The History of The Chevrolet Corvette (C1-C8)
It all started after World War II. The US soldiers had returned from Europe, where they had seen all these 2-seat roadsters and sleek sports cars, but nothing in America gave them quite the same feeling. Car companies like Jaguar, Triumph, and MG had started to make a name for themselves overseas, Chevrolet was excited for the competition and ready to get an American brand in the mix. Circa 1950, Chevrolet signs the dotted line on a plastic-bodied sports car, which would lead to the 8 generations of Corvette we’ll be going over these next couple weeks.
Here we’ll be going over each generation of the legendary car. From the very first C1 in 1953, to the all new C8 in 2022. Let’s get into it!
Corvette C1 (1952 – 1962)
The first Corvette rolled off the assembly line on June 30, 1953 in Flint, Michigan. For the 1953 model year, only 300 vettes were made. They went with a “Polo White” exterior paint and a black canvas soft top. Under the hood was a 3.9L I6 engine pumping 150 horsepower and a 2-speed automatic transmission. The immediately recognizable features of the C1 included white-walled wheels, protruding tail lights, and a chrome grille. GM used a fiberglass body to make one of the most lightweight vehicles of its time.
GM built 3,640 units for the 1954 model year.
1955 was arguably one of the most significant years for the Corvette, as this was the year they put a 4.3L small-block V8 in the sports car. At 195 horsepower and a three-speed manual transmission, it was clear that speed was on GM’s mind when designing this model year. They built 700 of these cars.
New improvements and upgrades arrived in 1956, including a removable hardtop, exposed headlamps, a redesigned exterior, and manual roll-up windows. Like the previous year, horsepower was bumped up a few notches––the small-block V8 now accounted for up to 240 horsepower.
1957 was another big year for the Corvette. Adding more advanced technology an upgrade to the V8 engine, bumping it up to 290 horsepower. Paired with the new 4-speed manual transmission, the car could get up to about 132 MPH. This was the model year that Chevrolet adopted the slogan “One HP per cubic inch” for their marketing. We also said goodbye to the iconic “Polo White” color scheme.
By 1960, the horsepower in the Ramjet fuel-injected 283 V8 engine had risen to 315.
The 1962 model year is considered a transitional period for most Corvette enthusiasts, with the second generation C2 set to come out just a year later.
Corvette C2 (1963 – 1967)
In 1963, GM presented the C2 fastback coupe. Designed by Larry Shinoda, the new Sting Ray series came with a split design on the rear window due to technical limitations at the time. The split back design was considered “rear vision blocking” and “unnecessary”, so it was removed in 1964. This, and only 10,594 of them hitting the market, made the 1963 C2 “split-window” one of the rarest corvettes around today.
The most prominent change was the appearance of the front end. The new C2 now featured folding pop-up lights whereas the C1 had four round headlights. The grille and bumper were styled differently as well, and the coupe had a rear split window.
In 1964, the Corvette had a few small changes. Eliminating the faux air intakes on the hood, suspension and sound insulation slightly improved, etc.
In the third model year of the C2, the 1965 Sting Ray added a totally new braking system and larger engine choices. They introduced a 396 big-block V8 pumping 425 HP, which was huge at the time. They added another small-block V8 producing 350 HP with hydraulic lifters. Another big addition was four-wheel disc brakes.
By the 1966 model year, big-block engines were far more in-demand than small blocks, so Chevrolet cut the small block choices down to two. These were the 300 and 350 horsepower versions. They also put a new emblem on the hood corner and the inside.
Even though the changes were a bit modest, the 5th and final year of the C2 model, 1967, was considered the best of the C2. The 3 large fender vents were replaced with 5 smaller ones. The optional hardtop for the convertible was outfitted with a new black vinyl cover. The primary engine change was the newly available 427 with Rochester 3×2-barrel carburetors called the Tri-Force. The engine was rated 430 bhp by the factory, but it was more like 560 bhp, and it certainly felt like it. This new engine also required special racing fuel at 103 octane, which was hard to find back then. This model year wasn’t made to be a grocery getter, this one was for racing.
Corvette C3 (1968 – 1982)
The C3 Corvette was built between 1968 and 1982, and was the third generation of the Chevrolet sports car. This model came with a lot of expectations, as Zora Arkus-Duntov and Billy Mitchell (C2 Designers) had built the very highly respected and powerful Sting Ray just years prior. The C3 was put into development during the C2’s refresh in 1965.
