The Differences in C1, C2, and C3 Corvettes

I found a great article called The Corvette Story by Paul Pollock at and thought I would provide a summary of the key aesthetic and performance differences of each Corvette from 1953 to 1983.  I will make it a goal to take photos of each detail referenced and update them over time. So if you have friends that are always asking how you tell Corvettes apart, just pass this along.

1953 Corvette – The first Corvette reaches the end of the assembly line on June 30, 1953. All 1953 Corvettes were Polo White with a red interior and a black canvas top. Of the first 300 Corvettes, approximately 225 are known to exist today.

1954 Corvette – Chevrolet attempted to widen the appeal of the Corvette with new colors including Pennant Blue (left) and Guardsman Red although the majority were still Polo White. A few Black cars were also built. All of the soft tops were beige and the Pennant Blue offered a beige interior. The other interiors were red. In the middle of the 1954 model a more aggressive camshaft boosted the horsepower from 150 hp to 155 hp. 3,640 1954 Corvettes were built, a full one-third of which were unsold at the end of the model year.

1955 Corvette – A new focus for the Corvette arrived in the form of a thoroughly new 195-h.p. V8 engine which would be known and loved as the small block. Additional colors were available. A few “Corvette Copper” (kind of a bronze) Corvettes were built along with Gypsy Red and a Harvest Gold. V8 engined cars would get a 12 volt electrical system; six cylinder Corvettes made do with a six volt system. An electric windshield wiper was also part of the V8 package. 700 Corvettes were produced in 1955.

1956 Corvette – The Corvette received a new body style, authored by Bob Cadaret, in 1956. The new design featured outside door handles, roll-up windows and a factory sourced hardtop was available. Power windows and a power top were options. The interior remained the same. The introduction of the 1956 brought a significant styling element known as the “coves”.

1957 Corvette – Chevrolet pulled something amazing out of the hat for 1957: Fuel Injection. 1957 and subsequent Corvettes proudly wore their new technological identities on the front fenders and trunk lids. There was more good go-fast news for Corvette buyers in 1957. Just south of the clutch, a new four speed manual transmission became available.

1958 Corvette – The 1958 Corvette was redesigned mostly in the front, with the most distinguishing feature being the four headlights. Popular for the era, they were emphasized by a long chrome trim piece that ran the length of the fender. The new style, credited to Harley Earl, had a more aggressive, almost mean look to it.

A “grab bar” was installed for the benefit of the passenger, which was probably often appreciated considering the Corvette’s performance potential. Detractors referred to it as the “sissy bar”.

1958 Corvette hood had non-functional louvres. It was affectionately known as the “washboard hood”. The trunk featured two spears (nicknamed “suspenders”) that ran the length of the panel. Both items identify the cars as 1958 Corvettes as they were not used on any other year. The coves remained as part of the styling, gaining a side vent accented with three horizontal spears.

1959 Corvette – There were few changes for the 1959 model year Corvette; perhaps GM figured people still needed time to absorb the 1958 styling. The styling was toned down a notch as the faux louvres disappeared from the hood and the trunk “spears” were gone.

1960 Corvette – The 1960 Corvette was largely unchanged compared to the 1959 model; the biggest change was six new colors. Aluminum radiators came with the 270 hp and 290 hp engines.

An annual production milestone was achieved with over 10,000 Corvettes produced for 1960.

1961 Corvette – Corvette styling was substantially upgraded in 1961. Although enthusiasts at the time did not know it, they were being given a sneak peak of things to come. The rear would carry over to 1963, which would be a pivotal year in Corvette history. The “ducktail” design of the 1961 with its four tail lights would be known as “transitional” years. The exhaust now exited below the body and not via an opening in the bumper as in previous years.

Other changes for 1961: Sun visors, an aluminum radiator, parking brake warning lamp, interior lights and the windshield washer were standard equipment. The four speed transmission featured an aluminum case.

1962 Corvette – Although it might not be obvious, there were a lot of changes in the cove area for the 1962 Corvette. The lip that bordered the coves was part of the fiberglass, not a separate trim piece as in previous years. Without the trim brightwork, it was not possible to offer the coves in a contrasting color.

1963 Corvette – 1963 is the most significant Corvette model year. The changes seen were revolutionary. About the only thing up for debate is which is the most significant: The chassis engineering or the body style.

Under the direction of Bill Mitchell, the new Corvette was penned by Larry Shinoda. Revealed to the world on June 1962, two models – a coupe and a convertible – were introduced. Both were a radical departure from anything sold to the public at the time. They were lower (almost three inches) narrower (3½ inches) and shorter by two inches than the previous generation. Their sleekness was indisputable.

Like many great works of art, the 1963 Corvette was controversial. One of the signature elements of the ’63 coupe was the split rear window. Bill Mitchell pushed for it, insisting that it was needed to complete the lines started with the pointed hood bulge (below left). It was known as the “stinger” concept and in his mind the ridge that ran through the roof (below middle) needed to be emphasized. But Zora Arkus-Duntov was against it; his engineering sense told him that the rear visibility sacrifice (below right) made it a bad idea.

