From the 50s to the 90s: the Design History of Corvette Engineering

Discover how Corvette designers kept the iconic car’s design true to its heritage with this Engineering Retrospective/Design article. From bold curves to split windows, Corvette’s hallmarks are front and center.

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.

Check out the beautiful Corvette bags and coolers designed with the Enthusiast in mind. Featuring your favorite Vette's logo of various years. C1, C2, C3, C4, C5, C6, C7, and C8.

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 its heritage always has been a priority for Corvette’s designers, and this is quite evident when looking at 50 years of Corvette.

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.

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
1954 Chevrolet Corvette © General Motors
1954 Chevrolet Corvette © General Motors
1955 Chevrolet Corvette © General Motors
1955 Chevrolet Corvette © General Motors
1956 Chevrolet Corvette © General Motors
1956 Chevrolet Corvette © General Motors
1957 Chevrolet Corvette © General Motors
1957 Chevrolet Corvette © General Motors
1958 Chevrolet Corvette © General Motors
1958 Chevrolet Corvette
1959 Chevrolet Corvette © General Motors
1959 Chevrolet Corvette © 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

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
1961 Chevrolet Corvette © General Motors
1961 Chevrolet Corvette © General Motors
1962 Chevrolet Corvette
1963 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray © General Motors
1963 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray © General Motors
1964 Chevrolet Corvette © General Motors
1964 Chevrolet Corvette © General Motors
1965 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray © General Motors
1965 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray © General Motors
1966 Chevrolet Corvette © General Motors
1966 Chevrolet Corvette © General Motors
1967 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
1967 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
1968 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray © General Motors
1968 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray © General Motors
1969 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray © General Motors
1969 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 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

Corvette Design Engineering of the 1970 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray © General Motors
Corvette Design Engineering of the 1970 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray © General Motors
1971 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray © General Motors
1971 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray © General Motors
1972 Chevrolet Corvette Coupe Stingray © General Motors
1972 Chevrolet Corvette Coupe Stingray © General Motors
1973 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray © General Motors
1973 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray © General Motors
1974 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray © General Motors
1975 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray © General Motors
1975 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray © General Motors
1976 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray © General Motors
1976 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray © General Motors
1977 Chevrolet Corvette © General Motors
1977 Chevrolet Corvette © General Motors
1978 Chevrolet Corvette © General Motors
1978 Chevrolet Corvette © General Motors
1979 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray © General Motors
1979 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray © 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 by mid-year, the first all-new Corvette in 15 years debuted to much acclaim. This modern interpretation featured a lift-up rear window, a 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 the Corvette were largely technical 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

1980 Chevrolet Corvette Corvette Design Engineering © General Motors

1980 Chevrolet Corvette Corvette Design Engineering © General Motors
1980 Chevrolet Corvette Corvette Design Engineering © General Motors
1981 Chevrolet Corvette © General Motors
1981 Chevrolet Corvette © General Motors
1982 Chevrolet Corvette © General Motors
1982 Chevrolet Corvette © General Motors
The Corvette is an iconic American car known around the world as one of America's greatest accomplishments in engineering history. In our C4 category, we will bring you articles that tell the story behind how we got from C4 Corvettes.  The fourth-generation Vette was produced from 1984 until 1996. The designer was Jerry Palmer under Dave Mclellan.
The Corvette is an iconic American car known around the world as one of America’s greatest accomplishments in engineering history. In our C4 category, we will bring you articles that tell the story behind how we got from C4 Corvettes.  The fourth-generation Vette was produced from 1984 until 1996. The designer was Jerry Palmer under Dave Mclellan.
1985 Chevrolet Corvette © General Motors
1985 Chevrolet Corvette
1986 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible © General Motors
1986 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible © General Motors
1987 Chevrolet Corvette © General Motors
1987 Chevrolet Corvette © General Motors
1988 Chevrolet Corvette © General Motors
1988 Chevrolet Corvette © General Motors
1989 Chevrolet Corvette Coupe © General Motors
1989 Chevrolet Corvette Coupe © 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

Corvette Design Engineering on the 1990 Chevrolet Corvette © General Motors
Corvette Design Engineering on the 1990 Chevrolet Corvette © General Motors
1991 Chevrolet Corvette © General Motors
1991 Chevrolet Corvette © General Motors
1992 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible © General Motors
1992 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible © General Motors
1993 Chevrolet Corvette © General Motors
1993 Chevrolet Corvette © General Motors
1994 Chevrolet Corvette Coupe © General Motors
1994 Chevrolet Corvette Coupe © General Motors
1995 Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 Coupe © General Motors
1995 Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 Coupe © General Motors
The Corvette is an iconic American car known around the world as one of America's greatest accomplishments in engineering history. In our C4 category, we will bring you articles that tell the story behind how we got from C4 Corvettes.  The fourth-generation Vette was produced from 1984 until 1996. The designer was Jerry Palmer under Dave Mclellan.
The Corvette is an iconic American car known around the world as one of America’s greatest accomplishments in engineering history. In our C4 category, we will bring you articles that tell the story behind how we got from C4 Corvettes.  The fourth-generation Vette was produced from 1984 until 1996. The designer was Jerry Palmer under Dave Mclellan.
1997 Chevrolet Corvette Coupe © General Motors
1997 Chevrolet Corvette Coupe © General Motors
1998 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible © General Motors
1998 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible © General Motors
1999 Chevrolet Corvette Hardtop © General Motors
1999 Chevrolet Corvette Hardtop © General Motors

For a look at the 2003 Corvette Press Kit CLICK HERE

Here are the links to the press releases included in the 2003 Corvette 50th Anniversary Celebration (there were 14 press releases in all)

Corvette 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2003

Racer Andy Pilgrim Lead’s Corvette’s 50th Anniversary in 2003

Corvette – American Icon

C5-R Corvette Ready for 24 Hours of Le Mans (2003)

2004 Corvette Product Information

History of Corvette Design Engineering – 50s-90s

Corvette Powertrain History 50-Years of Development

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