The History of the Corvette
In 1951 a group of Harley Earl's "Special Projects" crew began work on a GM sports car. Bob McLean designed a general layout for the car which was originally code named, "Opel."
William Durant, the founder of GM, said a wallpaper pattern he saw in a Paris hotel in 1908 inspired the bow tie logo. Supposedly, he ripped off a small piece of it and brought it back to Detroit.
Myron Scott, at the time Chevrolet's Chief photographer, is credited with coming up with the Corvette name, drawing from the small, fast warships of the "Corvette" class.
The Jaguar XK120 is believed to have been the inspiration for the first Corvette.
The Corvette was the first and last car with a true "wrap-around" windshield.
Corvette was not the first to be made with a fiberglass body, but it was the first to be built by a company the size of Chevrolet.
Corvettes have been assembled in three different cities. Flint, Michigan, St. Louis, Missouri, and Bowling Green, Kentucky.
The original front emblem and horn button on the "Autorama" show circuit Corvette featured crossed American and checkered flags. It was later discovered that using an American flag on a product trade mark was against the law and the emblem was changed shortly before the New York Motorama.
On Tuesday, June 30, 1953 Corvette #1 Serial Number E53F001001 rolled of the assembly line, and Corvette production began.
Want the rarest Corvette? In 1953 the first two Corvettes, VIN Numbers 1 and 2 were said to have been destroyed, but no records prove that fact and there are no witnesses to the destruction. Who knows? They still might be out there somewhere.
The first Corvettes were literally "rolled" off the assembly line. The early production line was not prepared for grounding to a fiberglass body and thusly the first cars would not start.
The first five Corvettes to come off the assembly line did not have an outside rear view mirror.
Its radical fiberglass body was the only really new component on the 1953 Corvette. Everything else was directly off the Chevrolet parts shelf. Because of this, the first Corvette was essentially a regular 1952 Chevrolet under the skin.
Of the 300 (some sources argue 314) Corvettes hand built in 1953 only 183 were sold because of "average" performance at a relatively high price, . The popular Jaguar XK120 sold for ; less than the Corvette.
1953 Corvettes were offered in any color you wanted... as long as it was Polo White with Red interior.
A heater and an AM radio were the only Regular Production Options (RPO) offered with 1953 Corvettes.
Production moved to the St. Louis facility for the 1954 model year.
New 1954 exterior color options of black, blue, and red were added along with an optional beige interior choice.
Although the Powerglide transmission was listed as a option, no 1954 Corvette was ever shipped with a manual transmission.
The 1955 Corvette finally achieved "true" sports car status with the introduction of 265 cubic inch, 195 hp V-8 engine and 3-speed manual transmission.
To commemorate the new V-8 engine, 1955 Corvettes featured an enlarged, gold "V" in the "Corvette" script on the front fender panels.
There are 13 vertical bars or "teeth" are in the grill of 1956 Corvettes.
One of the few ways to differentiate between a 1956 and 1957 Corvette without opening the hood is to look at the inside rear view mirror. On the 1956 model, it adjusts with a thumbscrew, on the 1957 adjustment requires a wrench to loosen the locknut.
The 1957 Corvette was the first mass produced American automobile to offer 1 horsepower per cubic inch of engine displacement (283hp/283ci).
The "Polo White" color was last used in 1957.
1957 was the first year a limited slip differential and fuel injection were offered as options.
For the first time since its introduction, the '58 Corvette came with factory-installed seat belts.
1958 was the last year of a tachometer which kept track of "cumulative engine revolution counter" a feature which first appeared in the 1953 Corvette. In 1958 the tach was used on 230, 245, and 250 hp cars but not on the 270 and 290 hp cars. The Part number is #1548631 for 1958 models.
Optional engines in 1956 had 9 fin alloy valve covers, 1957 had 7 or 9 fin alloy valve covers, and the 1958 had 7 fin alloy covers on optional engines.
Before 1958, the only acrylic lacquer paint used was on the "Inca Silver" Corvettes.
1959 was the only year that turquoise soft tops were available.
Sun visors (called "sunshades") became a Corvette option in 1959.
