Why There's No Such Thing as a 1983 Corvette

Why There's No Such Thing as a 1983 Corvette

With its rare production models, classic racers and intriguing concept cars, the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky, can awe even casual car buffs. Indeed, amidst all that automotive flash, a seemingly normal plain white model on display from the car’s fourth design generation—“C4” to the Corvette cognoscenti—might not raise a pulse.

But it sure raises eyebrows.

This C4 is anything but normal. It’s a 1983 Chevrolet Corvette, highly unusual since there was no Corvette for the 1983 model year. For its 30 anniversary, America’s longest-running sports car—the one designed to flaunt U.S. speed, power and ingenuity in a class traditionally dominated by European entries—took a somewhat mysterious gap year.

But why?

WATCH: Full Episodes of The Cars That Built the World online now.

The model year that wasn’t—and the car that wasn’t supposed to be

Initially planned as a 1982 model, the fourth-gen Corvette, by far the most advanced to that time, was first pushed back to a fall 1982 introduction as a 1983 model—and then again to spring 1983 as ambitious upgrades met with further delays. By then, Chevrolet had decided to designate the “1983” Corvette a 1984.

The museum’s white car is, however, a genuine 1983 Corvette, the only one in the world. How did that happen? Built on June 28, 1982, it was the fourth of 43 “pilot assembly” cars made to validate production processes and for other engineering, testing and training purposes. Common industry practice calls for crushing such vehicles when such work is completed, since they cannot be sold to the public.

Forty-two of the C4 pilot cars met that fate, but one, identified as RBV098, slipped through. In 1984, a new plant manager found it parked outside, neglected. He had it cleaned up and put on display. It also got an American flag motif paint job, later changed back to the original solid white. When the museum opened in 1994, General Motors loaned RBV098 for display and eventually donated it. RBV098 now stands as a unicorn, an artifact of one of Corvette’s most sweeping upgrades ever.

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Corvette was navigating its biggest generational change yet.

For Corvette, the 1983 model year turned out to be more of a “leap year” than a gap year. With extraordinary strides made in chassis engineering, aerodynamic design and overall performance, the C4 seemed a decade ahead of the C3 it replaced. And that’s an understatement.

Introduced for 1968, the C3 was essentially a redesigned body and interior on the C2 Sting Ray chassis, which dated back to 1963. A dream car for many, the C3 Corvette drove plenty of sales for parent company General Motors through the 1970s. But that third generation left a different impression on some diehard enthusiasts. The primitive exhaust-emissions technology of the late 70s and early 80s—think old-school carburetors and distributors—dulled performance. Added safety features bloated the car’s weight. And while 1960s and ’70s Corvettes could still impress with power and speed, they often came up short in handling precision, ride comfort, general refinement and build quality. In its road test of a ’79 model, Car & Driver magazine suggested, “The time has come to pass the crossed flags on to the next generation.”

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The C4 was designed to be more competitive in those areas with premium European sports cars. And at Chevrolet, that transition was already getting underway.

The revolution was delayed, in part, by roof panels.

GM’s commitment to the fourth-gen Corvette included building a much-needed new assembly plant in Bowling Green to replace the 1920s-vintage St. Louis factory that had made Corvettes since 1953. Located a mile from where the Museum would later be built, the plant was ready in summer 1981—but the new Corvette was not.

A slew of new engineering advances delayed C4 development, meaning that the C3 would live another year, built in the new plant. The 1982 Corvette debuted features destined for the C4, including not-impressive-as-it-sounds Cross-Fire fuel injection for the proven 5.7-liter V-8 engine, along with GM’s new four-speed automatic transmission. The 1982 Collector Edition Corvette also gained a one-piece glass hatchback, which all C4s would get.

The rest of the C4 would be all-new. Engineers still used fiberglass for the body and steel for the frame. While the body style instantly said “Corvette,” the frame was far more exotic than the C2/C3 chassis, and it likely caused the biggest delay in the C4’s gestation.

The C4 was originally designed to use t-tops, two-piece removable roof panels split by a central bar joining the windshield to the rear roof structure, as on the C3. With development well along, Chevrolet General Manager Lloyd Reuss decided the roof should be a one-piece removable panel, as on the Porsche 911 Targa and also the Ferrari 308 GTS seen shrieking across TV screens every week on “Magnum P.I.”

Re-engineering the frame to accommodate the one-piece roof reportedly took nearly a year. Taller side rails were needed to add chassis strength that had been lost with the t-bar’s deletion, creating higher doorsills that made climbing into and out of the Corvette more difficult.

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The result was, by all reports, worth the wait.

The C4 was definitely a game-changer. Its body, 8.5 inches shorter than the C3, sported fewer curves to improve aerodynamics. The wheelbase (2 inches shorter) enhanced the car’s agility, while the body (2 inches wider) added interior room. The C4 also weighed in about 150 pounds lighter than the C3, which boosted performance.

Opening the huge, one-piece “clamshell” hood, which integrated the fender tops, revealed an engine compartment as finely detailed as any from Europe.

Beneath, the chassis used transverse (sideways) fiberglass single-leaf springs front and rear. This unusual choice proved highly effective and would also be used on the C5, C6 and C7 Corvettes. With standard Goodyear Eagle VR50 “gatorback” tires on 16-inch wheels, the Corvette posted staggering 0.90-g cornering performance, which Car & Driver magazine noted was a world-best.

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Car & Driver also noted that the Corvette’s sub-7-second 0-to-60 m.p.h. acceleration and 140-m.p.h. top speed put it among the world’s six fastest production cars at the time. The magazine concluded: “The Corvette is a truly stout automobile. It is all that the fevered acolytes so desperately wanted their fiberglass fossil to be—a true-born, world-class sports car loaded with technical sophistication.”

Other media were likewise enthralled. Motor Trend named the 1984 Corvette “Car of the Year.”

Still, there was room for improvement.

There were complaints, though. The new “4+3” transmission, a 4-speed manual that automatically engaged an overdrive on the top three gears to reduce fuel consumption, was a clunky operator. Most customers stuck with the standard automatic.

The optional Z51 Special Performance Handling Package gave the Corvette astounding agility at the cost of a bone-rattling ride; the digital dashboard was entertaining in a “Knight Rider” way, but was hard to read in sunlight. And as with earlier Corvettes, there were some creaks and rattles.

Still, the 1984 Vette (MSRP at the time: $21,800) was a huge success, with 51,547 built over an extended 18-month model year. (Corvette’s record sales year remains 1979, when 53,807 were sold.) The C4 would go on to have a 13 model-year lifespan, with Chevy issuing a steady stream of significant upgrades along the way, including the ZR1 and Grand Sport high-performance versions. Not bad for a car that missed its initial birthday by almost a year.

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For the first two decades of its existence, Corvette improved in nearly every measure at an exponential rate. Though engineering and styling occasionally clashed, both with each other and with GM’s money managers, they were otherwise free to propel the car forward. All of that changed by the early 1970s, when federal and state governments began to impose increasingly stringent noise, fuel-economy, emissions and crash-worthiness mandates on the auto industry. This dramatically shaped the development curve of all vehicles, including Corvette, and played a key role in the scheduling of the fourth generation’s introduction.

These struggles to meet governmental requirements were not the only factor that influenced the timing of the C4. The age-old conflict between styling, which wanted a mid-engine machine, and engineering, which wanted to stay the course and optimize the traditional front-engine configuration, also slowed progress on the new Corvette. And the car’s strong sales growth throughout the 1970s, in spite of decreasing performance and increasing prices, did nothing to encourage top GM management to invest in the creation of a true “next-gen” model. Ironically, work finally started on the C4 late in the 1979 model year, which to this day remains the all-time highest production year for Corvette at 53,807 units.

With all of these powerful forces conspiring against the timely completion of an entirely new Corvette, plus quality-control issues and parts-supply problems that further aggravated the situation, it’s not surprising that the C4 was significantly delayed. By the time regular assembly of the new car finally began on January 3, 1983, about one-third of the normal production year was over. Faced with having either a shortened 1983 model year or an extended 1984 season, Chevrolet General Manager Robert Stemple chose the latter path, a decision made possible by the fact that the new C4 met 1984’s stricter emissions requirements.

