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Corvette History

The 1950's

Corvette debuted in January of 1953 as a show car in the GM Motorama
It was a stylish two-seat convertible.
It was designed to show the world that GM could create a sports car to compete with European nameplates like Jaguar and MG
All 1953 Corvettes were Polo White with red interiors

The response to the Motorama show car was overwhelmingly positive
Production began that June in Flint, Michigan
It would change the landscape of the American road forever

The 1953 Corvettes were built by hand
It appeared nearly identical to the Motorama car
They were powered by the existing Chevrolet 235-cu.-in. 6-cylinder engine
It was modified with a three-carburetor design and dual exhaust
This gave it a more sports car-like performance
Named the Blue Flame Special, this engine generated 150 horsepower
It was teamed with a 2-speed Powerglide automatic transmission
This powertrain did not live up to the performance expectations of sports car buyers

Sales climbed to 3640 units in 1954
They fell off dramatically to just 700 in 1955
This sett off rumors that Corvette might be a short-lived automotive experiment
But Zora Arkus-Duntov had different ideas

Arkus-Duntov, was an engineer on the Corvette team since 1953
He was a former European road racer
He set out to give Corvette the two things it needed most
Better performance and better handling

Corvette's evolution into a true sports car began in 1955
A 265-cu.-in. V8 that generated 195 horsepower was offered
By the end of the model year
A 3-speed manual transmission was also available

In 1955, Zora Arkus-Duntov drove a prototype V8-powered Corvette
He set a new record in the Daytona "Measured Mile"
At just over 150 miles per hour

Corvette received its first major styling update in 1956
Changes included an all-new body with "scooped out" sides
Outside door handles, roll-up windows and an optional removable hardtop

Corvette got a performance boost to go along with its styling in 1957
The 283-cu.-in. V8 was modified with fuel injection to produce an unprecedented 283 horsepower
A new 4-speed manual transmission was offered as a $188 option
Corvette was one of the first cars in the world to mate a fuel-injected V8 engine with a 4-speed manual gearbox

Corvette lit up the streets in 1958 in more ways than one
The fuel-injected 283-cu.-in. V8 was now producing up to 290 horsepower
Corvette's new body design featured four headlights

The 1960s
Gaining Momentum

In 1960, Corvette production topped the 10,000 mark for the first time
It was now carving out a solid niche in the market and becoming a part of American culture

In each year between 1960 and 1962, performance and styling enhancements made it more and more appealing to a wide variety of buyers
1961 was the first year for Corvette trademark quad taillights
In 1962, engine displacement was increased to 327 cu. in. and top horsepower was up to 360

But the most exciting changes were still a year away

In 1963, Chevrolet unveiled its all-new Corvette Coupe and Convertible models, the Sting Rays
This was the first time Corvette was available as a hardtop coupe model as well as the traditional convertible
Both cars featured an all-new body design that was significantly trimmer and more stylish than the previous generation
It was also the first year for concealed headlamps
The chassis was all new as well, including an independent rear suspension

The 1963 Sting Ray Coupe featured a split rear-window design
It was replaced with a single-piece rear window in 1964
Because owners complained about visibility
Today, a 1963 split-window Coupe is a cherished prize among collectors

The Sting Rays were the automotive success story of the year
Chevrolet had to add a second shift to its St. Louis, Missouri assembly plant
They couldn't keep up with the demand for Corvettes
Dealers reported owners waiting months for their cars to be built
By the end of the model year, Corvette production would surpass the 20,000-unit milestone

The Sting Rays continued the Corvette evolution through the mid-1960s
In 1965, the 396-cu.-in. "Big Block" V8 was available in Corvette
It was rated at 425 horsepower
Four-wheel disc brakes were also made standard
Buyers could also choose drum brakes as a cost-delete option while supplies of parts lasted

In 1967, the limited-production L88 Corvette was officially rated at 430 horsepower
Though some Corvette historians believe that figure was artificially low
Only 20 of the L88 Corvettes were built

The all-new 1968 Corvette was dramatically different in appearance from any other Corvette
It bore a striking resemblance to Chevrolet's "Mako Shark II" concept vehicle
It literally changed the way people looked at cars
With its bold new look, the 1968 Corvettes introduced hidden windshield wipers
It also had removable T-Tops on Coupe models

In 1968, Corvette production hit a new record of 28,566
Corvette received its most radical styling change in 1968
This basic body design would continue to evolve for 15 years

The 1970s
A Time of Change

The 1970s were a time of great change for Corvette
A late production start for the 1970 model year prevented the first cars from rolling off the assembly line until January
Sales rebounded in 1971 and continued to climb
But outside forces, such as the oil embargo and increasing government regulations, were having an impact on Corvette performance

