With a new Corvette set to be unveiled this January, let’s take a look back at the car that has won the hearts and minds of American auto enthusiasts for more than a half century. Now in its sixth generation, the current Corvette is one of the best models to ever hit the streets, having placed consistently on Car & Driver’s 10 Best List over the past two decades.
However, the Corvette hasn’t always been the standard-bearing American supercar that it is today. In fact, despite being one of the most beloved nameplates to ever take the road, the Corvette has at certain times in its storied history been a rather sad ride.
The beginning of a dark age: The introduction of the third generation ‘Vette
When GM took the opportunity to design a new ‘Vette for the 1968 model year, the company based it off of the Mako Shark concept car that wowed audiences on the show circuit in the years before. However stunning the concept may have been in person, things tend to get lost in translation when it comes from the floor of an auto show to the roadways of America. Where the previous generation Corvette was slick, the third generation was bulbous and cartoony, though far from unattractive. Although the ‘Vette lost some grace when it hit the streets in ’68, it was still one of the more daring models on the road in terms of looks and performance.
What was less daring was how GM went about introducing the all-new Corvette, as it used the same platform that underpinned the previous generation model. This would’ve been forgivable had Chevy ramped up production of a fourth generation a few years later, but they instead waited until 1983 to develop a new chassis for their flagship car. What’s even more unforgivable is the fact that the second generation Vette was actually taken off the road in 1967 because it had failed safety inspections so poorly the year before.
When the environment became political, the Corvette became a target
The Corvette wasn’t the only model that would enter a “dark age” during the ’70s because this was also a time where the President of the United States had decided to target speed fanatics. When President Richard Nixon developed the Environmental Protection Agency, all muscle cars became shadows of their former selves. After banning leaded gasoline and requiring catalytic converters on all new cars, the 305 V8 that Chevy fans worshiped would no longer get horsepower better than 249. In 1975, things got even sadder, as the small block under the hood of that year’s Corvette reached an all-time low of only 165 horsepower.
The actions of one state helped produce the saddest ‘Vette in history
As bad as things were looking in the mid ’70s for the Corvette, the worst model to ever wear the badge hit the streets of California in 1980. The state had enacted emissions standards at that time that required Chevy to produce a Corvette for sale in that state exclusively that would be a muscle car only in appearance. GM took out the 5.7-liter V8 standard in all other ‘Vettes nationwide and sold Californians a model with a 5-liter “mini-small block” under the hood. Worst of all, the car featured a three-speed transmission that drained the already weak California model of significant torque. Even though the car was relatively lightweight, it needed more than a strong breeze to get it moving at nearly half the speed of Corvette’s sold in other states.
When Chevy finally wised-up and introduced the fourth-generation Corvette, fans could breathe a little easier as the car looked less kitschy and regained some of its bark. By the time GM introduced the fifth-generation model in 1996, the Corvette badge had successfully re-established its role as the preeminent American sports car. As we await the unveiling of the seventh incarnation, let’s hope the designers at GM continue their winning streak.
What do you think was the worst Corvette ever made? Leave your thoughts below:
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