Since the Chevrolet Corvette went on sale 60 years ago, it has survived numerous changes through six generations. We put together a list of six models – one from each generation – celebrating significant milestones from the Corvette’s past.
Chevrolet showed several concepts at the GM Motorama show in New York City in January 1953; among them was the XP-122 – a European-style sports car designed in America for Americans. The XP-122 was so well received by show visitors that GM management green-lighted the two-seat roadster for a limited-production run.
At the end of June of 1953, just five months after the Motorama, the first Corvette rolled off the assembly line with an inline-six producing about 150 hp and a two-speed automatic transmission. Chevrolet hoped to increase showroom traffic with the Corvette, but the car proved so popular, the automaker made it a regular-production car. Since then, more than 1.5 million Corvettes have been built.
C1: 1962 Corvette
Many appreciate the first year of the iconic sports car, but it wasn’t until 1962 that the first-generation Corvette accumulated every model-year update in one package. Here are some first-generation highlights:
- 1955 brought the first small-block: the 195-hp 265-cubic-inch engine, optional three-speed manual transmission, and 12-volt electrical system
- In 1957, the optional fuel-injected 283-cubic-inch V-8 made one horsepower per cubic inch and a four-speed manual was standard
- Dual headlights improved front-end appearance in 1958
- Quad round taillights appeared in 1961 and have been used ever since.
- The last year of the C1 brought the 327-cubic-inch V-8 with four horsepower levels. The top-spec fuel-injected engine produced 360 hp.
C2: 1963 Corvette Sting Ray Split-Window
Not only was 1963 the first year of the second-generation model, it was the only year the Corvette had the famous split rear window. More steel in the central tunnel increased strength and allowed for thinner fiberglass panels, contributing to reduced weight overall compared to the original Corvette. Retractable headlights and a coupe body style were also new for 1963. Engines and transmissions carried over from 1962, but a new independent rear-end with posi-traction reduced wheel spin off the line, as well as improved ride and handling.
C3: 1969 Corvette ZL1
The 1969 Corvette ZL1 may be the rarest Corvette ever produced, with fewer than five models believed to have been built. An all-aluminum 427 cubic inch big-block V-8 engine powered the ZL1 models. The cars were set up for road racing and may be the fastest cars of their time.
C4: 1990-1995 Corvette ZR-1
The 1990-1995 Corvette ZR-1 was powered by a Lotus-designed all-aluminum 5.7-liter DOHC LT5 V-8 engine. Although the LT5 shared the small block engine’s 5.7-liter displacement, only the bore spacing was the same while the bore and stroke were unique. Early models had 375 hp and jumped to 405 hp in 1993 thanks to tweaks to the heads, valvetrain, and exhaust. Lotus also helped tune the ZR-1’s suspension to make the top Corvette more than a one-trick pony. In 1992, a traction control system dubbed Acceleration Slip Regulation or ASR found its way onto the ZR-1. The rear fenders were wider than standard Corvettes to accommodate 11-inch wide rear wheels. Pricing for the ZR-1 package nearly doubled the base car’s MSRP.
C5: 2001-2004 Corvette Z06
In 2001, the Corvette Z06 went on sale packing a 385-hp LS6 V-8 engine under its hood. The new engine was a thoroughly reworked version of the automaker’s 5.7-liter LS1 V-8. Although the Z06 was less powerful than the C5 ZR-1, it was lighter and faster in all tests except top-speed. The Z06 was also much cheaper than the ZR-1. Chevrolet bumped up the LS6’s power level to 405 hp for 2002. The Z06 also had more aggressive suspension, larger wheels and tires, different gearing, and functional brake ducts.
C6: 2009-2013 Corvette ZR1
638 horsepower; 205 mph; 7:19.63 seconds around the Green Hell. Does anything else need to be said about the highest-performing Corvette to date? The Corvette ZR1 is powered by a supercharged 6.2-liter LS9 V-8 engine that produces 604 lb-ft of torque and is capable of reaching 60 mph in 3.5 seconds and clearing the quarter-mile in 11.5 seconds at 126.9 mph. Standard carbon ceramic brake rotors are larger than wheels found on many pre-1990 Corvette models. Judicious use of carbon-fiber body panels offset the wider body and wheels, as well as the supercharger and intercooler. A window in the hood shows off the supercharger/engine cover.
GM has kept tight-lipped about the C7 Corvette due next year, but rumors suggest the base model will be powered by a fifth-generation small-block V-8. The new engine is expected to gain direct-injection and could shrink to 5.5 liters while making more power than the current base model’s 436-hp 6.2-liter LS3 V-8. Expect at least one more powerful versions a year or two after the C7’s launch and, at some point, potentially a V-6.
What’s your favorite Corvette?