How Do You Tell What Year A Corvette Is?
Eight generations are now on the books for Chevrolet's legendary Corvette, but through all those decades, how is someone supposed to know what year any specific Corvette is? While the eight different generations might be easier to identify (and you can see them in the gallery below), the individual years tend to be a little tougher. Many of the years saw a bunch of major and minor changes, but we'll stay focused on the ones that might be easiest to eyeball from 10 feet away. We'll start with the first generation.
Not all 1953 Corvettes are white with a red interior, but they were when they left the factory. If the car is original, the color might help narrow it down a bit and that will be a recurring theme throughout Corvette production, as certain paint options were only available in certain years. Sportsman Red, Pennant Blue and Black were added for 1954. The 1955 model year saw the introduction of the V8, which started with 12-volt batteries, while the 6-cylinder Corvettes still started with 6-volt batteries.
The 1956 model year saw a mid-generation body update, perhaps most easily identifiable by the side cove that often appeared in two-tone format on these later C1s, as opposed to the relatively-flat sides of the first three years. Fuel injection and four-speed transmissions showed up in 1957 and the center dash-mounted tachometer went away after this year.
The body style was again tweaked in 1958, with the first appearance of quad headlights being the most easily-identifiable change. The 1958 model year also was the only year to feature a set of thick chrome bars running across the top of the trunk lid. The chrome bars went away in 1959 and the car didn't change much in 1960. However, two of the bigger changes to come along in 1961 were a body that tapered into more of a pointed tail and the iconic crossed flags replacing the round nose emblem. The two-tone option on the side coves went away for 1962 and was also the last year for a trunk (at least for a while).
The body style changed dramatically for the second generation and the String Ray made a big splash. Of all the years Chevrolet produced a Corvette, this may be the most-iconic, simply because of the split rear window, which went to a solid rear window in 1964. Roof louver grills showed up in 1964 and stuck around through 1965 and the fake hood grills from 1963 turned into just a pair of hood indentations, although it went smooth part of the way through 1965. The three vertical side louvers also became functional in 1965.
Those side louvers on the roof went away in 1966 and the front left corner of the hood now has a Corvette Sting Ray badge on it. The body on the '67s was considered the cleanest of the generation, with just the Corvette Sting Ray badge on the rear deck (unless it had a 427). The 427 cars were obvious by their big block hood, but so many people have put those on their non-427 Corvettes now, there's no telling what's really underneath the hood.
The third generation of Corvettes are often referred to as sharks and one of the easiest ways to identify the earlier cars ('68-72) is by their chrome bumpers. Corvettes went to rubber bumpers in 73 all the way to the end of C3 production in 1982. While the chassis and driveline is basically the same from the prior year, the body now has a more curvaceous Coke bottle shape to it. However, the Stingray name was absent from the front fenders in 1968 and this was the only C3 year for push button door handles. The Stingray name returned in 1969 and handle flaps replaced the push button handles.
Among other changes, the front parking lights on the 1970 became larger and square with clear lenses and the plastic grills were replaced with heavier pot metal that seemed to lend itself to corrosion. There was a strike at GM in 1970, which shortened the production year and may have prevented many changes from being made in 1971, although many of the '71 cars did get orange parking light lenses. Elkhart Green did show up as a new color in 1972, making it the only year you could get that color in a chrome bumper Corvette.
The front rubber bumper that showed up in 1973 had a straight line in it that ran up to the point, but that disappeared after 1975. However, the rear bumper was still chrome in 1973. That changed in 1974, with a split rear bumper showing up for that year only, being replaced with a one-piece bumper in 1975 and fake rubber pads show up on both bumpers. Convertible production for C3s in 1975 so any C3 convertible you see was probably built prior to the '76 model year. The same is true for any C3 that has rear deck vents, which disappeared in 1976.
The rear bumper in 1976 now has a new Corvette emblem, instead of a bunch of letters. While the steering wheel was upgraded for '76, the same wheel was also used in the Camaro and Vega, leading the wheel to be mocked as the "Vega" steering wheel. The rear window on C3 Corvettes was vertical all the way through 1977. However, that changed starting in 1978 and through the end of C3 production.
