Corvette History by the Generations

A Profile of Each Generation of America's Sports Car

Ajuntament de Vilano i la Geltru/Flickr

The Corvette is unique in automotive history. No other car has ever achieved 57 years (and counting) of production, and no other car has come close to the romantic reputation of Chevrolet's powerful two-seat sports car.

The first Corvette rolled out of the Chevrolet factory in Flint, Michigan on June 30, 1953. The most recent Corvette was built today in the dedicated Corvette manufacturing facility in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

In between those two cars, about 1.5 million Corvettes have been made in America and sold around the world.

The Corvette was invented in 1951 by GM designer Harley Earl, who was inspired by the great European sports cars of the day and wanted to create an American sports car that could compete and win at the race track. The name "Corvette" was borrowed from a line of small, fast navy ships used in World War II.

Generations of the Chevrolet Corvette

This article offers you a brief overview of the six generations of Corvettes that Chevrolet has produced. Click through each heading to read more details about that particular era of Corvette.

C1 - The Original Corvette (1953-1962)

Just 300 Corvettes were made in 1953. Each of these first-year Corvettes was a white roadster with red interior. The Corvette was made with fiberglass bodywork for light weight, but the first cars were produced with a comparatively weak 150 horsepower 6-cylinder engine and an automatic transmission.

The result was more of a cruising car than a racing-inspired sports car.

The Corvette truly came into its own in the 1960s. In this era, Corvette production rose from about 10,00 cars each year to about 27,000 cars per year. The variety of engine options also increased and several special performance editions were offered, such as the original racing-oriented Corvette Grand Sport in 1963.

C3 - The Stingray Era (1968-1982)

The C3 Corvettes are by far the largest generation ever produced. Of the 1.5 million Corvettes built between 1953 and 2010, over 540,000 were made in this era. This generation of Corvettes started out strong, but emissions standards and GM's general malaise of the 1970s depressed both horsepower and collector values.

C4 - A Good Starter Corvette (1984-1996)

Chevrolet designed an all-new Corvette in the early 1980s, but the prototypes produced for the 1983 model year had serious quality issues and so the fourth generation of Corvettes was not released until the 1984 model year. The C4 improved in quality and horsepower throughout its production run, and today these cars are gaining popularity among motorsports enthusiasts and those who want an affordable Corvette to drive every day.

C5 - Return to Glory (1997-2004)

After the C4, Chevrolet once again started from scratch to build an all-new Corvette based on the best technology available. The result was a return to glory for the brand. With the C5, Corvettes again claimed the lead in performance and GM also signaled a return to world-class professional racing by entering the new Corvettes at Le Mans and in the American Le Mans Series.

C6 - Refining Technology (2005-2010)

The most recent generation of Corvette is a technologically advanced supercar designed to compete at the highest levels of sports car performance. As the first decade of the 21st century progressed, Chevrolet joined every other automaker in squeezing race track horsepower out of street-legal engines. The latest ZR1 Corvettes are capable of speeds over 200 MPH, and cost over $100,000.

C7 - The Future of the Corvette (2012- )

With the 2009 bankruptcy of GM, little is known for certain about the expected C7 Corvette, and GM's management is notoriously tight-lipped about future Corvette product. However, it is known that the C7 will not debut before 2012, and if the product run of the C5 is any indication, that's about the right timeframe for a new design. Rumors have been flying for the past several years about mid-engine exotics, a downsized 'Vette based on the now defunct Pontiac Solstice/Saturn Sky platform, and even a twin-turbo V6 for the C7.

Only time will tell what the future holds for the Corvette, but here's a movie concept car that might be a glimpse of the C7.