EIGHTY-SIX-YEAR-OLD Zora Arkus-Duntov died in April 1996 never having fulfilled one of his fondest dreams. No worries, though. Most everything else came up roses for the legendary figure long revered as the father of the Corvette, an honor he earned by resuscitating an ailing foundling and raising it up right, remaking it into America’s Sports Car. One mustard stain on his resume? We all should be so lucky. Consider all the meat in his portfolio. For starters, no other domestic factory performance car has ever managed to put Duntov’s baby in a corner. Original T-bird? Apples and oranges. Shelby- American’s Cobra? Too crude and way too few and far between. AMX? From an entirely different league. Viper and Ford GT? Strong rivals, sure, at least as far as brutal sex appeal was concerned, but where was the staying power? Not to mention the relative affordability and unmatched comfort convenience.
Chevrolet officials sure had high hopes when they ordered the renovation of a section of their aging St. Louis assembly plant in order to relocate Corvette production there for 1954. After building a mere 300 1953 models in Flint, the Bowtie boys planned to move as many as 10,000 Corvettes a year out of their Missouri facility. Silly them—nearly a third of the 3,640 ’54 Corvettes they managed to build that first year in St. Louis sat unsold outside the plant in January 1955, leaving more than one General Motors exec poised to pull the plug right then and there.
For years sports car purists pooh-poohed the Corvette, claiming that it no way, no how belonged in the international sporting fraternity. In their humble opinion, the car always has been, among other things, too big, too heavy, too convenient . . . or, plain and simply, too American. But such stones have been thrown less and less often as Chevrolet’s fantastic plastic plaything has matured over the years.
Like your best girl in school, the Corvette has never been able to make it downstairs on time for the big date. Consider the C5. Initial plans called for a 1993 debut, but various gremlins helped push that intro back to 1997. And who can forget 1983 Chevrolet decision-makers apparently did they delayed the C4’s unveiling by more than six months, resulting in a model-year jump from 1982 directly to 1984
By 1982, the Shark had grown old beyond its years. Its bulging body had been around for a decade and a half, but its foundation dated all the way back to 1963. Obviously, a change was long overdue. Various factors contributed to the C3’s marathon run, not the least of which involved its record sales successes. Annual production went up each year from 1970 to 1977, surpassing 40,000 for the first time in 1976 and staying above that level through 1981 despite a national recession. Why fix something that plainly wasn’t broken?
General Motors’ people began considering the Corvette’s near future even as the most advanced example yet, the new C4, was wowing the world in 1984. Most prominent among these forward-thinkers early on was Lloyd Reuss, who that year became GM vice president and general manager of the newly formed Chevrolet-Pontiac-Canada (CPC) group.
It’s highly unlikely that any future Corvette generation will manage to stay on the scene as long as the C3 did. The C4 lineage came close, falling short by two model runs, but only because it was forced to fill in for a couple more years than planned while the radically redesigned fifth-generation Corvette remained stuck in the works. Like the first Shark in 1968 and Dave McLellan’s pride and joy in 1984, the C5 Corvette took its sweet time going from drawing board to the street. Make that seriously sweet.
David Hill wasn’t blowing smoke in 1997 when he called Chevrolet’s latest Corvette the best ’Vette yet. From nose to tail, from the roof down to the ground, the fabulous C5 was as new and improved as it got. Even so, Hill and his team were already busy working on the next best ’Vette just two years later. According to the Corvette’s third chief engineer, various things about the superb C5 needed fixing, and those upgrades could only come about as part of a redesign.
Most recognize that history often repeats itself, but how many know it also sometimes stutters? Consider the Corvette legacy, now nearing its 70th birthday. Chevrolet has always had trouble issuing its eagerly awaited next-generation models, with delays ranging from one year for the C3 to about five for the radically redesigned C5. Not to tinker with tradition, the C6 obligingly followed suit, once more to the dismay of some customers, who’d this time hoped to kick off the breed’s second half century with a bang. As in 1993, Chevy again served up leftovers during the Corvette’s latest big birthday bash in 2003.
Cleanup efforts following the C7’s various coming-out parties were still underway and prognosticating press people, per longstanding tradition, already were confidently announcing what surely would trigger the next confetti dump. And wouldn’t you know it? Leading the way was Tadge Juechter’s favorite auto writer, Don Sherman, who kick-started his career at Car and Driver in the summer of 1971—just in time to catch a ride on a wave that would wash up repeatedly in the Corvette reporting world over the decades since.
The Complete Book of Corvette covers every production model and every year of Chevrolet’s legendary performance car. Every Z06 and ZR-1, racers, prototypes, Indy pace cars—they’re all here, including the stunning mid-engine 2020 Corvette Stingray. Every model year is presented with an insightful text, technical specifications, and beautiful photography culled from the author’s own images and GM’s photographic archives.
With more than sixty years of production under its belt, the Corvette remains a world-class sports car offering a fascinating development story and a stellar competition record. The Complete Book of Corvette covers all eight generations, from the first six-cylinder model in 1953 to the all-conquering L88 of the 1960s to 21st century ZR1 and Z06 to today’s tour de force mid-engine Stingray—the ultimate expression of Chevrolet’s and Zora Arkus Duntov’s vision.
Prototypes, racers, one-offs, and specialty packages also get their due as do the designers and engineers behind the iconic Corvette. It’s all here in the ultimate reference for all Corvette enthusiasts.
“…a visual and fact-filled buffet for any auto enthusiast interested in the history, design, engineering and personalities behind the Corvette.”
― Jeff Yip, Chron.com
Mike Mueller has worked as an automotive photojournalist since 1991. A lifetime car enthusiast, Mueller has written and photographed more than 30 automotive and truck history books and contributed photography to at least that many more. His byline has appeared in countless magazines over the years, including Vette and Corvette Fever. Among his long list of titles are Motorbooks’ Chevy Chevelle 50 Years, The Complete Book of Classic Dodge and Plymouth Muscle, Camaro: 50 Years of Chevy Performance, and The Complete Book of Ford Mustang.