The Peter Max collection as “discovered” in 2014.

The Peter Max Connection

The introduction of every new-generation Corvette causes some measure of anxiety for enthusiasts, but some fans are more deeply affected than others. Noted Corvette collector Chris Mazzilli was particularly distraught when Chevrolet skipped over model year 1983 and delayed the introduction of the fourth-gen model. Mazzilli’s dad worked for Chevrolet dealerships in the 1950s and ’60s, so it’s not surprising that he has been car-obsessed his entire life. Having been fascinated by automotive styling since he was a young child, he fantasized about the “lost Corvette,” the 1983 that never was, and spent countless hours doodling and daydreaming about what it could have been. This ultimately led to his vision of a C4 that bridged the gap between past and present, with cues to evoke key styling elements from prior-generation Corvettes.

That vision rattled around in Mazzilli’s head for more than 30 years, until an unlikely chain of events finally put him in a good position to bring it to fruition. In June of 2014, he was displaying one of his prized Corvettes, a completely original ’71 NCRS Five Star Bowtie Award winner, at an event in New York. The car caught the attention of a man named Peter Heller, who began asking Mazzilli a lot of questions about a lot of different Corvettes. “After he asked me about many different years, and then a few questions about a 1953 and a ’55, I had a pretty good idea what was happening,” Mazzilli recalls. “There aren’t too many large-scale Corvette collections that include both a ’53 and a ’55, so I asked whether he was looking at the Peter Max cars, and he was stunned that I would know anything about [them].”

As many Corvette Magazine readers will recall, in 1989 cable-TV channel VH1 gave away 36 Corvettes covering every year of production from 1953-1989 to a single person in a monumental promotion. Long Island carpenter Dennis Amodeo was chosen at random by an AT&T computer from among the 1.4 million people who entered the contest. Amodeo quickly sold the entire collection to pop artist Peter Max, who said he had a dream about the cars after a friend told him about the Corvette giveaway. Max intended to paint each car in his signature colorful style, but beyond taping paper onto some of the cars and scrolling design ideas on the paper, the project stalled. The cars went into long-term storage in the bowels of a New York City parking garage and were eventually forgotten about by almost everyone.

On hand for the ’83 reveal were (left to right) Paul Kuhl, Chris Mazzilli, Dave Weber, Rick Darling and Dave McLellan.

Several relatives of Peter Heller manage parking garages in New York, and in 2014 they found themselves in a position to buy the entire collection. That’s why Heller was asking Mazzilli so many questions about so many different-year Corvettes. Mazzilli’s obvious expertise led the people interested in buying the collection, a group comprising members of the Heller and Spindler families, to hire him as a consultant. Mazzilli and Dave Weber, a restoration expert with some 40 years of hands-on experience, spent untold hours examining the Max cars and advised the Heller/Spindler group regarding what they needed, and how much they were worth. After much discussion, the Hellers and Spindlers were not sure what they’d ultimately do with the cars, but the idea of rescuing them from their present state of neglect held great appeal. A deal was struck, and the new owners took possession in July of 2014.

The Spindler/Heller group ultimately decided to bring all of the Corvettes back to life and give them away in another sweepstakes, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the National Guard Educational Foundation. Unlike the original VH1 promotion, however, the next contest would see each car given away separately, with 36 individual winners instead of just one.

Filling in the Blank

Mazzilli, who owns the Gotham Comedy Club in Manhattan and has deep roots in the entertainment industry, thought the whole story of the VH1 contest, the entombment of the collection, its emergence 25 years later and its resurrection was compelling enough for a TV show. He and the new owners of the Max Corvettes enlisted the help of a production company called Bungalow Media + Entertainment, which is owned by a gentleman named Bobby Friedman. Friedman was an original member of the startup team at MTV , and the man in charge of VH1 when the epic Corvette giveaway took place in 1989. He knew as well as anyone how much interest the cars created back then—and would undoubtedly generate again.

Most notable from this angle are the exaggerated fender arches, inspired by the ’73 model.

Mazzilli, Friedman and the Heller/Spindler group took the idea of a show about the Corvette collection to A+E Networks. The network agreed that the story would make for a great program, and production quickly got underway for a show to be broadcast on History (popularly known as the History Channel) in the summer of 2019. In that same initial meeting, network executive Jordan Harman was intrigued by the missing 1983 model and felt there was also a show in that idea, especially since such a car would

“complete” the Heller/Spindler collection. Mazzilli thought the same, and luckily he had 30 years’ worth of ideas regarding how to build the car that never was. That day, History commissioned The Lost Corvette to air during its third annual Car Week in July 2019.

Working with the crew at Bungalow Media, Mazzilli was tapped to develop the concept and oversee production, which would take place at his restoration business, Dream Car Restorations in Hicksville, New York. In 2017 the Dream Cars staff, led by Mazzilli and Dave Weber, began the challenging task of transforming Mazzilli’s design ideas into reality.

A ProCharger P600B centrifugal blower purportedly boosts engine output by more than 100 percent.

“I wanted the finished ‘1983’ Corvette to look like a factory car,” Mazzilli explains, “like something Chevrolet could have actually built, not like a wild custom.” As a guy immersed in both the business of car restoration and the entertainment industry, Mazzilli had a lot to lose if he and his team failed. Besides the Bungalow production crew, who would be there day in and day out to record everything that happened, and the network executives overseeing the process, the final product would ultimately be judged by three individuals with their own strongly held opinions regarding car design: retired Corvette Chief Engineer Dave McLellan, retired Chevrolet Senior Development Engineer Rick Darling and History’s Counting Cars star Danny “The Count” Koker.

To get the project underway, Mazzilli acquired a sad-looking but solid 1985 coupe. The reasoning behind choosing a second-year C4 rather than an ’84 was simple: The ’85 model year saw the introduction of the Tuned Port Injection L98 engine, which was far superior—both in performance and efficiency—to the rudimentary CrossFire Injection L83 used in 1984. In keeping with the vision to create a 1983 that looked like it could be a factory car, with styling cues from previous generations integrated with the C4 design, Mazzilli and his team at Dream Cars worked out a plan of attack.

“Since 1983 was the 30th anniversary year for Corvette, we decided to focus on elements of design from 1953, 1963 and 1973,” Mazzilli says. “To honor first-year Corvettes, which were all Polo White with Sportsman Red interiors, we went with the same color scheme, but with pearl white because pearl is the traditional gift for 30th anniversaries.

No “hockey sticks” here: Full analog instrumentation represents a welcome change over the busy, failure-prone ’84-’89 instrument panel. Inside, the “30th Anniversary” theme carries over to the seat headrests.

“Of course, the iconic design feature from 1963 is the ‘split’ rear window, so we worked out how to incorporate that into our build with the right proportions so it looked great. That was not an easy task, because the rear window in a C4 is almost 40 percent larger than the rear-window area in a ’63. We struggled with that until one of our best techs, Bill Doty, figured it out.

“And from a ’73, we picked up on the front fender vents and sharp peaks on the fenders and quarter panels, with the peaks in the quarters continuing into the doors. We also slightly flared out the front fenders and quarters, and gave the areas right above the wheel arches a flat face to match the body lines of a ’73.”

In addition to all of the design changes, Weber, Doty, Paul Kuhl and the rest of the team at Dream Car Restorations also took steps to improve the car’s performance. By the time the C4 was introduced, Chevrolet Engineering had finally turned the tide on engine output and all-around car performance, thanks to advancing technologies that addressed ever-increasing noise, emissions, fuel-consumption and safety requirements. Still, the ’85 Corvette’s 230-horsepower output rating was a long way off from the numbers achieved in the 1960s and early ’70s.

“We addressed that [disparity] with the addition of a ProCharger P600B supercharger and intercooler, a Hypertech E- PROM chip and a low-restriction exhaust system,” says Mazzilli. “All together, these changes increased the engine’s output from 230 horsepower to a little more than 500.”

Expert Opinions

All of the work was completed on schedule, and in April 2018 the transformed car was unveiled to an audience that included McLellan, Darling, Koke and a few dozen of Mazzilli’s friends and family members. Upon seeing Mazzilli’s creation, McLellan commented, “You’ve done a superb job, and need to be celebrated for that.”

