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The history of an American classic: the Chevrolet Corvette
The original Chevrolet Corvette was introduced in 1953. Due to the car’s success General Motors has featured a Corvette in its model line up in every subsequent year except 1983 up to the present day. The classic Corvette models are the first three generations with an honourable mention for the fourth.
The first generation of Corvette was originally only intended to be a one off built for the 1953 Motorama show. The public interest in this car was such that Chevrolet decided to put it into production. The first Corvette used standard saloon car mechanical parts wrapped up in a pretty cabriolet bodyshell made from fibreglass. At launch the car was offered with a tuned version of Chevrolet’s standard in-line six and an automatic transmission. The choice of transmission was due to the fact that GM had no manual transmissions that could handle the car’s 115 hp.
In 1955 the Corvette received a V8 engine which cut the car’s 0-60 mph time to 8.5 seconds. The car’s styling was updated in 1956 with the front end being redesigned and the rear fins removed. 1957 saw the introduction of a manual transmission and optional fuel injection, making the Corvette one of the first cars to incorporate this feature. Further styling changes were made in 1961 including the introduction of the four round rear lights that would distinguish every subsequent Corvette.
The continual revisions to the first generation Corvette over the course of its life helped to make it a more capable, faster car, but it still retained early 1950s saloon car elements like the solid rear axle. In 1963 the second generation moved to fully independent rear suspension thereby greatly improving the car’s handling. At the same time the styling for the new car was a revolution compared with the first Corvette.
Dubbed the Corvette Sting Ray the second generation Corvette had streamlined pop up headlamps which contributed to a razor sharp front end. The rear also tapers to a point creating a look that is still striking 50 years on. Unlike the out-going car, the Sting Ray was offered in both cabriolet and coupe body styles.
In 1965 the optional fuel injection was dropped in favour of a simpler and cheaper big block V8. Fuel injection would not return until 1982.
The third generation of Corvette introduced in 1968 was essentially a rebodied second generation car. The styling retained the sharp front and rear edges of the outgoing model and the Stingray moniker was carried over. It remained in production until 1982, suffering a drop in power due to emissions legislation in 1972 but receiving additional equipment and refinements during its life.
The fourth generation was the first all new Corvette since 1963. It was intended to enter production in 1983 but quality issues led to it being delayed until the following year. Later versions of these cars that were equipped with the ZR1 performance package produced 450 bhp finally taking the Corvette back to the performance levels achieved by the late 1960s and early 1970s cars.