Chevy Corvette History


Ontario Corvette Club Photo Shoot C1 through C8 Red Corvettes

The History of Chevrolet Corvette

C1 Corvette - 1953-62

1959 C1 Corvette

1959 C1 Corvette

After WWII, small, nimble sports cars from Europe started to appear in driveways all over America. These opened top, two-seaters from Jaguar, MG, Morgan, Mercedes-Benz, and others were more fun to drive than the big sedans and coupes rolling out of Detroit. The management at General Motors recognized the growing interest in these sporty vehicles and wanted a piece of the market.

In 1951, chief designer Harley Earl decided to build an American sports car based on a Chevy that would sell for about the same price as a sedan. He turned the project over to Robert McLean who used mostly parts from a 1952 Chevy chassis, on a shorter, 102-inch wheelbase, with the engine and transmission set back for better weight distribution.

The name “Corvette” was coined by Myron Scott, an assistant advertising manager. The term refers to a warship small and more maneuverable than a destroyer but equally lethal.

The Chevy straight-six, the only engine they had to work with, was given higher compression, a performance camshaft, and three side-draft carburetors which allowed it to develop a respectable 150hp. This was comparable to most European sports cars. Unfortunately, the only transmission that could handle the improved six-cylinder engine was the Powerglide automatic.

Stylists developed a smooth body with a uniquely American look to be made out of fiberglass. This new process which allowed them to make a small run of production bodies without expensive stamping dies. After the auto show debut, a special assembly line was set up and 300 Corvettes were produced between June and the end of the model year. Production ramped up in 1954 with 3,640 produced in Pennant Blue, Sportsman Red, and Tuxedo Black, as well as Polo White, which had been the only color in 1953.

Unfortunately, Corvettes weren’t selling as well as expected, partially because it was $1,000 more than a loaded Chevy sedan. Though great looking, the early Corvette’s comfort, handling, and acceleration were not up to expectations. Even with the addition of the 265ci V8 in 1955, only 700 were sold that year.

The 1956 Corvette was updated with an optional removable hardtop and the finish quality of the fiberglass body improved. All 1956 Corvettes were equipped with a 265ci 210hp V8 engine, with the option of a floor-mounted 3-speed manual transmission, and small improvements were made to the chassis. Now the American sports car drove like a real sports car.

The 1957 Corvette received substantial upgrades. A T-10 four-speed transmission was optional, and the engine increased to 283ci. Power started at 220hp, with options of 245hp or 270hp dual-quad equipped motors, or an advanced 283hp fuel-injected engine. This was the first really hot year for Corvette sales, with 6,339 cars sold.

Corvette added dual headlights for 1958, then only detail changes through 1960. Power crept up, and Corvettes were increasingly seen on race tracks. Sales increased with power, and 9,168 were sold in 1958.

In 1961, a ducktail replacing the rounded rear body, and the new 327ci engine started with 250hp in the base models. Check the right boxes, and you could have 300hp, 340hp, or 360hp horsepower with carburetors, and up to 375hp with fuel injection. This was more than the 1952 era chassis could really handle.

C2 Corvette - 1963-67

1965 Honda Scrambler Motorcycle

   C2 Corvette Sting Ray

Chevy decided to introduce a completely new body in 1963 and an advanced new chassis. Bill Mitchell the head of styling, with help from Larry Shinoda, designed the sleek, dramatic look of the new Sting Ray, while Zora Arkus Duntov developed a new chassis with four-wheel independent suspension for improved handling. One prominent, one year only feature, was the split rear window with a pillar down the middle, which looked great but impeded vision. Buyers loved the new model, and 10,919 convertibles and 10,594 coupes were sold the first year.

A big change came in 1965 when for the first time, Chevrolet installed a big block motor in the little Corvette and four-wheel disc brakes to stop it. The top engine was a 425hp 396ci big-block engine, which made it unbeatable on a road course, and in 1967 engine size increased to 427ci. Options for 1967 included a sedate 400hp 427ci big block, a 435hp tri-power 427 engine with three two-barrel carburetors, or the race-ready L88 427 engine advertised at 430hp, but rumored to be 500hp.

