Home Cars Forgotten Legends: Lesser-Known Corvettes That Will Blow Your Mind

Forgotten Legends: Lesser-Known Corvettes That Will Blow Your Mind

Cameron Eittreim March 21, 2024

When you think of the Chevrolet Corvette, images of the quintessential American sports car come to mind. Since its debut in 1953, the Corvette has epitomized performance and innovation, becoming a symbol of speed, freedom, and engineering prowess. However, beyond the well-known models lies a treasure trove of Corvettes that have quietly made their mark on automotive history. The Corvette is unlike anything else that’s ever been on the road and it’s cultivated a following of loyal fans who collect and race these beautiful cars year after year.

While models like the Z06 are the most common and well-known examples of the Corvette, the lesser-known models, and prototypes represent technological advancements and designs that have contributed significantly to the Corvette’s legacy. In this article, we’ll explore the forgotten Vettes that will blow your mind. Each gave its own unique story and contribution to the Corvette lineage. From experimental engines to lightweight designs, each added something truly special about the history of the Corvette.

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Photo Credit: silodrome

1953 Corvette EX-122

If the EX-122 model of the Corvette doesn’t sound familiar, it’s because this wasn’t even a production Corvette. The “EX-122” was the concept car that later became the Corvette. It was a first-of-its-kind sports car that birthed an entire segment of automobiles. Before the EX-122, there wasn’t anything fun to drive on the market and GM wanted to sell a dedicated two-seater (via Corvette Story).

1953 Chevrolet Corvette 1536x864
Photo Credit: Silodrome

The EX-122 was notable for its fiberglass body, a novel material choice at the time that allowed for more flexible design options and reduced weight. Most other cars on the roadways were steel bricks, and the Corvette was light and nimble. While there were initial safety concerns about the design of the car, those soon wore off as more people got behind the wheel of it.

1969 Chevrolet Corvette L 88 L88
Photo Credit: Mecum

1967 Chevrolet Corvette L88 Stingray

The Stingray is the Corvette that completely changed the game. The L88 Stingray was a performance car with an attitude and was meant to invigorate the Corvette lineup. The L88 Stingray was one of the fastest Corvette models at the time, a true muscle car instead of a cruiser like the average Corvette models from the period (via Top Speed).

1969 L88 Corvette
Photo Credit: Mecum

The L88 in the name of this model refers to the special edition V8 engine under the hood. That’s the engine code for those of you who don’t know. The suspension was also beefed up for racing and the wheels were also unique to this model. All in all, this was a beast of a Corvette model that burned rubber on command.

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Photo Credit: Mecum

1955 Chevrolet Corvette V-8

The Corvette V-8 was the one that you wanted if you were a true Corvette aficionado. This was the car that completely revolutionized the sports car segment. Before the V-8 there hadn’t been a car that had this much power crammed into such a lightweight package (via Motor 1).

Photo Credit: Mecum

This was indeed the original Corvette. The C1 had a powerful 4.3-liter V-8 engine that produced 195 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque. These numbers were exhilarating back in the ’50s and put the Corvette on the map. From the day that the first cherry red model hit the dealership lot. the car industry got a whole lot more fun.

Jay Leno 1957 Chevrolet Corvette 3
Photo Credit: Jay Leno’s Garage

1957 Chevrolet Corvette Fuel Injected

Although you might think that fuel injection is a recent technology, it was being developed way back in the 1950s. The fuel-injection technology was termed the “RamJet” system and it introduced a whole new level of performance to the Corvette line. The beautiful styling of the car was unlike anything else that was on the road at the time. The fuel-injected engine option was capable of producing 283 horsepower from a 283 cubic inch (4.6L) V8 engine (via Hot Cars).

Photo Credit: RM Sotheby’s

The fuel-injected Corvette had all of the beauty of the other models and continued with the excellent reputation of the car. From the interior to the exterior every inch of the car was excellent, and it still looks great today. The four-speed manual transmission and heavy-duty racing suspension made this Corvette feel like a thrilling ride every time you got behind the wheel of it. This is still one of the most highly sought-after Corvette models on the road.

