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“The History of the Corvette”
It all started in September of 1951, when General Motors chief stylist Harley Earl took a ride to Watkins Glen sports car race. He was impressed with the Jaguars, Ferraris and Alfas, which made him decide to begin designing a new American sports car. Later on that year he assigns Bob McLean to draw a layout for a sports car for General Motors.
1952 arrives and the first plaster model two-seater convertible goes on display in General Motors’ private viewing auditorium. At the end of April, Harley’s crew completed a full-size plaster model of his sports car project. It was designed from the back to the front. In the middle of June, the Chevrolet’s director of research and development, Maurice Olley, created a sketch for the new sports car frame, showing the locations of the radiator, wheels, and the body mount points. All it really was was a shortened Chevy Sedan frame. In July, Chevrolet’s chief engineer Ed Cole, and Harry Barr started to work on a all new Chevrolet V-8 engine. During a test run, the prototype fiberglass-bodied Chevrolet full sized convertible accidentally rolled. Since the body survived with minimal damage, they decided to keep the fiberglass for the body material for the upcoming Corvette. The year was almost over when they had to decide what name to give the new Chevrolet. The Chevrolet EX-122 is named the Corvette after a fast type of Royal Navy warship, by Myron Scott. He was an employee of Cambell-Ewald, Chevrolet’s advertising agency. Strong consideration had been given to naming the car “Corvair”, a name picked from the dictionary.
The debut of the first Corvette was on January 17 of 1953. It was displayed at the GM Motorama show at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. In May the first Corvette advertisement was unleased. It was a stylish two-seat convertible, designed to show the world that GM could produce a sports car to compete with the other European cars. All three hundred of 1953 Corvettes were built by hand and appeared identical to the Motorama car. Everyone of them were Polo White with red interiors. They were powered by the existing Chevrolet 235 cubic inch 6-cylinder engine that was modified with a three-carburetor design and dual exhaust to give it a more sports car like performance. Named the Blue Flamed Special, this engine generated 150 horsepower, and was combined with a 2-speed powerglide automatic transmission with unassisted steering. It could go 0 to 60 mph in just about 11 seconds and its top speed was just slightly over 107 mph. Harley Earl’s aim was to make a sports car that was fast and cheap so anyone could own one. They were all made in a small room in a G. M. plant in Flint, Michigan. Earl didn’t want anyone to steal the design. This project was top secret. With the average of about only three a day, only three hundred were made the first year. The sticker price on all three hundred were $ 3,498 which was a bit high. The only complaint was that it had a leaky roof. In December of 1953, the Corvette production moved to a General Motors Assembly Division plant on Union Boulevard, in St. Louis, Missouri.
In the summer of 1954, the VIP-marketing policy is changed, making it available for sale to the general public. Finally in September, the V-8 engine was an option on the Corvette. At the end of December, production ends with 3265 made and 1076 unsold.
The only big change in 1955 was that a three speed transmission was available. Also the engine was increased to a 265 cubic inch V-8 that generated 195 horsepower. The single four barrel V-8 could do 0 to 60 mph below nine seconds. Although sales in 1954 were up, they fell off dramatically to just seven hundred setting off rumors that the Corvette might be a short lived automotive experiment.
The !956 production car set a new Corvette record at a little over 150 mph. The duel four barrel V-8 which at 240 horses could do 0 to 60 under seven
seconds. The first styling change happened in ‘56. Changes included an all new body with “scooped out” sides, outside door handles, roll-up windows and an optional removable hardtop. The parking break alarm, courtesy lights, windshield washer, and the hydraulic folding top mechanism were all mandatory options that were made optional that year.
The !957 Corvette got a performance boost along with its styling. The 283 cubic inch V-8 was modified with fuel injection to produce an unprecedented 283 horsepower, and a new 4-speed manual transmission was offered as a $188 option, making the Corvette one of the first cars in the world to mate a fuel injected V-8 engine with a 4-speed manual gearbox. This was the first year that vented gas tanks were used in the production of the Corvette. More model options were made available offering stiffer springs, bigger shocks, fatter front antiroll bar, faster-ration steering, and a limited-slip differential.
