For nearly seventy years, the Chevrolet Corvette has been providing American buyers with cut-price admission to the world of sports cars. Appearing as the Space Age blasted off, it offered style and speed at a reasonable price yet was still the car piloted by NASA astronauts. Today it remains an appealing way of exercising your muscle car dreams.
In 1953, long before the Mustang was even a twinkle in Ford’s eye, Chevy drew back the curtains at the General Motors Motorama and introduced the world to what they described as an “experimental dream car.”
At the time, the company claimed the car was at least a year away from production, but six months later, having been inundated with requests, the first Corvettes began rolling off the assembly line. Hurriedly produced brochures branded it “an American sports car… designed exclusively for sports-loving people.”
Being sporty at that time didn’t necessarily include driving quickly, and the sole engine was an anaemic 150hp straight-six was anything. That was quickly put right by a V8 option, and when ‘Ramjet’ fuel injection appeared in 1957 the ‘Vette became one of the first American cars to break the ‘one hp per cubic inch’ barrier.
Sales were surprisingly modest to begin with, but when the achingly pretty second generation (or C2) arrived in 1963, wearing one of the best names in the business – Sting Ray – sales almost doubled overnight.
All-round independent suspension gave it ride and handling to match its looks, and with the 427 big-block V8 crammed under the bonnet in 1966 it packed a pretty serious punch, too. A V12 Ferrari 250 GT California made do with only 276hp, yet here was a Chevy thundering out 425hp.
By the time the third generation C3 rolled around in 1967, the Corvette had become firmly established as “America's sports car.” Pull up to a diner in one and all misty eyes were on you. Especially if you’d been to the moon recently and were now in one of a trio of specially-painted gold and black ‘Astrovettes.’
Such was the power of the Corvette. It made you feel like a movie star, had a soundtrack like God gargling, and accelerated as if powered by NASA. All fine attributes, which it happily carried through to the fourth generation C4 that made its debut in 1983.
Power came from an emissions-strangled 5.7-litre V8 that started out with only 205hp but by the time the Lotus-tweaked ZR-1 joined the line-up in the early Nineties, that had reached 375hp and the car set twelve speed records.
The C5 that followed in 1996 saw innovations in its construction that would continue for generations. It was lighter, too, with a more aerodynamic body, near perfect weight distribution, and marked the debut of the LS engine that would become the darling of hot-rodders everywhere.
Today, these first Corvettes continue to offer plastic-bodied fun at knock-down prices. The early C1 and sublime C2 are now out of reach for many (you’ll need at least £60,000 for a nice one), but C3, C4, and C5 ‘Vettes can be had for the price of a six-year-old Golf.
Where else can you get north of 400hp, an open top, and a body that won’t rust?
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