Signature Design Cues Connect 60 Years of Corvettes

The first Chevrolet Corvette, the XP-122 Motorama concept car, and the latest model, the 2013 Corvette 427 Collector Edition convertible
1961 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible
1965 Chevrolet Corvette
1956 Chevrolet Corvette
2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1

The first Chevrolet Corvette, the XP-122 Motorama concept car, and the latest model, the 2013 Corvette 427 Collector Edition convertible (first picture at the top), are separated by 60 years of automotive development and advancement. They do not share a single common component, yet the visual connection between the first and sixth generations is obvious.

While the design cues have changed through six generations, it’s their elemental composition that makes a Corvette look like a Corvette.

“Every generation of Corvette has had a signature look, as the Corvette changed to reflect the high-performance technology and design of the times,” said Tom Peters, GM performance vehicle design director. “However, each generation of Corvette shares some common elements which create a consistent Corvette theme that is expressive, distinctly American, artful, and passionate.”

Peters said the Corvette’s instantly recognizable look doesn’t just come from shared design cues, it is how those cues are stitched together that creates the distinct look of Corvette.

“It’s similar to an iconic band, such like the Rolling Stones. For decades, the Stones have been using the same instruments. By changing their composition, the band has produced very different emotions and personalities. Despite the changing personalities of their songs, the sound is instantly recognizable as the Rolling Stones.

“The same is true with Corvette,” Peters said. “The new 427 Convertible doesn’t share a single design cue with the 1953 model. Yet, even from 100 yards, both cars are unmistakably Corvettes.”

As Corvette enters its seventh decade, here are a few of the common elements that have helped make each design unique – and each Corvette look like a Corvette.
  • Proportion: Each Corvette has similar proportions – from the long “dash to axle” element, to the short tail and small greenhouse.
“Corvette designers have often looked to fighter planes for inspiration,” said Peters. “You can see that aerospace influence in the Corvette’s low, wide stance, proportionately small cockpit, and how the body is wrapped around the mechanical components.”
  • Waterfall effect: A powerful, signature cue common among all Corvette generations is the way a part of the exterior bodywork cascades into the passenger compartment between the seat backs, introduced on the first-generation Corvette convertibles. Since then, the waterfall effect has been reinterpreted to make a seamless transition from the exterior to the interior of Corvette.  
  • Dual cockpit architecture: Another iconic Corvette design cue that was inspired by jet fighters is the dual, wraparound cockpit. Introduced when Americans were obsessed with space flight, the wraparound cockpit instantly conveyed purposeful performance. Today, the Corvette’s interior still conveys the car’s sporting intentions, with easy access and visibility of the critical controls.
  • The bodyside cove: While a spear-like chrome feature highlighted the side of the 1953-55 Corvettes, for 1956, a concave cove was sculpted into the bodywork behind the front wheels. Although its form and function have been reinterpreted over the years, a cove or vent has been a signature cue in the Corvette’s bodyside ever since.
“The bodyside cove is arguably the most iconic design element for Corvette,” said Peters. “In each generation, the cove has influenced the powerful fender shapes and the overall sculpture of the Corvette. In addition, with each generation the bodyside cove has become more and more functional. A perfect example of this is the air extractors on the current ZR1.”
  • The tail: Another Corvette signature is the design treatment of the car’s tail. Peters notes that it’s not just the use (since 1961) of twinned and rounded taillamps at either side of the back of the car. Instead, it’s how the relationship between those lamps, exhaust pipes, and event license plate opening compliment the low, wide proportions of the Corvette body.
GM Press

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