1963 saw the introduction of “Sting Ray” as a Corvette moniker. It would continue into the C3 generation, be retired occasionally and even shortened to “Stingray”.

1964 Corvette – The biggest development was the elimination of the split rear window. Also gone for 1964 were the fake hood vents. The hood indentations remained however.

There were engine improvements for 1964. The base motor (250 hp) and the upgrade L75 mill (300 hp) were unchanged but the L76 went to 365 hp (previously 340 hp) and the top dog L84 fuel injected model was now 375 hp, up from 360 hp due to revised heads, camshaft and bigger valves. All 1964 motors were 327 cubic inchers.

1965 Corvette – 1965 is an important year for Corvette. A long desired and needed upgrade – disc brakes – became standard equipment.

1965 Corvette big block hood A new era was ushered in when a leading edge class of engine, fondly known as the “Big Block” was introduced late in the 1965 model year. At the time a huge horsepower race was taking place industry wide and the 396 cu. in. Turbo-Jet was the Corvette’s ticket to the party. Rated at 425 hp, it furthered the Corvettes’ Bad-Boy reputation. It also represented the first time a Corvette motor was rated at over 400 hp.

A new hood was required to clear the massive motor and a handsome new “bubble hood” design was introduced.

1966 Corvette – 1966 extended the big block Corvette story with the introduction of the legendary 427 cu. in. motors. They were bored and stroked versions of the 396 cu. in. 1965 motors and were available in two flavors: 390 hp and 425 hp.

The Corvette script was revised to a more vertically elongated style for 1966. During 1966 it appeared on the hood front driver’s side in addition to the right rear.

1967 Corvette – 1967 was the last year of the “mid year” C2 Corvettes, as the 1963 through 1967 models were known. Big blocks continued to be the way to go for Corvette purchasers in 1967; of the five engine options available, four were 427 cu. in. displacement.

The “Stinger” hood – featured only on 1967 big block equipped ‘vettes – is a Corvette classic. Its effect is to somehow magically cause wallets to open up very wide whenever one is offered for sale. They were usually painted in contrasting colors at the factory.

Back-up illumination was located just above the rear license plate for 1967 only.

1968 Corvette – The new design would become a classic. Corvettes for the next forty years – including the C4, C5 and C6 generations – would follow the same basic lines and be recognizable as a relative of the 1968 trend setter.

The new Corvette featured what became known as the “Coke Bottle” shape. It’s in reference to the fenders which bulged out in comparison to the doors. Also note the emphasis on the fenders as they arched upward – a continuation of the C2 Corvette.

The shape of the new C3 also featured improved aerodynamics when compared to the C2 Corvette. Front end lift during high speed was a problem that many racers complained about. Corvette chief engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov said in interviews that the C2 ‘vette “had the aerodynamics of a bad airplane”.

As with the C2 Corvette, the new generation featured hidden headlights. Unlike the C2 however, the new design popped up rather than rotate. They were vacuum operated (C2s used an electric motor) and they were reliable and fast.

Another new for 1968 feature was hide-away windshield wipers. Like the headlights, they were vacuum operated and both aesthetic and aerodynamic advantages were the goal. Unlike the headlights however, their operation was not reliable. Other changes including locating the battery behind the passengers and deletion of side vent windows.

The door release was thumb operated, an exclusive feature in the 1968 Corvette and an easy way to identify that model year. 1969 and later designs opened the door with the depression plate with a flush mounted keyhole in the same position as the thumb release.

1969 Corvette – Stung by the criticism of the 1968 Corvette, Chevrolet worked hard to resolve the problems for the 1969 model year. The door panels were redesigned to recover some interior room. Overall fit and finish improved. The 250,000th Corvette was built in November 1969.

The easiest external identifier is the thumb lever on the doorhandle was replaced with a keyhole.

A fiber optics system enabled the driver to monitor the lights function on the center console. Engine statistics, including horsepower, torque, displacement and compression ratio were proudly on display below the shifter.

The “Sting Ray” name tag had strangely disappeared from the 1968 Corvette, but reappeared in 1969 as one word – “Stingray”.

Engine choices for 1969 were mostly the same with the popular 427 cu. in. 435 hp motor still the king of the hill. The 327 cu in. selection was dropped in favor of the L46 350 cu. in. mill. Two of the engines offered – the L88 and ZL1 – were racing engines not practical for street use.

The side exhaust, which had been an integral part of the Corvette “bad boy” image since 1965, went on hiatus for 1968 but returned in 1969.

Back up lights were integrated into the tail lights in 1969.

1970 Corvette – Changes for the 1970 Corvette included more comfortable seats, a squared off clear turn signal indicator (backed by an amber bulb) surrounded by an “ice cube tray” style grill and fender louvers.

