My Generation: The King Is Dead… Long Live the King
There’s more than a few “Corvetters” over the top with excitement about 1-13-13. I admit that I am one of them. I mean, really, what do you expect? We’ve been conditioned over six generations for what will be revealed on Sunday evening in Detroit. It will be, if not breathtaking, at least the very best of sixty one years of the finest performance car
I know some of you may not be able to remember the introduction of the second generation of Corvettes, but I do. When we were young, who among us did not stare, awestruck, the first time we laid eyes on the first Corvette of a new generation?
Most of us watched and waited every year for the introduction of the new cars and especially when a new generation of our favorite car was being unveiled. The new generation Corvettes never disappointed us. Not in our youth. They were instant icons, legacies, born to inherit the throne of the auto world. For those that can remember, the first thing you will recall is that each year we celebrated the new car introductions which took place in the early fall. Most of the manufacturers
Unlike most of Detroit’s models, which often were the recipients of significant styling changes from year to year, the Corvette annual tweaks were subtle and to most, other than real “Vetters”, almost imperceptible. So, even the smallest changes to the Corvette were debated by its fans. After all, the King was the King, so any change had to be warranted and improve the car’s looks. Sometimes even the most insignificant change would either excite or incite us.
For as far back as I can remember, I was a huge fan of the Corvette. And why not? The car embodied all of the things every adolescent boy wanted to be. It was good looking, stylish, strong, fast, well-built and it attracted girls!
One of the benefits of the show was that after the first year, Todd and Buzz always started the new season with a new model Corvette, 1960 C1 for the first season, then a 1962 for the second, the third year they got the new generation 1963 Sting Ray and the final season ended with a 1964. So each week the viewer could watch the latest model of Corvette in action. The TV show generated a lot of excitement, especially the fall of 1962 when it transitioned from the 1962 generation one car to the 1963 generation two car. Many of the series followers, like me, watched because of the car, especially to see the radical new styling of the C2. It seemed that everyone wanted to “weigh in” on the car’s styling and design.
I remember a lively discussion one September, Saturday morning at Ed Parks Barber Shop, among those waiting for haircuts, debating the styling of the newly introduced 1963 Corvette Sting Ray. Mr. Parks, the barber, along with two other men were convinced that the new styling would surely spell the end for the sports car (sound familiar?), it was just too radical. Keep in mind the only 1963 Corvette that Ed and his two friends had seen was on “Route 66”, the TV series, and in Corvette advertisements. Two college guys waiting their turns in the chair disagreed with Ed and the others. One of the two, his name was Mark, had actually seen a real Sting Ray. He found it in a dealership in Cincinnati, Superior Chevrolet if I recall correctly. I had
considered “thumbing” a ride to a dealer just so I could memorize every line and detail of the new car, but I couldn’t find one that had a car close enough to where I lived. Okay so I was still kind of a wimp! So I hung on Mark’s every word as he described the Sebring silver coupe sitting in the showroom. I was quick to add my support of his opinion, it was the most beautiful automobile creation I had ever seen, and I was just as quickly ignored by my barber and his friends. To support his opinion, Mark added that the new car was such a success there was a three to four month wait for a new one.
Mark’s friend, who currently drove a tired five year old 1957 Corvette and boasted he was just two “points” away from losing his license, informed the small shop that he was saving up half the cost of a new Sting Ray and along with his trade-in could afford to finance the thousand dollar balance. I could see the “disapproval” in the older men’s eyes, but his plan seemed to make perfect sense to me.
There were only two things resolved in Ed Park’s barber shop that day, neither of them about the Corvette. One was the unanimous opinion that our high school football team was destined to win another, in their long line, of state championships and the second thing resolved that day was when I got to high school I wasn’t going to let Ed “the barber” touch my hair again.
The 1963 C2 proved the “barbershop experts” wrong. To say it was a huge success was an understatement, producing and selling 48% more cars than 1962, the last and largest year of the C1’s production run. Aside from the car’s initial launch, that was the first of Corvette’s successful generational launches.
