Introduced to the public at the 1953 Autorama in New York, the Chevrolet Corvette stunned everyone in attendance because up to that point in time, General Motors (GM), which owned the Chevrolet brand, had never produced a sports car.
The massive interest in the Corvette, however, ensured that it was put into production. The initial batch of 300 cars, which were all hand-built, was only available in a single colour – Polo White. To reduce costs, most of the Corvette’s components were shared with Chevrolet saloons and the body was made out of fibre-glass. Unique, too, was the car’s emblem. It has a chequered flag crossed with another that bore the Chevy “bow tie”.
Although it looks sporty, the first-generation Corvette is anything but. Its inline-6, which produces 150bhp, is a lackadaisical performer and its sales reflected this. In 1955, only 700 Corvettes were sold. In contrast, the Ford Thunderbird, which debuted that year, chalked up sales of 14,000 units.
To boost the car’s performance and appeal, Chevrolet offered buyers the option of specifying the Corvette with a 265-cubic inch (4.3-litre) V8 motor. All Corvettes would be V8-powered from this point onwards.
The Corvette hit another milestone with the 1963 Sting Ray model because, for the first time since its birth, it was now available in a more practical coupe bodystyle. The Sting Ray’s distinctive split rear window, however, divided opinions. Although aesthetically pleasing, it meant poor rearward visibility and was eventually replaced by a single-piece windscreen.
Five years later, Chevy had another hit with the third-generation Corvette and its Mako shark-inspired design. That Vette had a deadlier bite, too, thanks to a lineup of bigger V8 engines – including an optional 7-litre unit with over 500bhp! The third-gen Corvette also introduced removable roof panels on the coupe that gave rise to the T-top form.
The 1970s were a low point for the Corvette. With the world mired in an energy crisis caused by an oil shortage, high-performance vehicles were no longer in vogue. Indeed, the successor to the “Mako shark” model only arrived in 1984. Though powerful, Corvettes from this decade lack the sparkle of earlier models that endeared them to enthusiasts.
Chevrolet made up for this with the fifth- and sixth-generation Corvettes. Apart from having better build quality, these cars have greater handling, too, and could again stand toe-to-toe with rivals.
Promising to leave competitors in pain, while bringing fans to seventh heaven, is the seventh-generation Corvette Stingray. As the fastest and most powerful Corvette yet from the Chevy factory, it’s likely to be a winning American idol.