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Photo Credit: RM Sotheby’s

Corvette Z06 1963

The Z06 was the birth of a legend for Chevrolet. The car was the epitome of performance and substance with the Corvette line, and it took things to the next level. Whether you wanted to bury the accelerator or just take off down a twisty road, the Z06 was the car to do it in. The Z06 package included a specialized suspension setup with special shocks and springs, a different setup than a lot of vehicles that came from the factory at the time (via Hot Cars).

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Photo Credit: Mecum

The 1963 Corvette Z06 was used by some of the most notable racing teams and drivers of the era. The 327 cubic inch (5.4L) V8 engine was at one point one of the best engines that came out of a GM plant. It was a game-changer of a car that innovated the sports car segment tremendously.

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Photo Credit: Bring a Trailer

1988 Chevrolet Corvette Callaway Sledgehammer

Callaway has built some of the most amazing sports car upgrades in automotive history. There was one in particular that came out in the 1980s, the Corvette Callaway Sledgehammer. The Sledgehammer was built on the lackluster platform that was the C4 and took it to the next level. The styling of this Corvette was a lot more modern-looking than the standard model at the time and the performance was a lot better too (via Top Speed).

1988 Callaway Sledgehammer ZR1 Corvette
Photo Credit: Motor Trend

Two of the most notable features of the Callaway Corvette are the unique louvers on the sides of the car and the quad exhaust pipes coming out the back. This Corvette recorded a top speed of 254.76 mph, which at the time was one of the fastest speeds on record. If you wanted a C4 Corvette, this was the model that you wanted to own at the time.

Photo Credit: Corv Sport

1963 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Split Window

The split-window Corvette is routinely considered one of the most beautiful cars on the road. This particular Corvette was designed by Larry Shinoda, one of GM’s most prolific designers at the time. The sleek design of the Corvette was only magnified by the fact that it was an extremely rare model. It was only manufactured for the single year of 1963 and there wasn’t a split window model after it (via Top Speed).

1963 Z06 Corvette Thompson 6
Photo Credit: Mecum

There was also a Z06 performance package that was an option during this model year, increasing the rarity of the car dramatically. The excellent build quality and the performance of the split window cemented it in automotive history. The split-window Corvette is by far one of the most impressive Corvette models that has been released in the history of the nameplate.

Corvette Grand Sport Via The Drive
Corvette Grand Sport Via The Drive

1963 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport

One thing about the Corvette is the fact that the car is known for its performance, and not just that, it’s revered. The Corvette innovated and added an entirely new segment to the automotive industry. The Grand Sport project was the brainchild of Zora Arkus-Duntov, often referred to as the “Father of the Corvette”. The performance of the Grand Sport brought a whole new level of dynamic to the historic sport coupe (via Top Speed).

1963 Corvette
Photo Credit: Hot Rod

This was a very limited version of the Corvette but back then it packed 550 horsepower, which was a massive amount of performance for the period. The Grand Sport took everything great about the 1963 Corvette and took it to another level. Very few Corvettes have been able to cultivate the type of reputation that the Grand Sport did.

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Photo Credit: Mecum

1969 Chevrolet Corvette ZL-1

The Corvette ZL-1 was another special edition of the car that was released to much fanfare in the 1960s. The ZL-1 took performance even further thanks to the 585 horsepower output, which at the time was some of the best performance numbers for a sports car. The sleek styling of the ZL-1 made it a champion in the storied history of the Corvette (via Motor 1).

Photo Credit: Street Muscle Mag

The ZL-1 was by far one of the most notable sports cars that came out during this era. There were many special edition Corvettes that came out during this era but this was by far the fastest. With its beautiful styling and race car heritage, the ZL-1 was awesome, simply put.

Photo Credit: GM

1965 Chevrolet Corvette Manta Ray

Did you ever think a fish could be a car? Probably not but the Corvette changed that with the quirky 1965 Manta Ray. The performance of the Manta Ray was the strong suit of the car. The 427 cubic-inch, all-aluminum V-8 was one of the best engines that GM ever built. The sleek lines of the Manta Ray are part of the reason that the car got its name (via Motor 1).

