The legacy of the Chevrolet Corvette was forged 60 years ago this month when it was introduced at the General Motors Motorama show in New York City on January 17, 1953. As the all-new 2014 Corvette rolls into Chevrolet dealerships later this year, it will build on the six-decade history of design, performance and technology perennially delivered by the world’s longest-running continuously produced sports car.
The 2014 Corvette represents the seventh generation of the car. Each has been defined by all-new or significantly revised design, architecture and technology features – including powertrain and chassis/suspension technologies – that have helped Corvette maintain its position as the best-selling premium sports car in America. All, however, have shared unique elements:
- All Corvettes have been two-seat sports cars with a front engine driving the rear wheels, and a long dash-to-axle proportion that enhances its powerful look
- Corvettes have always featured bodies made of composite materials, from fiberglass on the first cars in 1953 to lighter, more advanced composites – including carbon fiber – today
- The small-block V-8 has been the standard engine in the Corvette for 57 of its 60 years
- Corvette has been a test-bed for new technologies that migrate to other GM vehicles.
For nearly all of its history, Corvette’s design, performance and technology has been influenced by the lessons learned on the racetrack. It is a pillar of the development process established by Zora Arkus-Duntov, Corvette’s first chief engineer, through overt and covert racing initiatives, leading up to the factory-backed Corvette Racing program’s 2012 American Le Mans Series championship in the production-based GT class.
Generation 1 (C1): 1953-62
Corvette established its reputation from the moment its fiberglass-bodied concept was introduced at the General Motors Motorama exposition at New York City’s Waldorf Astoria hotel, on January 17, 1953. Production began six months later, as the first large-scale mass-produced car to feature an all-fiberglass body. Along with being lighter than steel, which helped improve the car’s power-to-weight ratio, fiberglass enabled greater design flexibility for the curvaceous body than could be stamped out in a conventional steel press.
Styling evolved significantly during the Corvette’s first generation, but many design cues that would become synonymous with the car were established, including the long dash-to-axle proportion, dual round taillamps and a dual-cockpit-style interior. All first-generation cars were convertibles.
Aficionados generally refer to first-generation Corvettes as “solid axle” models, because they were built on a modified Chevrolet passenger-car architecture that featured a live rear axle. It was powered in the first two years by the stalwart Chevy inline-six engine, dubbed “Blue Flame” in the Corvette. The iconic Small Block V-8 came in the car’s third year of production.
Generation 2 (C2): 1963-67
The second-generation Corvette – dubbed Sting Ray, after a concept race car that influenced its design – represented a revolution in design, engineering technology and performance. Where the first-generation Corvettes were based on a modified passenger sedan platform, the second-generation was a clean-sheet redesign based on a dedicated architecture. It enabled a lower center of gravity and lower, sportier seating position, while supporting an all-new independent rear suspension that dramatically transformed the car’s road-holding performance.
Corvette’s new foundation also supported the landmark “split rear window” styling of an all-new coupe body style. The 1963 Corvette often has been recognized as one of the most beautiful in automotive history. The term comes from the spine that runs down the center of the body, bisecting the rear window. The C2 Corvette also introduced retractable headlamps, which would be a signature Corvette cue for the next 41 years.
The addition of a coupe to the Corvette lineup essentially doubled sales in the next few years, as the car became more practical for owners in northern climates, while the new frame structure and independent suspension system made the Corvette a world-class sports car.