C3 Corvette - 1968-82

C3 Corvette

   1972 C3 Corvette "Mako Shark"

In 1965 Larry Shinoda designed the Mako Shark II concept car, taking inspiration from the C2 Corvette and an actual shark caught by head of styling Bill Mitchell. The public loved the curvy, futuristic design, and it became the basis for the 1968 C3 Corvette. Much of the earlier car’s chassis remained under the skin, but the body was new, smoother with less chrome, and removable T-tops replaced the solid roof on coupes.

Under the hood, a 300hp 350ci small-block was the base engine in 1969, and by 1970 offered up to 370hp as the LT-1. Big-block power came in the form of the 427ci V8 with 390hp, or up to 435hp with tri-power carburetion. Officially rated at just 430hp, the aluminum 427ci ZL-1 offered in 1969 was the most potent engine, reportedly making more than 550hp. From 1970-1974 the big-block 454ci motor was the top option, rated at up to 460hp, but was quickly strangled by smog laws and unleaded gasoline.

Throughout the 1970s, Corvette received minor cosmetic changes, the most prominent being body-colored bumpers in 1973 (front) and 1974 (rear). In 1978 the Corvette received a new tail with a large fastback rear window replacing the sail panels and providing more luggage space. For 1980, the whole car got a more modern look with redesigned front and rear bumpers and a new hood.

With the adoption of lower octane unleaded gas (which required lower compression ratios) and more honest net horsepower ratings, all Corvettes lost power in 1971; the base 350ci motor “lost” 90hp, now rated at just 210hp. The numbers continued to shrink as emissions got cleaner so that by 1980 the 350ci engine put out 190-230hp, and in California, only a 305ci motor with 180hp was offered. Luckily, Cross-Fire electronic fuel injection replaced carburetion, and power was back up to 200hp for the 1982 swan song.

C4 Corvette - 1984-96

C4 Corvette

   C4 Corvette - Major Advancements

The C4 Corvette was so advanced compared to the previous model that there were production delays. Instead of introducing it late, General Motors decided to skip a model year, with no 1983 Chevrolet Corvettes officially produced (though 43 prototypes and two 1983 Caprice station wagons development mules were built using many C4 Corvette parts). The new 1984 Corvette had 16-inch wheels, rack and pinion steering, an aluminum-intensive suspension, composite, transverse leaf springs at both ends, and an interior so advanced it could have been from a concept car, with a digital dash display that looked like a video game.

Sadly, the Cross-Fire Injection 350ci motor still made just 205hp, but a manual transmission returned, now a four-speed with automatic overdrive in the top three gears. Finally, in 1985, an engine utilizing a new Tuned Port Injection system was introduced, bumping the horsepower up to 230. Power continued to climb over the years, and in 1990 the ZR1 was introduced with the LT5 engine, a new Lotus-designed, 48-valve dual overhead cam V8, featuring 375hp. For the final few years of the C4 generation, 1992-96, the standard V8 engine had an honest 300hp, and the optional LT4 put out 330hp.

C5 Corvette - 1997-2004

C5 Corvette

   C5 Corvette - More Horsepower

The 1997 C5 Corvette may not seem much different from the C4, but the chassis was new, and a transaxle is now at the rear of the car for better weight distribution. Under the hood was a new 5.7-liter aluminum LS-1 that was developing 345hp. Along with the standard coupe and convertible, a third body style, the fixed-roof coupe, was offered. The higher-performance Z06, introduced in 2001, featured a new LS-6 engine tuned for 385-405hp - Not all fixed roof coupes were Z06s, but all Z06s were the lighter, stiffer fixed-roof coupe.

C6 Corvette - 2005-13

C6 Corvette with Wilwood brakes

   C6 Corvette - Pop-Up Headlights Gone

In 2005 Chevy engineers again updated the Corvette, making the car lighter with a more aerodynamic body, and updating the engine to make even the base model faster. Unfortunately, that meant doing away with the pop-up headlights, a Corvette trademark that had been used since 1963. The new standard engine was the 6.0-liter LS-2 with 400hp. For 2006, the Z06 option returned, now sporting a 6.0-liter V8 and more than 500hp. The top-of-the-line ZR1 Corvette debuted for the 2008 model year, featuring a supercharged 6.2-liter engine and 638 horsepower.

