.
  • The small block now has an optional high compression LT1 version good for 370 horsepower.
  • The 427 ci big block bumps up to 454 cubic inches, putting out 390 hp.
  • The first Chevy Corvette ZR-1 arrives with special racing equipment. Only 53 are built.
  • 1971 Corvettes succumb to the oil crisis of the era by having their power output curtailed across the board.
1978 Chevrolet Corvette Silver Anniversary Edition - media.chevrolet.com
1978 Chevrolet Corvette Silver Anniversary Edition - media.chevrolet.com
  • The following year, GM moves from SAE Gross Standard to SAE Net for horsepower measurements. The motors are the same, but rated power drops on all engine offerings. For example, the 350 ci V8 is now a 200 hp motor versus 300 in 1970.
  • In 1973 and ’74, chrome bumpers are out and 5 mph crash rated urethane version are in due to new federal government regulations.
  • Catalytic converters come on the scene with the 1975 Vette, which require unleaded fuel. This necessitates changing the floor from fiberglass to steel due to the “cats” high operating temperatures.
  • Marking the Chevy Corvette’s 25th anniversary, a silver and gray edition is produced in 1978 with round headlights. This version includes sloping rear glass, a change from the longstanding vertical back window.
  • Corvette production moves from St. Louis to Bowling Green, Kentucky in 1981 and has remained their ever since.

C4: 1984-1996

1984 Chevrolet Corvette - media.chevrolet.com
1984 Chevrolet Corvette - media.chevrolet.com
  • 1984 sees the first full Chevy Corvette redesign since 1963 to kick off the fourth-generation C4.
  • Improvements include an all-aluminum suspension, electronic dashboard, and the “4+3” transmission that couples a 4-speed manual with 3 automatic, overdrive top gears.
  • A 230 horsepower V8 with tuned port FI becomes the base engine in 1985.
  • Corvette tuning company, Callaway, produces the B2K twin-turbo Vette in 1987. Available directly from the factory, it begins life making 345 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque. By the end of its production in 1991, those figures are up to 450 and 613, respectively.
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1996 Chevrolet Corvette Grandsport - media.chevrolet.com
1996 Chevrolet Corvette Grandsport - media.chevrolet.com
  • For model year 1989, the 4-speed manual is replaced with a ZF-sourced 6-speed and computer aided gear selection is added. By requiring drivers to shift from 1st directly to 4th in low speed conditions, it is intended to improve fuel economy.
  • The ZR1 returns in 1990 with a Lotus-designed, 375 hp DOHC V8 along with upgraded brakes and steering. Period testing clocked a 4.9-second sprint to 60 mph.
  • For the final year of C4 production in 1996, the Grand Sport nameplate is revived. It sports run flat tires, a 330 horse LT4 motor, and no automatic transmission option. A unique color scheme of Admiral Blue paint with a wide white stripe down the middle of the car, black wheels, and red wheel arch stripes is the only option. 1,000 were produced, 190 of which were convertibles.

C5: 1997-2005

1998 Chevrolet Corvette - media.chevrolet.com
1998 Chevrolet Corvette - media.chevrolet.com
  • As a ground up redesign, the C5 Corvette brought near 50/50 weight distribution, a slippery 0.29 drag coefficient, reduced weight, and a top speed of 176 mph.
  • The Gen III small block becomes the Vette’s base engine. Using aluminum construction and individual ignition coils for each cylinder, it makes 345 hp and 350 lb-ft of twist all while achieving 28 mpg on the highway.
2001 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 - media.chevrolet.com
2001 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 - media.chevrolet.com
  • Initially available in coupe form only, a convertible is added in 1998 and a fixed roof coupe (FRC) in 1999. Lighter and stiffer than the hatchback-like coupe, the FRC is the basis for the latest Z06 Corvette.
  • Showing up for the first time since 1963, the 2001 Z06 offered 385 horsepower out of the gate, eventually making 405 hp. The upgraded brakes, titanium exhaust, and carbon fiber hood combined with the more rigid FRC body to make this Z06 faster than the C4 ZR1.

C6: 2005-2013

2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 - media.chevrolet.com
2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 - media.chevrolet.com
  • An evolution of the C5, sixth-gen Vettes feature a longer wheelbase, improved interior, and fixed headlights in place of pop-ups for the first time in over 40 years.
  • The base motor sees a displacement increase to 6 liters for matching horsepower and torque figures of 400. This helps it hit a 190 mph top speed.
  • 2006 brings the new Z06 with a 427 ci V8 making it the largest small block ever offered by GM. With just over 500 hp, the C6 Chevy Corvette Z06 has a fully aluminum chassis and the ability to hit 60 mph in less than 4 seconds.
2010 Chevrolet Corvette Grandsport - media.chevrolet.com
2010 Chevrolet Corvette Grandsport - media.chevrolet.com
  • In 2008, the base LS3 engine grows to 6.2 liters making 430 hp and the Corvette’s interior is updated. The ZR1 returns with a supercharged LS3 to hit GM’s target of 100 hp per liter. It tops out at 205 mph.
  • Grand Sport trim rejoins the lineup in 2010 and includes Z06 features like a wider body, staggered tires, and dry-sump oiling in manual transmission vehicles.
  • From 2011 to 2013, buyers of Z06 and ZR1 Vettes have the option to work with Chevy assembly line workers on building their V8 at the Wixom, Michigan factory and then take delivery of their completed car in Bowling Green.

C7: 2014-2019

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray - carsforsale.com
2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray - carsforsale.com
  • Using the Gen V family of small block engines, C7 Chevy Corvettes are introduced with the LT1 making 460 horsepwer when paired with the performance exhaust system. Advanced engine tech includes direct injection, variable valve timing, and active fuel management.
  • The Stingray name returns, in the form of small castings added around the Vette, for the first time since 1976.
  • Platform improvements include a new aluminum frame that locates all four wheels one inch farther apart front-to-rear and side-to-side.
  • A 7-speed manual transmission is offered on C7s along with newly optional sport seats featuring more aggressive side bolsters.
2017 Chevrolet Corvette Grandsport - media.chevrolet.com
2017 Chevrolet Corvette Grandsport - media.chevrolet.com
  • 2013 is the 12th time a Corvette is selected as the Indianapolis 500 pace car.
  • The Z06, Grand Sport, and ZR1 return in 2015, 2017, and 2019 respectively.
  • Z06 models are sporting a 650 horsepower supercharged 6.2-liter V8. The Grand Sport incorporates the wide body styling, suspension tune, and dry-sump oiling from the Z06. And the ZR1 gets a bigger displacement supercharger to crank out 755 hp.
  • The final front-engine Corvette, a black Z06, is auctioned off in 2019 for $2.7 million at Barret-Jackson.

C8: 2020-Present

2021 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray - chevrolet.com
2021 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray - chevrolet.com
  • The eighth-generation Chevy Corvette becomes the first production Vette with a rear mid-engine configuration. Much of this is due to the front-engine layout reaching the limits of its performance.
  • Available in coupe and convertible body styles, the C8 is currently offered with the LT2 6.2-liter V8. When equipped with the Z51 performance package, it puts down 495 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque.
  • You can read more about the C8 Chevy Corvette here.

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Niel Stender
Niel Stender

Niel got his start in the car world as a vehicle dynamics engineer with SVT at Ford. He still has dreams of running figure eights on the wet pad in an S197 GT500. These days, when not fending off karate kicks from the 3 tiny humans that run his household, he can be found on St. Louis backroads pretending to be Ken Block in his 6-speed Mazda 6.

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