Though it’s hard to imagine today, the Chevrolet Corvette didn’t begin life as a high-performance sports car. Instead, early models went intended to be “sporty” convertibles, fitted with the “Blue Flame” in-line six-cylinder engine and a live rear axle.

A V-8 engine debuted for the 1955 model year, but it wasn’t until the C2 Corvette launched in 1963 that the car gained an independent rear suspension. The C2 also boasted a ladder frame that was 90-percent stiffer than the original car’s X-frame, as well as available disc brakes and aluminum wheels.

The C2 also introduced a design that’s become a hallmark of Corvette models since: a transverse leaf spring rear suspension, which has evolved over the years from steel springs to fiberglass springs to lightweight composite springs.

While the C3 (produced from 1968-1982) further refined the Corvette’s suspension design, the next big evolutionary step came with the launch of the C4 Corvette in 1984.

The earlier ladder frame was dropped for a backbone chassis inspired by racing. The new setup eliminated heavy cross members and allowed direct mounting of the rear differential, adding interior room while saving weight.

The C4 also pioneered a five-link independent rear suspension, rack and pinion steering, an aluminum driveshaft, aluminum brake calipers, ABS and traction control. The car’s success in SCCA Showroom Stock racing led to a new emphasis on motorsports within GM, accelerating the performance development of later models.

The C5, built from 1997-2004, advanced the design of the C4 to make the chassis stronger and lighter. The big news was the introduction of a rear transaxle, which vastly improved the car’s weight distribution and interior room.

The current C6 platform, launched in 2005, pioneered the use of an aluminum-intensive chassis for the Z06 and ZR1 models, saving some 136 pounds over the steel backbone used on other Corvette models. A magnesium roof structure further reduced weight, adding to the competitiveness of the C6.R in endurance racing.

What’s next for Corvette? GM is careful not to release details, but this much is certain: the Corvette’s motorsports heritage will influence the car’s design, and the C7 will out-perform the C6.