- For almost 70 years, the Chevrolet Corvette was a front-engined sports car.
- It was a great performer, but was missing that one last element that would make it competitive in the global sports-car market.
- The 2020 Corvette is now mid-engined and a worthy international competitor.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories
Despite the generous offering of American muscle cars available to buyers today, there’s only one considered to be America’s sports car. That car is the Chevrolet Corvette.
The Corvette is currently in its eighth generation â€” and for the first time in its 67-year history, it finally has the setup that makes it competitive with the likes of the European supercars.
See, for the first seven generations, the Corvette stuck with a very traditional, front-engine layout, meaning its engine was located in front of the driver. Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with a front-engine setup, but it’s also a setup that very pedestrian cars like Toyota Camry also have.
In racing and with supercars, a mid-engine layout is generally much more preferred. A mid-engine layout is when the engine is located behind the driver and between the car’s front and rear axles. Generally, mid-engine cars offer improved balance and handling because the heaviest part of the car â€” its engine â€” isn’t located on only one end.
For decades, talk of a mid-engine Corvette flitted about the automotive industry. Years went by and nothing concrete ever came of it. The “mid-engine Corvette” sort of became an automotive tall tale.
Those rumours were finally laid to rest with the eight-generation Corvette, also known as the “C8” generation: the mid-engine Corvette, actualized. America’s sports car had finally grown up and was ready to take on the global performance segment.
How did we get here? Why does the C8 matter? Dear reader, keep scrolling to find out.
On January 17, 1953, the Chevrolet C1 Corvette was displayed as a “dream car” at the General Motors Motorama exposition at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City.
It was a futuristic-looking sports car, with an engine mounted in the front. That layout would persevere for the next six decades.
The Corvette logo bore two crossed flags: a checkered one and one with the Chevrolet bow-tie and a fleur-de-lis — a French symbol for purity.
On June 30, the first production-ready Corvette was built at an assembly plant in Flint, Michigan.
It was the first mass-produced car to have an all-fibreglass body, making it very light.
In those days, fibreglass was also more flexible than something that could be stamped out in a steel press, so the resulting Corvette’s body was curvier than most had ever seen before.
As of 1955, the car was available with a 265 cubic-inch small-block V8 and a three-speed manual transmission.
All first-generation Corvettes were convertibles.
And the first generation established styling elements that would become staples of Corvettes to come: the iconic dual-round tail lights and cockpit-style interior.
The year the C1 Corvette came out, a Belgian engineer named Zora Arkus-Duntov began trying to shape it into something much more performance oriented.
Ultimately, Arkus-Dontov was the one who pushed hardest for a mid-engine Corvette. During the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1957, a front-engine Corvette race car recorded a DNF – a “did not finish” in racing speak. What was more, the driver’s feet were burning because of the engine’s placement.
This race convinced Arkus-Dontov that the engine had to be behind the driver. It sparked years of mid-engine concepts and experiments that never panned out, but always seemed to be tantalizingly close production wise.
But no mid-engine car came.
Instead, in 1958, Chevrolet introduced a slight design refresh for dual headlights.
The 1959 Sting Ray Racer was a concept that embodied the aesthetics of speed in its day.
It went on to inspire the looks of the next-gen C2 Corvette.
The 1960 Corvette was the last Corvette to feature the “teeth” looking front grille.
The C1 Corvette lasted from 1953 through 1962.
Also in 1960, the model made its debut at the world-famous 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France with three race-prepped Corvettes.
At the race’s end, only one Corvette was still running and finished 8th overall.
You can see a documentary of the race here. It’s pretty neat.
The C2 Corvette lasted from 1963 to 1967.
It was nicknamed “Sting Ray” after the influential concept car.
Whereas the C1 used a modified passenger-sedan platform, the C2 was built on a completely new and dedicated platform.
It also had one of the most beautiful Corvette designs in history: the split rear window.
The Corvette Sting Ray “Split Window” Coupe had a sort of “spine” that ran down the length of its body and manifested in a sectioned rear window.
Ultimately, the split-window design was abandoned after a time because it resulted in poor visibility.
Because the Corvette was now offered as a coupe, GM was able to nearly double its sales.
The C3 is currently the Corvette’s longest-running generation, spanning from 1968 to 1982.
This is also the Corvette that weathered the oil crisis in the 1970s, which devastated the muscle-car industry.
Early C3s came with powerful, ozone-destroying, 435-horsepower big-block engines.
Industry changes and tightening emissions resulted in 165-horsepower small-block engines in 1975.
Regardless, the C3 was still cool, with its aggressive styling, long hood, and retractable headlights.
It had industry-first “T-top” removable roof panels!
The name was also slightly changed from “Sting Ray” to “Stingray,” but Corvette fans preferred to call the C3 a “shark.”
Corvette production had moved from Flint, Michigan, to St. Louis, Missouri in the 1950s.
In 1981, GM moved Corvette production to Bowling Green, Kentucky, where it remains today.
