Home Cars These Amazing Corvettes Made True Automotive History
Cars

These Amazing Corvettes Made True Automotive History

Vukasin HerbezDecember 27, 2022

Ever since the first Corvette was unveiled on the showroom floor in 1953, the model has been a golden standard for American performance. Born out of a desire to compete with the best European sports cars, Chevrolet has managed to be the dominant force in the segment for 70 years now. The Corvette is not only one of the longest-running nameplates but also one of the most successful sports cars of all time. Many amazing Corvettes rank among the best American cars as true gems.

The Corvette is not just an icon in the engineering and design sense of the word. It’s also a symbol of the US car industry, design approach, and overall philosophy. The Corvette has come a long way from the small, fiberglass-bodied roadster of 1953 to today’s 21st-century supersonic sports car with a rear-mounted engine. In preparation for the Corvette’s 70th birthday, take a look back at the truly amazing Corvettes that made history.

Photo Credit: Mecum

1953 Corvette

The introduction of the Corvette was the most important automotive news of 1953 as no one expected such an exotic car to be built and marketed by Chevrolet. All of a sudden, there was a brand new roadster made by a mid-class manufacturer with no sports car experience. However, despite that, the first Corvette was a well-designed and well-executed model. The most exciting thing about the new Corvette was its fiberglass body. Back in the early ’50s, plastic was still the material of the future and wasn’t common in the industry (via Corvette Story).

Photo Credit: GM

Under the hood was an inline-six engine called “Blue Flame” featuring a 3.9-liter displacement and a modest 136 HP. The engine came from Chevrolet’s standard lineup equipped with three Carter carburetors. Chevy engineers tried to keep costs down by borrowing mechanical components from other vehicles and using them on the Corvette. The price was $3490, so the 1953 Corvette wasn’t exactly affordable but cheaper than a Jaguar XK120 or a Ferrari 166.

Photo Credit: Pinterest

1956 Corvette

The automotive public was amazed by the first Corvette. The car was good but still, sales were slow. Chevrolet’s management even considered pulling the plug on the Corvette project in general since the sales were below expectations. The problem was a lack of power and a straight six simply couldn’t deliver enough grunt and performance to bring in true speed lovers.

Photo Credit: Auto WP

So in 1956, Chevrolet introduced a new design as well as a new engine. It featured a 4.9-liter V8 with 195 HP, a significant increase over the six-cylinder that wasn’t available anymore. The person responsible for the V8 in the Corvette was Belgian-born racer and constructor Zora Arkus Duntov, who was often referred to as the “father of the Corvette.” He was working for Chevrolet at the time and saw the Corvette had enormous potential but still needed the right engine. This vision proved successful and the Corvette got the final piece of its puzzle. A V8 engine, along with its small weight, proved to be the winning formula in terms of performance (via Vette Vues).

Photo Credit: GM

1957 Corvette

Despite looking almost identical to the 1956 Corvette, the 1957 model was very important in Corvette’s evolution. It brought several exciting features that helped establish the Corvette in the sports car world. First, the engine was upgraded to a 283 CID V8 with around 240 HP in base trim. Second, the 1957 Corvette featured an optional fuel injection system and a four-speed manual gearbox. Those two options transformed this pretty roadster into a roaring beast. When equipped with a fuel injection system, this Corvette produced close to 300 HP, an astonishing number for the day (via Car and Driver).

Photo Credit: Pinterest

This option was very exclusive in the late ’50s and only Mercedes-Benz used the fuel injection system before. So the Corvette was far more advanced than any of its competitors at the moment. As a result, production was rising and by the end of the decade, it reached 10,000 examples for the first time in the Corvette’s history.

Photo Credit: GM

1960 Corvette LeMans

The year was 1960 it was an important year for the Corvette. Biggs Cunningham was one of the biggest names on the international racing scene in those days. He tried to win Le Mans several times with his own creations but never managed to do so despite good results. So in the late ’50s, he teamed with Chevrolet. This proved a perfect match since Biggs’ experience and Corvette’s potential managed to do something that was previously impossible (via Motor Trend).

Photo Credit: Ultimate Car Page

So, on the 26th of June 1960, a highly modified Corvette became the first American car to win a 24 Hours of Le Mans race. Winning the GT class in front of numerous Jaguars, Ferraris, and Porsches with John Finch and Bob Grossman at the wheel, that success made Corvette the talk of the global sports car community and transformed it into a respectable force on the racing scene.