“The thing I like about it, probably the most, is the split window,” said Darling. “I had a ’63…and yeah, I really like [this treatment]. It’s not overly done—the cues are subtle.”

Polo White paint and split rear window glass pay stylistic homage to the ’53 and ’63 models, respectively.

“You did an amazing job,” added Koker. “This ’83 would have been, to me, that transitional year because we’re seeing the future of the C4, but you still have some flavor of the past. It has a lot of very nice touches, and I like it a lot.”

The high compliments from McLellan, Darling and Koker had Mazzilli, Weber, Doty and Kuhl all floating on a cloud, but the words that meant the most to Mazzilli came from his mother: “Son, this is beautiful, and we’re very proud of you.”

The Corvette is now entering into its golden years, it will soon approach its 65th birthday. It is America’s sports car and the first American performance car to be the envy of the world. Over the years it has garnered many fans. It is respected all around the world as a serious sports car. However there are few Corvettes that have either received little or no respect. Some to the point where they have become popular targets of the critics. Here’s the list of the Top 5 hated Corvettes and why that may not be such a bad thing and is probably not permanent.

5) 1982 and 1984 Corvettes

The 1982 and 1984 Corvettes were popular sellers, when they were new. The 1982 was the last of the third generation Corvettes while the 1984 was the first of the fourth generation. The 1984 was praised as the first true European style Corvette with quick acceleration and world class handling.

So why the disrespect for the 1982 and 1984 Corvettes? It’s the 5.7 liter Cross-Fire fuel-injection V8 under the hood that’s the culprit. The problem with the Cross-Fire Fuel injected powered Corvettes is not a reliability issue or a horsepower issue. The 1982 Corvette’s Cross-Fire V8 produced 200 horsepower, which was 10 horsepower more than the carbureted 350 cubic inch V8 powered 1981 Corvette. Back in 1982, the Corvette’s Cross-Fire V8 was the best high performance engine available in any new American car. For 1984 the same was true, but there was a slight increase in power, the Corvette’s Cross-Fire V8 produced 205 horsepower.

So why is there no love for Cross-Fire Corvettes? It was the Corvette’s new for 1985, 5.7 liter Tuned Port Injected V8 that changed everything. It used a much more sophisticated port fuel-injection design versus the Cross-Fire’s dual throttle-body injection design. Horsepower for 1985 was 230. To add insult to injury Tuned-Port Injection had better fuel efficiency than Cross-Fire.

Add to this that the Cross-Fire Corvettes are almost impossible to make any engine performance modifications to, without scrapping the entire fuel injection system. Though the Cross-Fire Corvettes have weathered some bad PR over the last few decades, this appears to be changing since their prices on the car collector market have begun to rise steadily the last few years.

4) 1963 Corvette Hardtop Coupe

1963 was the first year of the second generation Corvette. The styling was so ahead of its time that even today it looks modern. The second generation Corvette is one of the most loved body styles among car fans. In car collector circles it really doesn’t get any better than a second generation Corvette.

So what’ the deal with the 1963 Corvette Hardtop Coupe? There are some that love it and some that hate it. It’s been like that from the beginning. The controversy centers around the hardtop coupe’s split window. Even before the 1963 Corvette rolled into production there was an angry shouting match between GM’s head of design operations Bill Mitchell and the father of the Corvette, Zora Duntov over the split window. Mitchell loved it, while Duntov hated it with a passion.

The reason for the split window was in order to augment the Corvette coupe’s beautiful roofline that had a creased line which started just above the top of the windshield and continued all the way back to the rear gas tank cap area. From a design point of view, it was pure art. From the functionality point of view the split window created a massive rear blindspot. So it comes as no surprise that Duntov who was all about function would hate the window while Mitchell a stylist, loved it.

Even today Corvette fans still have a love hate relationship with the 1963 Corvette coupe. In the end Duntov won, the 1964 Corvette coupe would have a solid rear window, the split window would never return. Ironically the controversy has made the 1963 Corvette split window coupe one of the most sought after classic Corvettes.

3) 1974 Corvette LS4 454

If ever there was a car on this list that has unfairly received a bad rap, it’s the 1974 LS4 Corvette. Corvette fans love to bash this car. Reliability was not the issue and neither was the power output. The problem with perception.

By 1974, most performance cars were gone or had their power output seriously detuned. The Corvette was no different. The problem here is the big-block V8 powered Corvette had for years been a tire scorcher since 1965, by 1974 the big-block V8 powered Corvette was like an out-of-shape retired NBA basketball player. With 270 horsepower on tap from it’s massive LS4 454 cubic-inch V8, it still was the fastest 1974 Corvette, but only by a hair. It could run from 0-60 mph in 6.4 seconds while the lowly base 1974 Corvette with the 195 horsepower L48 small-block 350 cubic inch V8 did the same run in 6.8 seconds. No longer would Corvette fans overlook the handling deficit caused by the heavy big-block V8. The small-block V8 provided almost as much power yet far superior handling.

This spelled the end of the big-block Corvette, 1974 would be its last year. However the disrespect of the 1974 LS4 Corvette still continues to this day. Don’t let the haters fool you, the 1974 LS4 Corvette was one of the fastest cars available back in 1974. If you want a reasonably priced big-block Corvette, the 1974 LS4 Corvette is a great bargain.

2) 1975 Corvette L48 350

When it comes to horsepower output somebody’s got to be last. For all the V8 powered Corvettes ever produced, the 1975 Corvette equipped with the base L48 350 cubic-inch V8 is dead last. It produced only 165 horsepower, that’s what a run-of-the-mill 4-cylinder produces today.

The reason this Corvette was given a pass back in 1975, was horsepower had dropped like a piano falling off the roof of an apartment building. 1975 was the year when new stringent pollution control devices were added to most 197 5 model year cars available in the American market. The result was these engines were choked, forcing horsepower numbers way down. For this reason 165 horsepower was decent output for even a performance car in 1975. As a comparison the V8 powered 1975 Mustang only produced 140 horsepower. The L48 Corvette went 0-60 mph in 7.7 seconds which was quick for the mid-1970s.

The good news was back in the day a 1975 L48 Corvette owner could go down to any auto parts store and purchase some performance parts to easily increase horsepower by as much as 100 ponies. Let the haters hate, the 1975 L48 Corvette is a hidden gem.

1) 1953-1955 Corvette Blue Flame

Even though the 1953-1955 Corvette represents the first three model years of America’s 2-seater sports car, this hasn’t stopped most Corvette fans from seeing it as a seriously flawed car. It’s kind of unfair to Chevrolet since it was trying to figure out what the Corvette was going to be these first few years.

Chevrolet in the early-1950s was a stodgy brand that offered reliable reasonably priced cars. While most automakers offered a V8, Chevrolet’s best was a 6-cylinder engine called the Blue Flame. So it comes as no surprise that Chevrolet made standard in its new Corvette a hopped up version of the Blue Flame which produced 150 horsepower. It remained standard on the Corvette through the 1955 model year. Fortunately Zora Duntov convinced Chevrolet that it’s new 265 cubic-inch V8, which made its debut for the 1955 model year, should be under the hood of the 1955 Corvette. However Chevrolet wasn’t fully convinced since it did offer the Blue Flame again for 1955, there were only 7 produced. The vast majority of 1955 Corvettes were equipped with the V8. As they say, the rest is history.

The 1953-1955 Blue Flame Corvette will always hold a special place in automotive history, always remaining desirable among car collectors. But none of this can hide the fact that it is the only production Corvette equipped with a 6-cylinder. A Corvette without a V8 is like Pizza without cheese.

To watch the video of this article on Old Car Memories’ YouTube channel:

Written contents in this article – © 2016 Pete Dunton – All Rights Reserved

Corvette Chassis History: The C4 Chassis That McLellan Built

The C2/C3 chassis had an amazing 20-year production run. When Dave McLellan took over as Corvette’s chief engineer in 1975, the Corvette was overdue for a redesign. The only good thing about the 1970s was that Corvettes sold very well. On January 22, 1979, McLellan received approval to start designing the C4 Corvette.