C7 Corvette - 2014-19

2017 C7 Corvette Z06 Wilwood brakes

   C7 Corvette Z06 - 650 Horsepower

For the 2014 model year, GM released a new Corvette that in many ways was as big of a departure from the previous version as the C2 was. Aptly enough, it was also dubbed the “Stingray” and visually, compared to the C6, was much more angular and aggressive. A common complaint from critics, the Chevy rental car grade interior, was also addressed, with sports seats with proper bolsters and even more aggressive options.

Performance improved too, with even the base model equipped with a 6.2-liter V8, and thanks to direct injection and variable valve timing, 455hp. Optional engines included a supercharged 6.2-liter in the Z06 with more than 650hp and a ZR1 with a bigger supercharger and 755hp. Transmission options were a 7-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic, later changed to an 8-speed automatic in 2015.

Corvette Z06 Wilwood brakes

   Supercharged Corvette Z06 Rear Spoiler


 

Wilwood Brake Kits for Corvette Models

Below is a sampling of brake kits available for popular Corvette models. Each component of the brake kit represents the culmination of extensive engineering and design capabilities combined with manufacturing prowess at Wilwood's facility in Camarillo, California. With each bolt-on caliper or brake kit, you can expect improved performance over factory installations with the added benefit of size and color options to coordinate with your style. This list is not exhaustive, so if you don't see a kit for your specific year, make, or model, please visit our search utility or contact a customer care technician for unpublished options. Wilwood Engineering also partners with many bespoke facilities who can assist with special requests.

 

Wilwood Brake Kits for C1 Corvette

FRONT: Wilwood Engineering has front disc brake kits for 1953-62 Corvettes from simple drum conversions to high performance. If you need a kit to fit inside most original wheels, even 14-inch, the Dynalite Pro-Series Front Brake Kit #140-11811 features forged four-piston calipers and a front hub with 11-inch rotors. Move up to 15-inch wheels, and you can fit Dynalite Brake Kit #140-11812, which is similar but with 12.19-inch rotors. Many of these kits fit the Chevy passenger cars from 1949-1954 as well.

 

REAR: Wilwood also has rear brake kits for the 1956 and 1957-1962 Corvette. The Dynapro Low-Profile Rear Parking Brake Kit #140-11405 for 1956 models, or Kit #140-11827 for 1957-62 model years featuring four-piston calipers and 11-inch rotors with an internal parking brake. Or move up in size with the Dynalite Rear Brake Kit #140-11348 for 1956 models, and Rear Brake Kit #140-11828 for 1957-62 model years featuring 12.19-inch rotors with internal parking brakes for 15-inch wheels.

 

Wilwood Brake Kits for C2 Corvette

For drum brake equipped 1963-64 Corvettes, Wilwood Engineering has various disc brake kits to fit your needs. Most of these kits fit the big 1959-64 Chevy Impala, Bel Air, Biscayne, and related cars as well. The Classic Series Dynalite Front Brake Kit, #140-14663 features a traditional one-piece 11.5-inch rotor and four-piston calipers (this kit also fits the popular 1955-57 Chevy passenger cars).

 

DYNALITE PRO

If you run the original wheels, even some 14-inch wheels, your ‘Vette can still stop as well as it goes using the Dynalite Pro Series Front Brake Kit, #140-12458, with four-piston calipers and 11-inch rotors on your stock spindles. Or, move up to the larger #140-11011, with 11.75-inch rotors, or #140-12459 with 12.19-inch rotors, both of which still fit behind most 15-inch wheels. These three Dynalite kits all feature Wilwood’s forged billet hubs with screw-on aluminum bearing caps.

 

SUPERLITE 6R

For the ultimate C2 Corvette brakes, for road or track, Wilwood has the Superlite 6R Big Brake Kit in two different sizes, #140-12460 with 12.88-inch rotors, or #140-12465 with 14-inch rotors, both with forged billet six-piston calipers, and Wilwood’s light and strong GT Series Big Brake Flared Bell hats.
 
