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General Motors Corvette Collection - Special Feature

An Inside Look At The Corvettes Of The GM Heritage Center

Christopher R. Phillip Jun 10, 2010
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Vehicle Descriptions Courtesy Of General Motors

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Despite the announcement last year that General Motors had chosen to sell off a number of the Corvettes in its private stock, a significant portion of the collection was saved from the auction block, to preserve for future generations the company's contributions to the automobile industry. Those cars are currently housed at the GM Heritage Center, either in the main-floor collection or in auxiliary storage locations in the Detroit area.

In addition to a showplace for the vehicles of the GM Heritage Collection, as the museum is officially called, the Center is also the home of the Heritage and Media Archive. Located in an 81,000-square-foot facility in Sterling Heights, Michigan, it has approximately 200 vehicles on display. The Archive also houses 15,000 linear feet of shelving containing significant documents, manuals, brochures, and artifacts documenting GM's rich history of innovation.

VETTE magazine was invited to a private, once-in-a-lifetime tour of the Heritage Center in March. Once inside, we were given the opportunity to document the Corvettes in the Collection's main display. Vehicles are added to the floor on a rotating basis, which allows the Collection to maintain fresh content, and makes it possible for cars not on the floor to be lent out for offsite events, exhibits, and functions.

Luckily, GM gave us two all-access passes, one for us and one for VETTE readers. So come along with us on our private tour and see some of the most interesting and historically significant Corvettes of the last 67 years.

Author's note: The GM Heritage Center is primarily used for company functions and is not open to the public. It can, however, be reserved for car-club meetings or other special events, with a capacity of more than 500 guests. For more information, email

'53 Corvette
The very first Corvette ever built, the EX-122, was a General Motors Motorama show car and was first exhibited at the famous Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City in January 1953. EX-122 was an instant hit, and the first production Corvette was built on June 30, 1953, in Flint, Michigan. Only 300 were assembled-virtually by hand and all on a pilot line. This first-year Corvette was available only in Polo White with Red bucket-seat interior trim. Today, all '53 Corvettes are considered highly prized and absolute collectibles, with values for a concours-quality model in the six-figure range.

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'63 Corvette Sting Ray
The Corvette Sting Ray represented the first total restyling of the Corvette since its inception 10 years earlier and brought the first coupe to the Corvette brand. The Sting Ray's breakthrough styling was enhanced by a totally new chassis, including an independent rear suspension. The '63 Sting Ray coupe was particularly distinctive by virtue of its unique split-rear-window treatment, a styling feature that appeared only in this year. As evidenced by this example, the Corvette Sting Ray boasted many touches typically associated with the finest sports cars.

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'73 Corvette Custom
This Corvette belonged to the wife of GM Styling head Bill Mitchell. It's mildly customized with painted wheelwells, pearlescent white paint with pinstriping, and a houndstooth/pearlescent-leather interior trim. The '73 Corvette had a new domed hood, body-color urethane-plastic front bumper, and a fixed rear window. Radial tires were standard equipment.

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'61 Mako Shark Corvette
The basic lines of the '61 experimental Mako Shark Corvette show car were inspired by an actual Mako shark caught off the coast of Florida by William L. Mitchell. Mitchell was, at the time, vice president of General Motors Styling Staff, now known as GM Design Center. The Mako Shark show car is finished in a vari-colored paint scheme based on an iridescent blue upper surface that blends into a white side and lower body, like the natural coloring of the shark Mitchell landed.

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A number of experimental powerplants have been tested in the Mako Shark, including a supercharged engine with four side-draft carburetors, a fuel-injected mill, and a V-8 with two four-barrel carburetors. The present engine is a production '69 427ci ZL1 Chevrolet V-8. This engine has an all-aluminum block, heads, and intake manifold. It's equipped with a single four-barrel carburetor and produces well over 425 horsepower.

'73 Chevrolet Aerovette Experimental
The Aerovette is an experimental mid-engine coupe. It was developed and built in 1973 to test high-performance design and engineering concepts that were not planned for production. It features a steel-and-aluminum body of birdcage construction with fiberglass skin. The bifold gull-wing doors with fixed side windows help reduce the body weight. An onboard computer system with a compact, fully digital display is located above the steering wheel.

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'86 Corvette Indy Concept
The Corvette Indy concept was constructed in 1985 and first shown at the 1986 Detroit Auto Show. This inoperative show car was powered by a mid-mounted twin-turbo 2.6L V-8 engine designed by Lotus Engineering. Two additional, fully roadworthy prototypes followed. The Corvette Indy concept was created to showcase Chevrolet's advanced automotive technology and featured four-wheel drive, four-wheel steering, a rear-view camera with an in-dash view screen, and a drive-by-wire system. The concept was expected to reach a top speed of 180 mph.

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'02 Corvette C5-R Race Car
This Millennium Yellow No. 63 Corvette C5-R competed in the 2002 24 Hours of Le Mans, where it won the GTS class in the world's most demanding endurance race. The same car was victorious in the Sebring 12-hour endurance race that year. The winning driver, Oliver Gavin, is a former British Formula 3 champion and Renault Formula 1 testdriver. He joined the GM Goodwrench Corvette Racing team in 2002 and has added to the Corvette legend with many subsequent victories in American Le Mans Series (ALMS) competition.

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'78 Corvette Coupe
Indianapolis 500
Pace Car
Twenty-five years after its introduction to the American public, the Corvette was chosen to pace the Indy 500 for the first time, on May 28, 1978. The car was provided with a unique black-and-silver two-tone paint scheme with colorful graphics added. Replica cars were identically painted and proved to be highly desirable.

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'92 Corvette
Sting Ray Iii Concept
The Sting Ray III concept made its debut at the 1992 Detroit Auto Show. It had a totally original design that still embodied the heritage and character of the classic Corvette designs of the '60s. The concept was made using carbon-fiber, which gave it strength and flexibility without adding extra weight. Innovative features were added, such as seats that were fixed in place, a movable steering wheel and pedals, and a sloping windshield. The concept was powered by a 300hp LT1 V-8 engine. The Sting Ray III concept was considered for, but never made it to, production.

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