Sharks and Manta Rays and Sting Rays, Oh My!
GM Heritage Center

14 Things You Didn't Know About the Chevrolet Corvette

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Sharks and Manta Rays and Sting Rays, Oh My!
GM Heritage Center

The Call of the Open Road

When it comes to American cars, the Chevrolet Corvette is in a class by itself. The first ones were built in 1953, and General Motors has reliably been cranking them out ever since. In fact, only the Chevrolet Suburban (first built in 1935) the ’Vette for nameplate longevity in the GM stable. Test your Corvette knowledge with these fun facts about America’s oldest sports car.

Related: 12 Surprising Things About the Chevy Camaro

The ’Vette was Born in Michigan, but Raised in the Midwest
GM Heritage Center

The ’Vette was Born in Michigan, but Raised in the Midwest

The General Motors plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky, is the only one in the world producing Chevrolet Corvettes, and it has been that way since opening in 1981. Before that, Corvettes were built in St. Louis. But it was Flint, Michigan, where the first ‘Vettes rolled off the assembly line in June 1953.

Related: 30 'Foreign' Cars That Are Made in America

The ’Vette was Born in Michigan, but Raised in the Midwest
GM Heritage Center

The First Model Lacked a Few Surprising Features

The 1953 ’Vette was a rare bird: Only 300 were made. They were all convertibles, all with “Polo White” exteriors, red vinyl interiors, and black canvas tops. The side windows didn’t roll down; you simply removed them altogether (a feature also found on the 1954 and ’55 models). The ’53 Corvette also lacked exterior door handles; you had to use the interior handles to open the doors. And only two factory options were available — an AM radio and a heater.

Related: 37 Classic Car Design Features You Don’t See Anymore

The Hood Once Resembled a Cheese Grater
Softeis

The Hood Once Resembled a Cheese Grater

For the 1958 model, Chevrolet gave the car a facelift inside and out, but it was the exterior that got most of the attention. Chevy designers gave the ’Vette two extra headlights, a more prominent grille, and loads of chrome accents on the doors, trunk, and front fenders. To top it all off, the hood was embellished with louvers that served no practical purpose whatsoever. (Those louvers disappeared the following model year.)

The Shriners Had a Fleet of Them
Mecum Auctions

The Shriners Had a Fleet of Them

Back in 1957, members of the Tangier Shrine of Omaha, Nebraska, got the bright idea of forming a “precision driving team” and arranged a special order of 13 Corvettes, which they drove in parades and other events nationwide. The Tangier Shrine Corvette Patrol was such a hit that the members decided to buy a new fleet of cars the following year … and the next … and the next … finally disbanding in 1981. Perhaps the most notable year was 1962, when the patrol cars were painted purple (the official name of the hue, developed for Cadillac, was Royal Heather Amethyst).

The Corvette Starred in a Popular ’60s TV Show …
GM Heritage Center

The Corvette Starred in a Popular ’60s TV Show …

Other cars have played a prominent role in popular culture, but few can match the Corvette for sheer star power. The TV show “Route 66” followed the exploits of two 20-somethings traveling cross-country in a Chevy Corvette. GM supplied a new ’Vette for each season of the show, which aired on CBS from 1960 to 1964, and touted the show in its Corvette fan-club magazine.

… And in a Forgettable ’70s Film
Amazon

… And in a Forgettable ’70s Film

Everyone remembers actor Mark Hamill’s first starring movie role in “Star Wars,” but not many recall the film he followed it up with. Released in 1978, “Corvette Summer” starred Hamill as a teenage gearhead who travels to Las Vegas with a wannabe hooker (actor Annie Potts, in her Hollywood debut) to find his beloved sports car, which has been stolen. The action-comedy opened to mixed reviews — The New York Times described Hamill as affecting “a naïveté that would be unconvincing in a tiny child” — and has been largely forgotten today. The Corvette featured in the film is a 1973 model, by the way.

Related: 25 Most Iconic Movie and TV Cars

Don’t Forget That Prince Song, Either
IMDb

Don’t Forget That Prince Song, Either

“Little Red Corvette” became Prince’s biggest hit to date when it was released in 1983 as the second single off his album “1999.” The single peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and is included on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest rock songs. According to Rolling Stone, the Purple One recorded the entire song just one day after installing a new recording system at his home studio near Minneapolis.