One of the C3’s endearing features was the T-top roof. The design wasn’t just for aesthetics the T-bar connected the A-pillar windshield frame to the B-pillar frame “rollbar” and provided significant structural stiffness. The initial design of the C4 had a T-bar connecting the A- and B-pillars, but with a one-piece roof panel. It wasn’t until the first prototype was built in 1981, when Chevrolet General Manager Lloyd Reuss made the decision to eliminate the T-bar to open up the cockpit. This single decision impacted the C4 design such that the biggest complaint about C4s is the tall side frame sills that make ingress and egress challenging. To compensate for the lack of the important T-bar, the side frame sills had to be made extra tall. As the years rolled by, C4s, especially the convertibles, took heat for not being as stiff as their competitors. Those two elements, plus the fact that C4 Corvettes kept getting progressively better and better, are part of the reason why C4s are today the least desirable of all Corvettes.

McLellan’s engineers had two overriding design elements first, they wanted a lower overall height and second, they wanted more ground clearance. McLellan’s team started placing the big pieces in a process they called “stacking.” Starting at the ground level, the engine had to be lower to improve forward visibility. Previous Corvettes had been two-part cars, a body bolted to a chassis. But the C4 was to be a three-piece car, which included a chassis, a birdcage and a body. This created a more integrated body and a stronger configuration.

The C4’s perimeter frame was built from 18 pieces of stamped and boxed high-strength steel that included the tall side sills, the front sides, the rear sides, four crossmembers and braces. All of the pieces were positioned in a jig and welded together. The birdcage section included the forward doorjambs, the dash crossmember, the A-pillar, the rear section of the floorpan and the B-pillar. The completed birdcage was then welded to the perimeter frame. An aluminized steel engine and front suspension cradle positioned the engine and provided mounting points for the front suspension. The rear section of the frame was aluminum and provided mounting points for the rear suspension and rear bumper.

Unlike the previous chassis that had the engine, transmission and suspension simply bolted to the frame, the C4 used a steel driveline support that was bolted to the rear of the transmission and connected to the differential that housed the driveshaft. By doing this, all of the components became stressed members of the chassis structure.

Thanks to the C4 Corvette’s unique clamshell hood, Corvette owners got to see more of their front suspension than ever. Gone were the days of heavy stamped steel upper and lower A-arms. The C4’s front A-arms and spindles were slender, computer-designed forged aluminum. The C4 suspension used composite leaf springs on the front and rear suspension. Don’t let the term “leaf spring” throw you. These are computer-engineered, high-tech, lightweight suspension parts. A composite fiberglass monoleaf spring was first used in 1981.

The C4’s multilink rear suspension eliminated the C2/C3 rear end “squat” upon hard acceleration. This setup uses upper and lower control rods that connect the wheel bearing yolks to brackets mounted to the vertical section of the of the rear of the frame. Each bearing yolk has support rods that tie it to the rear differential. Today, when we look at C4 Corvettes, especially tired old examples, the frame and suspension looks somewhat crude and outdated. However, C4 suspensions are regularly harvested from salvage yards, cleaned up and refreshed for street rods.

From the perspective of the C4 Corvette’s February 15, 1983, press debut, the car was a total “WOW!” The cover story of the March 1983 issue of Road & Track was “Corvette Spectacular!” The debut wasn’t unlike the debut of the C6 Z06 and C7 Grand Sport Corvettes, in that with virtually the same horsepower, teamed with a much better suspension, the car is vastly improved. Automotive journalists were blown away by how tight and solid the new C4 was. But it was the skidpad performance that astounded everyone. Z51 examples had no trouble hitting 0.95 g on the pad, and one Z51 with slightly wider front tires scored a 1.01 g! Ferrari’s $80,000 512 Boxer could only generate 0.86 g and Richard Petty’s Grand National Stock Car scored 1.04 g. The March 1983 issue of Popular Mechanics proclaimed, “1983 Corvette: Best American Car Ever!”

Bowling Green started the 1984 season early and consequently racked up the second-best ever sales season with 51,547 Corvettes sold. Media hype totally stoked Corvette fans for the Z51, such that 50.4 percent of all 1984 Corvettes were ordered with the $600 Z51 option. Then reality set in. On real roads the ride was, for many, unbearable. In fact, many owners of regular 1984 Corvettes weren’t happy with the ride quality. Corvette engineers acknowledged that they had “over-done-it” on the suspension.

For 1985, engineers softened the springs by 26 percent in the front and 25 percent in the rear. Z51 springs were softened 16 percent in the front and 25 percent in the rear along with larger stabilizer bars. 1985 also saw the return of a full-fledged fuel-injection system with the introduction of the L98 that had a 25-horsepower bump that made the Corvette, according to Car and Driver, “The Fastest Car In America.” It was also the beginning of a three-year romp by Corvettes in the SCCA Showroom Stock series. Corvettes so dominated the series they were kicked out in 1988 and Porsche bought a C4 Corvette to learn why the car was so fast.

But as power started to nudge up and tires got wider, the inherent design flaw with the C4’s lack of a T-bar was more obvious, especially on the convertibles even with a bolt-on X-brace on the bottom of the chassis that raised the ride height 10mm. Since there are so many C4 Corvettes out there that few want, unless the car is a special edition or a pace car, you can do almost anything to a C4 and never get any heat. I learned from the C4 forums that many C4 owners that are hot rodding their cars use the factory X-brace and frame torsion rods to stiffen the structure of their car. It makes sense if you are adding a lot more power and bigger tires.

The C4 had a long run of 13 years. Toward the end of McLellan’s tenure as chief engineer in the early 1990s, he pushed for the C5, but GM was having money trouble and was in no mood for a new Corvette. In fact, they were considering eliminating the Corvette. By September 1992, McLellan retired and the following month, Dave Hill was the new Corvette Chief Engineer. The C5 Corvette would be Hill’s to design. Vette

Officially, the 1983 Corvette C4 doesn’t exist since Chevrolet never offered a 1983 model. However, a dozen cars were made, but none were offered for sale, and all were preproduction examples. Only one survives, and it is in the Corvette Museum.

There is nothing mechanically special about this 1986 Corvette except its rare paint job. Called Cooper Metallic, this cool-looking color was applied on only 86 cars that year. Real collectors love such obscurities, so if you have one of those cars, you can get around $30,000.

Why There's No Such Thing as a 1983 Corvette - HISTORY

Full List of Chevrolet Corvette Models & Years

From the first Corvette in 1953 to the current 2020 mid-engined Corvette, the American high performance icon has seen a lot. Here is every Corvette ever produced, sorted by year.

Every Corvette Model by Year

From the C1 to the current eighth generation Corvette, the American high-performance icon has seen a lot. Here’s every Corvette ever produced, sorted by year. There have been many Corvettes since 1953 including numerous concepts, special editions, race series custom cars and tuner Corvettes (that we’ve covered in other parts of the site). This list below is focused on regular production series Corvettes. For more details on each model year specifically, check out our guides below where you can quickly navigate to each model year where you can learn about each years history, factory specs, VIN Info, problems, recalls, dimensions, performance and much more.

Collectors celebrate Corvette's half-century

Fifty years ago tomorrow -- June 30, 1953 -- the first Chevrolet Corvette came off a makeshift assembly line in Flint, Mich.

In 1953, there was no major American production car like it. Its billing as the "first of the dream cars to come true" was considerably overstated -- the first model was underpowered and poorly assembled -- but it set countless American drivers fantasizing about squeezing into tiny cockpits behind the huge round steering wheels of their own sports cars.

As it roars to its golden anniversary on Monday, the Corvette can still set a car lover's pulse aflutter. Five generations of Corvettes parked on a grassy field in west Houston recently quickly drew a flock of fans from age 11 on up, each eager just to get close, touch and peek inside.

American icon

"For me the Corvette was the one that started it all," said Houston sports-car collector Jim Fasnacht. "It was the car I saw (as a kid) around my hometown of Pittsburgh. I didn't see a lot of Jags or Mercedes. I saw Corvettes, and I could relate to them. For me it was the cornerstone car."

Corvette had that effect on millions of young Americans over the past five decades, exciting their imagination with looks, brawn and relative attainability. As fans have aged, the Corvette may have slipped from their attention, but it maintained reserved parking spaces close to their hearts.