298137 1965 Chevrolet Corvette Mako Shark Ii Concept Supercar Muscle Hot Rod Rods
Photo Credit: Mecum

The main difference with the Manta Ray was the exterior of it, it had a split grill and a lowered stance. When it came to choosing a special edition Corvette, you couldn’t go wrong with this fish-themed one. This was a unique and innovative version of the Corvette.

1961 Chevrolet Corvette Mako Shark I
Photo Credit: Mecum

1961 Chevrolet Corvette Mako Shark

The Mako Shark was another rare Corvette model that hit the market and once again the shark theme was in full effect. Sleek styling was always a strong suit of the Corvette but the Mako Shark concept to it to another level. This Corvette was every bit the curvy rocket-themed sports car of the 1960s era, and the design captivated people who were intrigued by the concept (via Motor 1).

Photo Credit: Motor 1

The Mako Shark was the epiphany of Corvette’s concept car design, and it kept the model fresh. Of course this sleek-looking road shark wasn’t just a tool of design either, it also performed very well. This particular Corvette model wasn’t put into production but there were more than a few of them that were sold at auction. The special edition Corvettes that continued to come after this one only helped to innovate even more.

1963 Corvette Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Owned By Mickey Thompson Photo By Mecum Auctions 100775549
Photo Credit: Motor Authority

1963 Chevrolet Corvette C2 RPO Z06

The original Z06 concept car was created by Zora Arkus Duntov and it was internally named the (Regular Production Option). The thing that truly separated this Corvette from the rest of the pack was the 372 L84, fuel-injected engine that was under the hood. The amount of power and performance that this Corvette had over the standard production model was awe-inspiring (via Top Speed).

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Photo Credit: Motor Authority

The RPO Z06 proved to be a very popular option and thus became one of the rarest examples of a Corvette. The power and performance that you got coupled with the attractive styling was enough to win just about any driver over. There were only 199 examples of this Corvette that were ever produced which made it one of the rarest models on the road.

1969 Baldwinmotion Corvettephaseiiigt1
Photo Credit: Mecum

1973 Chevrolet Corvette Baldwin Motion Mako Shark

If you thought that the Mako Shark that we covered earlier in the article was a lot, check this one out. The Baldwin Motion Mako Shark added to the mystique of the model and transformed the exterior. The 5.7-liter Chevy 350 V-8 pumped out a massive 475 horsepower, which at the time was a great improvement considering all of the emissions regulations that were stuffed into the car (via Top Speed).

Photo Credit: Top Speed

Only three examples of this model were ever built making it rarer than the rest of them. But if you happen to get your hands on one of these Coke bottle beauties, the styling and the performance were exceptional. This was during a trying time in the Corvette lineup and the fact that there were these interesting concepts only shows the viability of the brand.

2003 C5 Z06 Corvette Coupe Supercharged Huber 005
Photo Credit: Hot Rod

2003 Chevrolet Corvette C5 Z06

The C5 Z06 was the birth of the modern Corvette supercar as we know it. This car was every bit faster than just about anything that came before it and the modern performance was only matched by its beautiful styling. The C5 Z06 was a car unlike anything else on the road at the time and was built on the stellar C5 platform, which was at the peak of popularity at the time (via Top Speed).

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Photo Credit: Hot Rod

Under the hood of the car was the powerful 405 HP LS1 engine, and it was coupled with an updated suspension to handle twists and turns with ease. The Z06 was by all accounts a street-legal track car and it got rave reviews. If you were able to snag one of these in the beautiful yellow color, you knew that you were in for something special with this car.

1990 Chevrolet Corvette Zr 1 Active Suspension Prototype Rear Quarter
Photo Credit: Pinterest

1990 Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1

At one point in the ’90s, this was considered the fastest production Corvette of all time. The ZR-1 was the epitome of speed at the time and had a host of new technology under the hood as well. GM put together a track car that also had the speed behind it and thus the ZR-1 was born. With a new sleek body and a host of upgrades this car was every bit the track beast that GM wanted to sell (via Top Speed).

Photo Credit: Mecum

The ZR-1 reached a top speed of 179 MPH, which at the time was one of the most impressive numbers to come out of a production sports car. The sleek body shape and the powerful engine helped propel the car with authority, reaching a type of performance that hadn’t been seen in a Corvette model years prior. The car was every bit the excellent riding sports car that everyone hoped for.

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