By 1982, the currently available Corvette was definitely getting a little long in the tooth. The chassis had been in production since 1963, with relatively few upgrades (like four-wheel disc brakes in lieu of the antique drums, in 1965), and the "Shark" bodyshell had been introduced as a '68 model. What had once been wildly revolutionary had become, over nearly two decades, dated.
However, the Corvette engineering team hadn't spent all those years napping. In the very early '70s, the Stingray was still, if not cutting edge, at least reasonably state of the art. By that time, unfortunately, automotive engineers were scrambling just to keep up with the rapid changes of newly enacted-and constantly tightening-federal emissions and safety standards. Compression ratios dropped, hot cams disappeared, and in 1973 and 1974, every car sold in the U.S. sprouted some sort of "safety" bumper that ostensibly could be driven into a fixed barrier at 5 mph without allowing damage to any of a car's vitals. The Corvette's graceful chromed bumpers were replaced by flexible, body-colored front and rear caps that covered huge braces and cushions. While not particularly attractive compared to the metal bumpers on '68-72 Sharks, the crash bumpers were not grotesque like the shock-mounted aluminum railroad ties that were hung fore and aft on most other cars. At least the Corvette, while bloating up by about 250 pounds, still looked like a Corvette. And while severely emasculated performance-wise, still could outrun nearly any of its contemporaries. And that's more than could be said for that other, lesser, American automotive icon, the Mustang, which deteriorated from being a sporty coupe into a heavily mascara'd Pinto.
By 1978, the Corvette engineers, led by Chief Engineer Dave McLellan (who had succeeded Zora on January 1, 1975), were engaged in developing an all-new, fourth-generation Corvette. This was truly an instance of the term "all new" being accurate. Outside of retaining a front-mounted 350-cid small-block and rear-wheel drive, remaining a two-seater, and carrying the Corvette name, nothing would be shared with any earlier Vette.
The new Fourth Generation Corvette evolved into a showcase of then state-of-the-art engineering and technology. The information that trickled-or was intentionally leaked-out of GM kept the interest levels of both Corvette enthusiasts and the automotive press in general at a fever pitch, and the occasional spy photo of a grotesquely disguised prototype just added fuel to the fire. By 1981, it was common knowledge that the run of the current, Third Generation Corvette would end with the '82 models, and that the long-awaited and all new Corvette would be out as an '83 model. Or so it appeared.
A handful of '83 Corvettes were built; these were the cars that the media tested-and raved about-in mid and late 1982. Chevrolet actually certified an '83 model Corvette for sale. But, by the time various niggling little problems with quality, reliability, and durability were solved, the initial plan for the new Corvette to be introduced and go on sale in October 1982, proved to be an impossibility.
According to Dave McLellan, a total of 61 serial numbered '83 Corvettes were built. Of these, 18 were "prototypes" and the other 43 were "pilot-line" cars. The prototypes were first simulations of the production design, built on "soft tools." The pilot-line cars were the first cars built with production tooling. Said McLellan, "While you're doing the prototype test program, you are also designing the production car, and then making the tooling for production. These are typically hardened steel tools. Five to six months after the pilot-line cars have been built and thoroughly tested, and the production tools modified to meet whatever may have evolved, then you start to build the production car on the assembly line."
The 43 pilot-line '83 Corvettes were actually built at the Bowling Green assembly plant. Thirty-three were assigned to Corvette Engineering and GM Proving Ground activities, and the remaining 10 were kept at Bowling Green for manufacturing development purposes. Because of the Corvette Team's insistence that the new Corvette be as defect free and of the highest possible quality, initial production for the fourth-generation car did not begin until some time in January 1983, and The General made a decision to serialize and sell the new Corvette as an '84 model.
The '84 Corvette was a resounding success! It was named Car Of The Year by Motor Trend Magazine, and by the end of the 18-month production run, 51, 547 '84 Corvettes were built and sold.
The '83 Corvette? None were, or ever will be, sold to the public. Of the 18 prototypes and 43 pilot-line '83 Corvettes, only one, a pilot-line car with VIN 1G1AY0783D5110023, remains. Literally and figuratively one of a kind, this incredible example of Corvette history is on permanent display at the National Corvette Museum.