Related: 11 Classic Cars That Have Inspired Memorable Songs

GM Once Built an Aluminum Corvette
GM Heritage Center

GM Once Built an Aluminum Corvette

The Chevy Corvette was the first mass-produced vehicle with a body made largely of fiberglass, rather than steel. But General Motors engineers have tinkered endlessly with the Corvette over the years, experimenting with different engines, body styles, and materials. In 1972, GM built two prototype XP-895s, which had a mid-body V8 engine. Engineers designed one body using traditional steel, the other with aluminum supplied by Reynolds Aluminum. These days, the XP-895 lives at the General Motors Heritage Center near Detroit.

1963 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray
1963 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray by Greg Gjerdingen (CC BY)

It Once Had a Split Rear Window

The second generation of Corvettes arrived with the 1963 model, which Chevy dubbed the Sting Ray (later changed to Stingray). Its sleek, sharp lines were a radical departure from the curves of earlier ’Vettes, and for the first time a hardtop model also was available. The ’63 Sting Ray hardtop is noteworthy for its fastback split rear window, a design feature that disappeared the following model year (but resurfaced on the 1971 Buick Riviera).

Sharks and Manta Rays and Sting Rays, Oh My!
GM Heritage Center

Sharks and Manta Rays and Sting Rays, Oh My!

The Sting Ray isn’t the only sea creature that has inspired Corvettes over the years. The mako shark that a GM executive landed during a fishing trip inspired a 1961 prototype of the same name, all shimmery two-tone paint, pointed snout, and exhaust “gills.” The glimpse of a manta ray gliding through the sea inspired another prototype, the 1969 Manta Ray. Many of its sleek design cues would appear on the third- and fourth-generation Corvettes of the late 1960s and ’70s.

1979 Corvette
1979 Corvette by Thesupermat (CC BY-SA)

1979 Was a Very Good Year …

When it comes to the best and worst Corvettes of all time, many collectors say the ’79 model falls into the latter category. This third-generation model was heavy (3,300 pounds), relatively slow (165 horsepower), and pricey (the first to retail for more than $10,000). But that didn’t dampen buyer enthusiasm. About 53,800 of these third-generation ’Vettes were sold in 1979, the most of any model year. By comparison, Chevy sold just under 18,000 Corvettes in 2019.

… But 1983 Was a Very Bad Year
National Corvette Museum

… But 1983 Was a Very Bad Year

In fact, there is no official 1983 model year Corvette, and there’s only a single prototype known to still exist. What happened? Some of the delay can be attributed to the challenge GM had meeting California’s new, more stringent vehicle emission rules. Design demands made by company President Lloyd Reuss also may have played a part (it is said he didn’t like the planned T-tops). Whatever the case, by the time the Bowling Green plant was ready to go, it was too late in the year to introduce a 1983 model. A handful of prototypes were built for testing purposes — all but one later destroyed — and the fourth-generation Corvette made its debut at a 1984 model.

Cobra 18 WX ST II mobile CB radio with microphone
Cobra 18 WX ST II mobile CB radio with microphone by Zuzu (CC BY-SA)

Citizen-Band Radios Once Were Optional …

So many drivers hopped aboard the ’70s citizen-band radio craze that General Motors offered CB radios as an option in some of their cars — including the Corvette. Chevy offered buyers the option of a factory-installed CB on their ‘Vettes starting with the 1979 model (an eight-track player was another option that year; check out the original sales brochure). The 1985 model year was the last one offered with a CB.

… And It’s No Longer a Front-Engine Sports Car
Chevrolet

… And It’s No Longer a Front-Engine Sports Car

The 2020 Chevrolet Corvette wowed fans when it hit showrooms. The all-new eighth-generation model is the fastest ever built, capable of doing zero to 60 mph in an unbelievable 2.9 seconds, according to GM. To achieve that speed, Chevy engineers did something they’d never done before on a Corvette: They relocated the engine from the front to just behind the passenger seats.