In 1958, the fuel-injected 283 cubic inch V-8 engine was now producing up to 290 horsepower while its body featured the four headlights. Sales reached
9,168 which was enough to turn a profit for the first time for the Corvette.
The oversized gas tank was officially offered for the 1959 Corvette, although some reportedly had been supplied to racers as early as 1957. Adding the oversized 24-gallon fuel tank meant the removable hardtop option was also required since the tank took up the space behind the seat where the folding top normally resided.
As the 1960 Corvette production hit the 10,000 mark for the first time, it was now putting an impression in the market and becoming a part of American
culture. Also, the horsepower climbed up to 315 that year.
The 1961 fuelie featured various racing-inspired options, including wider wheels, quicker steering and heavy duty suspension with specially cooled brakes. It was also the first year for the Corvette trademark of the quad taillights.
In 1962, engine displacement was increased to 327 cubic inches putting out 360 fuel injected horsepower. It was clocked at going from 0 to 60 mph at 5.9 seconds with a quarter mile of 14.9 seconds. The most exciting changes were still a year away.
Bill Mitchell, chief stylist for the Corvette, designed a split window Sting Ray that carried a look that dominated until 1968. The shorter wheel base and independent rear suspension gave the new Vette impressive grip. This was the first time a Corvette was available in a hardtop coupe model as well as the traditional convertible. Both cars featured an all new body design that was significantly trimmer and more stylish than the previous generation. It was also the first year for concealed headlamps. The 1963 Sting Ray Coupe featured an unusual split rear-window. Today, a ‘63 split-window Coupe is a cherished prize among collectors. The Sting Ray’s were the automotive success story of the year. Chevrolet had to add a second shift to its St. Louis, Missouri assembly plant to keep up with the demand of Corvettes. Dealers reported owners waiting months for their cars to be built. By the end of the model year, Corvette production would surpass the 20,000 unit
1964 came and the split rear-window was eliminated because of owners complaining about visibility. They got the horsepower up to a astounding 375 that year.
In 1965, the 396 cubic inch “Big Block” V-8 was available in the Corvette. It was rated at 425 horsepower. Four-wheel disc brakes were also made standard, although buyers could choose drum brakes as a cost delete option while supplies lasted.
Within the next year, the engine was boosted up to a 427 cubic inch that did 0 to 60 mph in just 5.6 seconds.
In 1967, Chevrolet made the L88 engine option. The 427 cubic inch L88 delivers a unbelievable 500 horsepower with open exhausts, and features a 12.5:1 compression ratio. Only 20 of the L88 Corvettes were made. An average coupe put out about 435 horsepower.
1968 arrived and a whole new body lift came along with it. Its appearance was dramatically different than any other Corvette. Looking just like Chevrolet’s “Mako Shark II” concept car, it literally changed the way people looked at the Corvette. Along with its bold new look, the 1968 Corvette introduced hidden windshield wipers and removable T-Tops on the coupe models. Under the hood, the engine was increased to 350 cubic inches. Production that year hit a new record of 28,566. This basic body design would go on for another 15 years.
The only remarkable event that happened in 1969 was that the 250,000th Corvette ever made rolled off the production line. The original high performance LT1 engine, a 350 cubic inch “Small Block” was put into production in 1970. It generated 370 horsepower. That year the “Big Block” displacement was increased to 454 cubic inches and was rated at 390 horsepower in the LS5 version.
In 1971, a special purpose “Big Block” V-8 was available that produced 425 horsepower. 1971 was the last year for “gross horsepower ratings. The industry changed to a “net” rating system that accounted for the exhaust system, vehicle accessories and other components. It provided a truer measure of engine’s performances and is still used today.
The thundering ZL-1 was an aluminum-engine brute well over 500 horsepower. Quarter mile of 10.5 seconds and calculated top speeds of over 190 miles per hour made this the all-time monster Corvette. Unfortunately only 2 of these models were made in 1972.
Nothing noteworthy happened in 1973 but Corvettes were still standing their ground in becoming part of America’s top performance cars.
