GM’s crown jewel
In 1953, Chevrolet launched what would become the most enduring and respected sports car in American history. There are arguably more iconic American cars (Mustang, Wrangler) and certainly better-selling (Ford F-Series), but for mainstream appeal, real-world performance, and international recognition, the Corvette holds the flag for the US of A.
In 1953, General Motors was the largest company in the US and the largest automaker in the world. GM’s chief designer wanted a stylish open-top sports car that would sell at reasonable prices, so Chevy made the Corvette — a fiberglass-bodied convertible with a small-block V8 and undeniable style.
From its debut, the Corvette added a distinct sub brand to Chevrolet’s catalogue, complete with its own logo. The Corvette logo has always included the motorsports checkered flag crossed with a flag bearing the Chevrolet logo and the fleur-de-lis, a French symbol that was reportedly part of Louis Chevrolet’s family crest. So racing was always an integral part of the Corvette’s identity — three first-generation Corvettes competed in the 1960 24 Hours of Le Mans, and today Corvettes run in sports car series all over the world.
American cars have always excelled in straight-line speed, but when it came to corners, Detroit’s Big Three never could find the apex. Except for the Corvette. The Corvette is America’s answer to the no-corners stereotype. With each successive generation, the front-engined, rear-wheel drive Corvette has become more and more capable, offering breathtaking power and legitimate handling for a fraction of the cost of equivalent German machines. In recent generations, the Corvette has become a motorsports legend, competing successfully in countless domestic and international racing series.
A huge part of this recent success is Chevrolet’s LS motor, a small-block V8 first introduced in 1997 that has become legendary for its strength, performance, and adaptability. To many, the LS and each successive Corvette V8 represents one of the crowning achievements of American auto manufacturing, and has propelled the Corvette — and American racing with it — to new heights.
To celebrate America’s sports car and illustrate how far it’s come, we’re showcasing a couple models from the ‘Vette’s first two generations and some examples from the last two. Though the technology and sheer capability have transformed drastically, the Corvette’s style and ethos have remained much the same, cementing its status as an icon without compromising its accessibility.
The first-generation Corvette, the C1 (Corvette 1 — how logical), sold in small numbers but laid the foundation for Chevy’s sports car manufacturing legacy. This 1959 C1 Corvette is 100% original and a gorgeous example of America’s heyday in automotive design. With quad headlights, those classic side scoops, and chrome galore, this beauty offers all you need to know about American motoring in the fifties. I’ll stop with the words — just look at the pictures and appreciate this glorious machine for the piece of art that it is.
The Corvette’s second generation lasted from 1962 to 1967 and introduced a coupe version and a new moniker: “Sting Ray” — still one of the coolest names in automotive history. The C2’s timeless design is as attractive today as it was in the sixties, and this 1965 Corvette Convertible is no exception. It has hidden pop-up headlights, independent rear suspension, bumper-integrated exhaust tips, and for my money, one of the best silhouettes ever sketched. For travelers looking for a heavy dose of nostalgia and an earful of good-ol’ American V8 grumbling, this bad boy is exactly what the doctor ordered.
Fast forward to the mid-2000s, and you find the sixth-gen Corvette: a powerful, affordable, and very popular sports car. The base C6 Corvette was first fitted with the 6.0L LS2 V8, which made 400 horsepower and 400 ft-lb of torque and could hit a top speed of 190 mph. It could also hit corners with a vengeance and make mincemeat of far more pricey sports cars on the track.
The Z06 version arrived for the 2006 model year and featured aluminum construction, bigger brakes, carbon fiber fenders, and an upgraded 7.0L version of the small block V8 codenamed LS7. This monster produced 505 horsepower, propelled the Z06 to 60 in 3.7 seconds and could hit 198 mph, putting it firmly in supercar territory. The ‘Vette enjoyed racing success all over the world and saw big sales numbers throughout the C6 generation thanks to its manageable price, everyday usability, and impressive powerplant.
The current generation was introduced for the 2014 model year and resurrected the Stingray name. Once again, the design change was more of an evolution than anything, but the C7 style holds up well with Corvette fans. The front wedge shape endures, the interior received monumental improvements, and the ‘Vette’s classic quad taillights were echoed by quad exhaust tips. Numerous powertrain upgrades and a 450-hp 6.2L V8 allow the “base” Stingray to comfortably compete with the most highly-regarded sports cars in the world, starting at around $56,000 MSRP.
The Grand Sport is an enthusiast-tuned variant that slots right between the Stingray and the range-topping Z06. The Grand Sport’s chassis and suspension are specifically engineered to conquer weekend track days, while the V8’s output is bumped up to 460 hp and 465 lb-ft of torque. Zero to 60 occurs in 3.6 seconds and the quarter mile is done in under 12. It is one of the quickest and best-handling cars on the market today.
The Corvette Z06 has been called the “ultimate expression of American performance.” The everyman’s supercar comes with a 6.2L supercharged LT4 V8 that makes 650 horsepower and 650 lb-ft, which is a lot. The Z06 gets all sorts of fancy go-fast stuff like magnetic dampers, electronic limited-slip differential, Brembo brakes, aero pieces and intakes all around, and Michelin Pilot Sport tires. It’s the lightest, hardest, and fastest Corvette there is. In fact, the current Corvette Z06 is the quickest sports car General Motors has ever built. Zero to 60 happens in 2.9 seconds, and it’s safe to assume the Z06 thrives on the race track. Until the ludicrous 2019 ZR1 starts getting delivered to customers, the Z06 is the ultimate Corvette, and therefore the ultimate American sports car.