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When it comes to iconic American sports cars, few are as beloved as the Chevrolet Corvette, currently available in either coupe or convertible form, in models from the Z06 to the 427 anniversary edition to the ferocious ZR1. Its V-8 engines range from 430 horsepower in base models to 638 horsepower in the Corvette ZR1.
Through six generations of the Corvette, Chevrolet has stayed true to its original formula as a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive two-door with two seats, while using a fiberglass body to save weight and improve performance. A new, seventh generation of the Chevy Corvette is set to debut in January of 2013, with sales beginning later in the year.
Introduced in 1953, the Corvette has evolved from its original concept of a personal luxury roadster (powered by an in-line six-cylinder engine) to become a sports car for all purposes, embraced by both those who track their cars and those who never exceed the posted speed limit. Through six decades of production, the Corvette has come to symbolize the highest amount of performance for the lowest possible price. Domestic competitors are few, perhaps limited to the SRT Viper, though foreign competition includes everything from the Nissan 370Z through the Porsche 911.
Few, however, can rival the Corvette’s performance-for-the-dollar ratio, as base models are priced between $48,000 and $56,000. Stepping up to the better-handling Grand Sport will run you between $58,000 and $68,000, while the track-focused Z06 versions are priced between $75,000 and $82,000. Finally, the range-topping ZR1 is priced from $106,800.
While the first Corvettes used six-cylinder engines and live rear axles, by 1955 Chevrolet began to see the Corvette’s potential as a sports car and replaced the sixes with a pushrod V-8 engine. Second-generation C2 “Sting Ray” models, introduced in 1963, brought with them the independent rear suspension and began a trend towards ever-increasing horsepower and larger engines. A big-block engine (measuring 396 cubic inches) first appeared in 1965, but in 1966 the legendary 427 cubic-inch V-8, now synonymous with powerful Corvettes, made its debut.
While some still consider the C2 Corvettes to be the most appealing design, the Sting Ray body style was only produced from 1963 through 1967; in 1968, Chevrolet introduced the C3 body style, which would soldier on for a remarkable 13 years before being phased out in 1982. The flared-fender C3 would carry the Corvette through two separate gas crises and a push to reduce automobile emissions, yet the car remained on track with pushrod V-8 power.
In 1983, Chevrolet revealed the C4 Corvette as a 1984 model, and suddenly the car was back on the world stage as a performance icon. Highlights of C4 production included the B2K Callaway Twin-Turbo (available through Chevy dealers) and the innovative ZR-1, which revived a performance nameplate from the 1970s. The fifth-generation C5 Corvette followed in 1997, with an emphasis on improved build quality and superior handling. The track-centric Z06 model arrived in 2001, with its hand-built V-8 producing as much as 405 horsepower.
The current Chevy Corvette was launched in 2005, bringing with it both a new styling direction and an improved suspension design. Even base Corvettes boasted 400 horsepower at launch, though that number has since climbed to 430 horsepower from the car’s 6.2-liter V-8, while the 7.0-liter Z06 now produces 505 horsepower. If that’s still not fast enough for your tastes, the ZR1 is back in the lineup, introduced in 2007 as a 2008 model. Thanks to the addition of a supercharger, ZR1 models crank out a truly impressive 638 horsepower from their 6.2-liter V-8s, delivering supercar performance at blue-collar prices.
Base Corvette models use the aforementioned 6.2-liter V-8, rated at 430 horsepower, and come in either Coupe or Convertible variants with the buyer’s choice of six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transaxle. Surprisingly, these cars can deliver up to 26 mpg on the highway when short-shifted and driven with care. Opting for Grand Sport trim (also in Coupe or Convertible) will get you an upgraded suspension, bigger brakes and a dry-sump oil system on Coupe models equipped with the six-speed manual transmission. Stepping up to the Z06 gets you a hand-built 7.0-liter V-8 rated at 505 horsepower, an aluminum frame and carbon fiber body panels to reduce weight, and a suspension that’s optimized for lap times over ride comfort. If speed is your thing, however, no Corvette model can beat the ZR1, which delivers massive horsepower, carbon ceramic brakes, visible carbon fiber body panels and a surprisingly comfortable ride given its performance capabilities.
A shuffling of performance and technology packages was the big news for the 2012 model year, which also saw new exterior color choices. A 427 Convertible Collector Edition debuted in 2013, blending the Z06’s 7.0-liter V-8 with the Corvette Grand Sport Convertible chassis, and a 60th Anniversary Package is an available option for all 2013 Corvettes, including the 427 Convertible Collector Edition. Other models carried on with few changes for the 2013 model year.
The big news, of course, is the debut of the 2014 C7 Corvette, set to take place at the Detroit Auto Show in January of 2013. Chevy is being extremely secretive of the car’s design, with spy shots showing only the car in full camouflage. We do know that the 2014 Corvette will benefit from an all-new LT1 V-8 engine, rated at 450 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque (with 400 pound-feet of torque on tap at just 2,000 rpm). That’s good enough to get the car from 0-60 mph in an estimated 4.0 seconds, while direct injection and reduced internal friction should make the engine even more fuel-efficient than the model it replaces.
Expect the 2014 Chevy Corvette to hit dealers by the fall of 2013.
For more information, including specifications and pricing with options, see The Car Connection's full review of the 2013 Chevrolet Corvette.