As automotive events go, the arrival of a new Corvette is a rarity; just six generations have appeared over 60 years.
A new one debuted last week at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, and although it's considered an American sports car, its birth was GM's answer to European sports cars such as the Jaguar XK-120.
General Motors design chief Harley Earl created a concept car code-named XP-122, one of several concepts unveiled in January 1953 at the GM Motorama show held at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. Response to the car was so enthusiastic, it was put into production basically unaltered.
The rest, as they say, is history.
1953-1962: The first Corvette looked fast, but used a six-cylinder engine and two-speed automatic transmission from Chevy's family cars. Each year brought further improvements. In 1955, Chevy's new small-block V-8 became standard. In 1956, the Corvette gained a three-speed manual transmission, roll-up windows and door locks; in 1957, fuel injection. That year also saw the first Corvette race car, the SS, which raced at Sebring. The Corvette also received design updates in 1956, 1958 and 1961.
1963-1967: The 1963 Corvette is, perhaps, the most iconic, due to its split-window design, which lasted one year. Lasting a bit longer: hidden headlights. While engines carried over, the Corvette gained an independent suspension and, in 1965, four-wheel disc brakes. Power continued to grow. By 1967, the optional 427-cubic-inch V-8 was modestly rated at 430 horsepower, but said to be closer to 550. Still, the 1963 Grand Sport, with 550 horsepower, would be the last factory-built Corvette race cars for decades.
1968-1982: Development problems delayed the release of the 1968 model, which featured new styling atop a carry-over chassis. It was an omen. This would be the longest-lived of any Corvette model, but one that fell victim to increasing government regulation. Not only did styling suffer, horsepower plummeted to as little as 165 in 1975 from 465 in 1970. The convertible was axed for 1976; the Sting Ray name in 1977; the manual transmission in 1982; the car itself for 1983. But 1984 would mark a rebirth.
1984-1996: The 1984 model debuted in spring 1983 as a coupe with a targa roof, 205-horsepower V-8 and a four-speed manual transmission. It was the first all-new Corvette since 1963. Horsepower grew as performance once more became a priority. Anti-lock disc brakes became standard in 1986, the same year the Corvette convertible returned. In 1990, with help from British sports car maker Lotus, Chevrolet unveiled the ZR-1 with a 375-horsepower V-8. It would last through 1995.
1997-2004: Counting the modest design updates in the 1950s, for only the sixth time in 44 years, the Corvette was totally redesigned. Its new all-aluminum V-8 engine, mated to a six-speed manual, produced 345 horsepower. The coupe was followed by a convertible in 1998 and a fixed-roof coupe in 1999. In 2001, the Z06 debuted with enough horsepower — 405 — to reach 60 mph in 3.9 seconds. Corvette CR-5 race cars reappeared, racking up impressive class wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, 24 Hours of Daytona, 12 Hours of Sebring and others.
2005-2013: The 2005 Corvette — the first since 1962 with exposed headlights — continued to build on the car's performance heritage. Power from its standard 6.0-liter V-8 was a healthy 400 horsepower. The high-performance Z06 debuted in 2006 with 505 horsepower. But Chevy didn't stop there. For 2009, the ZR-1 returned with a supercharged 638-horsepower V-8 and a zero-to-60-mph time of 3.3 seconds. It's the fastest production car ever sold by GM, with a top speed of 205 mph.