In its 60 years the Corvette has evolved through six generations of body design and powertrain changes. It has inspired legions of fans, many who belong to Corvette owners clubs around the world.
It is known as “America’s Sports Car” because it was the first truly all-American designed and built two-seater roadster.
The Corvette has a major museum built in its honour in Bowling Green, Ky., where many of its rare editions are displayed. While many vehicle models have come and gone, the Chevrolet Corvette is unlikely to become extinct anytime soon.
Here is a timeline of important dates in the Corvettes’s evolution:
• 1951 — Automotive designer Harley Earl convinces GM to build a two-seat sports car. Work begins on “Project Opel” resulting in the hand-built EX-122 prototype. Chevrolet photographer Myron Scott suggests the name Corvette, inspired by small and manoeuvreable Corvette-class warship.
• 1953 — The first generation (C1) Corvette makes its debut at GM Motorama show at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City on Jan. 17. Production begins in Flint, Mich. and St. Louis, Mo. with 300 made with a 235-cubic-inch 6-cylinder engine. They all had a Polo White exterior, black convertible top and red interior. They cost about $3,500.
• 1955 — An optional 265ci (4.34L) V8 engine is introduced. Belgium-born Soviet emigrant Zora Duntov (also known as the “Father of the Corvette”) is the engineer responsible for making the manual transmission work with the new engine. About 700 were made and the base price was about $2,900.
• 1956 — Body style changes made with front-end, side covers and the tail lamp fins removed. Power windows and hydraulic convertible top added with optional removable hardtop. Base price is $3,400.
• 1957 — Optional fuel-injection and 4-speed manual transmission are introduced. Slight style changes made for the next three years of production. Base prices were about $3,200.
• 1961 — Complete redesign gives it a “ducktail” rear end with four round lights and the round nose emblem is replaced with “Corvette” spelled out. Chrome grill teeth are replaced by mesh radiator screen. Base price was $3,934.
• 1962 — This was the last year for the wraparound windshield, solid rear axle and power convertible top. After two Corvettes are beaten by Shelby Corbras, weighing half as much at the Riverside (California) Grand Prix, Duntov convinces GM to build a lighter ’Vette and the Grand Sport rolls off the line by the year’s end, but production stops a month later. The base price rises to $4,038.
• 1963 — The second generation (C2) Sting Ray model was inspired by the shape of a Mako shark caught by Corvette style director Bill Mitchell, who worked with designer Larry Shinoda. Convertible and coupe models were designed with concealed headlamps. The split rear window lasted only one year. Base price was $4,252.
• 1965 — Four-wheel disc brakes became standard feature and a big block V8 (396ci) became available. Side exhausts were optional for the next two years. Average price was about $4,300.
• 1968 — The Sting Ray name was dropped in the third generation (C3) and major restyling gave the coupe removable “T-top” panels and pop-up headlamps. AM/FM stereo radio became a popular option. Price hit $4,600.
• 1969 — The Stingray name returned as one word and the all-aluminum 427 engine (ZL-1) went into short production making it the rarest collector ’Vette as only two of the models were ordered (sold) for the purpose of racing. The 250,000th Corvette rolled off the line in November. The base price was about $4,700.
• 1970 — V8 engine increased from 427 to 454 ci. and the smaller block LT1 engine (370 hp) was introduced, but a late production start that year resulted in lowest sales since 1962. Coupe priced at $5,200.
• 1975 — It’s the last year for convertible model due to poor sales and safety concerns (not to reappear until 1986). The 454 big block engine was discontinued and power dropped as the base 350 V8 was rated at 165 horsepower and 205 hp for the L82. Dual exhaust disappeared as catalytic converter was added. Price ranged from $6,200-$6,800.
• 1977 — The 500,000th Corvette was produced and leather seats became standard. Black exterior colour option was brought back after a six-year absence. The factory list price reached $8,600.
• 1978 — The 25th Anniversary model had a fastback glass rear window and redesigned interior and dashboard. A commemorative badge was tacked to the front nose. Front and rear spoilers were available and price ranged from $9,400 to $13,500 depending on options.
• 1981 — Production shifts from St. Louis, Mo. To Bowling Green, Ky. Two-tone paint option appears and last manual transmission is available until 1984 model. In 1982, fuel injection returned after 17-year hiatus. Price rises to over $16,000.