The original high-performance LT1 engine
A 350-cu.-in. "Small Block," was introduced in 1970
It generated 370 horsepower
That year, the "Big Block" displacement was increased to 454 cu. in
It was rated at 390 horsepower in the LS5 version

In 1971, a special-purpose "Big Block" V8 was available that produced 425 horsepower
But 1971 was the last year for "gross" horsepower ratings
The industry changed to a "net" rating system that accounted for the exhaust system, vehicle accessories and other components
It provided a truer measure of an engine's performance and is still used today

The Convertible model was dropped at the end of the 1975 model year
The next Corvette Convertible would not be available until 1986

In 1977, Corvette hit the 1/2-million milestone
The 500,000th car rolled off the assembly line
Leather seats were standard for the first time
Buyers could also choose cloth as a no-cost option
Production reached 49,213 units

Corvette celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1978
In recognition of this event
It was selected to be the Official Pace Car of the Indianapolis 500
Two special models were produced for public sale
A Pace Car appearance edition and a special Silver Anniversary paint package

In 1979, Corvette production hit 53,807 units
A record that still stands today

The 1980s

Sales of Corvette remained strong in the early '80s
It was clearly now a part of the American fabric
Attracting buyers with its rich heritage and dramatic styling

There were no 1983 Corvettes produced for public sale
43 pilot models of the new-generation Corvette were built in 1983 for testing purposes
Today, one of those 1983 pilots is on display at the Corvette Assembly Plant
It is located in Bowling Green, Kentucky
The rest were scrapped

Chevrolet introduced the first all-new Corvette since 1968
It featured an all-new body design, a double-wishbone front suspension
Five-link independent rear suspension teamed with Goodyear Gatorback unidirectional tires
Inside, the cockpit surrounded the driver and featured advanced electronic instrumentation
The introduction of the 1984 Corvette was one of the most eagerly awaited vehicle announcements in recent history
It was named Motor Trend's "Car of The Year"

For 1986, the Corvette Convertible was back!
To celebrate the convertible's return
Corvette again paced the Indy 500 and all convertibles were designated Pace Car replicas
The evolution of Corvette as a world-class performance car also continued with the addition of new standard 4-wheel ABS, an increase in maximum horsepower to 230 from its 5.7 Liter V8 and continued suspension fine-tuning
The PASS-Key¨ theft-deterrent system was also added as standard equipment on all models

Corvette handling made great strides in 1989 with the Performance Handling Package becoming standard equipment
Along with that came new 17-inch wheels and tires
The Selective Ride Control adjustable suspension system was also introduced
This allowed drivers to choose between three different operating modes
"Sport" and "Performance"
A new 6-speed manual transmission was also offered
This gave drivers added ability to maximize the Corvette power range

The 1990s

ZR-1 roared to life in 1990 with an all-new 375 horsepower LT5 engine under its hood
It was designed in a cooperative effort between General Motors and Lotus
The LT5's dual overhead cam, 32-valve design made Corvette the talk of the automotive world
To help distinguish the appearance of the ZR-1 from standard Corvette Coupes
It was given an all-new convex rear fascia and quad rectangular taillights
All Corvettes received a new cockpit design that included digital readouts and analog gauges as well as a driver air bag
The maximum horsepower of the standard L98 engine was increased to 250

Corvette received styling refinements for 1991
This included wrap-around front parking/cornering lamps
New side-panel louvers and a ZR-1 style convex rear fascia on all models
To help differentiate the look of the ZR-1
Its center high-mounted stop lamp remained on the roof
While it was integrated into the rear fascia on both Coupe and Convertible

Corvette performance continued to grow in 1992 with the introduction of the second-generation LT1
Thus putting a 300-horsepower engine back in the standard Corvette
The engine was designated LT1
It was the first Chevy "Small Block" to surpass the horsepower of the original LT1 in 1970
The Acceleration Slip Regulation (ASR) system and Goodyear GS-C asymmetrical tires were also introduced as standard equipment
ZR-1 received a ZR-1 badge on the sides of its clam shell hood

The one-millionth Corvette was built on July 2, 1992 in Bowling Green, Kentucky

For 1993, LT5 output was boosted to 405 horsepower
A special 40th Anniversary package was available on all models

Passive Keyless Entry (PKE) was also added as standard equipment

The cockpit of Corvette was transformed for 1994
It had a new single-piece instrument panel
A front-passenger air bag, and new door panels

Both the standard and Sport seats were also restyled
Leather seats became standard equipment

The most noticeable change on the 1995 Corvette was the revised gill panel design
This also marked the last year for the ZR-1

Corvette served as the Official 1995 Indianapolis 500 Pace Car

Two distinctive Corvettes were part of the 1996 lineup
The Grand Sport and Collector Edition
Both celebrate the rich heritage of the Corvette, and mark the end of the current style
The new optional LT4 engine is introduced, required on Grand Sport

