June 30, 2021, marks the 68th anniversary of America’s longest-running passenger car, the Chevrolet Corvette. The concept began as “Project Opel,” the brainchild of Harley Earl, a famed General Motors designer. Inspired by European sports cars of the day, Harley’s goal was to create an American sports car that would beat the competition at the racetrack and in the automotive market. To fully appreciate the car’s significance, DriveShare invites you to get behind the wheel and join us on a journey through the Corvette generations.
Corvette: The early years
The initial production of the Corvette took place in Flint, Michigan where the first 300 were carefully hand built. This American icon was not always a speed demon. The early models were exclusively equipped with a Blue Flame inline-six and a two-speed Powerglide transmission. In 1955, a 265-cid. V8 was offered as an option and by 1956 this engine was standard equipment. In 1957, mechanical fuel injection was available, an option only seen in European cars at the time.
The year 1963 ushered in the Sting Ray era for America’s sports car, designed off of Bill Mitchell’s race car. The C2 featured sleeker styling and a lighter body, 327 V-8 power and a brand new chassis that improved handling. 1963 is a standout year for this body as it was the only to feature Corvette’s split rear window in the coupe version. The split window was axed in 1964 due to impeding the operator’s vision. By 1965, big-block V8s were available with the 396-cid. L78 option. Folding headlights would remain standard equipment until the C6 generation. The C2 generation was given great reviews by the press as it was a worthy opponent to its European counterparts.
The longest generation of Corvette
The 1968 Corvette is known as the beginning of the “Mako Shark” era due to the newly re-designed vehicle borrowing many design elements from the Mako Shark II show car. The C3 is the first production car to feature removable roof panels called T-tops. Just before the crack down on emissions, GM developed high-performance engine and equipment options specifically geared toward weekend racers. Corvettes equipped with the L88, ZR1, and ZR2 racing packages are highly sought after by collectors today. Out of the eight generations of Corvette, the C3 lasted the longest at 15 years, living on through the oil crisis and economic havoc.
Chevrolet Corvette becomes a technological marvel
The fourth generation brought about an ambitious technological revolution for Corvette. Armed with a new aerodynamic body and a Doug Nash 4+3 manual transmission, the 1984 Corvette achieved a top speed of 150 mph. The T-top roof was ditched in favor of a single piece removable Targa top. 1990 gave raise to the ZR1, which featured a Lotus-designed 380 hp LT5 V8. Just like the ZR1 of the 60s, this performer gave the European sports cars a run for their money.
By 1997, rumors of a new Corvette had been circulating for years. Corvette engineers worked long hours in secret as the next generation had to be perfect. Their dedication paid off as the fifth-generation Corvette received positive press for its smooth and quiet ride. This chassis also featured the legendary all-aluminum LS1 V8 engine that pumped out a respectable 345 hp. Thanks to the new, aerodynamic sheet molded composite body and hydroformed steel frame, the C5 could achieve 28 mpg. Enthusiasts consider this generation the perfect performance car for everyday driving.
Corvette’s sixth generation featured exposed headlights, a design cue not seen in Corvettes since 1962. The C6 featured a similar frame layout to the previous generation and was refined with improved handling in mind. The body of the C6 was 5.1 inches shorter than its predecessor and the interior was spacious for a sports car. Under the hood the C6 had an all new 400 hp LS2 V8, and like the C5 could be driven economically if desired. In 2005 the new Corvette had the honor of serving as pace car for both the Indianapolis and Daytona 500. With the base price at $44,245.00, the C6 coupe was a high-performance bargain.
In 2014, Corvette returned to the field with an all-new aggressively re-styled body and a 6.2-liter LT1 engine with 455 hp. Lightweight aluminum frames became standard for both coupe and convertible models, and it was capable of 0-60 in just 3.8 seconds. The squared off body style was an exotic departure from Corvette’s predecessors. With word of the C8 evolving to a mid-engine layout and absence of a manual transmission option, it was clear that Corvette was headed to a new chapter in performance.
Corvette’s radical mid-engine evolution is here armed with an LT2 6.2-liter V8 and featuring a quick-shifting eight-speed dual clutch transmission. It’s the fastest factory Corvette yet, capable of accelerating from 0-60 in just 2.9 seconds! The new mid-engine layout is a true engineering marvel for General Motors and sets Corvette up for an exciting future with endless performance possibilities. No matter where the engine is placed and what propels it, the Corvette will always be America’s sports car.
Itching to get behind the wheel? Explore the Chevrolet Corvettes available for rent on DriveShare to experience a classic piece of automotive history or marvel at modern sports car technology.Love automotive history? Check our celebration of July automotive milestones.