Corvette Sports Cars
This is one of many illustrated classic car guides I've created for the community. I hope you enjoy it. If you wish to find out more about the classic Corvette car art featured in this guide please click here.
The only series-production sports car from a major American manufacturer since WW2, the Corvette had been through many incarnations since its launch in 1953, but each time it has managed to capture the spirit of the age. Like most long-lived success stories, there have been vintage and lean years and Corvette enthusiasts can debate for hours the relative merits of the cars which have poured from the production lines over the past 40 years. This guide celebrates nine of the best Corvette models spanning thirty-five years, showing the progress and development of America's favourite sports car.
1954 Corvette Roadster
Made from a new wonder material, glass fibre, the Chevrolet Corvette made its debut in 1953. The dramatic looking model should have been a smash hit but these early cars were plagued with problems and only 315 Corvettes were delivered in 1953. For the first two years the car used a straight-six engine which delivered its 150bhp through a two-speed automatic gearbox and that wasn't the right formula for a true sports car. This was rectified in 1955 when Ed Cole's 4.3 litre V8 with a three-speed manual gearbox was offered as an option.
1957 Corvette Roadster
In 1956 the Corvette acquired a new style. Emerging as a new car, the chassis remained basically the same but Arkus-Duntov made improvements to the steering and handling, although the all-drum brake system was far from perfect. Power was increased and tune options ranged from the basic 210bhp (1956) to 283bhp (1957), with the latter, the Vette topped 130mph and 0-60mph in 5.3 seconds. The restyled body was sensuous, influenced perhaps by the European Mercedes 300SL but still looking 100 percent American.
1959 Corvette Roadster
From 1958 the Corvette started to sell around 10,000 units a year although the purity of the 1956 car's lines were to some extent lost under extra chrome and the new fashionable quad lights. Like other sports cars of the era, the car was putting on weight and becoming more of a GT and despite different tune options the overall performance was not as good as the 1957 model. In 1962 however, this was rectified by the launch of the 360bhp option, which was capable of 0-60mph in 5.5 seconds and made every other mass produced sports car look slow. For that you paid $5,000 and received a car that was also practical, reliable and comfortable.
1963 Corvette Sting Ray Coupe
In 1963 the long awaited restyle for the Corvette finally arrived with the all-new Sting Ray. Flatter and sleeker than before with fuel injection and a redesigned interior, the results were stunning. A 327 V8 installation in the car, available throughout the 1963-1967 generation, offered flexibility with a horsepower range from 250 to 365 and the legendary 396 and 427 cubic inch V8s provided a level of performance formerly reserved for a few of the world's most expensive sports cars. Sting Ray production totalled 117,964 cars.
The replacement for the Sting Ray was launched in 1968 simply as the Corvette but Stingray (one word) was added in 1969. The chassis remained as before but disc brakes were standardized, wheels were wider and a three-speed automatic transmission arrived at last.
1974 Corvette Convertible
In 1974 the Corvette made its last big change for nine years as it metamorphosed into a sleek and swoopy boulevarder. The body coloured bumper treatment was now applied at both the front and at the rear of the car and the public would from now on have to be content with split-roof coupes as this was the last year of the ragtops. It was also the last year of the big-inch motors.
1978 Corvette 350 V8 Indy Pace Car
The Corvette celebrated its Silver Anniversary in 1978 and to make a 10 year old design look fresh without spending lots of money, the existing car was modified by adding a wide wraparound rear window and in effect bringing back the fastback. In honour of the Corvette's 25 Anniversary, a modified Corvette was chosen as the Official Pace Car for the 1978 Indianapolis 500 race classic.
1982 Corvette 350 V8 Collector Edition
The 1982 Collector Edition was the last of the fifth-generation Corvettes and was very much a Grand Tourer rather than an out-and-out sports car. The 350cid (5.7 litre) engine delivered only 200bhp and the car weighed in at over 3400lbs, giving a power-to-weight ratio of only 128bhp/tonne; still very respectable but a long way from the road rocket of the past. 1982 was the first year Cross-Fire injection was used and all cars that year were fitted with automatic transmission. Luxurious, but access to the luggage area was still only via the passenger compartment.
1988 Corvette Coupe
Equipped with a new chassis, the Corvette was ready to return to competition. Although the Corvette Challenge was not a proper international racing series (it was based at the factory in Kentucky), it showed the Chevrolet was trying to get the handling and performance of the new car up to serious levels. Capable of around 150mph, these Corvettes were not "straight-line-specials" but they could be hurled around corners quickly, a far cry from some of the nominally faster products of some other manufacturers.