For two years, General Motors designer Harley Earl labored to build an affordable American sports car, to compete with the MGs, Jaguars and Ferraris coming out of Europe. The first convertible concept model appeared in early 1953, part of the GM Motorama display at the New York Auto Show held at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
Chevrolet wanted to give the new model a “non-animal” name, starting with ‘C’. Newspaper photographer Myron Scott suggested the name of a small class of warship, the “trim, fleet naval vessel that performed heroic escort and patrol duties during World War II.” They called this new model a Corvette.
Workers at the Flint Michigan plant assembled the first Corvette on this day in 1953. The first production car rolled off the assembly line two days later. 300 hand-built Corvettes came off the line that model year, all white.
To keep costs down, off-the-shelf components were used whenever possible. The body was made of fiberglass to keep tooling expenses low. The chassis and suspension came from the 1952 Chevy sedan. The car featured an increased compression-ration version of the same in-line six “Blue Flame” block used in other models, coupled with a two-speed Power glide automatic transmission. No manual transmission of the time could reliably handle an output of 150 HP and a 0-60 time of 11½ seconds.
GM moved production to St. Louis, Missouri the following year. Since 1974, the car has been manufactured in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where the Corvette has become the official sports car of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
Sales were disappointing in the first couple years, compared with those of European competitors. GM refined the early design and added a V-8 in 1955, greatly improving the car’s performance. By 1961, the Corvette had established itself as a classic American muscle car.
The second generation (C2) introduced the “Stingray” name in 1963. Still sporting fiberglass body panels, the car was smaller and lighter than previous models with a maximum output of 360 HP. The sleek, tapered design was said to be patterned after the Mako shark caught by lead designer Bill Mitchell, on a deep sea fishing trip.
The third generation (1968–1982) featured a radically new body and interior design, and Chevy’s first use of T-top removable roof panels. The “Stingray” name was dispensed with in 1976, in 1978, the C3 became the first of 12 Corvettes to be used as Pace Cars for the Indy 500.
The radical redesign of the fourth generation Corvette was intended for the 1983 model year but, quality issues and delays from parts suppliers resulted in only 43 prototypes being built. None of them were ever sold. Only one of the 1983 prototypes survives; it’s on display at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
When it came to quality and styling, many felt that the C4 compared poorly with Japanese competitors like the Nissan 300ZX and Mazda RX-7. The 5th generation introduced in 1997 addressed many of these issues. The production C5 had a top speed of 181 mph, while the lower drag coefficient and new, aerodynamic styling resulted in 28 mpg on the highway.
Twenty-first century updates exposed headlights for the first time since 1962, the 7th generation becoming the first to bear the Stingray name since the 1976 model year. Air intake grills were exposed for the first time in four generations, as the all-important 0-60 times approached the four-seconds mark.
Corvette enthusiasts criticized the aggressive, angular lines of the C7, claiming the rear end looks more like a C5 Camaro. Others complained about the front end; with an air intake grill exposed for the first time in four generations.
The supercharged 6.2L V8 power plant of the 2019 Z06 develops 650 horsepower, capable of accelerating from 0-60 mph in 2.95 seconds with a top end of 207.4 mph. Ain’t nobody fussing about that.