Nylon belted tires first became available on the 1960 Corvette, prior to 1960 only cotton ply tires were offered.
The 1961 Corvette was the last year to feature "wide whitewall" tires.
The 1961 Corvette dropped the "round" nose emblem of previous years in favor of the word "CORVETTE" spelled out as individual letters.
The trademark chrome grill teeth disappeared forever in 1961, to be replaced by a fine mesh screen in the radiator opening.
1962 Was the last of the solid rear axle Corvettes and the last year for the power top on the convertible.
Luxury amenities such as power steering, air conditioning, and leather seats were first available in the 1963 Corvette.
The earliest serial number air conditioned Sting Ray has a production build date in October, about 6 months before the rest of the A/C cars. It seems the owner was a GM executive who had the car returned to Chevrolet for refitting with A/C.
The 1963 roof panel molds were built using wrong dimensions, such that all roof panels were too small. This left a gap seen in the door pillar above the door latch in all but a few cars. The ones where it is not found were cosmetically covered up with body filler.
The famous "split" rear window for the new Corvette almost never came to be. It seems that Bill Mitchell and Zora Arkus-Duntov argued over the design. Bill Mitchell won out for the 1963 Model, but it was removed for 1964 never to be seen again.
The 1963 Grand Sports, while originally looking much like the production coupes, had no body parts in common. The fiberglass body panels were roughly half the thickness of production panels to save weight.
The 1963 Grand Sports originally were released without fender flares, using the stock look. However, they were wider to allow a wider tire 8.25x15 rather than the stock 6.70x15 tire.
Aluminum knock off wheels only cost for a set of 5 in 1964.
Only the driver's side vent on the 1964 Corvette is functional.
Side mounted exhaust systems first appeared in 1965.
The first major tire size change in Corvette history occurred in 1965. Tire size changed from 6.70x15 to 7.75x15
While the 427 was developed first, the 396 went into the Corvette, Chevrolet, and Chevelle in 1965 due to a GM policy restricting them to less than 400 cubic inches.
The 1965 396ci 425hp engine option lasted only one year.
1965 was the first year to have two separate hoods - the smooth small block hood and the big block hood with a "power bulge."
1966 marked the last year for knock off wheels but the first for shoulder harnesses and headrests.
The 1966 Corvette was not eligible for the SCCA Trans Am, due to the upper limit of 5.0 liter on engine displacement. Chevy's only eligible car was the Corvair.
Only 20 RPO L88 427 engines were opted for in 1967. To discourage street use, GM rated these engines at a conservative 430 hp (5 HP less than the L71 engine option) although they actually pumped out well in excess of 500 ponies.
1967 was the first year to have three hood styles: the small block hood, the big block hood, and the L-88 hood, even though externally the L-88 looked like the regular big block hood.
In late February/early March, 1967, some small blocks received the big block hood due to an manufacturing problem with the small block hood mold. These were not given the hood stripe.
The "GM Mark of Excellence" sticker appeared, placed on the inside driver's door jamb, appeared in 1967 only.
Federal law mandated the removal of spinners from wheels in 1967, so the knock off wheel of 1963-66 was replaced with a bolt on wheel.
1967 was the first year "vinyl" was offered as an optional exterior covering for the hardtop.
The '67 model was the first to have the "tank sticker", or the build sheet, attached to the gas tank.
A 36 gallon fuel tank, the largest ever offered, was available as an option in the Corvette from 1963 to 1967.
The speed warning indicator option lasted for only three production years... 1967, 1968 and 1969.
The '67 LeMans Racer was "DRIVEN" to the track from the airport (in place of being trailered) because the trailer was chuck full of parts!
For 1968, a factory installed anti-theft alarm system was available as an option, but less than 400 cars were so equipped.
Pontiac almost beat Chevrolet to the Coke bottle design body, with their 1965 Banshee, a two seater convertible sports car that would have been hefty competition for the Corvette. GM stopped it, and then Pontiac president John DeLorean later became president of Chevrolet.
T-top does not refer to the shape of the roof, but rather it is short for Targa Top. The original design was a pure Targa but body flex demanded the center bar, discovered late in the design.