The 1974 model was the last year for the mighty 454 while Corvettes were becoming slower, heavier and more expensive.
In 1975 the convertible models of the Corvettes were dropped. They wouldn’t be available again until 1986. Also the first catalytic converter and a “big” engine option of 205 horsepower with a 350 cubic inch smogger.
1976 wasn’t a good year, neither was it a bad year, but Corvettes were still selling.
In 1977, Corvette hit its 1/2 million milestone as the 500,000th car rolled off the assembly line. Leather seats were standard for the first time, although buyers could choose cloth at no extra charge. Production just for that year reached 49,213 units.
Corvette celebrated its 25th Anniversary in 1978. In recognition of this event, the Corvette was chosen to be the Official Pace Car of the Indianapolis 500. Two special models were produced for public sale. One was a Pace car appearance edition and the other was a special Silver Anniversary paint package.
Ironically, 1979 was the best sales year ever, with 53,807 deliveries. This record still stands today.
A body lift in 1980 carried through to 1982 as the last of the “old style” Corvettes were put to rest. Corvettes were clearly becoming a part of America’s cars, attracting buyers with its rich heritage and dramatic styling.
In 1983, no Corvettes were mass produced. But in 1984, the new generation of Corvettes arrived with the stock fiberglass frame and an all new body style. The Motor Trend Car of the Year had a 5.7 liter V-8 engine with 205 horsepower. It was the first all-new Corvette since 1968. Inside, the cockpit surrounded the driver and featured advanced electronic instrumentation. They came stock with a 4-speed automatic transmission, but manual was an option. It came with stock disc breaks. The 84 Corvette was lighter, quicker, had better handling, and was more economical with fuel than the 82.
The 85 Corvette came out with a new type of fuel injected engine (tuned-port). The new engine had raised the Corvette from 205 horsepower to 230
horsepower. This new motor lasted much longer than the old model. It had many people driving over 150,000 miles without any major problems.
1986 was a breakthrough year for the Corvette. It came with the brand new, state of the art, ABS (Anti-lock break system) breaks. The new breaks tested a lot better than the old disc breaks. It was also the year where Corvette brought the convertible model back for the first time since 1975. The convertible was very important to Chevrolet increasing sales drastically. The Corvette also came out with a new theft system. The new Corvette Convertible was rewarded by being the 1986 Indy 500 Pace car.
In 1987, Corvette offered a new unique package for the engine. They offered the Callaway twin-turbo package. The turbo-charged engine raised the
Corvette s horsepower to 345. The package was offered until 1991. The turbo-charged engine wouldn t sell as well as expected because Chevrolet had problems
getting the turbo to work properly.
In 1989, Corvette came out with a brand new 6-speed manual transmission, giving drivers the ability to maximize the Corvette s power range. They also came out with a handling package which was raising the size of the wheels and tires to give the car better traction, and give the driver more control in bad weather.
In 1990, Chevrolet came out with a new type of Corvette called the ZR-1. For this new car, Lotus and Chevrolet teamed up to make a new and improved
engine called the LT-5. The new motor made the car go from 0-60 mph in 4.8 seconds, and ran the quarter-mile in 13.1 seconds (110mph). To distinguish the ZR-1 from normal Corvettes, the ZR-1 was given quad rectangular headlights. A team of near-stock ZR-1 Corvettes set dozens of records, near Fort Stockton, TX, for speed and endurance. It set a new 5000 km World Endurance Record of 175.71 mph, 5000 mile World Record of 173.791 mph, and a 24-hour World Endurance Record of 175.885 mph. The ZR-1 engine package alone costed $27,000.
Lotus and Chevrolet teamed up to make a show car called the CERV III. It made it s debut at the International Auto Show in Detroit. The car had the LT-5 engine from the ZR-1. The engine was given twin-turbos and internal modifications. The engine was pushing 650 horsepower and had a top speed of 225 mph.
In 1991, there were no serious changes to any of the Corvette models. The ZR-1 was given a few styling refinements. At the International Auto Show, a
Corvette ZR-1 Spyder was unveiled. It was a prototype convertible ZR-1.
