While coverage of the C7 Stingray has dominated Corvette news for much of 2013, this year also marks a number of important anniversaries for the brand. In fact, paging backwards through the Corvette history books in 10-year increments reveals a pattern of continuous innovation on the part of its designers and engineers, one that has come to define the car over its 60-year production run. Let’s take a look at what each new decade brought to GM’s performance and technology flagship following its introduction in 1953.
1963: As John Pfanstiehl noted in his recent article (“Timeless Beauty,” Oct. ’13), the original Sting Ray brought epochal advances in the areas of performance, styling, and, most importantly, critical acceptance of the marque. Indeed, the ’63 Corvette is one of the few cars in GM’s history that can be said to have met or exceeded all of its goals from the outset. Even more remarkable is that the car only got better over the course of its brief model run, culminating in what are widely considered to be the most beautiful and desirable Corvettes of all time, the ’67 big-blocks. Today, the second-generation Vette remains one of the automotive world’s most enduring icons, a totem of American mechanical ingenuity and artistic vision.
1973: One could argue (as many have) that the kind of “innovation” going on in the ’70s was in fact inimical—rather than beneficial—to the Corvette brand. And indeed, horsepower numbers were in a death spiral as engineers struggled to make the Vette’s previously unfettered engines meet tightening emissions restrictions while acquiescing to a diet of low-octane unleaded fuel. Though the model year’s chief technological advance—the introduction of standard radial tires—might seem quaint by today’s standards, viewed in the context of the times, it represents an admirable attempt to maintain the car’s competitive edge in a challenging environment. Moreover, innovation in the area of tire technology would become a theme with the Corvette, right up through the introduction of the track-ready Michelin Pilot Sport Cup rubber in 2012.
1983: I’m taking a slight liberty here, inasmuch as no ’83 Corvettes were ever sold to the public, but since the C4 started rolling out of showrooms several months earlier than its MY84 designation would suggest, I’m prepared to make an exception. Having undergone one of the more extensive development processes in brand history, the fourth-gen’s list of firsts is formidable. Not only did the car boast breakthrough mechanical upgrades such as a dual-monoleaf suspension and rack-and-pinion steering, but it wrapped this hardware in a stylish new body that was both more aerodynamic and easier to manufacturer than its predecessor’s. Above all, the C4 was the first truly modern Corvette, one that finally placed the brand on equal performance footing with its competitors from across the Atlantic.
1993: With the impressive LT1 engine having been introduced a year earlier, MY93 was one of incremental improvement for the Corvette. The year’s most notable new technology, the passive remote-keyless entry system, was buggy and prone to receiver failure over time, but its basic goal of easing vehicle access for driver and passenger has since become standard practice among high-end makes the world over. Today, the notion of having to remove one’s keys in order to enter a new Corvette seems as outdated as a cupholder-free cabin.
2003: Along with the handsome 50th Anniversary edition, MY03 witnessed the debut of the Corvette’s advanced Magnetic Selective Ride Control system. Unlike conventional multimode shock absorbers, MSRC relies on magnetorheological shocks that use magnetic particles suspended in fluid to regulate suspension response in real time. In addition to its vastly quickened reflexes, which optimizes the ride/handling balance on changing road surfaces, MSRC can be allied with the car’s traction control and other systems to provide varying levels of stability enhancement during performance driving maneuvers. It works so well, in fact, that a revised, “third generation” version of the system is optional on the new Stingray.