Corvette Evolution

Corvette Evolution, Part 3: The Corvette C2, Basing the Legend

The C2 was a radical departure from the C1 and it showed the way for all subsequent Corvette generations to come.

When in 1963 the second generation Corvette was revealed, its design shocked Corvette fans, car enthusiasts and the occasional onlooker alike. None of them needed to use a magnifying glass in order to spot the differences in design language and styling between the new and the old. Its body shape was transformed from bulbous and friendly looking into a rectangular, angular and menacing looking creature. A huge hood surface with a longitudinal triangle-shaped bulge with an air intake was also prominent.

It featured two fake hood vents that were positioned to the bulged side, but they disappeared after the first model year. Hidden headlamps were attached to pop-up plates. The front grille was almost hidden under the front body work and the chromed fenders were actually behind and under the body work front line. There was also the sloping back end with the famous split rear window that characterized the novel coupe version. The C1's small trunk was discontinued in order to allow for a new coupe-fastback version; the only orifice at the back was placed under a chrome coated fuel door right at the car's back center line.

The big doors protruded into the roof; under the fiberglass body panels was a new, stronger and heavier chassis that created the C2's underpinnings. From the C1 only the engine and the gearbox were retained. The car's shape and configuration were chosen and designed after long excruciating deliberations, discussions and heated arguments and disagreements between Bill Mitchell, GM's new chief of design, and Zora Arkus-Duntov, the head of the Corvette engineering team. The former, who had more political clout, wanted the more edgy design with its split rear window.

Arkus-Duntov opposed the idea on grounds of efficiency and safety. The C2 design, which received the name 'Stingray' (in one word) was influenced by other projects such as the racing Sting Ray concept (two words for this car) from 1959-1960. Other influences included the rear engined Chevrolet Corvair and the CREV-1, which was an open wheeler test car built by Arkus-Duntov, as well as the Ford Thunderbird. It continued to outsell the Corvette by a 10:1 ratio. For GM veterans that experience was painful. The Jaguar E-Type that was introduced in 1961 was also a source of inspiration and a target to strive towards.

The E-Type had the pedigree of racing cars such as the XK, C-Type and D-Type. The Corvette couldn't show off such a pedigree but some racing experience had accumulated and racing technology was developed when the Corvette SS took part in a few competitions at the end of the '50s. It was Ed Cole, at that time already promoted to the job of GM Vice President responsible for cars and trucks, who fancied the Corvette to take on the Ford Thunderbird in its own backyard. Others suggested to follow the Corvair route, a rear-mounted air cooled engine with rear-wheel-drive.

Another idea was to create a 2+2 GT car and a special chassis was developed in order to accommodate the second row of seats. Legendary designer Larry Shinoda then came on board, becoming the C2's most influential designer. His work was supervised by Bill Mitchell, who was Harley Earl's successor. Fortunately, GM's big bosses were always interested in the Corvette. The ideas stream was constant but when decision time arrived, the conservative approach won the day, but not an absolute victory. The Corvette maintained its original configuration of a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive car.

It also kept on its treasured small-block V8 engine, but this time it also received a second version, the coupe. Sadly, the rear split window design was abolished for the 1964 model year. That left only the 1963 coupe versions with that intriguing rear window; those cars' value nowadays is much higher than their convertible brethren. The C2 enjoyed the shortest lifespan of all six generation Corvettes, with only five years of production. The smallest engine under its hood was the small-block 327CID with 250hp and the biggest was a big-block V8 427 CID with 435hp.

Transmission options included a 3-speed manual, 4-speed manual or a 2-speed Powerglide automatic. During its production period its design was refined and improved, its engine became stronger and the Corvette nameplate established itself as the ultimate American sports car. All other options that were considered prior to the C2 were now buried and done with.

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