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Since 1953 the Corvette has been America’s Sports Car. The National Corvette Museum was established as a 501(c)3 not-for-profit foundation with a mission of celebrating the invention of the Corvette; preserving its past, present and future; and educating the public about Corvette. The Museum opened in 1994 and is a 115,000 square foot facility located on a 55-acre campus. Bowling Green, Kentucky is home to the world’s only General Motors Corvette Assembly Plant.
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Written by Bonnie Gringer
World War II brought about a lot of changes in the world, including the introduction of the European two-seater cars in America. These fast, sporty cars inspired Project Opel. The “dream car” concept produced from this effort was first introduced at the 1953 Motorama car show: a full-scale model of the Corvette. Even though the car was first unveiled in January of 1953, the first Corvette was not produced until June of that same year. The car was designed for thrill-seeking Americans looking for the design and novelty of the European sports cars brought back after World War II. Harley Earl, a General Motors designer, and Thomas Keating, brand manager, came up with the car’s color scheme, white fiberglass with a red interior. Although the Corvette had a rough start, the father of the Corvette, Zora Arkus-Duntov, came into the picture, rebuilt the car, and gave the Corvette a new beginning.
The Corvette was named after a small but fast fighting ship, but that did little to buoy its sales in the first few years of production. In 1953, GM produced 300 Corvettes to sell to the public. However, they only sold 183 of them. The first year, the Corvette was produced in Flint, Michigan, but they quickly moved to St. Louis, Missouri. GM only made 3,640 in the Corvette’s second year, and many of those were not sold.
These early editions were not powerful when compared to the Corvettes we know and love today. With a two-speed transmission, Blue Flame straight-six engine, and 150 horsepower, the 1953 Corvette left much to be improved in future versions. By the end of the nine-year run for the C1, the Corvette had seen many improvements, including more horsepower, a larger engine, a hydraulic convertible top, electric windows, a four-speed manual transmission, and a dual headlight design.
The 1963 Corvette was dubbed the “Stingray.” This version of the Corvette included the V-8 engine added the previous year and rear suspension and was designed as a coupe. The car got its nickname from its design: It was modeled after a mako shark caught by Bill Mitchell, GM’s vice president of design from 1958-77. This model included the new split window design and had an available Z06 package designed to appeal to racers.
By 1964, the split windows were eliminated, and more improvements were made. The 1965 Stingray included four-wheel disc brakes and a big-block engine. Optional add-ons for this year included side exhaust pipes. Through 1967, the C2 continued to get bigger and better engines. Some Corvettes were produced with the L-88 427 CID (7L) engine, which packed 530 horsepower. Only a few of these were made, making them rare gems that sell for at least a million dollars today.
The Stingray body style stuck around, becoming one of the longest-running auto body styles in history. The 1968 Corvette was relatively the same as the previous years in terms of power, but buyers had the option of two removable roof panels.
The most notable change in the C3 series came due to changes in regulations for emissions in preparation for unleaded fuel. Government regulations also led to changes in the bumper in 1973 and 1974. GM dropped the convertible top in 1975, along with the Stingray name.
In 1978, it was the Corvette’s 25th anniversary, and GM did not hold back. Improvements included a new fastback roofline and rear window, extra storage, removable roof panels, a larger fuel tank, and a redesigned instrument panel. This C3 Corvette was the pace car in the Indianapolis 500 in 1978, helping to boost sales of the 1979 Corvette.
In 1981, a new era for GM began when their manufacturing moved from St. Louis, MO, to their new facility in Bowling Green, KY. In 1982, GM implemented an opening rear hatch and crossfire injection in the Corvette. In addition, this was the first year with only one transmission option: a four-speed automatic.
Due to delays in production, GM did not make a 1983 Corvette for the market. However, because of upgrades to the assembly line, GM made several test Corvettes in that year. Those are typically destroyed, but one escaped destruction and is now on display at the National Corvette Museum. The 1984 Corvette was a total redesign from the previous C3 Corvette, and the changes made it the fastest American car to date and more aerodynamic than its predecessor.
