The Chevrolet Corvette: History, Buying Tips, and More
All things Chevrolet Corvette on Automobile.
Chevrolet Corvette Essential History
The Chevrolet Corvette was first shown at a GM Motorama concept show in 1953 and entered production later that year. This C1 first-generation Corvette was only available as a convertible and the first two years of production only offered a six-cylinder engine and automatic gearbox. An eight-cylinder engine was added to the lineup for 1955, along with a three-speed manual gearbox, and in 1956, the Corvette was restyled and an optional hardtop added.
Second-generation, or C2, Corvettes began life in 1963, offering only V-8 engines in various specifications. A coupe was also offered for the first time, and first year C2 coupes featured a "split-window" design with two pieces of glass bisected by a vertical metal line. From '64, all C2 coupes used a one-piece, wraparound glass rear window. Horsepower was up to as much as 425 hp and both automatic and manual transmissions were offered. C2 production ended in 1967.
In 1968, C3 Corvettes diverged on styling once again, taking swoopy styling cues from GM's Mako Shark concept car. The C3 generation Corvette started strong, with V-8 engines factory rated with as much as 430 hp. As emissions and safety regulations increased, energy absorbing plastic bumpers were added and engine output fell to as little as 165 hp. Nevertheless, Chevy sold nearly 54,000 Corvettes in 1979, its best sales year ever. Production of the C3 ended in 1982, capping a long 14-year run.
An all-new C4 Corvette launched in 1984 (there was no 1983 model year Corvette), and performance was finally returned to the model. This fourth-generation car had completely new bodywork and suspension, and after the initial model year with the carry-over 200-hp L83 V-8 engine, horsepower began to increase significantly. A very '80s digital instrument panel and blocky interior was replaced in 1990 with a wrap-around "cockpit" style dashboard, and in 1991, an exterior refresh smoothed over the C4's lines. By the time the C4 bowed out in 1996, the LT4 engine produced 330 hp in manual transmission specification.
The C5 Corvette arrived for 1997, smoothing out the C4's styling even further and adding a trunk with external access to convertible variants for the first time. An LS1 V-8 was introduced in 1999 with 348 hp, and in 2003, the Corvette celebrated its 50th anniversary with a special edition model. C5 production ended in 2004. Corvette also began a factory endurance racing program with the C5.R, winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans among other achievements.
The C6 Corvette arrived in 2005 and packed a base 6.0-liter V-8 with 400 hp. That number climbed through production, with the LS3 arriving in 2008 with 430 hp. The factory racing program continued to rack up wins, leading to many special edition models. Manual transmissions are still available, but the automatic is the volume seller by far. Production ended in 2013.
A C7 Corvette was all the rage for 2014, packing a standard 460-hp LT1 V-8 engine. The vehicle structure was now made mainly from aluminum, for weight savings and improved rigidity. The factory racing program continued with the C7.R.
The mid-engine Corvette that had been toyed with for decades was finally released for the 2020 model year as the C8. With a mid-mounted, 495-hp, 6.2-liter LT2 V-8, this Corvette is the most powerful standard model yet built. No manual transmission is offered in the C8, with Corvette engineers opting instead for an in-house eight-speed dual-clutch automatic. Convertible versions feature a retractable hardtop for the first time.
Chevrolet Corvette Highlights
Every generation of Corvette has its performance highlights. C1s were available with higher-output fuel injected models, while C2s had "big-block" L78 engines with 425 hp available, along with an L88 engine and a Z06 package designed for racing. C3 Corvettes went further with a 430-hp ZL1 engine and a ZR-1 factory racing equipment package. C4 Corvettes returned to the ZR1 moniker, losing the hyphen in the process, for the "King of the Hill" model, which featured a DOHC cylinder head designed by Lotus to produce as much as 405 hp.
Fifth-generation Corvettes brought back the Z06 package, now a street performance option with 385 to 405 hp depending on the year. C6 Corvettes had both the Z06 option (now making 505 hp from 7.0 liters) along with a supercharged ZR1 model good for 638 hp. Not to be outdone, Z06 versions of the C7 produced 650 hp with a supercharged engine, while the ZR1 was bumped up to 755 hp.
Chevrolet Corvette Buying Tips
Corvettes vary in price, performance and driving experience rather greatly from generation to generation. Early C1 convertibles with lethargic six-cylinder engines and automatic transmissions were boulevard cruisers compared with later performance models. Still, C1 and C2 Corvettes tend to be the most desired as collectible cars (and are generally the most expensive, especially for rare performance variants) while C6 and newer Corvettes on the used market are simply that-just used cars that are still depreciating.
Looking for a bargain? Check out C4 and C5 Corvettes, which are currently out of the market's favor but can offer plenty of performance and driving fun, especially ZR1 and Z06 versions. Any Corvette, C1 to C7, is typically worth a premium when fitted with a manual gearbox.
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Chevrolet Corvette Quick Facts
- First year of production: 1953
- Last year of production: Still in production
- Total sold: Nearly 2 million
- Original price (base): $3,513
- Characteristic feature: Amazing performance value. America's sports car.
Chevrolet Corvette FAQ
You have questions about the Chevrolet Corvette and Automobile has answers.
- Is the 2020 Corvette sold out?
Yes, but orders for the 2021 Corvette are still available. Talk to your local Chevrolet dealership for more information.
- Is the Corvette a good car?
The 2020 Corvette is one of the best performance cars available at any price, and one of the best performance values. This is generally true of many previous Corvettes in their time, as well.
- How good is the C8 Corvette?
Good enough that it can legitimately be mentioned in the same breath as performance cars from competitors such as Porsche, Ferrari, and Aston Martin.