"It kind of symbolizes America," said Houston accountant Jim Baldauf, who has a "50Vett" Texas license plate on the bright-red 50th-anniversary Corvette he bought to replace the '73 model he had driven for 27 years. "It's America's sports car. It's been around such a long time. If you ask anybody growing up what kind of car they'd like to have, that's it."

Some fans wait 30 or 40 years to get their own Corvettes.

"The demographics for the Corvette (buyer) are male, between the ages of 45 and 65," said Tai Paschall, a sales adviser at Knapp Chevrolet. "Business professional. Definitely white collar. Married. The people who buy Corvettes know everything about Corvettes. If they are first-time buyers of a Corvette, they've done extensive research."

Corvette's own statistics say 85 percent of Corvette buyers are male. National Corvette Museum director Wendell K. Strode, who drives a 2003 Spiral Gray Corvette coupe, says he's probably pretty typical of owners.

"54 years old. Kids are out of college," said Strode. "We're wanting to do something we wanted to do since we were a teenager, so we are going back and getting a performance car."

Over the years, the Corvette has rolled boldly through popular culture. It made appearances in many songs, such as Prince's Little Red Corvette, Jan & Dean's Dead Man's Curve and George Jones' The One I Loved Back Then (The Corvette Song). It popped up in countless movies, including a couple of less than memorable drive-in fillers called Corvette Summer (with Mark Hamill) and Stingray.

Its great pop moment was the four-year run of TV's Route 66, which from 1960-1964 took Tod (Martin Milner), Buz (George Maharis) and (later replacing Buz) Linc (Glenn Corbett) adventuring across America in a 1961 and later-model Corvettes.

Many cars capture the public imagination, but most do it only for a short time. Few nameplates have stood the test of time like the Corvette. Yet it is essentially the same car, several generations more sophisticated, that it always was. At 50 it still quickens the pulse of sports-car enthusiasts.

"If you're down just a little bit, you sit in the passenger seat and it brings you up," said Baldauf. "It'll take you back in time for just a second. It's like the sun coming up in the morning. It's like a good woman."

Corvette has survived and in recent years thrived despite, and perhaps partly because of, its small numbers. In its highest-volume year, 1979, Chevrolet sold only about 54,000 Corvettes. Now the company sells about 35,000 annually.

"On the (profit) per unit basis we're one of the best in the company," said Rick Baldrick of GM's Corvette division. "On a volume basis, 35,000 (Corvettes) versus 600,000 pickup trucks (is low), but on a profit basis we're right on top of the heap."

That relative exclusivity, without being truly rare or difficult to buy -- although a 2003 isn't exactly cheap with its $44,000-$52,000 price tag -- has no doubt added to the Corvette aura.

"It's a wonderful halo (image) vehicle for Chevrolet and General Motors, no doubt about it," Baldrick said.

"People buy something that has some kind of breakthrough component," said Robert Evans, professor of social psychology at the University of Houston. "In the case of a car, it may have a unique design. The individual finds that in driving that car he is identified as doing something a little different and begins to find that he and other people who drive that car have something in common. As the years go by, this identification becomes so well established that it gives the person an identification with something."

Strode said the major factor that has thrust Corvette to icon status is the comradeship it engenders among fans.

"There's no car anywhere that brings together the lifestyle and feeling of camaraderie," he said. "Whether you are struggling to own your first Corvette or you own 50 of them, Corvette folks just bond, and they wave on the highway. At the shows they share information they help each other. There are estimated to be almost 1,000 individual Corvette clubs.

A distinct image doesn't hurt.

"From Day One the Corvette has been immediately recognizable because of its style and design," said Strode. "Most everyone can look and say, there goes a Corvette, whether it's a '50s, '60s, '70s or 2003. There's performance associated with America's sports car, and a lot of people enjoy that."

Their long line has made the cars very popular with collectors, usually older people who have finally acquired the money to purchase the passion of their youth. For many, the early Corvettes are still that passion.

"Most of these people own a business or run a business for someone, and they indulge in these cars to keep them from going crazy," said Corvette restorer Gary Naber who, with brother Ken, operates Naber's Motors, a Houston Corvettes-only shop. Among the 20 or so Corvettes from all over the country in the Nabers' shop last week were two beautifully restored 1967 models, one of the most desired. One had sold recently for $135,000, the other for $185,000.

"It's just something they like," said Naber. "They want to think about other than the daily things."

A difficult delivery

The Corvette's birth was anything but smooth. The idea to create a mass-market-production American sports car was kicked around General Motors before World War II. But like other American automakers, GM spent the war years turning out military vehicles.

"After World War II they slowly got back to the concept," said Fasnacht, who still has the 1966 Sting Ray he bought at age 16 for $1,850, almost his entire life savings. "Harley Earl, who was in charge of GM styling -- he was an icon -- wanted to build an American sports car. In '51 they started building some rough models."

The car's early code name was Opel. (Corvair was suggested and dismissed, only to show up later on another car.) The design was christened Corvette -- the name for a fast, small warship -- late in the process.

It was decided to debut a prototype at the New York Motorama in January 1953. GM brass were uncertain where they were going with the concept, but they figured if response was good at the Motorama they could build several thousand in 1954.

"Response was tremendous," Fasnacht said. "The president of General Motors said they were going to build these cars by June (just in time for the 50th anniversary of arch rival Ford). Everybody looked at him like he was crazy. You couldn't get a car to market that quick."

Somehow they did, creating a makeshift assembly plant in Flint, Mich., where the cars were essentially handmade, with redesign throughout the process. Each successive car off the line was a bit better than the last.

"They changed things on the '53 about every 10 cars," said Naber, who has restored his share of the early Corvettes. "They might redesign a part because it wasn't working out."

The production was both low-key and frantic.

"The '53 was really kind of a skunks works project, a fascinating feat done in a small period of time," said Fasnacht. "There are pictures of them, and you can tell they were feeling their way through the entire process. They don't know exactly how this is all going to work. But they got it done. It was a pretty remarkable accomplishment."

Look at a disassembled '53 'Vette today and the rough, even crude, workmanship is evident.

"If there were problems on the assembly line, they just banged (on them) until they fit," said retired businessman Gordon Andrus, a collector who turned his Corvette restoration projects into his own shop, Houston Corvette Service. "That's just the way it was done. They were constantly encountering problems."

The 1953 rush job was facilitated by making the Corvette out of fiberglass. The body parts could be sprayed on mahogany molds, saving time from tooling up for production in steel.

"That was the first time they tried to make a production vehicle in fiberglass," Andrus said. "It's easier to mold, it was easier to tool up for, but it's heavier than metal.

"The original plan was to go to steel after the first year, but the tooling cost was so much higher they just decided to experiment. Now it's a symbol of what Corvette is. The glass has evolved, but they've always been glass."

Not counting a handful of prototype cars, 300 1953 Corvettes were built, of which about 200 or so still exist. Several are owned by Houston collectors, including No. 227, owned by Andrus, and No. 300, the very last of the year, owned by Fasnacht.

"When No. 300 went through the shop, they packed up all the jigs and fixtures and went on to St. Louis where they began mass-producing the '54," Fasnacht said.

Their looks made car fans' blood run hot, but those first Corvettes did not beat with the heart of a sports car. The 1953-1954 cars all had straight 6-cylinder engines. A V8 made its appearance in 1955. Almost all cars the first three years had Powerglide two-speed automatic transmissions the only thing sporty was that they were floor-mounted.

Other problems abounded. Entering the small, low Corvette was like squeezing into a sardine can. Gauges were small and hard to read. There was no hard top, and the convertible usually leaked. There were no roll-up windows and no outside door handles.

"They had stationary Plexiglas windows that had to be hand-slid into the car," said Fasnacht. "To open the door, you had to force the vent window open, reach in and pull a lever."

After more than 40 years restoring 'Vettes, the Nabers now avoid the '50s models. "They are a pain," said Gary Naber. "They just take too long."

Despite generating excitement, the first Corvettes were not a sales success. In fact, they barely avoided extinction.

GM may have undercut its new sports car by halfhearted promotion. Used to selling huge numbers of family sedans, the company had little enthusiasm and less experience for marketing a small-numbers performance car. Many of the 1953-1954 cars were reserved for recruited celebrities and VIPs, which gave the car a shadow of elitism in an era when snobbery was definitely not in vogue.

