The evolution of the Chevrolet Corvette

Ever since the Chevy Corvette was released in 1953, it has been “America’s Sports Car.” Millions have been sold, and many more dream of owning one. Events like Corvettes at Carlisle attract huge crowds just to celebrate the blessed ‘Vette. Its status as an American institution is something few other cars can claim. Let’s take a look at how it evolved over the years.

Corvette C1 – 1953 to 1962

1953 Chevrolet Corvette
1953 Chevrolet Corvette

Believe it or not, the Corvette got off to a shaky start. Instead of a V8, GM initially gave the Vette a slightly more powerful version of a straight six they’d been using in trucks since 1941, mated to a two-speed automatic transmission. Not surprisingly, this didn’t make the Corvette a very sporty sports car, and people weren’t too pleased with it. Thankfully, in 1955 Chevy came out with the now legendary small block V8, which was quickly put into their failing sports car, along with a three-speed manual transmission. By 1956, the Corvette was transformed into a real sports car, and by the final model year of the C1 the Corvette could be had with up to 360 horsepower.

Corvette C2 – 1963 to 1967

1963 Chevrolet Corvette Custom
1963 Chevrolet Corvette Custom

In 1963 Chevy released a heavily redesigned Corvette for the second generation. The new Corvette C2, also known as the Sting Ray, looked much sleeker than the previous generation, and for the first time it was offered as a hardtop coupe. It was set up for much better handling, with independent rear suspension and weight savings throughout the car. This generation set the tone for every generation that came after it in terms of design, and Sting Rays are still the most sought-after models. Chevy also introduced the Corvette’s Z-06 package for racing with this generation, with six created specifically for racing at Le Mans. By 1967, Chevy was offering the ‘Vette with the L88 engine, which could make as much as 560 horsepower, although only 20 were ever made. The Sting Ray ended up being immensely popular, with over 117,000 sold.

Corvette C3 – 1968 to 1982

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In 1968, Chevy released the Corvette C3, a heavily redesigned Corvette that looked like a worthy replacement of the legendary C2. Unfortunately, the third generation had a bit of a split personality. From 1968 to 1976 the Corvette C3 continued the Stingray name (though one word now rather than two) and design, and it was offered with a variety of engines that were rated between 300 and 430 horsepower. Those Corvette C3s were completely awesome, with car magazines favorably comparing the C3 to Porsches.

Unfortunately for the Corvette (and many other American cars), the United States began regulating emissions and gas consumption much more strictly in 1972. Horsepower ratings dropped significantly, and by 1973, Corvettes were making 190 horsepower out of 5.7 liter engines. That trend continued in 1975, when the Corvette C3 was rebranded as a “more efficient Corvette” in response to the oil crisis. The base engine of the 1975 Corvette produced only 165 horsepower, and the only optional motor only put out 205 horsepower. In 1978, the C3 underwent a major redesign, and ended up with a few improvements to make it bit faster, with another similar redesign occurring in 1980. In 1982, after 14 years of production, the C3 was phased out, after more than 532,000 C3s were sold.

Corvette C4 – 1984 to 1996

Chevrolet Corvette C4
Chevrolet Corvette C4

The fourth generation of the Corvette was a clear departure from the previous. The C4 looked futuristic inside and out, with a sleek wedge shape and an interior that looked like a spaceship. Because engine technology was still heavily restricted by regulation, Chevy decided to focus more on making the C4 lightweight and better-handling. Eventually, through the years, more powerful engine options were introduced, bringing back the Corvette’s performance. In 1990, Chevy first released the Corvette ZR-1 in an attempt to make the world’s fastest production car. The ZR-1 was fast to be sure, but it was also very expensive. In 1996, the C4 was discontinued to make way for the next generation. Over 366,000 C4s were sold over the lifetime of the generation.

Corvette C5 – 1997 to 2004

Chevrolet Corvette C5
Chevrolet Corvette C5

In 1997, the fifth generation Corvette was released. The C5 was a much more modern and structurally sound car than its predecessor. When combined with increased horsepower, the C5 ‘Vette could go toe-to-toe with most other sports cars in the world, including high-end exotics like Aston Martins and Ferraris. The C5 also marked the Corvette’s return to international racing series like the 24 Hours of Le Mans, putting America back on the world racing stage. In 2001 Chevy debuted the C5 Z06 as a lightweight, high-performance track-ready edition with 405 horsepower and a 0-60 time of 3.9 seconds. In total, over 248,000 C5s were built.

Corvette C6 – 2005 to 2013

Chevrolet Corvette C6
Chevrolet Corvette C6

The Corvette was updated again in 2005 for the sixth generation. The C6 featured an updated body style with exposed headlamps, something the world hadn’t seen since the second generation. It was also faster, handled better, and was even more livable than the prior generation. Chevrolet also released a Z06 edition of the C6 that came with the largest displacement small block V8 ever produced, a 7.0L V8 that produced 505 horsepower. With an aluminum chassis, it was also much lighter, making it capable of a 0-60 time of 3.6 seconds. Chevy also released a ZR-1 version of the C6 with a 650 horsepower supercharged V8. Finally, Chevrolet came out with the Grand Sport Corvette that bridged the gap between the base model and the Z06.

Corvette C7 – 2014 to present

Chevrolet Corvette C7
Chevrolet Corvette C7

The current generation is largely hailed as a Corvette that can finally compete with the rest of the world’s sports cars. The C7 was of course faster than the C6 in every way, but the real improvements came in fit and finish. The C7 features much higher-quality interior and exterior materials than previous generations, making it more refined, and the styling is much bolder. The C7 base model comes with 455 horsepower, allowing it to go from 0-60 in 3.8 seconds, almost as fast as the previous generation Z06. Chevy has also released a Z06 edition of the C7 with handing and aerodynamic improvements, a supercharged 6.2L V8, and for the first time, a Z06 convertible. There’s also a new Grand Sport edition that features many of the handling improvements from the C7, but with the engine of the base edition. It’s rumored that a ZR-1 is around the corner, and there are never-ending rumors that a mid-engined Corvette variant may be on the horizon as well. Stay tuned!

Photos by: Joe DeSousaMichel Curi, Eje GustafssonSicnag, Steve Glover (5, 6), Spanish Coches, Eli Christman

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