Due to policy changes at Chevrolet, Corvette was treated like all other car lines for the first time, and quality dropped drastically. With bad publicity in most magazines, policy was re-thought and Chevrolet quickly restored independence and higher quality to Corvette production within a few months. Many believe that all 1968 models still carry the stigma of having "the worst quality" of all Corvettes.
In 1968, all big block manifolds were redesigned to actually sink into the lifter valley as the hood clearance was less than in '67 and earlier models. As such, a 1965 to 1967 big block intake manifold won't fit in a 1968 or newer Corvette with a stock hood and air cleaner.
The exception to the above was the L-88. It retained the high rise manifold and also received a special hood, which was externally different to the regular big block hood.
Emission control equipment was installed on the first 1968 models in the fall of 1967 even though the federal law required it only as of January 1, 1968.
1968 was the first year an AM/FM stereo radio was offered as an option
The "Sting Ray name" was not used on the 1968 Corvette, but returned in 1969, this time spelled "Stingray" as one word.
Corvette had its first all aluminum engine in 1969 as the ZL-1. It was not the first GM automobile to do so, however, being beaten by the Corvair in 1960 and the Buick 215 V8.
Only two 1969 Corvettes were sold with the ZL-1 all aluminum 427 engine, making them one of the rarest collector Corvettes of all time. Note: Visit Roger's Corvette Center in Orlando, Florida, for a close-up look at an original 1969 ZL-1.
In 1969, the ignition lock was moved from the dash to the steering column. It would remain there until 1997 when it was returned to the dash.
In 1970, big block engines increased from 427 to 454 cubic inches and the powerful 370 HP LT1 small block engine made its debut.
1970 sales were their lowest since 1962 (only 17,316 units) due to a late start in the production year.
The first ZR1 performance package appeared in 1970 (not 1990, as some might believe) and included the 370 HP LT1 engine and a host of other performance items.
1971 was the last year for fiber optic warning lights, first introduced in 1968.
The only external difference between the 1971 and 1972 Corvettes is the amber front turn signals and chrome plating on the egg-crate grills on the 1972.
1972 was the only year for Corvette "Big Block" engines in the 1968 to 1972 range to have no horse power sticker on the air cleaner lid.
Beginning in 1972 and continuing thereafter, horsepower would be measured as "net" rather than the less realistic "gross" ratings of earlier years.
"Pewter Silver" was only offered as an exterior color in 1972.
1972 was the only year air conditioning was available with the LT1 engine and since only 240 were so equipped, this combination is a rare find today.
Although 1973 VIN's run to 34464, only 30,464 units were built; the 4,000 serial numbers between 24001 and 28000 were never used.
The 1970 - 1972 Corvettes were the last to feature chrome bumpers front and rear. In 1973, due to front impact legislation requirements, the front bumper was changed to a body-colored flexible plastic. In 1974 the rear bumper followed suit.
In 1973, aluminum wheels were again listed as an option. However, their inability to maintain air pressure (much like the problems which plagued the early 1963 aluminum knock off wheels), kept them out of the hands of customers until 1976.
The rear view mirror in the 1974 Corvette was increased to a width of 10 inches.
The last true dual exhaust was installed in 1974. After that, all exhaust gases were channeld through a single catalytic converter.
The 1974 rear "rubber" bumper was made in 2 pieces due to shortcomings in the manufacturing process. The process was improved the following year, thus 1975-1982 models used a one piece unit.
The big block engine made it's final curtain call in the 1974 Corvette.
The FE7 Gymkhana Suspension package was first introduced in the 1974 Corvette.
1974 was the last year the Corvette would be produced to run on "leaded" gasoline.
1975 was the first year for a HEI distributor.
The convertible was discontinued after the 1975 model year and would not reappear again until 1986. GM cited declining sales for convertibles (only 4,629 units in '75) and safety concerns as reasons for killing the ragtops.
1976 Corvette used the same steering wheel as a Chevrolet Vega for the "Sport Steering Wheel" Option.
Due to stricter emissions standards, California Corvette buyers could not opt for the L82 engine in 1976.
