of the legendary Chevrolet Corvette
The Chevrolet Corvette was first manufacturer in 1953 as a unique American
entry into the sports car market dominated by European makes for years. Although not a
muscle car by definition, the Corvette used muscle car powertrains and has represented the
American performance car industry for fifty years. The first Corvette rolled off a
makeshift assembly line in Flint Michigan on June 30, 1953, a mere six months after the
debut of the concept car at the GM Motorama. From the beginning, the Corvette was unique.
It was only available as a two passenger convertible in Polo White with a red interior.
All Corvettes were built by hand and its attractive and original body was constructed out
of fiberglass, not steel. Its chassis, with a 102 inch wheelbase, was basically a
shortened Chevy passenger car unit. The only engine available was named the Blue Flame
Special and was an upgraded version of the 235 cid six found in other Chevy cars. It
produced 150 bhp due to the use of a higher lift cam which provided a significant boost in
torque in the mid-range of engine speed.
Production and sales fell to just 700 units in 1955, leading to a push
within GM to kill the Corvette. However, Zora Arkus-Duntov, an engineer on the Corvette
team since 1953 and a former European road racer, was determined to save the Corvette and
make it a contender. He started by giving the Corvette the two things it needed the most,
more power and better handling if it was to excell over the new T-bird. By mid-1955, more
power was added with the addition of a 265 cid V8 rated at 195 bhp as well as the option
of a 3-speed manual transmission. Meanwhile, Duntov drove a prototype V8 powered Corvette
to a new record in the Daytona "Measured Mile" at just over 150 mph which gained
some much needed recognition for the Corvette. The Corvette was officially saved and
Duntov would be remember as the "grandfather of the Corvette" for his efforts.
European E-Type Jaguar takes on the 2 seater Vettes
The Corvette continued to improve from 1955 to 1958 as the fuel injected
283 V8 now produced up to 290 bhp and the Corvette received a new body design which
featured four headlights. Also new was the washboard hood which featured simulated louvers
and twin decklid chrome strips. The 1959 Corvette lost its simulated louvers and twin
decklid chrome strips on the hood but production increased to 9700 units. In 1961 we saw
the first use of Corvette's now trademark quad tailights and was the last year to feature
wide whitewall tires. The exterior styling was mildly facelifted with Bill Mitchell's
duck-tail rear end and a simplified mesh grille without the previous versions'
"teeth." All used the 283 engine block in several configurations... 283 (4 bbl)
V8 230 bhp @ 4800 rpm, 300 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm.... 283 (2x4 bbl) V8 245 bhp @ 5000 rpm, 300
lb-ft @ 3800 rpm....283 (2x4 bbl) V8 270 bhp @ 6000 rpm, 285 lb-ft @ 4200 rpm. Top
performance came from the 283 ("Fuelie") V8 @ 315 bhp.
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FACTOID on the 1962 Vette: The last of the straight axle Corvettes
was the first to offer a Chevy 327 cid small block hi-reving V8. It was offered in three
forms, with the top reserved for a special race package, called "Sebring." Due
to the racing ban of 1957, Chevrolet was not allowed to support factory racing....LOL.
Because of this, the "grandfather" of the Corvette, Zora Arkus-Duntoz
slipped in several serious racing parts on to the Corvette options list. The Corvette was
a true sports car, as power steering, power brakes, and air condition were not available
for the purists. Performance buyers, however, could order hot "Duntov"
camshafts, thermo-activated cooling fans, and aluminum-cased transmissions. Also available
was a special racing package, called "Sebring." Available options on the Sebring
included 15x5.5 inch wheels (no charge), a direct-flow exhaust system (no charge), a
24-gallon fuel tank ($118.40), four-speed gearbox ($188.30), Posi-Traction rear axle
($43.05), sintered metallic brake linings ($37.70), and a heavy-duty suspension ($333.60).
The most desired option was the 327 V8 "fuelie" rated at a whooping 370 bhp
which cost $484.20. With a low 3,080 pound curb weight, a 327/380 equipped Corvette had a
power-weight of just 8.6 lbs per horsepower, the lowest ratio ever, up to that point and
this model put the Vette as the target to beat during the introduction of Muscle cars.
This combination was good for 0-60 in just 5.9 seconds and run the quarter mile in 14.9
seconds. Exterior styling changes included de-emphasized bodyside cove sculpture and a
The Second Generation Corvettes (63-67) took performance to a new level,
as first powerful fuel injected small block and later true race big block engines would
propel them to faster and faster speeds. The beautiful Stingray body style, in a coupe or
convertible added some interior storage to the mix of style and speed in 1963. The
Corvette featured an independent rear suspension (replacing the previous version's
straight axle), fuel-injection, and knock off wheels. It even had a racing option, the
Z-06. The Z-06 was created by Zora Arkus-Duntoz as a purpose built (through non-descript)
racer, although its thunder was stolen by the superior Shelby Cobra. Nevertheless, the
Z-06 option consisted of a fuel-injected 327 cid V8, 36.5 gallon fuel tank, heavy-duty
brakes, heavy-duty suspension, and knock-off wheels. The heavy-duty brakes consisted of
drums with sintered metallic linings, power assisted and backed by a dual circuit master
cylinder. "Elephant ear" scoops rammed fresh air to the drums and cooling fans
spun with the hub. Luxury options such as power steering, air conditioning, and leather
seats were available for the first time on Corvettes.