Photo Credit: GM

1961 Corvette Mako Shark Concept

The automotive world has long known the fantastic 1963 Corvette Stingray’s unique styling, but where did it come from? In 1961, Chevrolet presented a Mako Shark Concept car, a roadster with all the essential Corvette design cues and a unique paint job that resembled a real-work shark (via General Motors).

Photo Credit: GM

The legend says that designer, Harley Earl, got the idea when he was out on a shark fishing trip and that he tortured GM’s design department to match the fish’s color. Later on, the Mako Shark became one of the most sought-after concepts of the decade and a true design icon.

Photo Credit: Pinterest

1963 Corvette Stingray

Ten years after the introduction of the original Corvette, Chevrolet introduced the second generation in 1963. Since the Corvette was now an established sports car and a halo car for GM, lots of effort went into the research and development of the second generation. With a new platform, suspension, engines, and stunning new body, the 1963 Corvette was one of the best-looking cars of the ’60s (via Car and Driver).

Photo Credit: Pinterest

The Corvette Stingray got its name from GM’s 1961 Stingray concept and visual resemblance to a stingray. With closed headlights, split rear window bulged fenders, and a round cabin, the Stingray was one of the most fascinating examples of the famed Googie design language. Its power came from a 327 CID V8 engine with four power levels. The 250, 300, 340, and 360 HP with fuel injection. The market went crazy for the new Stingray ‘Vette. Over 20,000 units left the factory, a new sales record.

Photo Credit: GM

1963 Corvette Grand Sport

In the early ’60s, the Corvette had already proven itself on the market. It soon became time to establish itself on the race track. Back in the day, the Shelby Cobra made by Ford was dominant at the race tracks and the Corvette team wanted to beat it. So Zora and his team prepared 5 Grand Sport Corvettes with modified bodies, special suspension, race engines, and several other specially built components (via Motor Trend).

Photo Credit: GM

The Grand Sport Corvette had over 550 HP and was capable of brutal performance. The Corvette team had big plans and entered the Grand Sport Corvettes in several races with mixed success. But the decision came from the top of General Motors to stop all racing activities. For some reason, GM decided to stop investing in all forms of racing in early 1963. It killed the fantastic Grand Sport program before it could prove its worth, making the Corvette Grand Sport one of the greatest “what if” stories of the racing world. All five models survived and are accounted for.

Photo Credit: Motor Authority

1963 Corvette Rondine Pininfarina

Back in 1963, Chevrolet Corvette Stingray stunned the global automotive audience with its fantastic design, sharp edges, split window feature, and brutal performance. It was the epitome of an American sports car at its finest. However, in Turin, Italy, the talented designers at Pininfarina thought that they could do it better. In cooperation with Chevrolet, they got the chance to prove themselves (via Corv Sport).

Photo Credit: GM

The result was the Corvette Rondine, a fully operational and usable concept car from 1963 that debuted at Paris Motor Show. Since Chevrolet commissioned the car, it graced General Motors’ stand and had the 327/360 V8 engine, four-speed manual, and disc brakes.

Photo Credit: Auto WP

1963 Corvette Z06

The ’63 Z06 was a factory-prepared race car offered to amateur racers and private teams who wanted to use the car on the tracks. It had a lot of different options and an exciting feature. A big 36.5-gallon gas tank suited for long-distance racing, which earned this Corvette the nickname “Tanker.”

Photo Credit: GM

It cost more than a regular ’63 Corvette, and Chevrolet made only 199 examples. Most of these cars were used and abused on the tracks all over America and just a handful survived in their original condition (via Motor Trend).

Photo Credit: Mecum

1966-1967 Corvette Stingray

The Corvette Stingray didn’t change much in appearance during its life on the market. The split window setup stopped in 1964, and in 1965 four-wheel disc brakes became standard. In 1966, big block power was available for the first time for performance-craving Corvette fans (via Car and Driver).

Photo Credits: BJ

This is why the 1966-1967 Corvette is on this list as one of the most critical years in the model’s long history. The introduction of the big block engine, first in the form of 396 and then as a 427 V8 unit, turned Corvette into a powerful monster with 390 to 435 HP on tap. If you chose the famed L-88 option, you could get one of the fastest cars in the late ’60s. It was a true muscle beast with a conservatively rated 435 HP engine under the hood.