The 500,000th Corvette, a white 1977 coupe, rolled off the St. Louis assembly line at 2:01 P.M. on March 15th, 1977.
1977 was the last year for the notch back roof line.
The aftermarket "Moon Roofs" (glass t-tops for Corvettes) were supposed to be optional equipment in 1977, but the manufacturer had a marketing dispute with Chevrolet. GM developed their own glass panels for the 1978 model year.
The 1978 model saw the first fastback rear window since 1967.
The '78 Pace Car's distinguishing "Black and Silver" paint was chosen over other alternative color schemes primarily because it photographed well. Back then, most magazine articles and ads were still done in Black & White!
Crossed flag emblems returned to the nose and sides of the Corvette in 1979.
More Corvettes were built in 1979 than in any other year, before or since... a total of 53,807 units were produced.
Due to tougher emission standards, Corvettes bound for California were fitted with 305 cubic inch engines.
The 305 cubic inch V-8 installed in 1980 California-bound Corvettes was the first Corvette engine to be monitored by a computer. Since 1981, all Corvettes have been computer equipped.
By Federal mandate, the 1980 Corvette was the first Corvette to have a speedometer with an upper limit of only 85 MPH.
There were no optional Corvette engines in 1981.
The 1981 Corvette had two cooling fans to increase engine power.
In 1981, Corvettes were produced with two different types of paint. Lacquer was applied at the St. Louis plant, and enamel was applied at the new Bowling Green plant.
In 1982, console mounted clocks were quartz units and had the word "QUARTZ" printed on the face, while the 80-81 years did not.
In 1982 fuel injection reappeared in the Corvette after a 17-year hiatus.
For the first time since 1954, in 1982 you could not order a Corvette with a manual transmission.
While never offered to the public, a total of 43 - 1983 model Corvettes were built. There were so many quality problems with them it was decided to halt production until they could be corrected. By the time the problems were corrected, it was so late into the model year that the car was brought out as a 1984 model and was run for a year and a half. The only verifiable 1983 Corvette still known to exist is on display in the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
The 1984 Corvette had the steepest windshield rake angle of any previous American production automobile at 64 degrees.
A single transverse plastic front and rear spring first made it's appearance on the 1984 Corvette.
The L98 engine made its debut in 1985 offering a horsepower increase from 205 to 230 plus a gain in fuel enconomy due in part to new Bosch fuel injection with tuned runners.
With the CB craze dwindling, the last year a CB radio was offered as a Corvette option was 1985. Only 16 Corvettes were so equipped.
All 1986 convertibles were Indianapolis Pace Car replicas and came with a pace car decal package (to be installed at the buyer's option), but none had special paint or options. The actual Indy Pace Car used at the 1986 race was yellow in color.
Twenty 1986 Corvettes were sent to Lotus in England to be converted into LT5 powered prototypes for the ZR1 project.
In 1986, Corvette offered the "Malcolm Konner Commemorative Edition" with two transmissions. A manual 4-speed and an automatic. Only 20 4-speed manual transmissions were installed at the factory.
In 1987 you could buy a Corvette without an engine installed by the factory.
RPO B2K made it's first appearance on the option list in 1987, affording the opportunity for 184 lucky buyers to place orders for a Callaway Twin-Turbo Corvette through participating Chevrolet dealers at ,995 each (plus ,007 for the Coupe base price).
A total of 16 exterior colors were available for both 1982 and 1987 Corvettes, the highest number of exterior color choices offered in Corvette history.
To mark its 35th anniversary, a 1988 special anniversary edition was available with white paint, wheels, leather interior and special emblems. All 2,050 35th Anniversary Editions were built as coupes.
A total of 56 street-legal but race prepared 1988 Corvettes were built for the SCCA Corvette Challenge Series.
In 1988, Corvette started using a unidirectional 17" wheel.
Approximately 80 ZR-1 cars were built in 1989, but none were sold to the public. The last of these ZR1s were shipped out of the factory on Dec. 22, 1988
The FX3 adjustable suspension option, permitting shock valving changes via a rotary dial mounted on the interior console between the seats, was first introduced in 1989.
