History of Corvette Design Engineering – 50s-90s

Corvette Engineering Retrospective – Design

In this article, we’ll look at the Corvette Design Engineering history from the 50s to the 90s and see how designers kept Corvette true to its heritage.

We are looking at the 2003 Corvette Press Kit that was given out to the media at the 50th Anniversary Celebration in Nashville. The press kit included 14 press releases. This one is for Engineering Retrospective/Design and is titled “CREATIVE, GROUNDBREAKING DESIGN HAS LONG BEEN A HALLMARK OF CORVETTE SUCCESS”.

To look at photos and details about the press kit and more links to the press release CLICK HERE.

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For Immediate Release (2003)

CREATIVE, GROUNDBREAKING DESIGN HAS LONG BEEN A HALLMARK OF CORVETTE SUCCESS

MONTEREY, CALIF. – The Corvette always has been a design trendsetter. No matter which generation, its bold, curvaceous shape is uniquely, unmistakably Corvette, never to be confused with another. The long flowing lines, voluptuous, round fenders, quad taillights and the once-maligned split window are but some of Corvette’s trademark cues. Remaining true to the heritage always has been a priority for Corvette’s designers, and is quite evident when looking at 50 years of Corvette.

1953 Chevrolet Corvette was the first Corvette. As Corvette Design and Engineering developed over time, Corvettes maintained some of the original Corvette Design and Features. © General Motors
1953 Chevrolet Corvette was the first Corvette. As Corvette Design and Engineering developed over time, Corvettes maintained some of the original Corvette Design and Features. © General Motors

Corvette Design Engineering History in the Fifties

When it first debuted in 1953 at the GM Motorama at the Waldorf Astoria in New York, the Corvette immediately made a huge impression. The breakthrough 46-piece fiberglass body, nearly devoid of chrome in an era of maximum brightwork, the two-toned exterior, the silver shark’s-tooth grille, the silver mesh headlamp covers and the sleek styling added up to an elegant package. It retained this basic design for several years and then underwent a redesign that featured quad headlamps with chrome bezels, a louvered hood, and wraparound bumpers.

Although a new look for this 1960 Vette, Corvette Design and Engineering maintained some of the original Corvette's Design and Features of the previous Corvettes. © General Motors
Although a new look for this 1960 Vette, Corvette Design and Engineering maintained some of the original Corvette’s Design and Features of the previous Corvettes. © General Motors

Corvette Design Engineering History in the Sixties

By the time the 1960 model debuted, the Corvette was almost entirely chromeless. During this decade, GM’s stylists tweaked the design nearly every year, giving just about every model year a fresh, distinctive look. The model year 1960 brought standard Blackwall tires and the end of the shark’s tooth grille. A blacked-out chrome mesh screen replaced it, and then, in 1963, thin, horizontal grille bars graced the front end that remained until ’66. A ducktail rear end offered more trunk space.

Engineers designed the first CERV-I experimental model in 1962 that pushed the boundaries of Corvette design. Two-toned paint excited by 1962, and the trademark hidden headlamps appeared in 1963. The model year 1962 also brought the Bill Mitchell Mako Shark I, which led to the controversial split rear-window ’63 Sting Ray coupe. At the time, critics derided the split window for its limited visibility, but today, these models are among the most highly coveted, collectible Corvettes. The ’63 model marked the first time the car came as a closed coupe, and it featured a sleek, aero look and the introduction of hidden retractable headlights. The Grand Sport Corvette racecar debuted in 1963.

In 1964 the split window disappeared and was replaced by a new one-piece window. Designers also removed the faux air intakes in the hoods and the functional air-exhaust vents on the pillar. In 1965 Chevy showed the Mako Shark II. Built on a Sting Ray chassis, with styling similar to Mako I, the II had a lower stout and shorter tail. It proved to be one of the most famous Corvette show cars and the Sting Ray forerunner.

The following year, an egg-crate insert replaced the horizontal grille bars, and Corvettes gained ribbed rocker moldings and a side-mounted exhaust system option and, in 1967, the last of the Sting Rays rolled off the line.

GM restyled the ’68 model, called the Shark, with a long, low profile, blunt design, bulging fenders, a tunneled roofline, and added the Mako Shark II’s close-to-the-ground snout. Larger fender louvers improved cooling, and removable roof panels and rear glass added convenience. The car kept the quad taillights and hidden quad headlamps.

In 1969 Chevrolet resurrected the Stingray name, now as one word. The Mulsanne show car appeared, with high, side view mirrors and exposed headlights. It paced the Can-Am race series.

