Few cars have achieved the iconic status of Chevrolet’s Corvette.
Introduced in 1953 as a concept car at the GM Motorama in New York, only 300 of the fiberglass roadsters were built that first year. However, they were hand built, giving them two distinctions; (a) being the first Corvette and (b) being the only handmade iteration of the car ever sold to the general public by the factory.
Seizing the public’s imagination the way few other cars have done before or since, the Corvette is intricately woven into the fabric of America. Prominently featured in parades, at fairs, at football and baseball games, and anyplace else where large numbers of Americans gather where cars could be part of the festivities, the Chevrolet Corvette is arguably America’s only true sports car.
The early astronauts also favored Corvettes. Pulling up to NASA headquarters in Florida in the 1960’s would routinely reveal a brace of the shark-nosed two seaters. Jim Rathmann, the former Melbourne, Fla. Chevrolet dealer (and Indy 500 winner) convinced then-GM president Ed Cole to establish a special deal for astronauts. Under the program, astronauts could purchase two cars from Rathmann at a discount. Most chose a wagon or a sedan for their wives and a Corvette for themselves. In those days, astronauts were culled from the ranks of the American military’s test pilots, so by definition these were guys who loved speed. And no other American car said speed the way the Corvette did.
There have been six generations of the Corvette produced since 1953.
The generally agreed upon designation for each is its numerical place in succession, preceded by the letter “C”. Thus the first generation of the Chevrolet is C1 and the current generation is C6. The C7 Chevrolet Corvette is expected to debut in the fall of 2013.
This buyer’s guide picks up with Corvette C5, introduced in 1997.