by Alex Misoyannis
This week saw the reveal of the all-new 2020 C8 Chevrolet Corvette, the first mid-engined model in its 66-year history, and the first to be offered in Australia as a factory vehicle.
But how did we get here? Let’s rewind….
C1 Corvette (1953-1962)
The history of the Corvette begins in the years following World War II, when American soldiers returning from Europe were bringing home two-seat sports cars from carmakers like MG, Jaguar and Alfa Romeo.
General Motors designer Harley Earl noticed the market opportunity and, following the release of the rival Nash Healey roadster in 1951, got to work on 'Project Opel'.
The fruits of his labour appeared in 1953, with the unveiling of the first-generation Corvette in New York. The two-seat, two-door convertible was constructed from fibreglass – a revolutionary material at the time, rarely used for car building – and was based on a Chevrolet sedan platform.
Under the bonnet was a 110kW 3.9-litre carbureted inline-six, mated to a two-speed automatic that enabled an 11.5-second 0-60mph (97km/h) dash, considered slow even by 1950s standards.
The chassis didn’t make up for the car’s straight-line shortfalls either, with critics claiming the brakes didn't match the car’s sporting intent, and that a manual transmission was needed to improve driver engagement.
A 145kW 4.3-litre V8 and a three-speed manual were introduced in 1955, improving the Corvette’s sales considerably in the face of the new V8-powered Thunderbird from cross-town rival Ford.
The C1 received a facelift in 1958, adding quad headlamps and a new dashboard, before being replaced for the 1963 model year.
C2 Corvette (1963-1967)
The C2 generation launched in 1963, badged as the ‘Corvette Sting Ray’.
For the first time, the Corvette was available as a coupe, with a sleek and timeless design featuring pop-up headlights, a fastback rear roofline and the now-iconic split rear window.
Under the bonnet were a range of V8 engines, with power outputs between 186kW and 324kW. A Z06 option package was made available for the first time, which included a range of competition-ready parts intended for customers who planned to take their C2 racing.
The split-window design was phased out for 1964 after complaints of poor visibility, before the C2 was discontinued for good in 1967.
C3 Corvette (1968-1982)
The third-generation Corvette debuted in 1968, with a new look heavily inspired by the 1965 Mako Shark II concept car.
As before, both coupe and convertible body styles were available, with the former featuring a ‘T-top’ removable roof design.
For the first year of production, two engines were available: a 5.4-litre ‘small-block’ V8 with up to 261kW, or a 7.0-litre ‘big-block’ V8 with up to 324kW.
However, by the mid-1970s, the arrival of new emissions regulations started to take its toll on the Corvette range. In 1975, the base model offered just 123kW from its 5.7-litre V8 engine, giving it one of the lowest specific power outputs of any car produced since the mid-20th century at just 21kW per litre.
The C3 Corvette remained in production for 14 years – the longest run of any ’Vette ever – before being replaced in 1984.
C4 Corvette (1984 - 1996)
If there’s one Corvette with a bad reputation among the enthusiast community, it’s the C4.
The C4 was launched for the 1984 model year, based on an all-new platform. It wore a fresh appearance, with suitably-1980s boxy styling and aerodynamic wheels. The front and rear bumpers were constructed from moulded plastic – instead of fibreglass – to reduce weight.
Like its predecessor, the fourth-generation model’s engines were compromised significantly by tightening emissions regulations, with the base 5.7-litre L83 engine generating a mere 153kW.
The hero ZR-1 was released in 1990, powered by an all-new V8 engine developed by Lotus, with advanced dual overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder.
It produced 280kW of power and 502Nm of torque, channelled to the rear wheels through a six-speed manual – enough for a sub-5.0 second 0-60mph (98km/h) time. The brakes, steering and chassis were also tuned by the aforementioned British brand, meaning the ZR-1 certainly knew how to corner.
The C4 Corvette was discontinued in 1996.
C5 Corvette (1997 - 2004)
The fifth-generation Corvette arrived in 1997 with – you guessed it – an overhauled appearance well-suited to its time.
Structurally, the C5 was a world apart from the C4. It rode on an all-new chassis that was significantly stiffer than the outgoing car, and bore a near-perfect 51:49 weight distribution designed to improved its handling. The drag coefficient dropped to 0.29Cd, while weight fell to 1472kg for the coupe.
There were considerable changes under the bonnet. Debuting in the 1997 Corvette was the first General Motors ‘Generation III’ small-block V8 engine, the LS1.