The 25th anniversary of Corvette was 1978, so they all had 25th anniversary emblems. There was a two-tone paint scheme also available for an anniversary edition, but '78 also saw a two-tone Indy 500 Pace Car edition. The anniversary emblems disappeared in 1979 and a new Cross Flag emblem showed up this year as well. The pace car seats from '78 also became the standard seats in 1979. Front and rear bumpers in 1980 now featured seamless spoilers, but California Corvette buyers were stuck with only being able to order a 305 engine and an automatic transmission.
Production started in Bowling Green for the 1981 model year and two-tone paint became available again for the first time since 1961, but only on the Corvettes that came out of Bowling Green. The 1982 model year marked the final year for the C3 body style and the Collector's Edition rear window became an opening hatch, allowing for better access to the luggage area (do you really want to call it a trunk?).
There was no Corvette produced in 1983, other than test cars and there is one sitting at the Corvette museum in Bowling Green, if you're interested in checking it out. The C4 is often referred to as the "Clamshell," because of the way the hood opened. The 1984 models say "Cross Fire Injection," on the rub strip on the front fender, but that was changed to "Tuned Port Injection" for 1985. The first two years of the C4 did not feature a third taillight, but that showed up in 1986. Convertibles also made a return that year for the first time since 1975 as Indy 500 Pace Car replicas.
The 1987 model year didn't see significant changes, but the 1988 models had a new 16-inch wheel design and a beefier 17-inch wheel for the Z51 and Z52-optioned cars. Chevrolet started tinkering around with the ZR1 in 1989, but didn't release them to the general public until the 1990 model year and featured and easily-identifiable wide track featuring rectangular tail lights. In 1991, the sharp edges of the bumpers became more rounded and everyone got the rectangular ZR1 taillights.
The LT1 became the standard engine in 1992, with the ZR1 LT5 still being an option, but the body didn't change much. The 40th anniversary of Corvette came along in 1993, so every Corvette built that year was given 40th anniversary badges, like Oprah was handing them out, but only the Ruby Red 40th Anniversary models got the special seats and other doodads. Things remained the same in 1994, but 1995 marked the final year of C4 ZR1 production and an Indy Pace Car edition showed up again, this time in purple trim.
The ZR1 may have left in 1995, but there was still a Collector's Edition and Grand Sport to be had in 1996. The Grand Sport was only available in Admiral blue with a huge Arctic White stripe down the center of the car.
The 1997 model year ushered in an all-new body style and an all-new engine, the LS1 and a legit trunk, but who really cares about that in a Corvette? However, a convertible didn't arrive until the 1998 model year. The Indy Pace Car edition may be the wildest paint scheme yet, but a new roofline was coming in 1999. If you're looking for a rare paint color in 1998, try one of the 15 built in Aztec Gold. The 1999 model year offered the "stripper" version many enthusiasts had been asking for- lighter, less options and a fixed roof (think notchback on a Mustang, versus the big glass in the rear).
Things hummed along nicely for the Corvettes built over the next few years, with a few color change options, but the big change everyone was talking about was the new ZO6 option in 2001. Those cars were easily identifiable by the red covers on their more powerful LS6 engines and the cove scoops the aftermarket started making almost immediately to mimic the sporty look. The 2002 ZO6 models started flaunting badges that boasted 405HP.
The 2003 model year marked the 50th anniversary, so you know the deal- #AllTheBadges A 2003 Corvette paced the Indy 500 in 2002, but they didn't have any pace car replicas available, just an Indy 500 deal package that would set you back $495. The 2004 model year marked the final year for the C5 and Chevrolet intended to send it out in style, with a special commemorative LeMans Blue edition. Savvy speculators jumped on the chance for the special edition Corvette, only to find out it was the most-commonly chosen color that year, ending up in more than 20% of cars produced that year. Those looking for a rarer color opted for simple Arctic White, which only found it's way onto 5.11% of all 2004 Corvettes.
The 2005 model year brought an all-new body style in the C6 Corvette, which offfered more contemporary styling and a first appearance since the 1960s of exposed headlights. However, no ZO6s were built in 2005, but that changed in a big way the following year. The 2006 model year brought in the LS7 sporting 427 cubic inches of pure American power. The dry sump system and exotic nature of the engine components essentially made it a street-legal race engine, but none of that is easy to see from the outside.