The LT-1 engine debuted in 1970 and was a hit amongst Corvette motorheads.

A new engine option appeared in 1970: the LS5 became the only big block available. Displacement was 454 cu in., the largest Chevrolet would install in a Corvette.

1971 Corvette – The future had arrived in the form of lower compression ratios for 1971. Unleaded gasoline and its lower octane rating forced the move and an era was over, not to return. The change caused the hp ratings of the LS5 motor to go from 390 hp (1970) to 365 hp.

1971 was the last year for the fiber optic light monitoring system located behind the shifter.

1972 Corvette – The 1972 Corvette would be the last year that chrome bumpers would appear in the front. The 1972 Corvette saw few changes over the 1971 model.

The fiber optics light monitoring system was dropped. Although ingenious and simple, some thought of it as a gimmick.

A horn sounding alarm was part of the base price.

The 454 cu. in. “big block” motor was rated at 270 hp.

1973 Corvette – New laws required all cars to be able to sustain a five mph impact on the front without damaging lights or other safety gear. The bumper system consisted of a injection molded urethane cover, which, due to the flex agent in the paint, was often a slightly different shade than the rest of the car.

Also gone was the “ice cube” style grille and the fender louver, which was replaced by a rather bland and untrimmed recess.

A new hood made an appearance in 1973 and the new design eliminated the need for the moveable panel that was raised to allow the windshield wipers to do their thing. The mechanism was troublesome so it probably wasn’t missed.

The rear window would no longer be removable. The idea was to give a more open feeling, but excessive wind buffeting meant that it was little used.

1974 Corvette – 1974 completed what was started in 1973; this time the rear chrome bumpers were gone, also to accommodate new safety regulations.

The 1974 rear bumper cap was a two piece design, exclusive for that year.

1975 Corvette – 1975 was the first year since 1964 that only one engine displacement (350 cu. in.) was available. Also coming to an end, albeit temporarily, was convertible production. 4,629 were produced for 1975 and word was that there would be no more.

1976 Corvette – There were few changes in the 1976 Corvette, as engineering resources were occupied with meeting the demands of safety and pollution requirements while still managing to keep the character of the Corvette intact. The base engine horsepower rating was boosted 15 hp to 180 hp, marking the start of a long slow comeback to the performance of past years.

1977 Corvette – 1977 was another year of minimal changes. Above: a new luggage rack was an available option. It was designed to accommodate the removable roof panels, freeing up some interior storage space.

An eight track tape player with AM-FM stereo (RPO UM2; $414.00) become a popular option.

1978 Corvette – The Corvette was 25 years old in 1978 and the celebration was on. All 1978s featured a commemorative badge on the front nose. A special two tone paint scheme consisting of dark silver on the lower body and light silver above separated by a dark silver stripe was offered. The production quantity was not limited and 15,283 were sold.

A new “fastback” design which made for a smoother silhouette and answered criticisms of limited luggage space; owners now had storage similar to the mid-years Corvette coupes.

1979 Corvette – Changes for 1979 were minimal. Engineering and development resources were largely directed towards a new generation Corvette for ~1983. The front and rear spoilers that were also part of the 1978 pace car replicas were an available option for 1979. More than a styling gimmick, they reduced aerodynamic drag by 15% and increased fuel economy by ½ mpg.

New high back seats that were part of the 1978 Indy 500 pace car replicas were standard for 1979. Side support and overall comfort was improved and the new design made for easier access to the rear storage area.

1980 Corvette – New bumper caps for both ends were featured in 1980, and they included integral spoilers. They were similar to the 1979 and (pace car replica) 1978 spoilers but without the seam they offered a neater appearance.

1981 Corvette – The big news for 1981 was a venue change, as Corvette assembly moved from St. Louis MO to Bowling Green KY.

For the first time since 1954, there was only one engine available. Automatic and four speed manual transmissions were possible and the price was the same for either. The 350 cu. in. 190 hp L81 was, along with both the automatic and four speed manual transmissions, legal in all 50 states.

1982 Corvette – Only one engine was possible: 350 cu. in., 200 hp. A new fuel delivery system called “Cross-Fire Injection” made it’s debut. The new system enabled the engine to be rated at 200 hp and still satisfied the increasingly stringent anti-smog regulations.

It was well known that a new generation of Corvettes was in the works and that 1982 would be the last of the C3s. The occasion was commemorated by a special “Collector Edition” Corvette. Exclusive to the Collector Edition was a frameless hatchback supported by gas struts making access to the storage area much easier.

A distinctive two tone silver-beige paint was also part of the Collector Edition with a gradient or “fading shadow” motif on the side and hood.

The Collector Edition broke new Corvette ground with a price over $20,000.

1983 Corvette – No 1983 Corvettes were sold. Quality and production problems had delayed introduction of the new C4 generation so 1983 was passed over.