• 1983 — No Corvettes produced for public sale due to quality issues after only 44 prototypes were built. All were destroyed, except one which was displayed at the Bowling Green assembly plant then later restored and placed in the Corvette Museum.
• 1984 — An all-new coupe, the first of the fourth generation (C4), was introduced with a single transverse plastic front. Manual transmission returned and aluminum brake and suspension parts were used to lighten vehicle weight. Electronic dashboard with digital liquid crystal displays became standard. Base price was $21,000.
• 1985 — The L98 tuned port injected V8 (L98) made its debut increasing horsepower and fuel economy due to new Bosch fuel injection technology. It’s the last year of the CB radio option as the craze dwindles and the convertible top returns the following year. Price rose to $24,000.
• 1986 — General Motors acquired the U.K.- based engineering consulting and performance car firm Group Lotus which worked with Corvette over the next four years developing the world’s fastest production car with a new engine to replace the L98 V8. Lotus also helped design the ZR-1’s upgraded braking and steering system. The base price climbed to $27,000.
• 1988 — Harking back to the original 1953 ’Vette (in name and colour only), the all-white 35th anniversary edition featured a commemorative badge and identification number mounted next to the gear shift. Larger 17-inch wheels became optional (standard the following year) and other special touches boosted the $29,500 base price to more than double.
• 1992 — The one-millionth Corvette rolled off the line. The ZR-1 V8 engine, first introduced in 1990 produced 405 horsepower when the 40th Anniversary edition was launched the following year and the smaller block LT1 boasted 300 hp. The cost ranged from about $33,000 in 1992 to $67,000 by 1994.
• 1996 — Special Grand Sport and Collector edition packages were available in coupes and convertibles as the ZR-1 was discontinued and the 330-hp LT4 V8 engine debuted. It is the final year of the C4 generation of the Corvette. Price ranges from $37,200 to $45,000.
• 1997 — The fifth generation (C5) all-new Corvette coupe introduced the LS1 all-aluminum small-block V8 engine. Body and structural changes with the transmission mounted at the rear axle resulted in better weight distribution and handling. This version was the most retooled version of the historic car since 1953. A convertible model was built the next year and the fixed-roof coupe (FRC) followed in 1999. The base price ranged from $37,500 in 1997 and rose to about $51,000 by 2004.
• 2001 — Z06 model, inspired by Duntov’s urge to make the Corvette a race car in the 60s, had a high-output 5.7-litre LS6 V8 engine and six-speed manual transmission. The high-performance package paid homage to the Z06 C2 Corvette previously available only in 1963. The new model was priced at about $48,500.
• 2005 — The front engine, rear transmission and structural design remained intact in the first year of the sixth generation Corvette with body style changes, including exposed headlamps for the first time since 1962, a bigger passenger compartment, a new 6-litre LS2 V8 engine producing 400 hp, suspension modifications and slightly longer wheelbase. The largest small-block 7-litre 427.6 ci. V8 was introduced the following year bumping horsepower to just over 500. Price ranges from $45,000 to over $52,000.
• 2007 — Two special editions, the Ron Fellows ALMS GT1 Z06 (399 built) and an Indy pace car replica convertible (500 built) were issued with a starting price of $77,500.
• 2009 — The ZR1 was the first production Corvette to have a base price of more than $100,000. Its supercharged 6.2-litre LS9 engine developed a whopping 630 hp to thrust it beyond 200 m.p.h., making it the most powerful production engine ever made by GM.
• 2012 — Unveiled last January, the 60th Anniversary 2013 Convertible Collector Edition was billed as the fastest convertible in Corvette’s history. The first one rolled off the auction block after it sold to the highest bidder for $600,000 at the Barrett-Jackson collector car auction January 21 in Scottsdale, Ariz. Its 427ci 7-litre LS7 engine is rated at 505 hp. All 2013 Corvette models, including the 427 convertible are available with a 60th Anniversary package, featuring an Arctic White exterior, harking back to the classic 1953 ‘’Vette’s white body colour, and Blue Diamond leather-wrapped interior with suede accents. Convertible models come with a blue top. No official prices have been announced by GM yet, but speculation is will range from $60,000 to well over $100,000 depending on the package. Full production begins this month.