By the time we got around to the Corvette’s next generation and launch it was a year filled with political and social events which could easily cast a foreboding shadow on the new C3’s introduction.
Political and social controversies, however, were not the only things with which the launch of the new generation of Corvette had to compete. The auto industry itself had even threatened a possible new model delay due to the almost impossible task of dealing with the Federal government’s safety and Smog standards. But an even greater threat to a successful unveiling, unlike the 1962 introduction of the C2, the new C3 had to compete with the new wave of “specialty” (re: pony) and muscle cars.
With so many ominous events taking place throughout the country and so much competition from other performance based cars it would seem that the introduction of a new generation of Corvette would have gone almost unnoticed. Not so. Automotive magazines hailed the car’s styling, referring to it as a “dream car”. Like the generation before, the car had a radical styling makeover. The C3’s styling, based on the Chevrolet Mako Shark II concept car and designed by Larry Shinoda, was flamboyant to say the least. Car&Driver® praised it as the “newest looking of all the 68’s” but noted that the chassis, suspension, brakes and engines were the same as offered in the 1967.
The automobile journalists praised the new body style for the ability to mount wider tires which the C2’s wheel housings wouldn’t allow. They also found the removable front part of the roof, in two sections,
Unlike the introduction of the C2, I wasn’t going to miss seeing this car in person the day it hit the dealerships. By this time though, I had my own license and owned a 1962 Corvair, the closest thing I could afford to a Corvette, so I did not need to “thumb a ride” as I had considered five years before. My best friend’s girlfriend’s father owned a small Chevrolet dealership and I had heard that a larger dealership in Cincinnati was getting a new 1968 Corvette a few days prior to the introduction to the public for some public relations function. After pleading and promising her father everything from cutting his grass forever to assuring my best friend would get his daughter home on time for the rest of the year, he agreed to get the Cincinnati dealer to allow us to see the car, even though he never wanted my ransom. I think he realized that he was looking at four future customers for his small dealership.
My friends and I all had a pretty good idea of what the new car was going to look like. We knew it was to be based on the Mako Shark II concept car which had been written up in most car magazines for more than a year. In addition the car magazines had been teasing the public with “spy photos” for almost six months before the actual introduction. Being a devoted reader of Road & Track®, Car & Driver®, Hot Rod®, and Motor Trend®, I was pretty convinced what I would see at the dealership. The four of us piled in the car to make the trip across the Ohio river to see the car. Don, the most mechanical and technically adept of the group, talked most of the way about the engines being offered. They were carried over from the 1967 model so he had plenty of time to research them. I have to admit, he did know something about engines and performance. I mean the three of us knew a little about engines, but Don knew more, much more and even more importantly, unlike my other two friends, he understood how things worked. He owned a 1963 Oldsmobile “Jetfire” that had a turbocharged V8 that produced over 200 HP and Don continually “worked on” the car himself to keep it running. Something my other two friends were incapable of doing.
I had been partial to the “three deuce 427” in the 1967, ever since riding “shotgun” on two separate occasions when a friend of my family’s 427/435 1967 Corvette coupe completely smoked first a 440 GTX and then a 390 Mustang GT showing off his new White Coupe. The 427 engine had already become a legend as far as I was concerned but on the trip to Cincy my friend Don talked about a different engine. It would be the only engine he would “order” if he were ordering a 1968 Corvette - the L88. Why we asked would anyone want to order an engine with ten less horsepower and costs more money than the 427/435. My other two friends had never even heard of an L88 and though I had read about it.
