The Chevrolet Corvette changed the automotive landscape of North America with its introduction to the market in 1953. Since then, it has continued to capture the American imagination by starring in movies, television, and music videos throughout the years. The story behind this icon of the twentieth century truly reflects the American ideal of having a dream and watching it become a reality and then a legend.
The History of the Corvette
The Corvette began with Chevrolet brand manager Thomas Keating’s desire to offer a high-performance sports car to rival Europe’s Opel. Under the code name Project Opel, the engineers at Chevy cobbled together the very first prototype of the Corvette. From there, as they say, the rest is history.
The First Model: C1 1953 – 1962
After throwing together a fiberglass body, 3.9-liter straight six-cylinder engine and a two-speed automatic transmission, the first Corvette was born in 1953. Displayed as a dream car at General Motor’s Motorama show in New York City’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel, the Corvette was met with a warm reception that encouraged Chevy to press on. It was the only prototype from the Motorama show that went into production.
- 1953 – The first 300 Corvettes rolled off the Flint, MI, assembly line.
- 1954 – Production moved to St. Louis, MO, and production of the 1954 model began.
- 1955 – Chevy introduced the small-block V8 and a three-speed manual transmission.
- 1956 – The Corvette was restyled to feature roll-up windows, headlamps, and sculpted side covers. Removable hardtops also entered the scene for the first time.
- 1957 – Fuel injection and four-speed manual transmissions were offered as an optional feature.
- 1958 – The Corvette was given dual headlights for the first time.
- 1960 – A year of lasts for the Corvette as this was the final model to feature heavy grill teeth and taillights that were formed into rounded rear fenders.
The Next Generation: C2 1963 – 1967
During this phase of Corvette’s evolution, the Stingray comes into being. With rapid changes to the exterior and power train, this American sports car began to step away from the European cars that inspired it and strike out on its own.
- 1963 – The Corvette received a complete restyle based on Bill Mitchell’s 1959 Stingray race car. Also, this was the first year that the Corvette coupe was offered and the only year that the split-window coupe version was made.
- 1964 – Split-window design was eliminated due to obstruction of the driver’s rearview.
- 1965 – The Big Block V8 engine with 425 horsepower was introduced for the Corvette.
- 1966 – The Corvette continued to evolve with factory-installed headrests for both the driver and the passenger as well as the addition of a 427 CID engine and Holley Carburetors.
- 1967 – Corvette Stingray offered a dual master cylinder brake system, energy-absorbing steering column and four-way flashing hazard lights as standard features while overhauling the exterior.
Not Your Father’s Corvette: C3 1968 – 1982
A new generation of drivers demanded a new generation of Corvette for the 1970s and beyond, and GM did not disappoint them. With new features and fine details added yearly, the Corvette made rapid progress throughout this phase of its evolution.
- 1968 – Corvette featured an industry first — the T-top. The body style became sleeker with pop-up headlights.
- 1969 – A gold Convertible Corvette was produced as the 250,000th Corvette to come off the St. Louis production line.
- 1970 – A new small-block V8 engine with 370 horsepower was introduced as an option for the Corvette.
- 1972 – Corvettes of this year were the last to have chrome fenders in both the front and back, side-fender grills and a bright egg-crate style grill.
- 1973 – This production year saw 4,000 serial numbers go unbuilt, so although the serial numbers go to 34,464, the production totaled only 30,464.
- 1977 – The 500,000th Corvette rolled off the line painted white with a red interior on March 15.
- 1978 – The 25th year of Corvette’s production was marked by the introduction of the fastback body style. In addition, a special anniversary emblem replaced the traditional crossed flag that Corvettes sport.
- 1981 – Chevrolet moved production of the Corvette from St. Louis to Bowling Green, Kentucky, halfway through the year, marking the first time a model was built in two locations simultaneously.
- 1982 – This was the first model year of the hatchback design which introduced the Collector’s Edition model and offered a four-speed automatic transmission with overdrive on standard builds.
Redefining the Corvette: C4 1984 – 1996
Chevrolet took 1983 off to focus on redefining their American sports car, the Corvette. When production of a new model began again, it was the all-new 1984 Corvette that rolled off production lines in Bowling Green.
- 1984 – The brand-new Corvette model debuted with a redesign that made it 24 percent more aerodynamic than before and boasted a top speed over 150 MPH.
- 1985 – Tuned port injection was added to the 5.7-liter V8.
- 1986 – Chevy built the first convertible Corvette since 1975.
- 1987 – The Callaway Twin-Turbo engine package was introduced.
- 1988 – Chevy offered its 35th Anniversary Edition Corvette.
- 1990 – The Corvette ZR-1 debuted with standard driver’s side airbags.
- 1992 – A white convertible Corvette with red interior rolled off the assembly line on July 2nd as the one-millionth Corvette produced.
- 1993 – Chevrolet offered an optional 40th Anniversary package consisting of a ruby red metallic exterior with ruby red interior with all models.
- 1996 – Chevy offered two unique special edition models, a Collector’s Edition and Grand Sport model.
Last Corvette of the 20th Century: C5 1997 – 2004
The last years of the twentieth century and the first of the twenty-first saw more changes to the Corvette. New and innovative technology created an anything-is-possible mentality within the automotive industry and the world as a whole during this time period.
- 1997 – The transmission was moved to a rear mounting position while hydroformed side frame rails were added.
- 1998 – A model with permanently-fixed roof panel and hardtop joined the Corvette lineup this year.
