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vettewithlegs Corvette Forum - Brief Corvette History

Coming into the 1950s, no corporation came close to GM in its size, the scope of its enterprise or its profits. GM was twice the size of the second largest company in the world which was Standard Oil of New Jersey (forefather of today's ExxonMobil), and had a vast conglomeration of businesses ranging from home appliances to providing insurance and building Chevrolets, GMCs, Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles, Buicks, Cadillacs and locomotives. But it didn't make a sports car. The idea of a car coming from stodgy GM that could compete with Jaguar, MG or Triumph was almost absurd.

Still, there was room inside GM for dreams even if there wasn't any room for whimsy. Harley J. Earl, GM's chief designer (formally the head of the Art and Color Section) and the man who invented the "concept car" with the 1938 Buick Y-Job, was in charge of the corporation's ambitious musings. In the fall of 1951, Earl began ruminating about an open sports car that would sell for around the price of a mainstream American sedan — about $2,000. His ideas were rather nebulous, but he handed those notions over to Robert F. McLean, the concept came into focus and a concept car emerged.

But first Cole needed to name it. So he called Myron Scott, founder of the All-American Soap Box Derby and an assistant advertising manager for Chevrolet, into a special meeting of executives researching the name. Scott suggested "Corvette," Cole loved it and the rest is history.
C1: Solid Axle Corvettes (1953-1962)


While the 1953 Corvette was undeniably gorgeous and, with its fiberglass body, somewhat innovative, as a sports car it was wholly pathetic. It wasn't cheap either. At $3,498 the '53 Corvette sticker ran almost 75 percent more than Earl had initially hoped, $1,225 more expensive than the second most expensive '53 Chevrolet, the eight-passenger Deluxe 210 four-door station wagon, and $272 more expensive than two Special 150 two-door sedans — then the division's cheapest car. Motor Trend tested one of the first Corvettes and found it traipsing from zero to 60 mph in a lackadaisical 11.5 seconds. The year 1955 brought the single most important development in the history of the Corvette: Chevrolet's brilliant small-block V8. It was the 1956 Corvette that established the two-seater as a legitimate performance machine and as an American icon. Visually, the 1957 edition was virtually identical to the '56, but inside, a four-speed manual transmission (the great T-10) was available for the first time. Both the interior and exterior of the Corvette were significantly restyled for 1958. Cleaning off some of the chrome excess (and those hideous fake hood louvers) resulted in the much cleaner-looking 1959 Corvette, but the car was very much a carryover otherwise. Chevy put a full 9,670 of the '59 Corvettes on the road. The 1960 Corvette didn't look much different from the '59, but the rated outputs of the fuel-injected versions grew to 275 and a full 315 horsepower. A new, toothless front grille announced the 1961 Corvette when it approached, and a new "duck tail" rear end let everyone know it was new as it departed. Big news came in the form of a big engine for 1962 as the small-block V8 grew to 327 cubic inches.

C2: The Sting Ray (1963-1967)


What carried over from the '62 to the '63 Corvette were most of the engines (all of which still displaced 327 cubic inches), the four-wheel drum brakes and the general styling of the rear quarters. Motor Trend tested a '63 Corvette powered by the fuel-injected engine and backed by the Muncie four-speed transmission. The 'Vette hustled from zero to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds and consumed the quarter-mile in 14.5 seconds at 102 mph. For 1964 the Sting Ray's styling was cleaned up but the car otherwise mostly carried over from '63. Visually, the easiest way to tell a 1965 Corvette from a '64 is the three functional vertical louvers in each front fender. But the 396 lasted only one year in the Corvette as it was superseded by 427-cubic-inch versions of the big-block V8 for 1966. For 1967 the louver count on each front fender went up to five and the parking brake moved from under the dash to between the bucket seats. But the real glory of the '67 came with the regal "L88" 427, which used aluminum cylinder heads and an intimidating 12.5-to-1 compression ratio to make somewhere north of 500 horsepower In every conceivable way, the Corvette was at its peak in '67. But, for no apparent reason, it was redesigned for '68 anyhow.

C3: The Mako Shark (1968-1982)