Corvette Design Engineering History in the 60s

Corvette Design Engineering of the 1970 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray © General Motors
Corvette Design Engineering of the 1970 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray © General Motors

Corvette Design Engineering History in the Seventies

In 1970, Corvette’s chrome eggcrate grille returned and stainless steel sill moldings debuted. A special Aero Coupe model combined the ’69 Corvette design with a crosshatched grille and vent, one-piece roof, side exhaust, and higher windshield. The XP-882 prototype appeared at the 1970 New York Auto Show with a low, square front end, hidden headlamps, louvered boattail at the back, bulging rear fenders, and a fastback.

The model year 1972 marked the final year for the front and rear chrome bumpers and removable rear windows. A mid-engined silver XP-895 prototype debuted, serving as a study in an aluminum construction. The following year, 1973, Corvette underwent its first big redesign since 1968. A new bumper, created to meet federally mandated five-mph bumpers, added two inches to the length. The long, sleek V-shape front end, with a urethane plastic nose that bounced back into shape, neatly camouflaged the utilitarian nature of the change. Also in ’73, an XP-898 prototype gave clues to the design of the C4 Corvette that was to debut 10 years later.

In 1974 Corvette added the five-mph rear bumper, a Kamm-style tail, new front, and rear ends, and new trim and scoops.

The latter part of the ’70s brought few exterior changes to the Corvette, save an exterior luggage rack on the convertible in ’75 (the final year for a convertible until its return in 1986), a new fastback roof in ’78, and the end of the Stingray name in ’77. Corvette celebrated its 25th birthday with an Indy pace car and Silver Anniversary edition.

Corvette Design Engineering History in the 70s

1980 Chevrolet Corvette Corvette Design Engineering © General Motors
1980 Chevrolet Corvette Corvette Design Engineering © General Motors

Corvette Design Engineering History in the Eighties

In 1980, new front and rear spoilers improved aerodynamics and offered a more modern appearance. Most of the design changes lowered the mass of the car by 250 lbs.

GM produced exactly zero 1983 model year Corvettes, but mid-year the first all-new Corvette in 15 years debuted to much acclaim. This modern interpretation featured a lift-up rear window, one-piece lift-off top, and a forward-opening clamshell hood. The ’84 model grew two inches in width but was smaller everywhere else to improve handling. Also new was a birdcage uniframe construction with fully welded, galvanized steel.

In 1986, Corvette resurrected the convertible and showed a mid-engined, low-to-the-ground Corvette Indy concept car with scissor-hinged doors, a glass-in cockpit, a high back, and a bubble canopy that flowed into a rounded nose.

During the late ’80s, most of the changes to Corvette were largely technological in nature, and it earned a reputation as a trendsetter in the Chevy lineup for new, advanced technology.

Corvette Design Engineering History in the 80s

Corvette Design Engineering on the 1990 Chevrolet Corvette © General Motors
Corvette Design Engineering on the 1990 Chevrolet Corvette © General Motors

Corvette Design Engineering History in the Nineties

In 1990, the ZR-1, also known as the King of the Hill, debuted. A power and performance wonder, the primary design difference was in the convex rear end. Also in 1990, Corvette debuted the CERV III at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. This descendant of the Corvette Indy proved to be a forerunner of certain fifth-generation design cues.

In 1991, Corvette underwent the first design refresh since 1984, bringing rectangular taillights, horizontal front fender louvers, wraparound front cornering lamps, and a smooth, tapered lower nose. By 1995, the ZR-1 ended its run. The following year, Chevy released a limited production Grand Sport package with a blue exterior and white dorsal stripe.

In 1997, of course, the long-awaited, highly anticipated fifth-generation debuted to much fanfare at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. It weighed 90 lbs. less than its predecessor and had more interior room, despite being larger in every dimension. It also had a much stiffer structure thanks to hydroformed frame rails and a drag coefficient of .29. The trademark hidden headlamps and quad taillights continued. In 1998 a convertible model returned, with the first actual trunk since 1962. That same year, the new Corvette paced the Indianapolis 500, and Chevy released a special pace car version.

In 1999, a no-frills, high-performance hardtop version increased power and performance to even greater levels. The fifth-generation model, while paying homage to Corvettes of the past, has a sleek, modern shape and timeless design.

Corvette Design Engineering History in the 90s

For a look at the 2003 Corvette Press Kit CLICK HERE

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