The Chevrolet Corvette is America's sports car. Throughout the car's 60 year history, there have been many significant Vettes to reach production. In this article, I will outline what I feel are the 10 most significant Corvettes of all time.
The 1953 Corvette is the one that got it all started. Unlike Corvettes that would later follow, it was powered by an inline-six engine. Sales and performance were sluggish in the beginning, but Chevy stayed faithful and would later reap the benefits.
The 1955 Corvette holds the honor of being the first V8 powered Vette. It was powered by a 265 cubic inch engine, and helped the performance and sales of the car immensely. Though there were some Corvettes built with the inline-six engine in 1955, the V8 won out and has been a staple of every Corvette to follow.
The 1957 Corvette was the first Vette (and one of the first vehicles of its time) to offer a fuel injected engine. Its 283 cubic inch V8 engine could produce 283 horsepower, giving it the unique distinction of producing 1 horsepower per cubic inch (a rare performance feat for its time). The option was short-lived, only being offered until 1965, but gave the Corvette a leg up on its competition and provided great performance.
The 1961 Corvette is significant for being the first Vette to sport a "four taillight" design. The taillight theme has been a staple of Corvettes (even if the shapes of the taillights have changed) ever since.
The 1963 Corvette's claim to fame was its unique "split back" window design. This was the only year for the design as it was said to hinder rear visibility. Also, this was the first year that the Corvette featured hidden headlights, a feature that would be a Corvette staple until 2005.
1969 Corvette ZL-1
The 1969 Corvette ZL-1 was one of the most powerful Vettes ever produced. Legend has it that only 2 were produced and sold due to the high cost of the ZL-1 option. The car was equipped with an all-aluminum 427 cubic inch V8 with cast-iron cylinder sleeves, and was listed at "430" horsepower (a claim by GM). Realistically, the horsepower number was closer to 550 as the engine was developed for racing. Though there have been other, more powerful Corvettes produced since 1969, the ZL-1 is undoubtedly the rarest and most exclusive.
The 1984 Corvette was the first all-new Vette produced in 15 years, and vaulted the Vette into sports car status. It featured a cleaner (if less dramatic) aerodynamic design that was contemporary for its time. It should be noted that there was no 1983 Corvette released to the public. The new Vette was introduced as an '84 model because it met safety and emissions standards (particularly California emissions) for that model year.
1990 Corvette ZR-1
The 1990 Corvette ZR-1, dubbed the "King of the Hill", was one of the most powerful Vettes of its time. It featured a 375 horsepower 5.7 liter V8 developed by Lotus and Mercury Marine, and is still the only Corvette to feature an engine with an overhead cam design. It went from 0-60 in less than 5 seconds, and had a top speed of nearly 180 mph. It was priced at $59,000, which was still a bargain compared to its competition from Lamborghini, Ferrari, and Porsche. The ZR-1 was differentiated from lesser Vettes in 1990 by a rounded tail end with squarish taillights.
2009 Corvette ZR1
The 2009 Corvette ZR1 took the performance of the 1990 model to another level. It featured a supercharged 6.2 liter V8 engine (the first production supercharged Vette) rated at 638 horsepower. It went from 0-60 in less than 4 seconds and was capable of a 200 mph top speed, making it the fastest production Vette ever.
This Vette was also significant in that it was the most expensive Corvette in history, priced at $100,000. Unfortunately, this was also the first Vette to be subject to a gas-guzzler tax.
2014 Corvette Stingray
The 2014 Corvette Stingray has been one of the most anticipated Vettes over the car's 60 year history. It features an all-new design, a powerful 6.2 liter V8 rated at 460 horsepower and an upgraded interior with richer materials and better fit and finish than the previous model. Though it is a new model, it has already staked its claim as one of the most significant Corvettes. Time will tell how much better this version of the Corvette will get.