In 2007, Atomic Orange became the new Orange on Corvettes and the big engine upgrade from the previous year was met with a big brake upgrade the following year. Engines continued to be a big story on the C6s, when the LS3 was rolled out in 2008, producing 430 horsepower. Jetstream Blue and Crystal Red were also added, while LeMans Blue and Monterey Red were dropped from the color palette. The bigger performance on the base engine meant Chevy would have to do something to up the game on the big boy engine option and that was definitely on their radar.
The ZR1 returned for 2009, along with a supercharged LS9, producing 638 horsepower. The ZO6 was still an option at 505 horsepower and the special editions continued to roll out, with a Competition Sport Special Edition and a GT1 Championship Special Edition. The 2010 model year brought out the return of the Grand Sport, which included larger wheels, that necessitated larger fender flaring.
Corvette trim levels continued to get parsed out further in 2011, when the Carbon edition was unveiled. Somehow in spite of all the special carbon fiber bits and pieces, the Carbon edition ZO6 still weighed about the same as the standard ZO6 and it was only available in Inferno Orange and Supersonic Blue. Carlisle Blue was introduced as a new color option in 2012, but eyes were already being focused on what was to come in the new C7. That didn't stop them from coming out with yet another special edition to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Chevrolet. The 2012 Chevrolet Corvette Centennial Edition was only available in Carbon Flash Metallic with satin-black graphics and Centennial Satin Black wheels and red brake calipers. One nice feature was that the Centennial edition was available on all the trim levels.
The C6 generation went out with a bang in 2013, with yet another anniversary edition, this time celebrating Corvette's 60th year of production. The convertible featured the legendary LS7, making it the most-powerful convertible Corvette in the brand's history and of course, some 60th Anniversary badges.
There were a lot of rumors about what the C7 Corvette would look like and what, if any compromises might be made (would it share taillights with the Camaro?). The end result was a striking design of what would come to be the final generation of front engine Corvettes. The LT1 engine moniker would return with the C7 and feature all kinds of performance upgrades, like direct injection, which netted out at 460 horsepower, yet amazingly continued to avoid the gas guzzler tax and proved to be very economical on the highway.
As with the C6, the C7 ZO6 was a year removed from the initial generational rollout, but it was promised to be the "most track-capable Corvette ever." A supercharged engine producing 650 horsepower and wider wheel wells to accommodate massive tires were all part of the package. Other visual cues included a raised & vented hood, as well as larger front brake vents. Special editions for 2015 included the track-centric Pacific Coupe and the luxury GT-focused Atlantic Convertible.
Four special editions headlined the 2016 model year, including a street-legal C7.R in Corvette Racing Yellow or Black and the Twilight Blue Design Package, the Spice Red Design Package and Jet Black Suede Design Package, which were all basically appearance packages. The Grand Sport made it's return during the 2017 model year, with it's legendary front fender hash mark.
Five years removed from the 60th anniversary, Chevrolet once again had reason to celebrate in 2018 and offered a 65th anniversary Carbon 65 Edition Corvette in a Ceramic Matrix Gray paint scheme. Wheels moved up to a standard size of 19 inches in the front and 20 inches in the rear. The 2019 model year marked the end of an era- front engine Corvettes. Chevrolet sent the C7 off in the way only they could- with a 755 horsepower ZR1, making it the most-powerful Corvette ever. A high wing was available as part of the $3,000 ZTK Performance Package.
So what can we tell you about the C8, which has not yet gone on sale as of this writing? Well, the standard engine is a 495-horsepower LT2 (remember when the ZO6 bragged about 405 horsepower?) and it will feature a dry sump oiling system as standard, starting at an unheard of price of $60,000. It will still carry two sets of golf clubs in the trunk and oh yeah, and it's also a mid-engine car.
While Corvettes have used many batteries over the years, from our 6-volt all the way up to our latest H6 offering, one thing that is nearly universal (except for the 6-volt cars), is that they can and should all be using an OPTIMA Charger or Maintainer, to keep their battery ready to start. Thanks for reading!