Photo Credit: Mecum

1969 Corvette ZL1

The new third generation of the Corvette was introduced in 1968 and brought a new, sleek design, the so-called “Coke bottle” look. The mechanics, chassis, and drivetrain were the same and the car was still great value for the money. The C3 generation brought us some of the most powerful Corvettes, and none was more powerful than the ultra-rare and legendary ZL1 (via Motor Trend).

Photo Credit: Mecum

The heart of the ZL1 was the almost racing-spec fully aluminum 427 V8 with up to 550 HP in mild tune. Chevrolet also made around 12 test Corvettes with that engine in late 1968. Its performance potential was unbelievable and Chevrolet wanted to avoid offering this wild racing engine to the general public. So the ZL-1 option was never mentioned in the press or official brochures. However, wealthy individuals knew about its existence and could purchase the ZL-1. That’s why only two Corvette ZL-1s are known to exist. The yellow and white one, one manual, and one equipped with an automatic gearbox.

Photo Credit: GM

1968 Astro II XP-880

Although this concept didn’t officially have the Corvette name, everybody at the 1968 New York Auto Show knew that this was the study of the next generation of America’s favorite sports car. In those days, Zora Arkus Duntov, Chevrolet’s engineer, and Bill Mitchell, head of GM’s design, lobbied hard for Corvette to go mid-engined and achieve better weight distribution and performance (via Corvettes).

Photo Credit: GM

The Astro II was one of the first in a long line of mid-engined Corvette concepts and it looked like Chevrolet would produce it for a while. The concept was a fully functional prototype with the engine placed behind the passengers (390 HP big block V8), powering the rear wheels and giving the Astro II a very convincing performance.

Photo Credit: Pinterest

1970 Corvette LT1

The big block 427 and 454 engines were sought after in the early ’70s, but Chevy introduced a fantastic option in the form of the 350 LT1 package. In contrast to big and heavy engines, the LT1 was a perfectly balanced and lightweight V8 with 300 HP and great driving dynamics. This Corvette was one of the finest models available as a coupe or a convertible since it offered great performance and fuel economy at a reasonable price (via Hemmings).

Photo Credit: Pinterest

Even though big block Corvettes were the first to enjoy price spikes on today’s classic car market, more and more customers have been turning to the LT1 because of its perfect driving feel and balance.

Photo Credit: GM

1973 Corvette Aerovette Wankel Concept

The mid-engine layout has been the obsession of Corvette engineers for decades. Between 1960 and 1977, there were around 10 fully functional Corvette prototypes with this drivetrain layout. But one in particular is a bit more interesting than the others – the 1973 Aerovette Wankel concept (via Motor Trend).

Photo Credit: GM

The most important feature of this car was the engine. This Corvette had an advanced four-rotor Wankel unit with more than 400 HP from 390 CID. In the early ’70, all manufacturers experimented with Wankel rotary engines, looking for a cheaper, more powerful, and more efficient alternative to standard piston-type engines. Chevrolet realized that its car retained the power level of a big-block V8 engine with a Wankel unit but in a much lighter and higher revving package as a result.

Photo Credit: GM

1979 Corvette C3 Turbo

The late ’70s was a sad time for American performance. All cars lost power and became increasingly dull. The Corvette wasn’t the exception. So to try to gain some power back, Corvette engineers designed C3 Turbo as a factory prototype.

Photo Credit: GM

The C3 used L82 350 V8 engine with a turbocharger and Cadillac’s fuel injection. Allegedly, the 1979 Turbo Corvette prototype could deliver up to 300 HP, which was insane by the standards of the day. However, you needed racing 103-octane fuel to produce that power (via Motor Trend).

Photo Credit: GM

1984 Corvette C4

Introduced in 1984, the C4 Corvette is an authentic ’80s classic. Its wedge-shaped body, pop-up headlights, rear hatch, and bright colors made this car a true pop culture icon. However, there is much more about this car than funny stereotypes. The C4 was the car that singlehandedly saved the Corvette from its demise caused by the recession and lack of popularity (via Auto List).

Photo Credit: GM

However, in 1984, everything changed with the arrival of the C4. The car was new from the ground up. With a new chassis, engines, and design complete with a digital dash in the interior. Over the years, Chevrolet managed to turn it into a world-class sports car. It had performance and road holding that could rival European exotics that were far more expensive. The chassis of C4 is so good that it is still used (in a modified modern form) for the current C7 generation. In 1986, Chevrolet introduced the first Corvette convertible in 12 years, further boosting its sales.

