Generation 3 (C3) – 1968-82
Corvette’s third generation was its longest and the car evolved significantly during an upheaval in the auto industry. It was introduced for 1968 as the Stingray (one word vs. two words with the second generation), although aficionados generally call these cars “shark” models, for their aggressive styling. They are instantly identifiable by their prominent “blistered” fender design and long dash-to-axle proportion, which gives them an exaggerated suggestion of motion. Retractable headlamps and dual-element taillamps carry on as traditional design elements.
From a performance standpoint, the C3 generation was transitional. Big-block engines rated at 435 horsepower were popular at the start of the generation, but industry changes to unleaded fuel, tighter emissions standards and changing consumer attitudes affected output over the next several years. In 1975, the standard 350 small-block was rated at only 165 horsepower – about 20 percent less than the original 195-hp small-block from 1955.
Although the Corvette’s horsepower was down, engineers continued to focus on the car’s technology and added to its legacy of advanced materials, particularly the composite body materials. They evolved from conventional fiberglass to sheet-molding compound (SMC), which enabled body panels that were smoother right out of the mold, requiring less surface finishing prior to painting. All Corvettes since 1973 have used SMC body panels, but the material composition has changed dramatically, featuring less traditional fiberglass and more lightweight plastic that give the material more elasticity to prevent cracking.
Despite the evolution in traditional performance during the third generation, the Corvette was more popular than ever. The 58,307 sales in 1979 remains the Corvette’s annual sales record.
Generation 4 (C4) – 1983-96
The fourth-generation Corvette symbolized the high-tech 1980s with advancements in design and manufacturing techniques, electronically controlled performance and safety features. Styling advances included an electroluminescent instrument panel with digital readouts that captured the zeitgeist of the circuit board era. It retained its signature proportion, dual-round taillamps and retractable headlamps, adding new hatchback rear glass for easier access to the cargo area.
The C4’s technological advancements started at the foundation, with a unitized “backbone” frame structure. The new body was also sleeker, achieving a 0.34 coefficient of drag that was nearly 25 percent less than the C3.
Under the hood, Tuned Port Injection was introduced in 1985, ushering in the modern era of port fuel injection and establishing Corvette’s reputation as a high-performance sports car with good fuel economy.
There were no 1983 models offered for sale only and only 44 prototypes were built. Today, only one remains and it is on display at the National Corvette Museum, in Bowling Green, Kentucky.