The long awaited, high performance ZR-1 option package was finally publicly available in 1990. It included special rear body panels and an all aluminum small block designated the LT5, producing 375 hp.
All LT-5 engines for the production ZR-1 option were built by Mercury Marine in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
The last year for the Callaway twin turbo option was 1991, selling 62 units at ,000 each. In comparison, the ZR-1 option was a bargain at "only" ,683.
1991 was the 10th anniversary of Corvette production at the Bowling Green, KY plant.
July 2nd, 1992 marks the day when the one millionth Corvette, a white convertible, rolled off the assembly line.
1992 saw the rebirth of the legendary LT1 small block engine as a 300 hp motor with reverse flow cooling and two valves per cylinder.
A special 40th anniversary model was released for 1993 with one year only Ruby Red exterior and interior colors.
The ZR-1 horsepower rating rose to 405 hp for 1993, but the option cost was held to 1992's ,683.
The end of the 4th generation Corvette was marked with two special editions... a "Collector Edition" in Sebring Silver trim and a "Grand Sport" in Admiral Blue with Actic White racing stripe. A total of 1,000 Grand Sports were built and of these, only 190 were convertibles. Collector Editions comprised 25% of total production with 5,412 units built.
For 1996, LT1 engines required automatic transmissions. The ZF 6-speed was mandatory with the 330 HP LT4 engine option.
The 1996 LT4 exhaust system differs from the LT1 system in that it incorporates a balance tube designed to reduce vibration and noise levels.
In early production 1996 Grand Sports models, there is a small area behind the hatch roof and in front of the panel that attaches to the rear window that is taped, not painted. The tape is 1 inch long and about 18 inches wide whose purpose was to eliminate a problem area in the paint booth during manufacturing.
The 1996 Grand Sport's stripe is not the same width all the way back. It gets wider as it goes up the hood, and the top is narrower, and then it gets somewhat wider in the back end.
The 1997 Corvette features several first-time high tech innovations, such as black lights for the instrument panel and a "plastic" (composite) intake manifold.
The first 200 production C5 Corvettes were painted red, not the traditional white color for the first production run.
The 1997 Corvette is the first one designed from the ground up as a Corvette, with very little borrowing of parts from other cars. One of the few "Off the Shelf" parts are the exterior door handles which are the same ones used on the Oldsmobile Aurora.
The first use of a transaxle in a production Corvette occurred in the '97. However, the first plans for one were in the Q-Corvette in 1958, planned for the 1960 model. Transaxles showed up in Corvette prototypes in the mid '60s in running models.
The first 4 speed in a Corvette was built by Borg Warner in 1957. The first transaxle in a production Corvette was also built by Borg Warner, forty years later in 1997. Both were introduced late in the model year.
Borg Warner has produced a transmission for each generation of Corvette: C1 - 1957 to 1962, C2 - 1963, C3 - 1980 to 1981, C4 - 1984 to 1988, and C5 - 1997 to 1998.
The 1997 Corvette is the first Corvette to have windshield wipers that sweep in the same direction instead of opposing directions.
The 1998 Corvette convertible is the first to offer the same sport suspension package as the coupe. Since the C5 was designed from the start as a convertible model, the ragtop is nearly identical in structural rigidity to the coupe.
The first Corvette to sport a real trunk since 1962 again appeared with the 1998 Corvette convertible.
November 4, 1997 - The 9752nd 1998 Corvette rolled down the assembly matching the total 1997 Model production run.
The last "Fairway Green" C5 came down the assembly line as a '98 model on November 10, 1997. The color was discontinued due to poor sales.
It takes 55 hours to build the new C5 Corvette, down from 70 hours for the previous C4 model.
For the first time in history, the 1999 Corvette is available in three disctinct body styles... Coupe, Convertible, and Hardtop (aka, "Fixed Roof Coupe").
The performance axle ratio for C5 Corvettes with automatic transmission is 3.15:1 (the standard ratio is 2.73:1).
The 2000 Corvette will feature new color choices to celebrate Y2K... Millenium Yellow and Polo Green (aka Dark Bowling Green) Metallic... plus a new Torch Red interior option!
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