The 1964 Corvette featured several improvements such as higher horsepower
"fuelie" engine options, a smoother ride, and better insulation. The hardtop
lost its split rear-window design in favor of a more conventional single-piece rear
window, because owners of 1963 Corvettes complained about rear visibility. 1965 saw
several changes to the Corvette. The big news was the addition of standard four-wheel disc
brakes. Styling changes were at a minimum, with functional front fender louvers, new wheel
covers, and a restyled grille. The hood had no depressions or trim, and thus was not
interchangeable with the '63 or '64 Corvettes. Inside, newly styled bucket seats were
offered and genuine leather seating surfaces were optional. Options few European cars
could match included power steering, power brakes, power windows, air conditioning, AM-FM
radio, telescopic steering column, and a wood-rimmed steering wheel. Under the hood, the
Corvette offered a wide range of engines. Standard was Chevy's tried-and-true 327 cid
Turbo Fire V8 rated at 250 bhp. Next up was a 300 bhp version of the 327 and new for 1965
was the precursor to the famous LT1, a 327 rated at 350 bhp. At the top, was the most
powerful carbureted 327, rated at 365 bhp. For true performance buyers, the Ram-Jet
Fuel-Injected 327 made its last appearance in 1965. At $538, fuel injection was an
expensive option, but it made 327 a 375 bhp stormer.
A pristine 1966 Vette get's some tender loving care from the owner.
The 1966 Corvette featured a new eggcrate grille and functional engine
compartment cooling vents. The previous year's 396 V8 was dropped. In its place, a new
muscle Corvette was introduced, the "427" with its own funnel-shaped, power
bulge on the hood. There were two of these big blocks at first. RPO L36, priced at $181,
was rated at 390 bhp. RPO L72, with a $312 price tag, was rated at 425 bhp. Both engines
were related to the "mystery" 427 and the production Turbo Jet 396. The 427/425
bhp Corvette convertible could hit 60 mph in just 5.7 seconds, and the quarter mile in 14
seconds. It boasted a power-to-weight ratio of just 7.7 lbs per horsepower. "427
Turbo Jet" crossed racing flag emblems appeared above the cooling vents. Three four
speed gearboxes -- wide ratio, close-ratio, and heavy-duty close ratio were optional.
Side-mounted exhuast pipes were optional. A total of 5,116 L36s and 5,258 L72s were built,
therefore 38% of the 1966 Corvettes were 427s.
For 1967, the Corvette got additional engine cooling vents and functional
Shark gills, and 427s got a different "power bulge" hood and more top
horsepower. The new hood had a large, forward facing air scoop, usually with engine
call-outs on both sides. The standard engine was a 327 V8 rated at 300 bhp. But for
performance fans, there were four versions of the 427 available. The first version, the
L36, cost just $200 more and featured a single four barrel carb, 10.25:1 compression and
hydraulic lifters. It was rated at a stout 390 bhp. Next up was the L68 for $305 which
featured triple two-barrel Holley carbs (a first for Corvette) and was good for 400 bhp.
At the top was the L71 with triple two-barrel Holley carbs, solid lifters, special
performance cams, and 11:1 compression which was conservatively rated at 435 bhp.
Extremely rare (only 20 were built) was the top of the line L88 for $948 more. The L88
featured new aluminum heads, 12.5:1 compression, and a single Holley four barrel carb
rated at 850 cfm that sat on an aluminum intake manifold with a special raised plenum
chamber. In addition, you got a transistor ignition and Positraction differential but
didn't get a fan shroud, heater, nor defroster. Chevrolet was reluctant about revealing
the engine's true potential and officially rated at only 430 bhp, but most experts
believed that it in fact developed close to 600 bhp!
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The all new 1968 Corvette was a dramatic change in
appearance from previous Corvettes. The all new styling bore a striking resemblence to
Chevrolet's Mako Shark II concept car and was a bold look. The new Corvette also
introduced hidden windshield wipers and removable T-tops on Coupe models. A new three
speed automatic transmission replaced the previous two-speed unit. Under the hood, the
Corvette gained several interesting engine options, including the 327 cid V8 L79 rated at
350 bhp, and the L89 aluminum head option for the L71. The rare L88 engine option was
still available for a whopping $1,032, and just 115 were sold. Still rated at the same 430
bhp as the regular 427 engine, the wise buyers that checked off the L88 option were
treated to a host of goodies such as a bubble top hood, the 427 engine with an aluminum
intake and aluminum heads with a 850 CFM dual feed Holley carb.
Chevy's new 454 V8 replaced the firebreathing 427s for 1970. But while the
Chevrolet Chevelle SS received Chevy's top engine, the 454 LS6 rated at 450 bhp, the
Corvette had to make due with the 454 LS5 rated at 390 bhp. The Corvette finally received
the powerful LS6 454 engine for 1971, but it was now detuned to run on unleaded gas and
was rated at 425 bhp, down 25 bhp from the 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS. The carryover LT1
and LS5 engines were also detuned. Interestingly, only 188 LS6 Corvettes were built, with
12 more appearing under RPO ZR2, the factory racing package. The "Stingray" name
was officially dropped for the 1977 Corvettes.
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