Based on the Mako Shark II show car designed by Larry Shinoda and displayed during 1965, the third-generation Corvette's styling was flamboyant in its overall shape but restrained in its details. Again there were coupe and convertible Corvettes offered for 1968. For 1969, the Sting Ray name returned, though now spelled out on the fenders as one word — "Stingray" — in chrome script and the quality of assembly improved markedly. The four vertical side vents on each front fender of the '68 and '69 'Vettes gave way to a new crosshatch pattern for the 1970 model and amber front signal lights and square exhaust outlets also appeared. With stricter emissions controls in force, the compression ratios on all Corvette engines dropped for 1971. The base 350 now plugged along with 270 horsepower, the LT-1 350 dropped to 330 horsepower, and the detuned LS5 454 now made a mere 365 horsepower. The power drain would continue for 1972 and was exaggerated by a switch from SAE gross to SAE net power ratings. A body-colored rubberized front bumper took up residence on the 1973 Corvette, replacing the chrome strip used previously. The '73 Corvette's rubber nose was paired with a matching wedge-shaped, body-colored tail on the 1974 Corvette as designers elegantly coped with new bumper regulations. Ordering a 1975 Corvette was simplified down to two engine choices: the base 350 V8 making a hideous 165 horsepower or the L82 making 205 horsepower — both exhaling through a catalytic converter. Chevy sold exactly zero 1976 Corvette convertibles by simply stopping production. The Stingray lettering was excised off the 1977 Corvette's fenders and steel reinforcements were added to the hood, but otherwise the car was a carryover from '76. To celebrate the Corvette's first quarter century, the 1978 model's tail was redesigned with a huge wraparound rear window replacing the buttresses that had long been one of the coupe's signature design elements. On the outside, changes to the 1979 Corvette were indiscernible. A dual snorkel air cleaner now fed the L48 350 and that boosted output to 195 horsepower. An extensive design updating and weight reduction program had the 1980 Corvette looking more angular and weighing in about 250 pounds lighter. What changed about the 1981 Corvette was the adoption of a new, much lighter fiberglass transverse rear leaf spring and a new, 190-horsepower "L81" version of the 350 V8 that was the only engine available. Manual transmissions were banished from the 1982 Corvette, all of which were equipped with a four-speed automatic transmission for this year.

C4: Scientific Corvettes (1984-1996)


Chevrolet began selling the 1984 Corvette and it was the most dramatically different Corvette since the '63 Sting Ray. Messing with success where needed, the Corvette was treated to the new Tuned Port Injected (TPI) version of the 350-cubic-inch (now more commonly referred to as a 5.7-liter) small-block for 1985. A convertible returned to the Corvette lineup for 1986 and a bright yellow version was used to pace that year's Indianapolis 500. The fitment of hydraulic roller lifters to the L98's valve train boosted its output to 240 horsepower for 1987. New 17-inch wheels inside P275/40ZR17 tires were added to the 1988 Corvette options list while new aluminum cylinder heads and a revised camshaft boosted the L98 to 245 horsepower with even better torque characteristics. The new manual transmission for 1989 was a ZF six-speed that was a joy to shift as long as you didn't mind using some muscle. That big news was, of course, the 1990 Corvette ZR-1 coupe (the ZR-1 was never available as a convertible). Nicknamed "King of the Hill,". Restyling came to the Corvette for 1991 with a slicker front end incorporating wraparound foglights. For 1992, the L98 was dumped in favor of the new next-generation small-block V8, the LT1 (no hyphen, unlike the '70 version with the similar name). A special 40th anniversary package, consisting mostly of badges and special Ruby Red paint, was offered for 1993 on both LT1 and ZR-1 Corvettes. An airbag was added for passengers in the 1994 Corvettes while the cockpit's trim and steering wheel were refined. New side gills distinguished the 1995 Corvette from previous editions. For 1996, Chevy followed up the ZR-1 with two unique editions that would mark the end of C4 production.

C5: World Beater (1997-2004)


Unlike every previous Corvette that bolted its transmission directly behind the engine, the 1997 version split the transmission off and placed it in the back of the car between the rear wheels where its weight could be used to offset that of the engine in the front. Wisely not messing with something so fundamentally wonderful, Chevy merely expanded the C5 Corvette range for 1998 by adding a convertible model. A fixed roof coupe, lighter in weight than either the hatchback coupe or convertible, was added to the 1999 Corvette lineup. Gone from the 2000 Corvette was the passenger-side door lock cylinder as Chevy concluded that the keyless entry system made it unnecessary. The real reason for the fixed roof coupe became obvious with the 2001 model year as Chevrolet brought forth the ferocious Z06 Corvette that year. As good as the '01 ZO6 was, the 2002 ZO6 was even better, as output of the LS6 jumped to an astounding 405 horsepower. Chevrolet acknowledged the 50th anniversary of the Corvette for 2003 with, naturally, a 50th Anniversary Edition Corvette. The C5 entered the 2004 model year with everyone fully aware that this would be the last year for this beloved Corvette.

C6: More power and style for less money (2005-Present)


At first glance, the 2005 Corvette appears to be little more than a styling refresh; dig deeper, though, and one quickly realizes that the C6 is much more. Exposed headlamps, not seen on a Corvette since 1962, combine with a lean grille to create a distinctive "face." Addressing complaints of the C5's big rear end, the backside was slimmed down so as not to appear as disproportionate as before. Three suspension setups are available, and it's important to note that not one single suspension part was carried over from the C5. The optional F55 Magnetic Selective Ride Control suspension adjusts the shock damping rates instantly in response to changing conditions. The Z51 package is the closest thing to "Z06-like" performance — at least this year, that is. The straightforward climate control setup is light-years ahead of anything else in the Corvette's segment. With the C6, Chevrolet's engineers outdid themselves; the newest Corvette's handling is spot-on, the powertrain is smooth and scary-fast, the look is classy and the ergonomics top-notch.



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