 

Wilwood Brake Kits for C2 & C3 Corvette

The 1965 Chevy Corvette brake system was such a huge improvement it was used with few changes until the 1982 C3 Corvettes. Wilwood started with the factory mounting points and rotors and engineered the D8-4 caliper to upgrade or replace the factory parts on 1965-1982 C2 and C3 Corvettes. Kit #140-10789 is for the front, and kit #140-10790 fits the rear, both with Wilwood ProMatrix pads and braided stainless brake lines. Wilwood even developed a six-piston direct bolt-on replacement D8-6 front caliper, kit #140-11857. For use with any of these, or the factory caliper, Wilwood engineered an improved ProMatrix vented, drilled, and slotted replacement rotor; #140-11738 for the front and #140-11739 for the rear.

SUPERLITE BIG BRAKE KITS - Front & Rear

If performance is more a factor than originality, Wilwood also makes two big brake kits for C2 and C3 Corvettes for the front and rear. The Superlite 6R Front Big Brake Kit, #140-10616 with 13.06-inch rotors, and the #140-10617 with 14-inch rotors, both with forged six-piston calipers, and rotors mounted to GT Series Big Brake Flared Bell hats. In the rear, Superlite 4R Rear Big Brake Rear Kit, #140-10471 with 12.88-inch rotors, or #140-10472 with 14-inch rotors, are engineered to match the front kits and work with the factory parking brake.
 
 

Wilwood Brake Kits for C3 Corvette

As mentioned above, much of the C3 Corvette borrowed from the C2, so Wilwood’s factory replacement bolt-on D8-4 calipers, D8-6 calipers, and ProMatrix discs fit 1968-82 cars as well. The Wilwood Superlite 6R front big brake kits and 4R rear big brake kits for the C2 generation also fit C3, with rotors up to 14-inches in diameter.

 

Wilwood also manufacturers other kits specifically for the 1968-82 Chevy Corvette as well (and most of these also fit the big 1968-1970 Chevy Bel Air, Impala, Caprice, and related passenger cars). Dynalite Pro Series Front Brake Kit, #140-12040 utilizes four-piston calipers and 11-inch rotors on a Wilwood billet aluminum hub. Dynalite Front Big Brake Kit, #140-12045 is similar but moves up to a 12.19-inch diameter rotor. Or, choose the Dynapro 6 Front Big Brake Kit, #140-12946, with six-piston calipers on the same 12.19-inch rotors.

 
 

Wilwood Brake Kits for C4 Corvette

The C4 Corvette is already fast from the factory and handles well, but Wilwood can improve the braking performance. For early C4 cars, 1985-87 (and 1984 with a front spindle update), Wilwood has two different sized Superlite 6R Front Big Brake Kits, #140-11918 with 12.88-inch rotors, and #140-11919 with 14-inch rotors, both with forged six-piston calipers and a lightweight aluminum flared bell mounting hat. The Superlite 4R Rear Big Brake Kit, #140-11920 has four-piston calipers and 12.88-inch rotors made to work with the factory internal parking brake.

 
 

General Motors revised the suspension for the 1988 model year, and Wilwood redesigned kits that fit these cars. Superlite 6R Front Big Brake Kit, #140-8337 features six-piston calipers and 12.88-inch rotors, or kit #140-9298 with 14-inch rotors, for street or occasional track use. For serious competition, Superlite 6R kit #140-16094 adds Wilwood’s race-spec version of the Superlite caliper with hard-anodized finish and Thermlock® pistons, and Spec37 alloy 12.88-inch rotors.


Wilwood offers an upgraded replacement rotor for stock calipers on the rear, the ProMatrix kit #140-8314. There are also full Wilwood rear kits, including the Superlite 4R-MC4 Rear Big Brake Kit, #140-14883 with four-piston calipers, 12.88-inch rotors, and separate mechanical parking brake caliper, or the race version, kit #140-14879, with thicker 12.88-inch rotors, hard-anodized calipers, and high-temperature seals.