We looked at Don with disbelief since there was no production car that we knew of that had 500 HP straight from the factory. Surely to get 500 HP would require modification. All of us suspected Don had slipped into one of his “BS stories”, for which he was famous. “Look at the compression, it’s the compression! The L88 has over 12:1 compression. It’s a 500 HP engine! You guys can take the three deuces, I’ll take the L88 and blow you off the road!” It was a couple months later that we learned everything he told us on that ride to the Chevrolet dealer about the L88 was factual. My friend, Don, knew a little about engines and performance. The rest of us, I had to admit, knew very little.
The new Corvette turned out to be every bit as beautiful as anticipated. Everything but the color, Corvette Bronze they called it. Our general consensus of the color was a more descriptive and appropriate term would have been “babysh*t brown”. But even that term could not diminish the car and its lines. It was all we expected and actually the “teaser” renditions had been over exaggerated, the actual car’s lines were cleaner, more in proportion. Unfortunately the car was fitted with a 427/390 automatic, so we didn’t get to see either the three deuce 427 or the L88, but that didn’t matter, it wasn’t the car we would have ordered but the lines of the car, the styling was fabulous. It looked fast just sitting there. In addition the removable rood on the coupe eliminated the need to order a convertible. The new C3 did not disappoint, it was everything and more that a seventeen year old could ever want to drive!
And the public agreed, voting with their wallets. The 1968 Corvette sold 24.5% more than the 1967, the best selling year of the C2’s. This was clearly a testament to the public’s approval of the car. The styling was often called “sexy”, which seemed to fit the times in which it existed. Though it was hailed by many, for the first time during a Corvette unveiling there was also criticism, especially by those who held the C2 on such a high pedestal. Much of the criticism was aimed at the larger body size. Though the C3 was built on the same chassis as the C2 the body was seven inches longer and two inches lower. Unfortunately the 1968 car was also plagued with quality issues, most of which were worked out in the 1969 and later years. But overall the styling and introduction were considered a huge success, confirmed by the length of production, fourteen years, and the longest running off any generation. Once again the engineers and designers had produced a car that excited and thrilled the public.
In a few days a new dynasty is ready to be crowned. Today the annual new car introductions and styling updates come and go almost unnoticed. No longer does the public wait with “bated breath” to see what the auto manufacturers are serving up. Unless you are an enthusiast you often can’t tell the difference between model years and even for some of the enthusiasts it is difficult. Only this morning I was at a “Corvettes and Caffeine” event in Scottsdale and I overheard two enthusiasts talking about my car. One of them said to the other, “No it’s a 2005, the only way you can tell is the On Star antenna is on the roof. The Daytona Sunset Orange was a two year color only, 2005 and 2006.” So even to Corvette enthusiasts it can be difficult. But it is different when a new generation is unveiled.
Hopefully over the years we have become wiser, more understanding, more intelligent, more “worldly”, though I’m not so sure the “global this” or “global that” stuff is really so much better. Many of us are in our fifth or sixth decade and the “been there, done that” attitude has become a mantra for too many. Maybe over the years we have become more cynical. As “Paul Revere and the Raiders” once sung, “Kicks just keep gettin’ harder to find!” Maybe because of that we have become more skeptical, “non believers”. Maybe it’s safer to take a cynical view, to avoid another disappointment. Maybe that is why there are so many naysayers out there bashing the new Corvette before they have ever seen the real car or experienced the actual performance of the C7. According to some, the death bell is already tolling for the yet to be unveiled car. But the Corvette has an uninterrupted string of successful new generational launches. Each new generation has been an improvement over the last. So before you join the “crepe hangers”, think back for a moment. Think how much excitement and fun we had in anticipation of a new generation of Corvette. I’d venture to say that before the generation was finished most critics had become converts. And I’d also venture a guess that it will be the case with the C7. That being said, let’s put aside the cynicism, at least for a while, and enjoy the launch. Let’s try and recapture that unbridled excitement we experienced in our youths when a new generation was introduced, a new King was crowned. Let’s put the C6 to rest. Let’s allow the new King to reign, at least a while, before a coup is planned. As for me I say, “The King Is Dead… Long Live the King!”