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BBC Autos

Evolution of Design

Corvette through the years

  • 1953 Chevrolet Corvette

    Designed to woo returned American servicemen who fell under the spell of Jaguars, MGs and Triumphs during their World War II service in Europe, the Chevrolet Corvette was the first proper American sports car. And its primacy simply cannot be overstated.

    Fast-forward 60 years, and the seventh generation Corvette, the C7, is ready to bow on Sunday, the eve of the Detroit auto show. Judging from spy shots and a steady stream of teaser videos released by General Motors (GM) since last fall, the C7draws on its predecessors’ design and performance heritage, but also outwardly reflects technical innovations found beneath its trademark fibreglass skin.

    Before we dissect the latest iteration of the iconic car, however, BBC Autos takes a look through the six generations that preceded it, and the standout derivatives produced since its debut on a winter’s day in 1953. (GM Heritage Center)

  • 1953 Chevrolet Corvette unveiling

    The Chevrolet Corvette was unveiled in concept form, codenamed EX-122, at the first of GM’s massive Motorama travelling road shows at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria hotel in January 1953. The brainchild of Harley Earl, GM’s design director, it debuted alongside the Buick Skylark and Cadillac Eldorado, but the Corvette grabbed the spotlight. The exterior design was simple and elegant, its symmetrical two-seat cockpit adorned with Art Deco details, and its wraparound windshield inspired by the 1951 Buick LeSabre. (GM Heritage Center)

  • 1960 Chevrolet Corvette

    The C1 Corvette design moved over the '50s from that of a sedate cruiser to one that complemented the performance potential of its small-block V8 engine. Its sleek bodyside surfacing was given a two-tone concave section behind the front wheel arch, and the rear fenders were toned down, devoid of fins. Toward the end of the C1's production run, the front end gained dual headlamps at each corner, and the rear end tapered into a "duck tail" formation. The four red tail lamps also made their first appearance. (GM Heritage Center)

  • 1961 Chevrolet Mako Shark I

    By the early '60s, the Corvette was due for a major overhaul. The Mako Shark I concept of 1961, inspired by a mako shark allegedly caught by Bill Mitchell, GM’s chief stylist, while deep-sea fishing, was a futuristic vision signalling the design direction of the next Corvette. It is no surprise that Mitchell and Larry Shinoda, the GM exterior designer, were inspired by a shark – and the Jaguar E-Type Mitchell drove regularly – when devising the design, which included aquatic “gills” flanking the front bumper. (GM Heritage Center)

  • 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray

    By the start of the '60s the Corvette was ready for a further evolution, one that many enthusiasts would later deem the definitive Corvette. With a design credited to Shinoda, the GM exterior designer, the second-generation car was more avant-garde than its predecessor, with flip-up headlamps, a long, louver-adorned hood, tapering rear deck, doors that ran into the roof and a split rear window. Known as the Corvette Sting Ray, the C2 helped lure prospective buyers to Chevy dealerships in droves. (GM Heritage Center)

  • 1967 Chevrolet Corvette

    Between 1963-67 the design would evolve, losing some of the extraneous details such as the faux air vents on the hood and the separate rear window, and becoming more function driven. The four red tail lamps – a defining Corvette design feature since its genesis – had their last stand on the ‘67 model, which also featured working air extractors on the front fenders. (GM Heritage Center)

  • 1968 Chevrolet Corvette

    Just as the much-loved second-generation model was hitting its stride in the late '60s , Mitchell decided it was time to replace the vehicle. The third-generation Corvette – modelled on the Mako Shark II concept of 1965 – went into production in 1968 and enjoyed a 14 year production run, the longest of any in the car’s history. (GM Heritage Center)

  • 1977 Chevrolet Corvette

    Though available as a coupe and a convertible, the C3 introduced T-tops to the Corvette range as well as a vertical rear window flanked by flying buttresses. Long and slender, with pronounced front and rear fenders that identified it as a performance car, the C3’s cab-rearward interior and fluid surfacing accentuated the rear haunches, imparting a powerful stance. (GM Heritage Center)

  • 1978 Chevrolet Corvette Pace Car

    Two notable special edition models were created during the C3 era: the Silver Anniversary model and a replica of the Indianapolis 500 Pace Car, pictured. Commemorating the first Indy 500 Corvette pace car, it featured a front splitter and rear duck-tail spoiler, and wore a two-tone black and silver paint scheme. The basic design soldiered on essentially unchanged until March 1983, when the C4 model graced the Chevrolet showroom floor as a 1984 model. (GM Heritage Center)

  • 1997 Chevrolet Corvette

    One of two generations designed under the direction of Wayne Cherry, vice president of global design, the C5 made its debut in 1997 in coupe and convertible forms, but unlike previous generations the convertible was not created as an afterthought. The hydroformed box frame was used to make the architecture noticeably stiffer than its predecessors, and its power plant was moved behind the front axle to optimise weight distribution. (GM Heritage Center)

  • 2001 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

    The C5 advanced the design themes put forward by previous generations, but in a much softer, rounded and contemporary manner. In 1999, a fixed-roof coupe joined the line-up. Lighter than its hatchback and convertible siblings, it was the default choice for enthusiasts. GM chose to base the Z06 model on this new body style so that it could make full use of the new chassis and optimal engine placement. (GM Heritage Center)

  • 2006 Chevrolet Corvette

    Now nearing the end of its nine-year production run, the C6 marked the reintroduction of exposed headlamps – the first model not to have pop-up units since 1962. To make the design cleaner still, the door handle was integrated flush into the bodyside. (GM Heritage Center)

  • 2009 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray

    The GM design team, led by Ed Welburn, GM’s current vice president of design, worked on this Corvette concept unveiled at the Chicago auto show in February 2009. The vehicle was never intended to preview the C7, but rather was conceived to promote the movie Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, in which the car starred as a character named Sideswipe. Influenced by the original Sting Ray racecar introduced in 1959, the concept featured numerous heritage touches, such as a wraparound windshield, split rear window, fender shapes and a feature line visually linking both the front and rear wheels. (GM Heritage Center)

  • 2014 PS3 GT5 Chevrolet Corvette

    Led by exterior design manager Kirk Bennion, the C7’s body will feature extensive use of carbon fibre to decrease weight, improve handling and enhance efficiency, while its shape will be aerodynamically optimized. Though the C7 will wear an all-new take on its crossed-flags emblem, the design elements – long hood, tapering rear deck, sloping roofline – that give the Corvette its defining proportions are expected to be retained. The fender “air extractor” vents and quad tail lamps will also reappear, though they will receive a freshening-up.

    The most radical evolution will be reserved for the C7’s interior, which is expected to be far more luxurious, with materials and craftsmanship finally befitting a world-class sports car. The C7 will also mark the return of digital instrumentation, which first appeared on the 1984 C4 model.

    Of course, very little about the all-new Corvette can be confirmed until it is officially unveiled on Sunday. For now, eager drivers can take a camouflaged C7 prototype for a test drive in the critically acclaimed Sony PlayStation 3 racing game Gran Turismo 5. (General Motors)