Corvette History through Ads: Mission Accomplished

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The curtain was falling on the most successful generation in Corvette’s history. More third generation Corvettes were sold than any other generation, a title still held with 542,861 cars sold. The third generation was also the longest running body style, being produced for fifteen years. It was a generation of extremes and contradictions, a generation that saw profound changes in the car, beginning with the awesome 1969 L88 and ending with a car that had an 85 MPH speedometer and could barely get out of its own way. It saw the marketing focus shift from performance to comfort and convenience. It was the generation that introduced the popular T-top to American cars and eventually discontinued the convertible. It was a car built on tradition but managed to survive the social revolution that rocked the country. It replaced a generation that was still vibrant and could have continued to sell well through the 60’s but from day one the C3 was coveted by car enthusiasts throughout the world for its beautiful, sleek, and sexy styling designed by Larry Shinoda. And thankfully for Chevrolet, the car was so revolutionary in design when introduced that it was able to weather the changing car market during the 1970’s; the styling covered up a lot of inadequacy in the later years of the generation. It was a car that Car&Driver readers picked as the “Best All Around Car” five years in a row.

Today the car is both admired and detested by Corvette enthusiasts, but regardless of where you may stand the car may very well be a major reason the Corvette exists to this day. During its reign the car produced a considerable bottom line in a decade that had American car manufacturers on the ropes. And unlike most American V8 cars, the Corvette was one that continued to grow sales most years up through 1979. It was a sports car that had to battle growing import competition, especially Germany’s Porsche and Japan’s Datsun/Nissan 240, 260, and 280 Z cars.

In one of the generation’s last advertisements, the copywriter quotes Dave McLellan, chief engineer of the Corvette. Dave understood the mission of the Corvette in the changing car market and summed things up pretty well when he described the engineers’ objective building the C3. “Produce one of the finest two-seaters in the world. Make it more affordable than most.” The ad challenges the meaning of “Finest all-around? Does that mean star-ship styling, catapult quickness, and the lateral acceleration of a stone on the end of a string? To a degree, yes. Because those are a few of the more obvious ways which fine performance cars are judged.” But then the ad qualifies the statement. “Still in the car business of the eighties and beyond, a high performance car should also reflect sound reasoning.” And by those standards the third generation of the Corvette fulfilled that mission admirably.

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