 
 

Wilwood Brake Kits for C5 Corvette

FRONT: Wilwood developed many front brake upgrades for the C5 Corvette and the Z06, from stock upgrade bolt-on calipers and rotors, to exotic WCCB Carbon-Ceramic big brake kits. To upgrade just the calipers, Wilwood’s SLC56 Calipers bolt-on with stock rotors, or can be paired with the ProMatrix replacement rotors, or race-ready ProMatrix Track rotors made of Spec37 alloy. For more of an upgrade, pair Wilwood’s radial-mount AERO6 Front Caliper and Bracket kit with the factory’s Z51 13.38-inch or Z06 13.97-inch rotors.


REAR: There are almost as many different Wilwood brake kits available for the rear of the C5 Corvette, from street to track-ready. One affordable option is the Wilwood DPC56 stock replacement caliper, and ProMatrix stock replacement rotor, which can be used individually with the factory pieces, or purchased together as kit #140-15176.

 

Wilwood Brake Kits for C6 Corvette

FRONT: Wilwood offers improvement brake kits for C6 Corvettes, from stock replacement upgrades to several race-proven disc brake kits. One of the most impressive brake kits is the Superlite 6R Front Big Brake Kit, #140-8921, featuring six-piston calipers and 13.06-inch rotors. A similar kit is also available, #140-8922, with larger 14-inch rotors. Wilwood also offers the AERO6 Front Big Brake Kit, #140-10163, that features six-piston radial-mount calipers and 14.25-inch diameter rotors. Looking for the ultimate supercar upgrade? Wilwood provides exotic carbon-ceramic brake kits, AERO6 WCCB Front Big Brake Kit #140-13154 with AERO6 calipers and 14-inch rotors, or SX6R WCCB Front Big Brake Kit #140-15312 with SX6X calipers and 15-inch rotors.


REAR: Wilwood also offers several C6 rear disc brake kits, including factory replacement upgrade calipers and WCCB Carbon-Ceramic brake kits. The Superlite 4R Rear Big Brake Kit, #140-8032 features four-piston calipers and 12.88-inch rotors that work with the original parking brake mechanism (also fits some Cadillac and Factory Five Racing). Wilwood also offers brake kit #140-9119 which upgrades the Superlite kit to 14-inch rotors. There is also the track-ready Superlite kit #140-10638, with four-piston calipers and high-temperature seals, Spec37 alloy directional vane 12.88-inch competition rotors, forged aluminum hats, and high-friction race compound brake pads.

NEW >>> LUG-DRIVE RACE KITS: Wilwood's newest addition to the Corvette brake kit options are floating, lug driven race kits with four or six-piston calipers for front or rear of C5 and C6 Corvettes. The AERO4 Front Big Brake Kit #140-16181 and AERO6 Front Big Brake Kit #140-16202 both combine hard-anodized, forged race calipers featuring Thermlock® pistons and high-temperature seals with 14-inch Spec37 alloy directional vane competition rotors mounted to the aluminum hat with a single snap ring. This lug driven, snap ring mount system allows the rotors to expand thermally without warpage for optimal pedal feel. The matching rear kit is the Superlite 4R Rear Big Brake Kit #140-16208.

 

Wilwood Brake Kits for C7 Corvette

If you are taking your C7 Corvette to the track, Wilwood has several brake upgrades for you, including a carbon-ceramic option. An easy upgrade that can be done in an hour, is replacing the stock front brake pads with Wilwood ProMatrix D1050 pads. Or, upgrade your braking power with Wilwood's AERO6 Front Big Brake Kits with 6-piston calipers available in 14.25-inch rotors (kit #140-13697,) or 15-inch rotors (kit #140-13911). Other six-piston options are SRX6R Front Big Brake Kits available with 14-inch rotors (kit #140-15722), 15-inch rotors (kit #140-15743), or 15-inch WCCB Carbon-Ceramic rotors (kit #140-15746). For an upgrade in the rear of a C7, install the AERO4 Big Brake Rear Brake Kit, #140-13698 with 14.25-inch rotors that work with the original parking brake and four-piston calipers.


 
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Version: 2.96 November 19 2021
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