Photo Credit: Bring a Trailer

1988 Callaway Corvette C4 Sledgehammer

Rives Callaway established Callaway Cars in 1977. Long after the muscle car craze winded down, high-horsepower performance machines became a thing of the past. He specialized in producing turbocharger kits to be installed chiefly on European cars. His knowledge, expertise and the start of the turbo era perfectly lined up and the company took off (via Imsa).

Photo Credit: GM

To show the real potential of the twin-turbo C4, Callaway produced the legendary Sledgehammer Corvette, a highly modified and heavily turbocharged 1988 Corvette which featured 898 HP and could go over 250 mph.

Photo Credit: Pinterest

1990 Corvette ZR1

Chevrolet engineers knew that the C4 chassis had enormous potential and always looked the way to improve power and performance. Finally, they got the green light from the management to introduce the best Corvette model in years. To show the sports car world what the Corvette was capable of, the ZR-1 left the factory in 1990 with a mighty 400 HP. This was performance that could beat any Ferrari at the moment (via Classics).

Photo Credit: Corv Sport

Called the “King of the Hill,” the ZR1 was precisely that. It was immediately obvious that Chevrolet hit a home run. Under the hood, there was the LT4, a Lotus-engineered V8 engine with 375 HP (later 400), quad-cam heads, and 32 valves. The engine was an engineering marvel and performed exceptionally well. With the beefed-up suspension, gearbox, and a pair of extra wide rear tires, the Corvette ZR1 could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds. This meant it was one of the fastest cars of the era and a true modern classic.

Photo Credit: GM

2002 Corvette Z06

The C5 Corvette was introduced in 1997 and brought several improvements with its fresh design. Under the sleek fiberglass body were an improved chassis, a new 350 HP engine, and a transaxle gearbox. This meant that the whole transmission assembly was moved to the rear axle, which improved balance and handling (via Road and Track).

Photo Credit: Driving Line

The standard versions were well-received, but the best model from this generation was the mighty Z06. This model got its name from a special version of the 1963 Corvette. That model was intended as a basis for road racing cars before Chevy pulled the plug on racing. The modern Z06 was an amplified base Corvette with 385 to 405 HP from a high-revving 5.7-liter V8 engine. With its lightweight body, Goodyear tires, and stiffer suspension, the car handled perfectly. Even today more than 15 years after it was introduced, the Z06 C5 is a tough car to beat on the streets.

Photo Credit: GM

2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

By the time the sixth-generation Vette debuted in 2003, the Z06 name had become a household designation for over-achieving Corvettes. It was no different from the C6 model, which got its Z06 version in 2005. Although this version got only minor exterior changes, it was recognizable and had a wider track, different headlights, and side vents (via General Motors).

2006 Z06 Via Motor Trend
Photo Credit: Motor Trend

But as always, the real treat was under the hood. The hand-built and all-aluminum LS7 7.0-liter V8 engine sat between the fenders, pumping 505 HP and over 470 lb.-ft of torque. With a dry sump system, forged internals, and the ability to deliver a lot of power. It was also the last time a proper seven-liter in Corvette linked the C6 Z06 to the legendary 427 Corvettes of the past.

Photo Credit: Car and Driver

2009 Corvette ZR1

The sixth-generation Corvette was introduced in 2004 and brought ‘Vette lovers improved design, drivetrain, and engine choices over the outgoing C5 Vette. Interestingly, the C6 had normal headlights, the first time after 1962, and the last year C1 Corvette. The engine lineup started with a 6.0-liter V8 which delivered 400 HP, more than enough for convincing performance (via Road and Track).

Photo Credit: American Muscle Car Museum

In 2009, the brand-new Corvette ZR1 saw the light of the day and immediately stunned the entire automotive world. Under the glass hood was a supercharged 6.2-liter LS9 engine that pumped out 638 HP. This was enough to launch this hand-built sports car from 0 to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds and it could top an insane 205 mph. Not only that the ZR1 was the best and most powerful, but it was also the most expensive new Corvette in history with an MSRP of over $100,000.

Photo Credit: GM

2006 Corvette C6-R

In the late ’90s, Chevrolet decided to enter the GT racing scene with the C5 R, a specially designed and built race car. The C5 R proved highly successful and opened the way for the C6 R, the next generation. It featured an improved engine and better technology and became one of the most successful American racing cars of all time (via GM Authority).