Fuel economy laws were in place, and the four plus three transmission was introduced and used until 1988, although it wasn’t a popular one. In 1989, the four plus three transmission was replaced with the ZF six-speed manual gearbox. In 1985, the L98 engine with 230 horsepower was introduced, and it stayed throughout the rest of the C4 series.
In 1986, Corvette brought back their convertible top and celebrated with another year of pacing the Indianapolis 500. The convertible top was the only option on the 1986 model, but the two-door coupe option was brought back the following year. The 1987 model also brought about hydraulic lifters, increasing the horsepower and the engine torque.
In 1990, GM introduced the ZR-1 to the market, and it remained through model year 1995. This model includes a dual-overhead-cam 5.7-liter V-8 engine with a top speed of 175 mph. Upgrades to the Corvette included an improved LT1 engine in 1992, anti-lock brakes, airbags, acceleration slip regulation, traction control system, and passive keyless entry.
Chevrolet Corvette 1996 Collector Edition: Motor Trend reviews the 1996 Collector Edition Corvette, widely considered to be one of the best Corvettes ever made.
The C5 series started off with a bang. The top speed was 168 mph, and it had a new and improved LS1 engine, new cylinder firing order, and a distributorless ignition system. The C5 series showed an increase in horsepower from 1997 to 2001, too.
In 2001, GM introduced a remake of the 1963 Z06 Corvette, which featured an LS6 engine. This engine produced less horsepower than the ZR-1 Corvettes, but it was lighter, making it faster than its C4 predecessor. This speedster also included improvements in the body, suspension, and transmission. The 2002 Z06 was even more impressive, boasting 405 horsepower, an increase of 20 from the 2001 model.
The 50th anniversary model (2003) included silver badges, a redesigned headliner, and faster acceleration, getting to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds.
The C6 era had a much quieter beginning. Other than exposing the headlights, not much was surprising with the 2005 Corvette. GM continued to make improvements to the Corvette, including replacing the four-speed automatic transmission with a six-speed transmission and adding a 6.2-liter V-8 engine.
The body of the C6 was narrower and shorter in length, making this car more sharp and easier to maneuver. The design of the 2005 Corvette echoed some of the designs found in older Corvettes. As improvements continued to be made to the body and the powertrain of the Corvette, the 2007 Corvette found itself listed as
an automobile all-star in Automobile Magazine
This was an era of returning to basics. The Z06 made another return in 2006, with its lightweight aluminum frame. The LS7 was what powered this beauty, producing 505 horsepower. The Z06 was chosen to be the pace car once again for the Indianapolis 500. In 2009, the ZR-1 made a return with 638 horsepower and a top speed of 205 mph. In 2010, the Grand Sport returned, looking like a Z06 and running like a standard Corvette.
Corvette owners are connected with a special bond of owning a dream car first developed nearly 70 years ago. This car has evolved over the years, despite its rocky start, to become one of the most loved cars in America. Whether or not you drive a Corvette, it may benefit drivers to understand that they aren’t just driving a car; they are driving an asset that can work for them in times of financial hardship.
All kinds of Corvette information and history appears on the National Corvette Museum Web page. Visit the NCM site to learn about museum sponsored activities, clothing, gift items and ways you can support the museum!
May 30, 2021, at the 105th Indianapolis 500, a 2021 mid-engine Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Hardtop Convertible lead the 33-car field to the green flag. The 2021 Indy 500 was the 18th time for Corvette.
Powered by a new 6.2L Small Block V-8 LT2 engine, the Corvette convertible produces 495 horsepower and 470 lb-of torque. Along with racing harnesses and emergency lights, the 2021 Corvette Stingray Convertible also was equipped with the Z51 package.
This allows the Corvette a top speed over 180 mph, but the pace car only needed to reach 130 mph at the race.
Production of the new Chevrolet Corvette began on June 30, 1953.
300 Corvettes were produced the first year, all convertibles with a 150hp, high-compression, 6-cylinger valve-in-head “Blue Flame” engine!
Polo white with red interior and black top was only color combination. Available options included a heater and an AM radio.