The 1968 model year featured a 3-speed Turbo Hydra-Matic automatic transmission, but 3 and 4 speed manuals were offered as well. Instead of a fastback design, they went with what they called a “sugar scoop” design, creating a rear window with buttresses sloping the roof. Notably, the C3s added an elevated hood bulge to accommodate the big block engines.
The 1969 model year didn’t see many changes.
The 1970-72’ C3s saw small developments to improve the quality of the corvette, they changed to an egg-crate style grille, side fender vents, rectangle exhaust cut-outs, side lights, and deeper fenders. A new engine was introduced in 1970, the small-block LT-1 featured a Holley four-barrel carburetor and produced 370 horsepower.
The 20th Anniversary 1973 C3 came with big changes. The egg-crate vents were replaced with a single vent cutout, the windshield wiper panel was removed, the hood was extended to match and the removable rear window was nailed down.
1974 saw a full change to the bumpers on the front and back of the car. Rear bumpers were angled downward instead of the upward-pointing trunk lid which housed the round iconic Corvette taillights. Fender flares extended out to give a more aggressive look. An upgraded radiator, automatic transmission, and power steering pump were all fitted for 1974 models.
1975 marked the beginning of the transitional years for the Corvette C3. It was the first Corvette to have a catalytic converter fitted to the car, a dual exhaust setup was not equipped, and a big-block engine option was not offered. 1975 was also the last year that the convertible models were produced for this generation.
All Corvettes in 1978 featured a new fastback design which replaced the “sugar-scoop” rear window and flying buttress design with wrap-around glass. A new instrument gauge cluster, glass T-top panels, wider tires, and a revised anti-theft system were also equipped.
1979 was the 25th anniversary of the Corvette, so they offered a Silver Anniversary Edition which featured a silver paint job, special badging, sporty mirrors, and pinstripes (enthusiasts say the pinstripes added 10 horsepower)
The late ‘70s Corvettes were a huge success for GM, but in 1982 the C3 was now 12 years old without any major refreshments to the style. The 80s Corvettes maintained the same aggressive look with a more rounded grille. The 1982 C3 was the last year and it bridged the gap to the future by adding the C4’s 350 cubic inch L83 V8, producing 200 horsepower and 285lbs of torque.
Corvette C4 (1984 – 1996)
The Corvette C4 was released in 1984 due to quality issues in 1983. Despite the delay, the C4 doubled the sales numbers for the Corvette line, selling a total of 51,547 units in 1984. The 84’ Vette featured the same small-block L83 V8 engine from the 1982 C3, which rolled 205 horsepower and 290 lbs of torque.
The 1985 and 1986 C4s came with a lot of engine and handling upgrades, such as the L83 V8 being replaced by a more powerful L98 (230 HP), and the 1986 featuring anti lock braking and a 25% softer suspension system. A total of 35,109 1986 C4s were sold.
In 1987, they added roller hydraulic lifters to boost the HP to 240. Selling 30,632 of this model.
The 1988 model year was the 35th Anniversary Edition, known as the Triple White. All white car, including wheels and interior, removable black top, and an engine made for the 35th. They produced 2,050 of these, only 180 with manual transmissions.
In 1990, Chevrolet was on a mission to make the fastest production car in the world. This brought us the ZR1, which achieved speeds of 175mph. The C4 ZR1 cost $58,995, making it the most expensive Corvette by far at that time. Over 3,000 people bought the ZR1 the first year.
The 1992 model saw a lot of engine changes, such as the L98 being replaced by the LT1 V8 with 300 horsepower and 330lbs of torque.
In 1993, Chevrolet had help from Lotus in modifying the C4 valve train, exhaust system, and aluminum cylinder heads to improve power and torque. This model was also the 40th anniversary, with a ruby paint job and leather seats to match.
1996 was an important year for the C4, the last year of production. It saw the release of a Collectors Edition with silver wheels and a silver paint job; they made 5,412 of these.
Corvette C5 (1997 – 2004)
The release of the C5 in 1997 came with some big changes in every area, from GM marketing to tech in the car. GM sent surveys to previous Corvette owners and other sports cars, asking what they wanted out of the new C5. Quality construction, performance, and safety were the top three desires among those who took the surveys.
The C5 was a brand new design, with 1500 less parts than the C4. Hydro-formed steel tubes were packed in insulation to quiet road noise. The wheelbase was 8 inches longer and track width increased 4 inches on the front and 2 on the rear. The pushed corner wheels, laid-over windshield, and the diving nose. The C5 looked fast. And it was.
The C5 came with the legendary LS1 V8 5.1L engine, pulling 345 horsepower.
