Zora Duntov is frequently referred to as the father of the Corvette. He is frequently – and mistakenly -credited with the design of the car as well, but didn’t in fact join General Motors until May 1953, five months after the car had first been shown as a concept at the New York Autorama and a scant month before Job One rolled off the production line at Flint, Michigan.
Chevrolet Corvette Logo
Duntov did go on to have a great deal to do with the Corvette, though, and was responsible for much of the all-important development work. Initially the Corvette was powered by an extremely ancient and outdated engine, the stovebolt six, designed in 1929. Development for Chevrolet’s first V8 engine in decades was already happening when Duntov came to GM, but it was he who made it the legendary powerplant it has since become.
Planned to combat the supremacy of Ford’s very old (1932) fiathead, the V8 was a natural choice for the Corvette, and when Duntov gave it first a wild camshaft of startling duration and effect and later pushed the fuel-injection system into production the by-then 283-inch small block produced 283hp, reckoned at the time to be an ideal ratio of power to capacity. The hot-rodders had adopted the smallblock almost immediately it appeared, and Duntov’s work – especially that camshaft, which became an almost mandatory performance option – confirmed their choice. The engine went on to become the most widely-produced power-plant ever, and more than 35 million have since been made. Since its introduction in 1955 its capacity has been standardized at 350ci and it has become the accepted GM powerplant for passenger vehicles.
Duntov’s first task had been to give Corvette some proper suspension and steering geometry, improving its handling almost beyond recognition. Even so, the improved version was hardly a raging success. GM production philosophy was not, in the fifties or since, geared to low-volume specialist vehicles and the Corvette received less than total backing from the corporate structure. Had Ford not produced the Thunderbird two-seater when they did the Corvette may never have made it past 1955. Later, its reputation as America’s only real sportscar took a sound beating from the Cobras of Carroll Shelby and might have suffered further at the hands of his Mustangs had not the fuel crises of the time shut down the Ford Total Performance Program.
Even the Corvette’s independent rear end was bought by compromise, and the transverse-leaf spring was part and parcel of careful budgeting, as were the front suspension components, stolen straight from the existing Chevrolet lines. The introduction of disk brakes was delayed more as a result of perfectionism than accounting, though, and a whole generation of Corvette owners is now familiar with the incredible straight-line stopping power of the vehicle’s massive four-wheel disks.
Probably the only person to give the Corvette sound backing at boardroom level outside of those initially concerned with its creation was the energetic and enigmatic John De Lorean, who turned the production line and quality control on its head at the same time as he upped the sticker price to make low-volume production more financially reasonable. Part of that same program meant the delaying of production-line changes which were in hand, and partly accounts for the fact that the Corvette retained one body style virtually unchanged for 15 years.
Although there wasn’t a lot wrong with the style itself, 15 years is an exceptionally long time in the auto industry. That fact hadn’t escaped attention at General Motors and the absence of revamps was certainly not due to a lack of ideas or enthusiasm. Indeed, it was during that period that many of the most exciting Corvette development prototypes were built. The mid-engined prototypes never saw production, however, even though they looked as good and handled as well as a great deal of European sporting machinery.
What did happen was that Bill Mitchell’s Sting Ray race car was popped into production as the 1963 Sting Ray, and all the really advanced work which had been going on behind the scenes was relegated to the realms of the purely experimental. And although Corvette engineering was somewhat hamstrung by all this, insofar as it was never as advanced as the design team wished, it was far from being bad. The order forms were never short of option boxes, either, although they were almost exclusively concerned with engineering hardparts rather than cosmetics. Other car buyers could have stripes, wheels, wings, whatever – with the Corvette the emphasis was on final drive ratios, spring rates and engine parts, something totally in keeping with the ethos and also an underlining of the basic truth that it was a very good-looking car anyway.
But there were a number of aftermarket bits available, and the height of fashion in 1963 was a one-piece rear window kit which modern Corvette enthusiasts quite properly regard as being not very short of vandalism. In any case the split-window Sting Ray was only in production for a year and is rare enough without the help of the customizing brigade.
Much the same happened in the Jubilee year of 1978, when the sugar-scoop rear window treatment was dropped for a one-piece glassback. There were after-market kits immediately available which converted it to a liftback, although anyone doing that to an Anniversary model is unlikely to be popular within 500 miles of Bowling Green, Kentucky. There were plans for a factory liftback, but sealing problems – which afflicted the aftermarket kits – and tooling costs delayed its introduction for a year. Very shortly afterwards, the factory supplied Corvettes as stock with the airdam and rear spoiler which was also becoming vogue-ish with the bolt-on boys.
In general the Corvette, particularly the post-1963 shapes, can only be harmed by alteration and the introduction of body-color wraparounds front and rear made that even more true. Corvette station-wagons, four-wheel-drive Corvettes and the airshocks-and-sidepipe variety are consequently, and happily, still reasonably rare.
There are one or two people, like Frank Milne and Art Richards, who have been repaneling Corvettes for some while; in the main their work has been tasteful, although still unlikely to win friends among the ranks of the purists. About the only acceptable Corvette body modifications are those from Eckler, and a full set of Eckler parts will double the price of a Corvette if not its resale value. Everything except the T-tops gets changed, and although it does make an essentially sleek shape somewhat fatter the Eckler cars have a certain brutish elegance all their own.
The arrival of the all-new for 1984 shape seems to have put a stop to all this, though. Apart from being priced clean out of the accessory market anyway, there seem to be few beneficial changes which can be made to the flatter aspects of the new body. That said, the current crop of race Corvettes do display a lower air-dam, some side skirting and a somewhat promiscuous fender flare.
Chevrolet Corvette All Car Models:-
Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 Reviews
Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Reviews