Corvette hits the big 6-0

The car heralded as "America's Sports Car" is turning 60 and we’re looking at its past, present and future.

By Henry Stancu Wheels.ca

Jun 1, 2012 5 min. read

Article was updated 12 years ago

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“America’s Sports Car” is turning 60.

Overused to describe everything from B-class celebrities to junk food, there is no denying the stature of the Chevrolet Corvette makes it every cubic inch an “Icon”.

About 1.5-million Corvettes have been sold globally inspiring countless car clubs and admirers across North America and around the world like no other car.

First introduced in 1953, the Corvette has gone through six generations (C1 - C6) and although General Motors won’t say when the C7 will make its debut automotive journalists and Vette owners have been predicting the arrival for the last three years.

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Specs have been speculated, variations of designs drawn and “spy” shots have been snapped at secret remote test areas, such as a camouflaged prototype “somewhere in Canada” last winter and another prowling rural Michigan, have been circulated on the internet.

Whether its body style will resemble a muscular Batmobile-like shape or convey a more graceful and elegant form reminiscent of the Stingray days is anyone’s guess right now.

In the world-wide economic downturn Corvette sales, just as sales of all sports cars and luxury vehicles, have declined in recent years but GM remains committed to producing and upgrading it for many more to come, which comes as a relief to the legions of fans and owners.

“I think it’s safe to say the Corvette is here to stay. This is one of the most iconic cars in the world, one of the most recognizable and it has the biggest fan base,” said George Saratlic, product communications manager with General Motors of Canada.

“The Corvette is a very important product in the Chevrolet portfolio. In some parts of the world it carries on its own image, where it’s just known as a Corvette. It has a very prominent history and a very passionate following. Yes, we’re definitely committed to the Corvette,” he added

Designers and engineers began working on the first Corvette model two years before it first rolled off the line and two years later, by 1955, it was available in Canada at Chevrolet dealerships, who have sold more than 70,000 here since then. Corvette car clubs began popping up across the U.S. in the mid-50’s and north of the border a few years later.

Popularity really began to soar as U.S. astronauts took a shine to the Corvette making it the NASA astronauts’ sports car of choice in a tradition started when Alan Shepard, the first American in outer space, showed up in his 1957 Corvette for training in 1959.

After returning safely from his historic 1961 mission, Shepard was presented with a 1962 model from GM. It was another one of 10 Corvettes he would own in his lifetime.

That same year racecar driver Jim Rathmann saw an opportunity when he opened a Chevrolet-Cadillac dealership in Melbourne, Fla., near the Cape Canaveral space center. He came up with a lease arrangement that soon got a lot of spacemen and women behind the wheel of Corvettes.

Rathmann not only became a friend of astronauts Shepard, Gus Grissom, and Gordon Cooper, but he also convinced GM to set up a program to supply astronauts with a pair of new cars each year, a family vehicle and a Corvette.

After Apollo 12 astronauts Dick Gordon, Charles Conrad and Alan Bean were photographed standing atop their identical 1969 Stingray coupes for a Life magazine feature the Corvette/NASA connection became a permanent one that endures to this day.

When NASA astronauts, past and present, gathered in Cocoa Beach, Fla., May 2011 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Alan Shepard’s suborbital flight, they rode in a parade which included Corvettes from all six generations.

Last month a 1967 Corvette originally leased for one year to first man on the moon Neil Armstrong was put up for sale on eBay and although bidding for the weathered-looking Stringray, resembling a hunk of space junk more than a classic sports car, has surpassed $250,000 it was below the owner’s undisclosed reserve price.

A special edition 2013 Corvette ZR1 rated at 638 hp paced the field at this year’s 96th Indianapolis 500, making it the 23rd Chevy and 11th Corvette to have the honour.

Not only was it the most powerful sports car ever to pace the race but Corvettes have done so more often than any other car in Indy history. The 2013 Corvette goes into production later this month.

The question many are asking today is this: Will the 2013 model marking Corvette's 60th anniversary be the final year of the C6 generation, which began in 2005, and be followed by the hotly-anticipated generation seven 2014 Corvette?

“We do have a next generation Corvette coming and there are a lot of people waiting for it,” Saratlic said.

“I can’t be specific about details and dates because we don’t talk about future product plans — that’s a company wide-mandate. The Corvette team has been keeping this one under wraps more than any other product before. Right now we’re focusing on the 2013 Corvette,” he said.

Some wonder if a hybrid/electric Corvette model will follow the path of the Chevy Volt into the C7 series at a time when the Tesla Roadster is gaining popularity as a high-end electrified sports car and Porche has announced plans to make an EV. GM won’t say.

“In my opinion an electric Corvette would be pretty cool because it’s a lighter weight vehicle that lends itself to the battery technology and limitations as far as range goes,” said Stephen Bieda, director of communications and marketing at Hamilton’s McMaster Institute for Automotive Research and Technology.

“We were at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last month competing with our McMaster SAE hybrid team, where we unfortunately finished ninth due of electrical problems, but the high-performance side of the spectrum is where the innovations come from, so it’s a perfect fit for cars like Corvettes, Mustangs and Porches,” he said.

Hybrid, all electric and more fuel efficient cars are here to stay but it may be hard to picture…or at least hear and feel the noiseless throb of an Electra Vette engine at a race track.

“There are ways of making electric motors sound tough, but it does run contrary to ecological sustainability for traffic and congestion,” Bieda added.

Figures show Corvette sales in Canada began to dip after 2005 but started to pick up again over the last three years and GM is counting on the new 60 anniversary edition to keep the upward trend in motion.
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