Same as the C4, there were a few special editions of the C5 like the L Mans Commemorative Edition and the Indy 500 Pace Car. The Z06 was also considered a special edition. The badge made its return after 40 years in 2001, replacing the ZR1. The LS1 engine was nicknamed the LS6 when put in the Z06, which was around 385 horsepower in that car. A 6 speed manual was the only transmission option available for the Z06 at this time. In 2002 the engine got bumped up to 405 horsepower.
The C5 was produced in relatively high numbers throughout its lifespan at 250,000, with few changes to the car. Which means that there aren’t many versions of the car that are considered rare. They only used one engine, the LS1, for the standard C5 and one (LS6) for the Z06.
Corvette C6 (2005 – 2013)
The C6 Corvette debuted in 2005 and ran until the 2013 model year. Several new features were added such as navigation system, push button ignition, and power closed rear hatch. They introduced the LS2 engine, which made 400 horsepower, as well as the Z51 Performance Package to replace the Z06.
In 2006, they brought back the Z06 engine as well as the option for a 6-speed auto transmission with paddle shifters. The 7.0L LS7 V8 engine pushed 505 horsepower and 470lbs of torque, making it the most powerful production Vette available.
2007 marked the release of the Indy Pace Car Replica and the Ron Fellows American Le Mans Series GT1 Z06
In 2008, they came out with the LS3 engine which came with a 6.2L V8 @ 430HP and 424lbs of torque. 500 of these C6 went specifically to the Hertz rental fleet.
In 2009, we saw the introduction of the new ZR1 engine, this submodel featured a supercharged LS9 engine with 638HP. This engine became the most powerful production engine that GM had ever built. The 2009 ZR1 was also the first Corvette to be sold over $100,000
In 2011 the Z06’s Carbon Limited Edition was available in either Inferno Orange or Supersonic Blue, and included the Z07 performance package
The final year of the C6 also marked the 60th anniversary of the Corvette in 2013. Another special edition was introduced as the 427 Convertible Collector Edition. This edition was known as the fastest and most performance-oriented Corvette to date. They also came with special 60 year badging on the front and rear.
Corvette C7 (2014 – 2019)
The Chevrolet Corvette C7 was introduced for the 2014 model year, and it was the seventh generation of the Corvette. The C7 was available as a coupe or convertible, offered in several different trim levels.
One of the main changes between different model years of the C7 is the addition or removal of various features and options. For example, in 2016 a new color called Twilight Blue was added to the lineup, while in 2017 the Watkins Glen Gray Metallic color was added to the Collector’s Edition Grand Sport model. In 2018, all models of the Stingray came standard with 19-inch front wheels and 20-inch rear wheels.
Another notable difference in the model years of the Corvette C7 is the increase in power for some models. For instance, the 2019 ZR1 has a new LT5 supercharged engine with 755 horsepower. This made it the most powerful Chevrolet production vehicle to date, before the C8 came around.
Overall, there have been many changes between different model years of the C7. These changes include everything from exterior colors and wheel sizes to engine power and features. Consequently, there is something for everyone when it comes to choosing a specific model year of this iconic sports car.
Corvette C8 (2019 – Current)
The Corvette C8 is the latest iteration of Chevrolet’s iconic sports car. It was first unveiled in 2019 and has since become one of the most popular vehicles in its class.
The C8 features a number of improvements over its predecessors, including a more powerful engine, better handling, and updated styling. It is available in both coupe and convertible body styles, and comes in a variety of different colors.
The Corvette C8 Stingray is powered by a 6.2-liter LT2 V8 engine, which delivers 495 horsepower and 465 lb ft of torque. The engine features a wide array of advanced technologies that make it one of the most efficient and powerful sports cars on the market. Its variable valve timing system allows for greater fuel efficiency, while its direct injection system helps to reduce emissions.
The engine is paired with either an 8-speed dual clutch transmission or a 7-speed manual transmission, both of which offer smooth shifts and consistent performance. The C8 also comes equipped with Active Rev Match technology, which automatically matches revs on downshifts for smoother transitions.
Additionally, the engine utilizes a dry sump oil system to ensure adequate lubrication even under extreme conditions and has been designed to provide optimal levels of responsiveness when accelerating from low speeds. In terms of high performance capabilities, the C8 offers drivers 0-60 times in as little as 2.5 seconds and a top speed of 194 mph when fitted with Z51 Performance Package.
All in all, the Corvette C8’s 6.2-liter LT2 V8 engine is a powerful and reliable powerhouse that provides drivers exceptional amounts of power and performance regardless of the situation at hand!