GM built 3,640 Corvettes, still a small number, in 1954, but almost a third went unsold. In 1955, only 700 were built, and the project was all but pronounced dead.

It was saved, some say, by Ford.

In 1954 Ford introduced its own sports car, the 1955 Thunderbird. For reasons of pride and practical sales, GM did not want Ford to succeed where it had failed. The 1955 Corvette got its badly needed V8, and plans were made to redesign in 1956. (Even so, the new T-Bird blew the doors off the Corvette in sales.)

Fortunately for car enthusiasts and car history, the 1956 Corvette was a great improvement.

"It was just awesome," said Fasnacht. "It took off. It was much better looking. They really cleaned up the right features. They had a higher-performance V8. It had roll-up windows. All the things considered highly undesirable about the '53 were pretty much gone."

'Vette sales began to rise, and continued up more or less steadily until the late 1970s, as the cars became more powerful and more sophisticated. In 1958, Ford turned the Thunderbird, never a true sports car, into a four-seater, and for much of the next few decades Chevy had the two-seat American sports car field to itself.

Super enthusiasts

The Houston area has several Corvette clubs and many collectors. Ken Naber said the 1967 'Vette is the most-desired model, but for history and rarity the '53 model is a collector's holy grail.

"The '53 is the crudest, most roughly built of the Corvettes," said Fasnacht. "Doesn't drive particularly well, doesn't brake particularly well. It's not fast. It's just a neat piece of history."

Fasnacht, a retired executive of National Oilwell, is "touching up" his '53 Corvette No. 300, which he acquired in prime condition.

Fasnacht's Corvette passion began at 7 when he saw "a '62 fuel-injected Corvette rumbling down the street.

"I just thought, `Someday I have to have one of those.' I started saving my money, and when I was 16 I bought (a used 1966 model) for $1,850. It was 5 years old when I bought it."

He couldn't afford insurance and was loathe to get dings on the car, so he drove a $50 Rambler and left the Corvette in his parents' garage.

"I didn't care because I cherished and worshipped that car. I got more fun out of going out into the garage at night and just looking at it. I still have the car. It's gone 2,000 miles in 32 years."

Like all his sports cars, the '66 Corvette is in pristine, original condition. "I used to restore them completely myself, every nut and bolt," he said. He still does much of the hands-on work, and he does all the maintenance, which includes `exercising' (driving) the cars once a month.

Fasnacht loves all his cars, but the 'Vettes have a special place in his life. The 1963-1967-era Sting Ray models were the hot ones, he said, but "as my taste matured, as I really looked back at the history of the Corvette, it's the '53. It's the only hand-built car Corvette ever made."

After years of restoration, retired oil businessman Andrus has his '53 Corvette, No. 227, close to completion, though it hardly looks it right now.

"The '53 was out in a field near San Antonio. Grass was growing up knee high. They don't rust (because of the fiberglass), but they do rot. We molded pieces for the '53 by taking molds off our '55. A lot of work. That's why both of these cars have been worked on for almost 10 years."

"We could put it together in about three weeks if we needed to," Andrus said, but he's taking time, getting it ready for a show in the fall.

Until then he has several other meticulously restored 'Vettes to drive, including a beautiful blue 1955, almost a twin of the '53, except for its V8 engine.

Unlike many collectors, Andrus believes his cars should be driven. He lets his shop staff and even wide-eyed reporters take them for a spin. "It's just a car," he said, sitting in the passenger seat of the '55 as we pulled onto the road. "Once I show them, I drive them."

Andrus proved as good as his word. When two 11-year-old boys and their 19-year-old nanny stopped to drool over his cars, Andrus offered the surprised woman the keys to his '55 to give her young charges a brief spin.

"It's insured," he said. "I've restored it once I can restore it again."

Though he likes working on his cars, Andrus hired Winn Ferguson to restore them. It turned into an extra business.

"People kept coming over saying, `Can you work on mine?' So I said, `Let's start a business.' I own it, but Winn is really the heart and soul. It covers a lot of my expenses."

Andrus figures his '55 Corvette is worth about $80,000-$90,000, which would be a decent return on the estimated $50,000 and nine years he spent restoring it. He figures the '53, when finished, will be worth $120,000-$125,000.

Except, of course, he doesn't plan to sell.

"I've never sold a Corvette. That's one of my problems. I enjoy them. I am glad there are people who restore them and keep them perfect because I suppose it's a guide for someone else. It's fun to go to museums, but it's also fun to drive them."

Looking forward

You can't always tell it from the body, but the Corvettes have gone through five generations. Generation one, designated C1, included years 1953-1962. C2, often called the Sting Ray, was 1963-1967. C3, the Shark body, was 1968-1982. (There was no 1983 model.) C4 generation lasted from 1984 to 1996. The current model, C5, arrived in 1997.

As Corvette celebrates its 50th anniversary, many fans are looking with great eagerness toward C6.

"C6 will be an '05 model," said GM's Baldrick. "We'll show it to the world for the first time at the Detroit Auto Show in January '04. It will be fall of '04 before the car is available for sale.

"C6 will be a major makeover, definitely. It will be a new car. We are a little early to be talking about (changes to) C6. But I promise you'll love it. C5 has been such a wonderful car for us it has been a real challenge to push the envelope."

One thing seems sure: Whatever else it is, the car will still be clearly a Corvette and will still excite American car fans.

The “Not So Greats”

No. 5 – The 1954 Corvette

The 1954 Corvette

When Harley Earl introduced his Corvette to the world in 1953, Chevrolet felt certain that their two-door roadster would be a surefire hit. Afterfall, American Servicemen still stationed in Europe after World War II were exposed to many of the two-seat sports cars that were taking that continent by storm. Cars built by Mercedes, Jaguar and MG had captured the attention of these soldiers, and many returned home in search of something similar that they could have for their own. When the first Corvette rolled off the assembly line on June 30, 1953 – Americans did respond, and a love affair (of sorts) began with the Corvette.

Despite its initial warm reception however, the Corvette was quickly plagued with a number of real problems that adversely influenced the car’s initial popularity.

The 1954 Corvette, which was largely a carryover from the 1953 model year, came at a high sticker-price for its day. Priced at $3,254.10, the Corvette was considered far too expensive for the youthful market for which the car was intended. The car was under-powered – with a stovebolt six-cylinder engine which produced a mere 155 horsepower.

Moreover, General Motors early marketing campaigns did nothing to instill confidence in potential buyers. Chevrolet advertised the base price of the 1954 Corvette at $2774.00 (which was still more than the price of a Cadillac with a standard V-8 engine), and indicated that the car, when equipped with “optional” equipment, drove the price up over the three-thousand dollar price range. However, the “optional” equipment in question included the two-speed Powerglide transmission, windshield wipers and a heater!

Consumers saw through this marketing trickery and sales of the 1954 Corvette suffered dramatically because of it. Despite a reputation of being a highly reliable automobile, only 3,640 units were manufactured – less than a third of Chevrolet’s projected total. Of the 3,640 that were built, nearly 1,500 units remained unsold in dealerships across the country at the end of the model year!

No. 4 – The 1984 Corvette

The 1984 Corvette

There tends to be a trend between the introduction of a new-generation of Corvette, and the general overall quality of the new model. There are exceptions of course – the 1963 Split-Window Stingray (which is included in the “best of” portion of this list) is arguably the most desirable of that generation and one of the most collectible of any Corvette ever built. The same could not be said of the fourth-generation Corvette when it was first introduced in 1984.

The 1984 Corvette was not considered a failure by any means. In fact, few cars in history have ever been more eagerly anticipated than the arrival of the C4 Corvette. This new ‘Vette was a completely original design – from top to bottom – and was a contemporary interpretation of the American Classic. Sales in 1984 also reflected the American public’s excitement at the prospect of owning a fourth-generation Corvette. Chevrolet sold 51,547 units that year, which is the second highest number of units sold (the most was 53,807 units sold in 1979) in Corvettes sixty-plus year history.

So why would such a highly-anticipated and well received car make any “worst of” list?