Maybe it’s because the C3 was around for so long, but it’s probably the least-liked generation by fans.
Edmunds said it “overstayed its welcome by at least five years.”
Still, something about the C3 worked.
A total of 58,307 Corvettes were sold in 1979, which, in 2013, was still the highest they’d ever been.
The C4 generation ran from 1983 to 1996.
The ‘80s and ‘90s signified the Corvette’s technology era.
The car got an electroluminescent instrument panel with digital readouts.
These, according to GM, really “captured the zeitgeist of the circuit board era.”
Then came the ZR1, a Corvette made to take on the European sports cars.
It was wider, had better tires, and, as noted by Road & Track, the LT5 5.7-litre V8 engine was unique to the ZR1. The LT5 was jointly developed with Lotus and boat-motor company Mercury Marine. The car made an impressive 380 horsepower and could hit 60 mph from a standstill in just 4.9 seconds.
The C4 ZR1’s run spanned from 1990 to 1995.
The C4 Corvette was also incredibly aerodynamic.
It had a 0.34 coefficient of drag, which was almost 25% less than the outgoing C3.
The C5 generation ran from 1997 to 2004.
Despite it being larger than the C4, it was actually 100 pounds lighter than the car it replaced.
This was because the C5 used way more plastic in its construction.
You can decide for yourself if that’s a good or bad thing.
The 2001 C5 Z06 was a performance variant that had a 385-horsepower LS6 V8.
It had a top speed of more than 170 mph.
The 2002 Z06 increased power to make a respectable 405 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque.
Even by today’s standards, that’s a lot.
The C6 generation spanned from 2005 to 2013.
GM got with the times here and did away with the raised headlights.
It wasn’t a bad move.
The C6 was powered by a 6.0-litre V8.
It made 400 horsepower.
It was also the first Corvette to offer navigation.
But the 2006 C6 Z06 was truly one of the coolest Corvettes ever made.
Powered by a massive, naturally aspirated 7.0-litre LS7 V8, the Z06 produced 505 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque. It made a noise like metal being torn apart.
It also weighed less than 3,200 pounds, so its power-to-weight ratio was excellent.
It might have looked similar to regular C6s, but underneath, the Z06 was anything but. It had an aluminium frame, a magnesium engine cradle, and carbon-fibre front fenders, front wheel houses, and rear fenders.
In 2009 came the C6 ZR1 — a fire-breathing, supercharged monster.
The ZR1 had the same aluminium chassis structure found in the Z06 but also used more carbon-fibre body parts, including the roof panel.
The car produced 638 horsepower and had a top speed of 205 mph.
It was so cool.
Here are some Corvettes celebrating the brand’s 50th anniversary of running at Le Mans at Laguna Seca Raceway.
(Now called WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.)
There was also the Corvette C6.R, built for endurance racing.
Here’s one in 2009.
The car is particularly striking in yellow.
It’s two generations old, but it’s aged very well.
Production of the C6 officially stopped on February 28, 2013.
The C7 Corvette spanned from 2014 to 2019.
Its looks noticeably sharpened up.
The rounded aesthetic it carried from the ‘50s was gone.
The C7 also used an aluminium frame.
But the base model was 60% stiffer than the performance-focused Z06 and ZR1 from the previous C6 generation.
Also, with the C7, GM brought back the “Stingray” designation for the base model.
The C7 Stingrays had LT1 V8 engines that produced 460 horsepower.
The Z06 also appeared once more as a track weapon.
But this time it had a supercharged LT4 V8 engine.
It produced 650 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque.
Unfortunately, the Z06 also apparently had some overheating issues. A class-action lawsuit filed by Z06 owners claimed the car had a cooling system defect that forced it to go into limp mode after 15 minutes of track use.
And then came the C7 ZR1.
I’d think 638 horsepower from the C6 was already enough, but clearly I don’t know anything.
The car made 755 horsepower and 715 pound-feet of torque from its supercharged, 6.2-litre LT5 V8.
It is currently the most powerful Corvette ever built from the factory.
And in 2020, the world saw the first and official mid-engine Corvette.
More than six decades after the overheating race car and all of Zora Arkus-Duntov’s dreaming, the car is real at last.
The 2020 C8 is sleek. Pointy faced. A little ungainly looking in profile, perhaps.
But it’s real, and it has a naturally aspirated V8 between its axles.
A V8 that makes about 500 horsepower in a mid-engine car that can be had for less than $US60,000.
Unfortunately, none of the C8 Corvettes will be offered with a manual transmission.
This is because, according to Car and Driver, people just didn’t buy enough manual C7 for GM to see a business case in offering manual C8s.
That angered many purists.
The Z06 and ZR1 offerings haven’t been officially announced yet. But if or when they come out, they will probably make more than 1,000 horsepower.
Corvette deliveries faced delays because of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, meaning some customers would get the 2021 model instead.
A rumour in January 2021 stated that GM might be working on a Corvette-branded, high-performance crossover to compete with the Lamborghini Urus.
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