In the 1950’s, General Motors was the world’s largest car manufacturer, and not only that, it was the world’s largest corporation. GM made everything from home appliances to cars, and they even had a division that sold insurance. The only thing they didn’t make, however, was a sports car.
Harley J. Earl, who was GM’s chief designer, began drawing concepts of the first GM sports car in 1951, and he had the idea that this car should sell for the extremely affordable price of only $2000. In partnership with Robert F. McLean, that concept began to turn into a reality.
In an effort to minimize costs, McLean used factory standard Chevy parts and fitted the car with what was then the 1952 Chevy sedan’s chassis and suspension. With the addition of a few more specialized parts and some smart design, and also the decision to make the body out of fiberglass rather than steel, the first Chevrolet Corvette was on its way to the public. After a few more editions made by Ed Cole (Chevy’s chief engineer), the Corvette was put into production on June 30th, 1953. This classic car is still making American motor history even today.
C1 – The Solid-Axle Original
The early models of the Corvette were known as “solid-axle” Corvettes. They were in production from 1953-1962. Because of the choice to use the chassis from the Chevy sedan, the early Corvettes weren’t praised much by sports car enthusiasts.
The first model was outfitted with the “Blue Flame” 6 cylinder engine that got 150 horsepower and functioned well with the 2-speed Powerglide automatic transmission. The first model came in a “Polo White” color and was matched with a red interior and whitewall tires.
Even though Robert McLean wanted to keep costs down on this car, it ended up costing $3,498, almost double the projected cost.
The second ’53 model of the Corvette was a much different breed of car; the Corvette was available in the “Deluxe” edition, which was an eight-passenger, four-door station wagon.
C2 – The Unforgettable Sting Ray
With the end of the Solid-Axle C1 models came one of the most beloved American cars of all time. The Corvette Sting Ray was on the market from 1963-1967 and is still a favorite of collectors and car lovers everywhere. The design for this stunning new model came from the SS chassis that had been previously built to race at Sebring, but the Chassis was updated with much sharper features and a much improved racing design.
The frame of the C2 was over 2 inches lower than that of the C1 because engineers placed the chassis on a ladder frame rather the previous x-frame of the solid axle models. This model also included a new rear suspension that saved money and space on the Sting Ray.
The first Sting Ray in ‘63 was available in the Roadster Version and the Fastback Coupe. These models came with rotating hidden headlamps, boat-tail rear windows and the splitting bar in the rear window. This model was historic for Chevy and GM because it was the first year Corvette sales topped 20,000. Not only that, the number of cars sold in 1963 nearly doubled the amount of cars sold in the previous year, so the Stingray was proving to be a major improvement for the Corvette.
C3 – The “Mako Shark” Model
The next model of the Corvette was available from 1968-1982 and was called the Mako Shark, named after a show car designed by Larry Shinoda (early contributor to the Sting Ray). The 3rd generation of the Corvette was acknowledged for its significantly upgraded details. There were no more grills that looked out of place and no more cheap underbodies on this model. The model wasn’t totally redesigned from the T-top Coupe models of the previous generation, but the convertible versions did get rid of the “T” and opt for a full convertible.
The base price of the 3rd generation Corvettes wasn’t much higher than the originals (starting at only $4,320), but there were over 36 upgrades available for buyers to choose from, customizing the 3rd gen Corvettes to each driver’s individual needs and wants. This model retained the 98-inch wheelbase and had a standard 327 small-block V8 engine that offered 300 horsepower. The option 350 horsepower, 327 big-block engine was also available from the previous ’67 model.
C4 – A New Production Era
In 1984 (yes, Corvette skipped 1983 altogether), the Bowling Green plant was officially up and running and the production of the ’84 Corvette was done entirely at that location.
The new model was praised for its sleek design, trimmer 96.2 inch wheelbase, aluminum cast suspension and fully digital instrumentation. The T-tops were gone for good and replaced with fiberglass panes that were easily removable. One of the most notable changes in this era of the Corvette was the switch to an enormous clamshell hood; fans either loved it or hated it.
C5 – The Corvette for the New Millennium
Originally introduced in 1997, the 5th generation of the Corvette made significant changes from the previous generation. Corvettes became exclusively marketed by Chevrolet, rather than by GM (made with some Chevy parts), and they also redesigned the frame, moved the transmission onto a rear-mounted “transaxle” and connected it to the engine with a torque tube.
This was the first time Corvette had played around with the engine design more than just throwing in an upgraded model. This design was intended to increase the strength of the frame and make the life of this car much longer than that of its predecessor.
Between 1997 and 2004, Corvette released 3 models of the 5th Generation Corvette: the ZR-1, the LS6 and the LS1. In 2004, Chevy acknowledged that this would be the last year for this generation, and in order to capitalize on the popularity of this series, they released commemorative editions of all three models.
C6 – A Car for the New Age
Beginning in 2005, Chevy again looked to remarket the Corvette as an entirely new car. Dave Hill, chief engineer of the Corvette during this time and vehicle line executive for GM Performance Cars was quoted as saying, “The C6 represents a comprehensive upgrade to the Corvette. Our goal is to create a Corvette that does more things well than any performance car. We’ve thoroughly improved performance and developed new features and capabilities in many areas, while at the same time systematically searching out and destroying every imperfection we could find.”
In order to make that statement into a reality, Chevy really did strip down the previous era of Corvettes and redesign a whole new car. The C6 took all the positives about the C5 and just added to them. It had increased performance, a more modern style, upgraded details and technology and was 5 inches shorter than the previous version, reducing drag and giving it greater handling capability. This model was by far the most aerodynamic Corvette ever made and Corvette Racing proved that, having great success with this generation.
C7 – The Stingray Lives
Have you missed the Stingray? So did Chevy. Just last week, the new 2014 Corvette Stingray was released, giving significant head nods to the original Stingray model of the 1960’s.
The new model is available with a V8 460 horsepower engine that offers an optional with performance exhaust. The new Stingray can reach 60mph in 3.8 seconds and even with that kind of power it gets 29 mpg highway.
If you want more information on the new Corvette Stingray, you can visit Chevy’s website to find out details about customizing your own model.
If you are the proud owner of a classic Corvette, no matter what generation, Classic Auto Insurance is available to help you secure the best classic car insurance rates and the best, most customizable protection plan for your muscle car! Give us a call today at 888-901-1338 for a free, instant quote!
About the Author
Drew Yagodnik is Vice President of Classic Automobile Insurance Agency, Inc. Classic Automobile Insurance Agency has been protecting collector, classic and exotics since 1992.