The Chevrolet Corvette needs little introduction.
Branded “the only true American sports car”, the Chevrolet Corvette has been in production for over 60 years. Spanning eight generations of design, it remains a formidable force to the present day.
It is a car synonymous with immense power, pure speed and rich racing pedigree. The Corvette – named after a small warship - continues to be an embodiment of freedom and adventure.
It is easy to forget the Corvette was launched a decade before the Porsche 911. Famous for its fiberglass bodywork, the Corvette was a pioneer sports car for both America and the world.
This stunning sports car is a vehicle of many stories. Built across three different locations throughout its life – Michigan, Missouri and finally Kentucky – the Corvette became a status symbol for money, fashion and power.
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Chevrolet Corvette: Racing In Its DNA
Louis Chevrolet, a watchmaker and keen race car driver from Switzerland, emigrated to American before co-founding the Chevrolet Motor Company in 1911. He had racing in his blood.
Chevrolet’s first Series C Classic Six was released in 1912 and, by 1927, the company had become the best-selling car manufacturer in the United States. Things would only get bigger; today, Chevrolet is a hugely successful arm of General Motors. Its logo is proudly displayed on the jerseys of Manchester United, the biggest team in world football.
The year is 1953: Dwight D. Eisenhower is sworn in as U.S. President, Elvis Presley recorded his first songs in Memphis, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first men to reach the summit of Mount Everest and Hugh Hefner published the very first issue of Playboy.
And at New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel, the Chevrolet Corvette is launched.
The Corvette caused an instant stir; so much, in fact, that the first models of the beautiful, convertible C1 left the factory’s production line just six months’ later. Little did they know it would be the start of a monumental journey.
Corvette: Eight Generations Of Brilliance
The Corvette C1 was not as successful as first hoped in sales. Despite it being the first ever production car with a body made of plastic/fiberglass, the C1 only had two gears and 150 horsepower. It was more expensive than a Jaguar.
Chevrolet introduced several design tweaks to the Corvette C1 over the next few years, as well as a new V8 Small-Block engine.
It was the second generation of Corvette (C2), released in 1963, that changed things. The C2 carried a new badge and ‘Sting Ray’ moniker that remains as iconic as its tail-lights. For many, the 1963 model with its split rear window is the ultimate image of what a Corvette represents. A lightweight version of the C2 was designed in 1962 to combat the Shelby Cobra, but only five were ever built: they are exceptionally valuable and highly-sought.
The C2, across its evolution, generated up to 450 bhp making it faster than a Jaguar E-Type and Maserati. Five years’ later, the C3 hit the markets. The framework was based on the C2, but a completely restyled body featured classic, larger hips. However, new American safety laws would heavily hamper the C3 design throughout the 1970s.
The Corvette C4 marked a complete redesign and looked much more European than its predecessors. Throughout its tenure, the C4 – featuring a huge Cross-Fire Inject Engine – and its various versions set new standards. The arrival of the fifth-generation C5, incorporating the millionth Corvette in production, is largely seen as the boldest redesign. Its technological advancement was widely celebrated.
The refined C6 produced up to 512 horsepower and, to combat arguments the Corvette was aimed at ‘old’ men, the 2014 C7 was redesigned to appeal to a younger generation. The C8, released earlier this year, continues to carry the trademark torque and driveability.
A Race Sensation
Much like its founders, the Chevrolet Corvette has an esteemed racing history. It has been a regular at the likes of Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans for decades. Racing, quite simply, is integrated into the Corvette’s DNA.
In 1960, the newly-updated Corvette C1 was sent to the Le Mans 24 Hours with a larger body and V8 engine. Chevrolet wanted to make a statement; that America was serious about producing race cars. The C1 took first place in its engine class and finished an unexpected eighth overall.
The racing version of the C5 remains one of the most successful and historic race cars of all time, with repeated victories at Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans. In fact, the Chevrolet Corvette has won seven times at Le Mans. Its 2011 title win, on the 100th anniversary of the company’s founding and 10th anniversary of its first Le Mans title, cemented it as a jewel in the American sports car crown.
And let’s not forget Chevrolet’s long association with IndyCar. Both founders raced the Indy 500, while ex-Formula 1 star Emerson Fittipaldi won the event twice with Chevrolet. Since 2012, a Chevrolet engine has powered six of the past eight IndyCar championship winners. And throughout the series’ history, the Corvette has been used numerous times as a pace car.
More Magic Expected?
No car has symbolised the Chevrolet brand quite like the Corvette. It is as American as a McDonald’s hamburger.
It has had a major influence on pop culture; the Corvette has been used in over 2000 films and television series over the years, from 1978’s Corvette Summer and Animal House to cult classics such as Boogie Nights and Con Air. Prince’s 1983 hit ‘Little Red Corvette’ references the car in its title. Roy Orbison, Matthew McConaughey, Jay Leno, George Clooney, Sir Paul McCartney, Slash, Angelyne and Nicholas Cage have all owned Corvettes.
With unlimited displacements comes unlimited performance. For over 60 years, the Corvette has been nothing but pure power. And, after all that time, it is still a car that leaves your legs shaking.