Reeves Callaway, the maker of the Callaway twin-turbo engine, unveiled a Twin-Turbo Corvette Speedster. It was a convertible with a 450 horsepower
engine. The prices started at $107,000.
The new LT-1 engine came out in 1992. It was a 300 horsepower engine. Also, a new traction control device was introduced in the stock Corvette Coupe.
The device turned on by the switch of a button, and prevented the car from slipping off the line and letting you take off without spinning wheels. Teamed up with the ABS breaks, traction control was a breakthrough in safety features for Corvette. The 1 millionth Corvette was also built in 1992. It was a white roadster with red interior.
In 1993, the stock Corvette Coupe was up to 385 horsepower. It had a 6-speed manual transmission. The ZR-1 model became even faster. The LT-5 motor,
which is in the ZR-1, was raised to 405 horsepower. It was the 40th anniversary of the Corvette. It was celebrated by selling a 40th Anniversary Corvette. Also, a new device was put on the Corvette. It was called the Passive Keyless Entry, which allowed you to get in your car if you left your keys in the car, or lost them.
In 1994, only a few changes were made. There were no changes to the ZR-1. The stock coupe came with a new, more comfortable seating package. The
cockpit transformed to a single-piece instrument panel, and they all came stock with leather seats.
1995 was the last year of the infamous, powerful ZR-1. In it s 6 year history, 6,939 ZR-1 s were built. The ZR-1 started in 1990 with a 375 horsepower engine, running the quarter-mile in 13.3 seconds at 108 mph, and ended in 1995 with a 405 horsepower engine, running the quarter-mile in 13.1 seconds at 112 mph after a computer technological upgrade over the years. The ZR-1 s were sold for $68,000. Corvette was also awarded with the 79th Indianapolis 500 being led with a 1995 Corvette performing as the Official Pace Car.
1996 was the last year of the fourth-generation Corvettes. The fourth-generation was between 1984-1996, and all the Corvettes had what was called a C4 body style. There were over 300,000 Corvettes produced in the fourth-generation. It was the year of the Grand Sport, which was the only big selling Corvette of 1996.
The beginning of the fifth-generation started in 1997. The new Corvette body style was dubbed C5 . A new small-block V-8 engine was introduced to the Coupe s called the LS1. The LS1 was a 345 horsepower aluminum engine. The new Corvette had an option of either a 4-speed automatic transmission or a 6-speed manual transmission.
The fifth-generation Corvettes (1997-1998) proved it s world-class status. The 97 Corvette goes 0-60 mph in 4.8 seconds, and has a top speed of 173 mph. It runs the quarter-mile in 13.2 seconds at 109.3 mph.
The 98 Corvette is a speedy, comfortable, world-class sports-car. The 1998 Motor Trend Car of the Year was also a 5.7 liter V-8 engine with 345
horsepower. This speedster goes from 0-60 in 4.8 seconds, with a top speed of 173.9 mph. It also runs the quarter-mile in 13.2 seconds at 109.3 mph. This well refined sports-car is selling anywhere between $39,000-$55,000. It comes stock with ABS breaks, traction control, driver and passenger side air bags, comfortable leather seats, and has the option of a coupe, or a convertible top.
Motor Trend rated the 98 Corvette to several world-reknown sports-cars, and it finished well-above average. Corvette definitely proved it s world-class status by finishing behind only the Dodge Viper GTS, the Lotus Esprit Turbo, and the Ferrari 355 F1.
Motor Trend also graded the Corvette and the Viper in 10 categories. The Viper obviously was graded higher in speed and power, but the Corvette was
graded higher in categories like refinement and comfort. The Corvette and Viper split 5 and 5. It was a definite moral victory for the Corvette even being compared to the Viper, but it also hung in there. 1998 finally was the year that Chevrolet proved the Corvette was a world-class sports-car and was a force to be reckoned with in the sports-car industry, world-wide.
Over the years Corvette, just like any car, had several changes done to it to keep up with the rest of the industry. It had it s ups and it s downs, but over the years Corvette has been popular around the country, and now around the world. The Corvette is the kind of car that makes driving exciting and fun.
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