A High Horsepower Birthday: The 70th Anniversary Chevrolet Corvette
Cars & motorsport

A High Horsepower Birthday: The 70th Anniversary Chevrolet Corvette

An icon of American motoring throws itself a party, and it brought 495 horses with which to play.

By Vincent Brasesco

America doesn’t really make sports cars. That is my sentence, full stop. Now sure, over the years there have been a handful of real, proper red-blooded American sports cars – but that is a very short list, and many of them were limited production models or had big production gaps. I’m not sure why this is, but if you ask people around the world to name an American sports car, you usually only get one answer: The Corvette.

The Corvette has been in constant production since 1953 and celebrates its 70th anniversary with this model year. While the Corvette has had its ups and downs, this most recent iteration is by far the most exciting to be produced probably since the General Motors team of Bill Mitchell and Larry Shinoda created the ’63 Sting Ray Sport Coupe. (That’s right, Sting Ray used to be two words).

THE American Sports Car

Blasting down the backroads in this latest beast, you’ll see people whipping their necks as you go past. The styling of the current-generation Corvette Stingray (that’s properly “C8” for the gear heads) is aggressive, bold, and the whole shebang is mid-engined.

By the original definition, a ‘sports car’ describes a car that seats two and has no fixed roof. In the post-war years, these types of cars became popular with returning GIs who often brought these small sports cars back with them; typically British and European roadsters from brands like Austin-Healy, MG, and Porsche. These cars were very different than what was on American roads; Americans typically favored large cars with seating for four or more.

The head of design at General Motors at this time, a visionary by the name of Harley Early, had been pushing for a more sporty, design-forward car since the late 1930s when he designed the way-ahead-of-its-time Buick Y-Job (let me also insert a quick watch-based shout-out to Buick President H.H. Curtice in concert with this heritage). In the early 1950s he penned the Chevrolet Corvette as the all-American sports car.

The first Corvette debuted at The Waldorf Astoria in January of 1953, and was made of fiberglass with a low-slung profile and dainty little fins (and funnily enough, a not-super-muscular inline six-cylinder engine). People loved the car so much that it went from concept to production model in just six months.

70 Years, 8 Generations

So here we are, 70 years later, and today's mid-engine aluminum and steel pasta-rocket killer can arguably be described as the ultimate evolution of what the Corvette can be.

The current C8 Corvette platform was introduced in 2019 at Kennedy Space Center (the Corvette is perennially associated NASA astronauts, after all) and started hitting the roads in 2020. Ever since, it has been the darling of the automotive world, and after spending some time with one, its easy to see why.

The current Stingray straddles the line between blistering sports car performance and comfortable daily driving like nothing before it. It has conventional doors, which make parking lots easy, a front axle lift so you never bottom-out on the curve, two trunks, and some of the most comfortable seats I’ve enjoyed in a performance vehicle. Sport seats often sacrifice comfort in the name of lateral support and lighter weight; that is not the case here.

The Corvette variation we explore here is the exclusive 70th Anniversary edition (which starts at $83,840). This rare beauty offers some beautiful upgrades beyond the “stock” 495-horsepower naturally aspirated 6.2-liter V8 engine. Finished in White Pearl Metallic over a two-tone red and black full-leather interior, this is not some throwback retro style pack, but represents a series of thoughtful details for the enthusiast. A particular favorite feature of mine are the wheels, which showcase a red line around them and harkening back to the famous red-line tires of the 1970s.

Driving Dynamics

Until you get on it and kick, this version of the Corvette its extremely docile. Even the in-cabin engine noise is fairly sedate (Chevy designers: Please feel free to make more noise. I promise it doesn’t bother me). All that changes with the press of the accelerator and a quick flick into Sport+ mode: Lightning-fast acceleration and an engine howling at full rip.

We were able to put the Corvette through its paces at the legendary racing venue of Lime Rock Park: Thrilling elevation changes, hard turns, and a high-speed straight, all crammed into 1.5 miles of asphalt. It’s a notoriously challenging course.

This Corvette made minced meat out of it. As somebody who has been fortunate enough to log decent seat time on many race tracks, I am very aware of my limitations as a driver. But the Corvette had me feeling very confident; maybe a bit overly so.

That’s the only caveat of this car. It makes it so easy to go so fast, and turn, and stop that it will make you think you’re better than you are.

Down the iconic Sam Posey straight at Lime Rock the car hits speeds that I don’t think I should be putting in writing, and the brakes are massively confidence-inspiring as you slow hard into the Big Bend curve and throw the weight of the car across its axis through the slaloming The Esses section of the track.

The car is easy to bring up to speed, but it isn’t devoid of feeling and input. The suspension, for example, is brilliant: A version of the magnetic damper system that GM licenses to Ferrari (yes, you read that right. Ferrari gets its suspension tech from GM). The steering has about as much feedback as you would get from any car, and the linear relationship between the throttle and the pedals leaves no room for doubt that this is a naturally aspirated engine. There is no replacement for displacement.

Final Thoughts

For fun and for the video purposes of our Lime Rock visit, we brought with us the very first Corvette Sting Ray (yup, two words, properly), which will be celebrating its own 60th Anniversary this year, for a small family reunion. About all the duo share is the V8 engine format and the Corvette name. But, taking the concept of a sports car and putting an American spin on it by constant evolution is what this car has always been about.

Do you know what else is fast and has two trunks? A Tesla. But nobody dreams about driving an appliance. Happy Birthday Corvette, and may your V8 roar from sea to shining sea.

(Photography by Liam O'Donnell)

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