Model Evolution: Chevrolet Corvette

By Brandon Turkus

July 11, 2011


C1 1953-1962: The first Corvette really didn’t have too much in common with the fire-breathing monsters of the late 60s, or the 600-plus-horsepower hell-raisers we see today. Power came from a 3.9-liter inline-six, which only generated about 150 horsepower. That power was routed to the rear wheels via a two-speed automatic transmission (a manual option wouldn’t be added until late in 1955), while drum brakes were the only stopping force behind the Corvette. It wasn’t until 1956 that GM got serious about the Vette’s performance. New sheetmetal combined with a variety of V-8s turned the once-humble C1 into a proper sportscar. The top-end motor at the time was a 5.4-liter, fuel-injected V-8, that generated an impressive 315 horsepower. In total, over 69,000 C1 Corvettes were produced.


C2 1963-1967: The second-generation marked a number of firsts for the Corvette. A coupe model was launched in 1963 (the rare split-window). Flip-up headlamps also appeared, and would be a Corvette hallmark until the C6 arrived over 40 years later. This legendary car featured a slew of V-8s, with a carbureted, 250-horsepower 5.4 liter on the low end from 1953 to1955 and the explosive 7.0-liter, 435-horsepower L88 big block on the high end. Other innovations included an independent rear suspension followed by four-wheel disc brakes in 1965. During its five-year run, Chevrolet moved 117,964 Corvettes, with fewer than 11,000 split-windows and only 20 L88-equipped cars.


C3 1968-1982: When the C3 hit the market in 1968, it was in the heat of the American horsepower wars. So it made sense that the weakest Corvette money could buy still boasted a 5.4-liter V-8 with 300 horsepower on tap. From there, things got crazy. A 350-horsepower 5.4 liter was offered, followed by a raft of 5.7-liter V-8s. On the high side, three different iterations of the 7.0-liter big block were offered, as well as a 7.4-liter big block. The real monster though, was Chevrolet’s ZL1 option package. It featured a 7.0-liter big block that was estimated at 435 horsepower. In reality, it was believed to make anywhere from 550 to 700 horsepower, making it one of the undisputed kings of the horsepower wars. Things went downhill quickly though, with the OPEC oil crisis resulting in a crackdown on massive power. The low point was 1978, when the Corvette’s base engine was a 5.7-liter V-8 that only produced 185 horsepower. The longest-running generation of America’s Sportscar, the C3 sold over 540,000 models.


C4 1984-1996: The C4 represented a drastic evolution of the Corvette idea, with a sleeker, more modern body, as well as a refined driving experience. While it may have only been available with a 205-horsepower, 5.7-liter V-8 when it debuted in 1984, the fourth-generation Corvette quickly gained power as the years went on. By the time the 90s dawned, the Vette could be had with a 375-horsepower V-8 mated to a six-speed manual. The C4 also spawned quite a few special editions, including the 330-horsepower Grand Sport. The must-have model though, was the legendary ZR-1. Co-developed with Lotus (yes, Colin Chapman’s outfit), the ZR-1 received a new version of the 5.7-liter V-8 that originally produced 375 horsepower (this was bumped to 405 horsepower in subsequent model years). During its 13-year run, Chevrolet produced over 366,000 C4 Corvettes.


C5 1997-2004: While the C3 to C4 evolution was drastic, the C4 to C5 transition was even more revolutionary. The C5 was lighter, more rigid, and with the exception of the limited-edition C4 ZR-1, more powerful than the last generation. The only engine available at launch was a 5.7-liter V-8, producing 345 horsepower (it was bumped to 350 horsepower in 2001). The performance-oriented Z06, named in honor of the track-only version of the C2 Corvette, boasted 385 horsepower (405 horsepower from 2002 onwards). It was also lighter than the standard Corvette, and featured a firmer suspension, larger wheels and tires, and more aggressive gear ratios. The C5 also proved to be an excellent endurance competitor, with race team Pratt & Miller turning it into a Le Mans-winning race car. During its eight-year life, over 248,000 C5 Corvettes were produced.


C6 2005-Present: The current Corvette is the sixth-generation of America’s Sportscar. At first, it was powered by a 6.0-liter, 400-horsepower V-8, but current C6s utilize a larger, 6.2-liter, 438-horsepower eight cylinder. The performance-minded Z06 returned in 2006, and boasted a whopping 505 horsepower from its 7.0-liter V-8, along with a dry-sump oil system and an aluminum frame. The top-end model is the ZR1, boasting a supercharged, 6.2-liter, 638-horsepower V-8. It is the fastest Corvette ever produced, capable of hitting 205 miles per hour. Like the C5, the C6 has been well represented in the world of endurance racing, having won Le Mans, as well as the 12 Hours Of Sebring. Through the 2010 model year, Chevrolet has sold over 176,000 C6 Corvettes.

C1 C2 C3 C4 C5 C6
If there is one car that screams America, it’s arguably the Chevrolet Corvette. This legendary car has been a mainstay of American culture since its launch way back in 1953. Things weren’t always that easy for America’s Sportscar though. Read on to discover the Corvette’s path from a new American sportscar, to the legendary performance machine it is today.