Producing 257kW/475Nm, the 5.7-litre mill eventually found its way into the local VT Series II Holden Commodore, and has since become a favourite among enthusiasts across the globe.
The high-performance Z06 landed in 2001 with a tuned 287kW version of the LS1, dubbed the LS6. It promised a more focused driving experience, thanks to stiffer suspension, thicker, stickier tyres, brake cooling ducts, a titanium exhaust, thinner glass and more.
Production of the C5 ceased at the end of the 2004 model year.
C6 Corvette (2005 - 2013)
The sixth-generation Corvette launched in the US in 2005.
It was shorter and narrower than the C5 it replaced, and was powered by a bored-out 6.0-litre version of the LS1, known as the LS2.
It produced 298kW of power and 542Nm of torque and could propel the Corvette to 60mph in 4.2 seconds. A Z06 variant was released for 2006, with a 377kW 7.0-litre LS7 V8, a lighter aluminium frame, stiffer springs and bigger brakes.
A mid-life update in 2008 added a 6.2-litre LS3 V8 to the range, an engine that went on to power the final Holden Commodore SS.
In 2009, a familiar name returned to the rear of the Corvette: ZR1. Chevrolet fitted the LS3 with an Eaton supercharger to create the LS9, a 476kW and 819Nm beast that later found its way into the engine bay of the greatest Australian sedan ever built, the GTS-R W1.
Combined with a carbon-fibre roof, bulged carbon-fibre bonnet, carbon-ceramic brakes and magnetic dampers, the ZR1 could sprint to 60mph in 3.4 seconds and achieve a 330km/h top speed.
The C6 was phased out in 2013.
C7 Corvette (2014-2019)
The seventh-generation Corvette was revealed at the 2013 Detroit motor show for the 2014 model year.
The C7 was styled to be more aggressive than its rounded C5 and C6 predecessors, with sharper bodywork, angular taillights and a rear spoiler as standard. The inside also received a makeover, with improved fit and finish, a semi-digital instrument cluster, and swathes of leather and Alcantara.
In entry-level Stingray trim, the C7’s 6.2-litre LT1 V8 produced 339kW of power and 624Nm of torque, sent to the rear wheels through a seven-speed manual or six-speed automatic (later an eight-speed ’box).
The Z06 joined the range in 2015, with a supercharged, 485kW/881Nm version of the direct-injected LT1 used in the Stingray.
It hit 60mph from a standstill in less than 3.0 seconds, and wore sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres, Brembo brakes, wider fenders and trick magnetic dampers to improve track performance.
It wasn’t until 2018 the hero of the C7 lineup landed in showrooms: the ZR1. The supercharger was enlarged to 2.6 litres, boosting the 6.2-litre V8’s outputs to 563kW and 969Nm – enough for a 2.85-second 0-60mph sprint.
The aero package received a significant upgrade to boot, with the optional ‘ZTK Performance Package’ increasing downforce by over 60 per cent compared to the Z06, thanks to a larger rear wing, sticky Michelin tyres, a carbon-fibre front splitter with end caps and revised damper tuning.
C7 production ended in June 2019, with the final car sold at auction for US$2.7 million ($3.6 million).
C8 Corvette (2019 onwards)
At last, the just-revealed eighth-generation Chevrolet Corvette.
The iconic sports car’s move to a mid-engine layout marks the biggest change to the nameplate in its 66-year history and places European sports cars firmly in its sights.
Launching in Stingray trim, the C8 extracts 370kW of power and 637Nm of torque from its 6.2-litre LT2 V8, sent to the rear tyres through a new eight-speed dual-clutch transmission. The sprint from 0-60mph is accomplished in less than three seconds.
Higher-powered Z06, ZR1 and Zora variants are set to arrive at a later date.
Visually, the latest Corvette is even more aggressive than its predecessor, with a muscular front end, sharp LED headlights, prominent cooling intakes behind the doors, quad exhaust tips and taillights not dissimilar to the current Camaro.
Inside the cabin, the C8 has been subject to a technological makeover. In the centre of the dash there’s a large infotainment touchscreen, while the driver looks into a digital instrument cluster and grips a flat-topped and bottomed leather steering wheel.
The 2020 Corvette C8 will go on sale in the US later this year. More importantly, Holden has confirmed the 2020 Corvette will be available Down Under, in factory right-hand spec, the first time ever Corvette has been produced RHD from the factory. We can't wait.