For starters, the car received almost immediate criticism for being far too “harsh-riding” during daily driving. While the car was setup to corner and handle on road courses, the ultra-stiff suspension jostled the car’s occupants so dramatically that it was considered by some to be “undrivable” on the open road.

The interior received significant criticism as well. The 1984 Corvette had a passenger side dashboard bumper (part of a passive restraint system) that jutted out in front of its occupant. It contained deep door sills (as a result of the unit body frame) that resulted in drivers and passengers having excessive difficulty climbing into and out of the car. The digital dashboard was difficult to read, especially when exposed to direct sunlight. And, between excessive exhaust and road noise, the car was just plain loud.

Mechanically, the car contained the unreliable and difficult to maintain “Crossfire Injection” fuel delivery system. While the engine produced sufficient power (though limited to just 205 horsepower,) the fuel delivery system required frequent maintenance to continue running. The 1984 Corvette also came equipped with the 4+3 Overdrive Manual Transmission. This transmission was clunky, featuring a high-effort clutch and shift linkage that made stop-and-go driving challenging. The 4+3 Overdrive Manual Transmission was deemed so unreliable, that most Corvettes sold between 1984 and 1988 came equipped with an automatic transmission, at which point GM decided to do away with the transmission all together.

Lastly, the aesthetics of the 1984 Corvette were criticized as being “remarkably restrained” and lacking any real body-lines. To this day, many Corvette enthusiasts denounce the fourth-generation Corvette as being one of the least-inspired of any of the Corvettes produced both before and since.

The silver-lining of the 1984 Corvette is this – anyone looking to purchase an affordable used Corvette can readily find the early fourth-generation model, especially the 1984 vintage, for sale in any market. They are also considered to be the most affordable of all Corvettes on the used-car market today.

No. 3 – The 1979 Corvette

The 1979 Corvette

The last three entries in this “worst of” category all come from the era of the C3, or third-generation, Corvette. That’s not to say that the C3 was a sub-standard entry in the history of the Corvette. In fact, some of the early examples of the third-gen Corvette were the most well regarded, most-powerful and, arguably, the most iconic of any Corvette ever built. However, the third-gen Corvette remains one of the longest production runs of all time (a variant of the C3 was built from 1968 to 1982 – a total of 15 years!) and, along the way, there were bound to be some less-than-desirable attributes associated with at least some of the different model years of this car.

Towards the end of the C3’s long and challenging existence, it was clear to all involved that the Corvette engineers and design teams were focused on its next-generation model, leaving the current model to continue on essentially unchanged from the previous model years. This was especially true of the 1979 Corvette.

From the outside, the 1979 Corvette was virtually identical to the 1979 edition, minus some of the cool special edition models that were available in the previous model year. In 1978, Chevrolet introduced the incredibly popular black-and-silver Indy 500 Pace Car and Silver Anniversary editions. While neither of these special edition cars offered much of anything other than a unique paint scheme (as well as a front/rear spoiler and decal kit in the case of the Indy Pace Car), both of these cars still had some flare to them. For 1979, no special edition models were offered, and few features were introduced to entice prospective buyers to consider purchasing a Corvette.

Mechanically, the 1979 Corvette was a far cry from its older, more powerful predecessors. Whereas a 1969 Corvette was boasting as much as 435 horsepower (when equipped with a 427CI engine), the 1979 Corvette offered just two engine options – the L48 engine which boasted a meager 195 horsepower, or the L82, which was only marginally more impressive at 225 horsepower – and both of these power plants only achieved that level of power thanks to the introduction of an “open flow” muffler design.

Standard features for the 1979 Corvette were equally unimpressive. The ignition cylinder lock received extra shielding to reinforce it, the previously optional AM/FM radio became standard equipment, and an illuminated visor-mirror combination for the passenger sun-visor became one of the few available options for the 1979 model year. The most notable change to the car was the introduction of the high-back seats that had previously been introduced in the 1978 Pace Car the year before.

While most automotive critics were quick to criticize the C3 as being overpriced and no longer relevant (when compared to more competitively priced rivals like the Mazda RX-7, the Datsun 280ZX and even the 1979 Porsche 924), the 1979 Corvette’s greatest accomplishment was that it sold more units in one year than any Corvette before or since. With a base price of $10,220.23, the 1979 Corvette sold a total of 53,807 units, a record that appears to have no threat of being broken by any other model year of Corvette.

No. 2 – The 1982 Corvette

The 1982 Corvette – Collector’s Edition!

By the time the 1982 Corvette arrived on the scene, there was no question that the car’s only real value was to serve as a marketplace holder until Chevrolet finally unveiled its next-generation Corvette. By their own admission, Chevrolet executives made the decision to manufacture the 1982 Corvette solely to allow the new manufacturing plant in Bowling Green, which had opened in the summer of 1981, to have time to test out new manufacturing machinery and develop standardized assembly procedures while working on an already familiar design.

More than that, the 1982 Corvette was a bit of a “Frankenstein’s Monster.” It still featured a chassis that was introduced in 1963, a body design that was introduced in 1968, and for 1982, the new “Cross-Fire” fuel injection system that utilized injectors mounted into twin throttle-body assemblies. The 350 cubic-inch, L83 engine produced an unimpressive 200 horsepower. Worse still, the 1982 Corvette was only manufactured with an automatic transmission, marking the first time since 1955 that a manual transmission wasn’t offered.

To “celebrate” the departure of the third-generation Corvette, Chevrolet offered a final, commemorative “Collectors Edition” model. For its time, the 1982 Collector Edition Corvettes were considered one of the best C3 models of them all. David McLellan, then Chief Engineer of Corvette, stated that it was “a unique combination of color, equipment and innovation (resulting in) one of the most comprehensive packages ever offered to the Corvette buyer.” While it featured a few unique features – including an all-new frameless lifting rear-glass hatchback, a special crossed-flag emblem on the hood that read “Corvette Collector Edition,” finned “turbine” alloy wheels (reminiscent of those first introduced on the 1963 split-window Stingray), a special silver-beige metallic paint scheme and bronze-tinted glass T-tops – the car was still little more than its other base model counterparts.

Perhaps the most astounding part of the 1982 Corvette was its price. Whereas the 1979 Corvette sold for just over ten-thousand dollars, the 1982 Corvette nearly doubled in price, with a base coupe starting at $18,290.07 and the Collector Edition Corvette demanding a staggering $22,537.59, which was also the first Corvette to break the $20,000 price barrier.

No. 1 – The 1975 Corvette

The 1975 Corvette

The 1975 Corvette was almost destined to fail before it was ever introduced.

There were a number of contributing factors for this – the most significant of which was the retirement of Zora Arkus-Duntov, the “Father of the Corvette” on January 1, 1975. Zora had been instrumental in transforming the Corvette – almost from its inception – into a track-worthy sport car. Had he not intervened in the very early years of the car, the Corvette would most certainly have “died on the vine” given the over-priced/under-powered nature of the 1953 and 1954 models. Instead, his involvement with the Corvette program catapulted the sports car into a machine that rivaled any similarly priced sports car in the world. His departure from Chevrolet left many questioning what would become of the Corvette.

The second factor was the introduction of Federally mandated requirement to control exhaust emissions by introducing catalytic converters and the elimination of engines that could run on lead-based fuel.

In 1974, it was possible to purchase a Corvette equipped with a big block engine capable of producing 270 horsepower, or even a small-block that was still capable of producing 195 horsepower. While arguably under-rated when compared to similar sized engines just a few years earlier, these numbers were still far more impressive than those produced in 1975. With the introduction of catalytic converters and the elimination of lead-based fuel (which caused a half-point drop in engine compression) , the 1975 Corvette was now only capable of producing a meager 165 horsepower.

That’s correct – 165 horsepower.

Admittedly, an optional L82 engine was offered that produced 205 horsepower, but only ten-percent of the Corvettes built in 1975 included the upgraded powerplant. For the rest, the 1975 Corvette was the most under-powered Corvette since its introduction in 1953 – and the 1975 Corvette was only capable of producing 15 horsepower more out of its small-block 350 engine than the 1953 “Stovebolt” six-cylinder engine.