- 2000 – Chevy offered an optional heads-up display.
- 2001 – Chevrolet introduced the Z06 model with a 385 horsepower V8 and a top speed of over 170 MPH.
- 2003 – The 50th Anniversary of the Corvette offered a special package with red paint, a two-tone shale interior, and special emblems.
- 2004 – Corvette Racing placed at the Indy 500 and offered a special commemorative package to honor this success.
A Corvette for the New Millennium: C6 2005 – 2013
A new century means a new Corvette. The 2005 model rolled off assembly lines with an all-new design and innovative engineering. These new features invited a whole new generation to discover the Corvette and fall in love with it.
- 2005 – Powered by the new 6.0L 400 horsepower small block V8. Exposed headlights return for the first time since 1962.
- 2005 – The first time OnStar and navigation were available. In addition, Chevy brought back the optional power top convertible for the first time since 1962.
- 2006 – Chevy brought the Z06 back with a complete redesign powered by a brand new 7-liter small block V8 capable of 505 horsepower. This was also the year the six-speed paddle-shift automatic transmission was introduced.
- 2008 – Chevrolet took the Corvette to a whole new level with this model that is powered by a new 6.2-liter V8 engine, which increased the power from 400 horsepower to 430 horsepower.
- 2009 – Chevy debuted the new Corvette ZR1, powered by a supercharged 6.2-liter V8 capable of producing 638 horsepower for a top speed of 205 MPH.
- 2011 – Corvette’s 50th Anniversary a Le Mans, released the Z06 Carbon Limited Edition, which limited exteriors to Inferno Orange or Supersonic Blue.
- 2012 – Another special edition Corvette was offered this year with the Chevrolet Centennial Edition. This option featured Magnetic Selective Ride Control, unique badges, and specially trimmed interior with red stitching as well as satin-black graphics and cup wheels with a red stripe painted with Carbon Flash metallic paint.
- 2013 – For the 60th Anniversary of Corvette, a 427 Convertible Collector Edition rolled off the production’s lines.
The Next Generation of Corvette: C7 2014 – Present
The Corvette zipped past its 60-year mark with no indication that the popularity of this American classic was waning. The seventh generation of this remarkable car features the newest automotive innovations to carry the model into the future.
- 2013 – The first model of the seventh generation of Corvette was introduced at an invitation-only event in Detroit. It featured the aluminum frame and brought back the Stingray designation. Its LT1 V8 engine with 460 horsepower made it the fastest Corvette to date.
- 2016 – The new Z06 with an LT4 supercharged 6.2-liter aluminum V8 engine that boasts 650 horsepower had a limited production run of 500.
The Corvette in Popular Culture
Throughout the more than 60 years since it first hit the scene, the Corvette has held the fascination of many. An icon of the American landscape, it worked its way into popular culture in a number of forms. In fact, there are few mediums where this quintessential sports car can’t be found. The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) lists 89 recorded appearances of the Corvette in television, films, and music.
Movies & Television
Several films and shows on broadcast television used the Corvette. In at least one movie — 1978’s Corvette Summer — the car itself is the focus of the entire film. The 1953 Corvette was also in American Graffiti in 1973, a cult classic that is considered by many to be a vivid picture of American life during that time period.
Other movies with Corvettes in them include:
- Con Air (1997) – A beautiful 1953 Corvette is spectacularly destroyed
- Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999) – American CIA agent Felicity Shagwell, played by Heather Graham, drove a 1965 Corvette Roadster.
- Fast Five (2011) – The fifth installment in the Fast and Furious franchise sees Vin Diesel’s character drive a stolen Corvette off a cliff.
- Animal House (1978) – The epitome of everything the students at Faber College hope to achieve, Eric “Otter” Stratton drove a 1959 Corvette.
- Boogie Nights (1997) – The Corvette in this film belongs to the main character, played by Mark Wahlberg, and reflects that character’s downward spiral into corruption.
Not to be left out, there were several shows on broadcast television that featured Corvettes. These programs include The Mod Squad, which aired from 1968 to 1973 on ABC, and Route 66 from 1960 to 1964 on CBS.
Moreover, the Discovery Channel produced and aired a show called Corvette Nation that aired for two seasons in 2013 and 2014. It focused on the evolution of the car and the people across the country who love Corvettes and make them a major part of their life. Amazon Prime sometimes offers these episodes for viewing through their streaming service.
The Chevy Corvette has grown to more than merely a car for some over the years. Groups of Corvette owners and aficionados join together to share and celebrate their love of all things Corvette. Simply search Facebook or another social media site and you will find dozens of Corvette themed groups to join.
National Corvette Owners Association
The largest Corvette club in the nation, the National Corvette Owners Association (NCOA) began in 1975 and welcomes all owners of the American sports car. They provide special member-only benefits, networking, services, resources, and recommendations that make owning a Corvette even better.
Corvette Club of America
The Corvette Club of America (CCA) began in 1956 and has been in continuous operation to this day. It offers a number of events, activities, and functions centered around the Corvette. Although it welcomes all members with a genuine interest in the Corvette, whether they own one or not, the events and members are primarily in the state of Maryland.
Since its inception, the Chevrolet Corvette permanently changed the landscape of the American automotive industry. Other companies like Ford soon followed suit with their own version of the sports car, but the Corvette will always be the first to be made in America. Today, this car’s popularity continues with each new generation discovering and falling in love with this classic car.