To mark its 35th anniversary
A 1988 special anniversary edition was available
It had white paint, wheels, leather interior and special emblems
All 2,050 35th Anniversary Editions were built as coupes

A total of 56 street-legal but race prepared 1988 Corvettes were built for the SCCA Corvette Challenge Series

In 1988, Corvette started using a unidirectional 17" wheel

Approximately 80 ZR-1 cars were built in 1989
But none were sold to the public
The last of these ZR1s were shipped out of the factory on Dec. 22, 1988

The FX3 adjustable suspension option, permitting shock valving changes via a rotary dial mounted on the interior console between the seats, was first introduced in 1989

The long awaited, high performance ZR-1 option package
Was finally publicly available in 1990
It included special rear body panels
It had an all aluminum small block designated the LT5, producing 375 hp
All LT-5 engines for the production ZR-1 option were built by Mercury Marine in Stillwater, Oklahoma

The last year for the Callaway twin turbo option was 1991, selling 62 units at $33,000 each
In comparison, the ZR-1 option was a bargain at "only" $31,683

1991 was the 10th anniversary of Corvette production at the Bowling Green, KY plant

1992 saw the rebirth of the legendary LT1 small block engine as a 300 hp motor with reverse flow cooling and two valves per cylinder

A special 40th anniversary model was released for 1993 with one year only Ruby Red exterior and interior colors

The ZR-1 horsepower rating rose to 405 hp for 1993
The option cost was held to 1992's $31,683

The end of the 4th generation Corvette was marked with two special editions
The "Collector Edition" in Sebring Silver trim
The "Grand Sport" in Admiral Blue with Actic White racing stripe
A total of 1,000 Grand Sports were built and of these, only 190 were convertibles
Collector Editions comprised 25% of total production with 5,412 units built

For 1996, LT1 engines required automatic transmissions
The ZF 6-speed was mandatory with the 330 HP LT4 engine option

The 1996 LT4 exhaust system differs from the LT1 system
It incorporated a balance tube designed to reduce vibration and noise levels

In early production 1996 Grand Sports models, there is a small area behind the hatch roof
It is front of the panel that attaches to the rear window that is taped, not painted
The tape is 1 inch long and about 18 inches wide
It's purpose was to eliminate a problem area in the paint booth during manufacturing

The 1996 Grand Sport's stripe is not the same width all the way back
It gets wider as it goes up the hood, and the top is narrower
Then it gets somewhat wider in the back end

The 1997 Corvette features several first-time high tech innovations
Black lights for the instrument panel and a "plastic", composite, intake manifold

The first 200 production C5 Corvettes were painted red
They were not the traditional white color for the first production run

The 1997 Corvette is the first one designed from the ground up as a Corvette
There was very little borrowing of parts from other cars
One of the few "Off the Shelf" parts were the exterior door handles
They were the same as the ones that were used on the Oldsmobile Aurora

The first use of a transaxle in a production Corvette occurred in the '97
The first plans for one were in the Q-Corvette in 1958, planned for the 1960 model
Transaxles showed up in Corvette prototypes in the mid '60s in running models

The first 4 speed in a Corvette was built by Borg Warner in 1957
The first transaxle in a production Corvette was also built by Borg Warner
This was forty years later in 1997
Both were introduced late in the model year

Borg Warner has produced a transmission for each generation of Corvette
C1 - 1957 to 1962, C2 - 1963, C3 - 1980 to 1981, C4 - 1984 to 1988, and C5 - 1997 to 1998

The 1997 Corvette is the first Corvette to have windshield wipers that sweep in the same direction instead of opposing directions

The 1998 Corvette convertible is the first to offer the same sport suspension package as the coupe

The C5 was designed from the start as a convertible model.
The ragtop is nearly identical in structural rigidity to the coupe

The first Corvette to sport a real trunk since 1962 again appeared with the 1998 Corvette convertible

On November 4, 1997, the 9752nd 1998 Corvette rolled down the assembly line
This matched the total 1997 Model production run

The last "Fairway Green" C5 came down the assembly line on November 10, 1997
It rolled out as a '98 model
The color was discontinued due to poor sales

It takes 55 hours to build the new C5 Corvette
This is down from 70 hours for the previous C4 model

For the first time in history
The 1999 Corvette was available in three disctinct body styles
The Coupe, Convertible, and the Hardtop, aka, "Fixed Roof Coupe"

The performance axle ratio for C5 Corvettes with automatic transmission is 3.15:1.
The standard ratio is 2.73:1

The 2000 Corvette will feature new color choices to celebrate Y2K
Millenium Yellow, Polo Green, aka Dark Bowling Green, Metallic
There will also be a new Torch Red interior option!

Author Unknown

The Corvette Is Here To Stay
2001-2002 And Beyond

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