While the styling of the car remained virtually unchanged from the 1974 model year, this considerable reduction in horsepower ought to have negatively influenced consumers from purchasing the car. However, some speculation suggests that the 1975 Corvette sold as well as it did because of the uncertainty surrounding the Corvette’s longevity with the departure of Zora Duntov from the Corvette program. Despite a signficant loss in power compared to the 1974 Corvette (and, essentially, ALL Corvettes before it), Chevrolet managed to sell 38,665 of the 1975 vintage – which was the highest number of Corvettes sold up until that time.

The last Corvette

The front-engined Corvette is dead. GM head honcho Mary Barra delivered the news last week the final production C7 would be auctioned off this summer.

While the press skimmed the surface of this historic automotive event, The C7’s demise has received little in-depth coverage. Not only is this a melancholy milestone for us ‘Vette fans, but a little bit of an automotive Groundhog’s Day as well.

Case in point, take the introduction of the GM’s LS powerplant way back in 1996. It debuted in the 1997 C5 Corvette and then GM quietly phased out the Gen 1/Gen II small-block motors with little fanfare. By the time production halted, GM produced over 50 million old-school V8s, easily dwarfing the Model T, Corolla, and the VW Bug for all-time automotive sales goliath. Yet, it went out with a whimper and folks hardly noticed.

Fast forward to last week’s announcement the C7 was dead, and GM seems to be taking a similar tack, quietly pulling the plug on the the last front-engined ‘Vette. Lasting just six model years, the C7 will match the C2 as one of the shortest running generations in Corvette history.

It also quashes the conventional wisdom that the Corvette would be a two-platform lineup, at least for the time being. Let’s back up and review key events that led to the euthanization of the old-school Corvette.

GM invested almost two-thirds of a BILLION dollars in the expansion of Bowling Green. We were certain it was to accommodate two Corvette models. Some thought it would be a Cadillac variant or at the very least, the C7 would live on to appease traditional Corvette buyers.

Now that the C7 is dead, what’s going on in Bowling Green that required doubling the size of the factory? Is there a second model we don’t know about? In an SUV/CUV crazy market, it seems unlikely that GM would field a high-zoot sports car as the crown jewel of Cadillac. A more profitable Escalade would make sense, but a low volume sports car? Seems far-fetched at this point.

We know that high-performance engine assembly for Corvette (and now Cadillac’s Blackwing V8) has been brought in-house, and the paint shop is completely new, but what exactly will GM do to fully allocate a mega-expanded Bowling Green is up for debate. As we’ve all seen in the past few months, GM isn’t shy about shuttering plants if they aren’t running at darn near 100 percent capacity.

Especially risky for Bowling Green when you’re completely rewriting the rules of the brand and the jury is still deliberating if a mid-engine car will be warmly regarded by the Corvette faithful.

We would have loved to have been a fly-on-the-wall when Corvette Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter and gang pitched GM brass on the C8 Corvette. It was probably the hardest sales job ever in the annals of automotive history. Could you imagine the following scenario? Let’s cue up the wiggly lines on the TV and go back in time…

Picture Tadge at a round table with GM brass, “Hey, we are the undisputed king of sports cars in the North American market, selling between 25 to 40,000 units annually at a huge profit to the company. What we’re proposing is completely re-writing the template of the car, with a more exotic design. Even if it means alienating our fiercely loyal customers…”

As we know now, GM brass approved this strategy and we’ll have to see how it pans out at the end of the year when the C8 hits the market. If that weren’t enough change, there is most likely an electric or electric-assisted versions of the C8 waiting in the wings as well. Whether Chevrolet can maintain sales volume with a completely different car remains to be seen, which hints there could be more going on.

So if the C7 is dead, could a Corvette branded SUV be in the wings? This would make the most sense. Before you dismiss this as heresy, one only needs to look to the Porsche line-up and note its 2.5 ton Cayenne SUV accounts for the majority of Porsche sales and probably helped it survive and remain a semi-autonomous car company.

Chevrolet critics have long lobbied for a spin-off of the Corvette because they think the Bow Tie image is damaged or not cool enough to attract younger, foreign-brand leaning customers. We say Corvette and Chevrolet are intrinsically linked forever and busting them up is a long-shot, but still believe the Corvette as a multiple-platform brand has not been ruled out.

We speculated that the Camaro would replace the C7 as the front-engine, rear wheel drive “entry level” Corvette and we now feel vindicated. For decades, “the pony can’t outrun the horse” was an unwritten rule at Chevrolet. Corvette was the performance king, period. That credo was obliterated in slow-motion starting almost 10 years ago with the introduction of the Fifth Gen Camaro.

Chevy’s pony has since matched Corvette tit-for-tat with shared engines, an equally sophisticated chassis and the best tuning and refinement (thanks Al Oppenheiser) GM can bring to life. Not only has the Camaro been groomed (right before our eyes) to take the Corvette’s crown, it is one of the best performance cars on the market at any price. A fitting successor to our “old-fashioned” C7 and good news that we can all rejoice in.

I can personally attest how mystical the idea of a mid-engine Corvette has been for the last zillion years. I can remember as a kid, I’d hit the drugstore at the end of the month to see new issues of the big car magazines. Staring back at me from the news stands were headlines that barked “Secret Mid Engine Corvette Coming!”

Time and space would stand still, and I would plop down, right there on the spot, and read the story, hanging on every word. The pictures of Zora Arkus-Duntov and Bill Mitchell next to advanced Corvette prototypes at GM’s Warren, Michigan Design Center were exotic and beguiling.

The Mid-Engine Corvette story is decades in the making. Photos: General Motors

You would think the announcement that the car is indeed slated for production would be heralded as the second automotive coming but sadly, that’s not reaction on the internet. Social media forums are the latrine walls of our generation and feedback on the new car has been brutal.

“Oh look, a new Fiero,” is a common, fairly kind response. Another reader posts, “If I wanted a Ferrari, I’d buy a Ferrari..” Others are more blunt in their disdain for the new car, “It looks like sh*t…”

Fair enough, but the hardpoints of a mid-engine car design are fixed and unmovable, and lend itself to look-a-like styling. Cab-forward passenger compartment, short hood, the elimination of aft stowing, and a rear bulkhead in the cabin, are just a few of the aforementioned obstacles engineers face, not to mention stylists.

Which leads us to um, the styling. Chazcron over at MidEngineCorvetteForum always has the most up to date renders.

Here’s our take: We predict the new-age C8 Corvette will be a game changer. We speculate the performance will be such a quantum leap ahead of the C7 that it makes the old car obsolete. We think once people see and drive the new car, it’s risky approval by GM will seem like a no-brainer.

If it comes in at $75,000 (with the anticipated exponential leap in performance,) it will put the foreign exotics on the trailer – for a third of the price – and will change the global sport car market forever.

It would serve us well to remember Zora Arkus-Duntov at this time. He was convinced the mid-engine layout was the evolution the Corvette was destined to undergo. He tried in vain for years to get a mid-engine car approved and sadly, died without seeing the birth of such a Corvette. We know he’s watching from up above with a smile…

The childlike faith that GM will not screw up America’s only sports car boggles the mind. Everyone with the remotest interest in cars should know of GM’s record of new technology — the melting aluminum engine for the Chevy Vega, the Oldsmobile diesel V-8, Computer Command Control, the V-8-6-4 … shall I go on? How about the powerhouse Corvettes that got all of 165 horsepower in 1981 and 205 horsepower in 1984?

A rear-mounted engine will be an engine that no normal person can do anything with beyond maybe checking the oil. Corvettes have always been cars their owners could work on, but apparently not anymore. Nor will a rear-engine Corvette have any room for luggage, unlike the C4 through the current C7. (So much for weekend getaways.) Nor will be the C8 be a car its drivers can shift, since they will all have automatic transmissions, a point Cruikshank ignored. (Manual transmissions require driver skill.)

No one with any sense believes GM will sell the C8 for only a little more than the C7. This car will be more expensive to build, and Government Motors already has too many vehicles that don’t make money. Nevertheless, snobs who don’t buy Corvettes now because they’re not Ferraris or Porsches won’t buy Corvettes when they are rear-engine and more expensive. So this is likely the final Corvette, because GM will not sell as many Corvettes as they think, they will lose money, and they can’t lose money.

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