Photo Credit: GM

The C6 R debuted in 2005 and stayed in racing use until 2013. That was quite a long time for a high-tech racing machine. The car was built on a Corvette Z06 basis featuring several V8 engines with displacement varying from 5.5 liters to 7.0 liters. The Corvette C5 R proved extremely dependable and fast. It was well-received by racing teams worldwide. In 2006, this yellow beast managed to repeat history and win the class victory at Le Mans, a success that has since been repeated a few times.

Photo Credit: GM

2015 Corvette Z06

In late 2013, the world witnessed the premiere of the seventh-generation Corvette called the Stingray. This was the first time this name was used since 1967. The competition evolved even though the C6 was a very good car. And Chevrolet needed to introduce a brand-new and much-improved model to keep the Corvette relevant in the sports car market (via Car and Driver).

Photo Credit: GM

Even though the base C7 Corvette is more than capable of delivering exhilarating performance, Chevy quickly introduced the crazy Z06 package. It transformed its design with a 650 HP supercharged engine and a host of performance upgrades. The Z06 is basically a hot-rodded C7 Corvette with nervous handling, great power, and a dramatic appearance; all the things sports car fans rave about.

Photo Credit: Motor Trend

2017 Corvette Grand Sport

Chevrolet realized that the Z06 was too much to handle for some buyers. And despite the fantastic looks and brutal performance, the car was close to the limits of the front engine. That is why they made an exciting hybrid model. The 2017 Grand Sport proved to be one of the best Corvettes ever made (via Chevrolet).

Photo Credit: Pinterest

Named after ill-fated racing Vettes from the early ’60s, the modern Grand Sport has a 460 HP engine from the regular Corvette with a wide body and track from the Z06. This combination proved to be a winning formula. The Grand Sport had normal handling and driving dynamics improved by a wider stance while still retaining the dramatic looks of the Z06.

Photo Credit: Motor 1

2019 Corvette ZR1

Just as you thought that Chevrolet abandoned adding more power to C7 Corvette and started concentrating on balancing the already powerful car, Chevy surprised the market with the insane 2019 Corvette ZR1 (via Car and Driver).

Photo Credit: Motor 1

This version of the C7 features an improved Z06 chassis, suspension, drive train, and an absolute beast of an engine. The 6.2-liter heavily supercharged LT4 engine pumps out 755 HP and 527 lb.-ft of torque and sends power to its rear wheels through an automatic or manual gearbox.

Photo Credit: Which Car

2021 Corvette C8

The 2021 Corvette C8 is one of the most controversial cars of our era. It was the long-awaited 8th generation model and the freshest Corvette ever. Not just for its design but for a host of technical solutions, features, and advancements. First of all, the C8 is a mid-engined sports car, which some consider sacrilegious. The Corvette was a front-engined sports car ever since 1953. Still, GM’s engineers realized that they needed to switch the position of the engine if they wanted to keep Corvette competitive and give it the handling it deserved (via Chevrolet).

Photo Credit: Arabs Auto

Apart from the all-new chassis and design, C8 kept the small block V8 engine in the form of a modern LT2 6.2-liter V8 with 490 HP. This engine comes only with automatic transmission, which is another controversy but the results are astonishing. The stock C8 could accelerate to 60 mph in less than three seconds and top 200 mph. The customers recognized how historically significant this model is and the C8 is a hot commodity at the moment.

Photo Credit: GM

2023 Corvette Z06

If you think the Corvette C8 is a fantastic machine, you’re right. But Chevrolet has only just started producing models based on this innovative architecture. The first specialty version is Z06 and it’s a genuinely groundbreaking machine. As always, the Z06 is a more performance-oriented model with a unique engine and features. 2023 is all of that and more. It is the most potent naturally-aspirated sports car you can purchase at the moment. This proper beast has 670 HP coming from a screaming, flat-plane 5.5-liter V8 (via Motor Trend).

Photo Credit: GM

But the power and incredible noise coming from quad tailpipes are not all. The C8 Z06 has dual-clutch transmission, and specially tuned suspension. These features lend to it being insanely capable on the track and noticeably quicker than the standard C8. Of course, this model is also significantly more expensive and costs over $100,000 as well.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Please wait 5 sec.